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Compass Key Service Dog Training Methods: Why we use positive reinforcement

A golden retriever dog gives a person high five, while they both look happily into each other's eyes

Training a dog is an important part of responsible dog ownership, and it’s essential in service dog training. It not only helps service dogs become skilled and reliable partners, but also strengthens the bond between service dog and handler. When it comes to service dog training, it can be confusing to wade through not only so many different organizations, but the many different training methods each organization uses as well.

Phrases you will likely hear while researching service dog trainers are “balanced training” which uses correction and reward, and “positive reinforcement training” which only uses rewards.

Examples of corrections used in dog training can include: Jerking on the leash, yelling "no" or "ah-ah," hitting, kicking, threatening, using corrective collars such as choke chains, prong collars, or shock collars, etc.


Examples of rewards used in dog training can include: Food, verbal praise, petting, playing games with toys like catch or tug, etc.


Approaches that center around positive reinforcement training stand out as humane and effective. In this blog post, we'll explore Compass Key Service Dog training methods, including the benefits of using positive reinforcement and why this is the preferred choice for both service dogs and their handlers.


Why is positive reinforcement the best way to train your service dog?

Positive reinforcement training focuses on strengthening desired behaviors through rewards such as food, toys, and praise. This approach emphasizes the importance of teaching your dog what you want them to do instead of what you don't want them to do! Here's why positive reinforcement is an excellent choice for both you and your service dog.


1. Builds Trust and Confidence

Positive reinforcement creates a trusting and positive environment for your dog. Correction based training has been shown to damage the relationship between human and dog. But when rewards are used, instead of fearing punishment dogs associate training with fun, rewards, and praise. This trust allows for a deeper connection between you and your dog, making the training process more enjoyable for both of you.


2. Enhances Communication

5 different iclicker dog clickers from Karen Pryor's online store in various colors

Positive reinforcement enhances the communication between you and your dog, because you are clearly rewarding your dog for the behaviors you want them to repeat. Compass Key trainers also implement reward markers (such as a clicker or verbal word like “yes”) used at the moment the dog does the target behavior, followed by a food reward. This makes communication even more clear to the dog.


3. Encourages a Willingness to Learn

Dogs are natural learners, and they love to please their people. Positive reinforcement capitalizes on this by encouraging your dog's willingness to learn and respond to you. However, when a dog is trained with punishment, their behavior tends to become suppressed, and they can become hesitant to join you in training endeavors. But when your dog realizes that good behavior leads to rewards and praise, they become eager participants in the training process. This is especially important when training a service dog, as we want our canine partners to be eager and willing to learn and work with us.


4. Minimizes Negative Emotional Responses

Training methods based in positive reinforcement minimize stress and anxiety in dogs. Traditional correction based methods can have a negative impact on a dog's physical and mental wellbeing, leading to behavior fallout such as anxious or aggressive behavior. Positive reinforcement methods focus on building your dog's confidence, trust in you, and reducing stress, creating a happier and healthier dog.


5. Produces More Effective Results

Reward based training methods are more likely to produce long-lasting results. Dogs trained through punishment may obey out of fear, but they are more prone to revert to undesirable behavior when they feel safe from repercussions. In contrast, dogs trained with positive reinforcement exhibit good behavior because they genuinely understand and enjoy it. This results in overall more effective learning from reward-based training.


6. Promotes a Positive Relationship

A positive reinforcement training approach reinforces the idea that you and your dog are a team. It fosters a loving and supportive relationship where both you and your dog are working together toward common goals. Service dogs must undergo many hours of training, and a training method centered on rewards will

capitalize on this, creating a harmonious and loving bond that will strengthen over time. Training methods that use correction on the other hand, have been shown to damage the bond between handler and service dog, which can have a negative emotional impact on the handler.


A detailed infographic outlining key findings from an academic study. Reward based training by veterans with service dogs is linked to increased playfulness, trainability, and closeness with dog. Correction based training is linked to increased fear, and decreased closeness with dog, eye contact by dog, and trainability.

As a service dog team, the relationship and bond you have together is the foundation of many years of partnership to come. At Compass Key we want to start you off on a solid foundation with your service dog, and a strong, positive bond is paramount to this.


Conclusion

As a whole, the animal professional industry supports the use of positive reinforcement training methods, and does not condone the use of training methods that include corrections. Many organizations have come out with official position statements on humane dog training methods, such as the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. Compass Key is a member of Animal Assisted Intervention International, Pet Professionals Guild, and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, all of whom require trainers to adhere to positive reinforcement training, and do not condone the use of correction based training. Even the largest service dog training organization in the world, Assistance Dogs International, has adopted a positive reinforcement based approach.


Compass Key is committed to using the most effective, humane, and up-to-date training methods so that our trainers can best support our clients and their dogs on their service dog training journey. Our training approaches use rewards and clear cues, so that our clients can teach their dog to understand what they want from them. As a result, they become more attentive and responsive, and training becomes a rewarding experience for both handler and dog. 


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