So in my last column we touched on the many reasons why treating our dogs is a good thing, especially when we reinforce behaviors, keeping our dogs ‘playing the game’ of training!
But what is positive reinforcement training… and what isn’t it? !!
A lot of people are very confused as to what this type of training entails and wanted to discuss some misconceptions that I have heard over the years.
First, I now prefer to use the term “strength-less” training instead of positive reinforcement. I know it seems unimportant, but many balanced trainers (trainers who use both positive and punishment-based methods) will say they are positive method trainers. This is extremely confusing for the average dog owner, who is looking to hire a trainer. Usually, a balanced trainer will correct a behavior that he does not like (with a claw collar, a choke chain, an electronic collar), then when the dog adopts the expected behavior, the dog will then be reinforced in one way or another, praised verbally or possibly treated. It is not a positive training however! This would be seen as a balanced training approach, a method that is not necessary given the information and research we have on behavior these days. This is just an example:
Positive / Forceless Training has been proven to work, and it works well! Not only that, but we know it affects the way the dog “feels” about stimuli in the environment that were scary before training. Now your dog is happy to train with you and begins to learn that the scary man with the umbrella predicts delicious treats. Food changes a dog’s emotion, so over time we have a dog who learns that humans and umbrellas are good for me. Before you know it, your dog is actually hoping to see men with umbrellas, instead of fearful of them !!
Non-strength training is a great way to communicate with your dog in a non-confrontational way. Dogs learn they have a choice, if they are too afraid to approach the spooky bike, they won’t be forced. Slowly, through training, they progress to a point where they can be closer and comfortable, which builds confidence. You teach your dog what you really want, instead of what you don’t want. If you are teaching free leash walking, your goal is to strongly strengthen the dog so that he is where you love him, which will cause him to want to be in that position even more. In a correction-based system, you would let it shoot, and then correct it somehow. It would then stop and stress for a moment, you would keep moving forward and it would shoot again… and that same circular process would go on for months, even years !!!! Behaviors that reinforce each other will repeat themselves, it’s that simple!
It’s about preparing your dog for success.
What does this sentence mean? You’ve probably heard it before, but that means always starting to train at a level your dog can actually achieve. For example, if I am working with a dog that reacts to other dogs by growling and rushing 30 feet away from another dog, I will start working at least 35 to 40 feet away. I start at a distance where I know my dog will not react, and therefore, a distance where my dog is not upset. It is a training without strength which is well implemented !!
Training without strength has been misunderstood by some, such as never saying no to a dog !! Of course there are times when dogs behave inappropriately and we have to ask them not to do something or to remove them! But it’s much easier to reinforce alternative behavior, which instead redirects them to something else. When we constantly say no, it just tells them what we don’t want them to do, not what we want them to do. For a lot of dogs, if you say no, and they stop, 3 seconds later, there is a good chance that they will resume right away what you didn’t want them to do because they are thinking about it. Again !!!
Training without strength causes less stress for humans and dogs! It involves being kind to animals, but still teaching boundaries, manners, and behavior. It is based on behavioral science and really makes dogs that love to train. So for me there is no question on which method to use to teach dogs.
Did you miss the last column?
Why are we afraid to treat our dogs?
About Lisa Davies:
Lisa Davies (KPA-CTP, CDBC, CTC) has been a trainer for 17 years. She is a graduate of the Academy for Dog Trainers, Harvard of Dog Training Programs, and is also a Certified Behavior Consultant specializing in assault, including between dogs and humans. She has a huge passion for helping rescues become more adoptable through training and is a BC SPCA Animalkind accredited trainer.
She shares her home with her husband, two Terriers, a Pointer and a Chihuahua, two goats, a miniature horse and two rabbits.
Contact Lisa at:
Pawsitively Canine Dog Training Services
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