Discussion has continued in Psychology Today…
I posted this comment.
I agree, dogs learn best when they are calm and relaxed. I have no doubt whatsoever that stress levels are far higher in correction style training classes compared to reward- based training classes. I am a reward-based trainer myself.
My point was that rewards are variable and relative. The best way to train is to use a variety of rewards, and to be guided by what the dog wants most at that particular time, in that environment.
The rewards we commonly use are food, play with toys and praise/petting/interaction with handler. But dogs will differ in terms of what they like most and therefore how powerful the reinforcement is. On the question of maintaining behaviour in the long term, the “holy grail” is for the desired behaviour to become rewarding in its own right. The next best thing is for the behaviour to be maintained by means of everyday life rewards, such as
being released to run in the park, being allowed in the door and so on.
Of course, Psych 101 tells us that learned behaviour is maintained more reliably with intermittent rewards, rather than rewarding every time. On the other hand, cutting all rewards out altogether will result in extinction – meaning that the behaviour will deteriorate and eventually be lost.
On the comment about carrying treats around in your pocket for the rest of your life – well, why not? You can use them to reinforce new behaviours (never stop learning…), and also the occasional old behaviour performed spectacularly well under difficult conditions. My take on this is that you are going to feed your dog anyway, so why not use the food to reinforce desirable behaviour, rather than give it all out as a freebie?