Can you trust the advice your trainer’s giving you?

Sadly, I often hear of trainers giving advice that appears made up, with no real theoretical or scientific basis. In most places, becoming a dog trainer requires no formal training or education. Therefore, uneducated trainers dispense a lot of misinformation. This is sad and inexcusable, because in the last twenty years, our scientific understanding of how dogs think, learn and feel has greatly expanded.

force-free dog trainingWe no longer have to guess at what training methods are most effective. Based on the scientific data, we can examine both how traditional training works and how positive reinforcement training works, as well as how these trainings impact dogs. In particular, we now have enough information to understand how the use of pain and force negatively impacts a dog’s ability to learn as compared to positive reinforcement-based techniques. To understand these differences, we must first understand how these two training methods work.

Traditional Training

Traditional Training is the basic philosophy of traditional trainers which is to correct any unwanted behavior using a leash correction or “pop” and then praise the appropriate behavior.

For example, a traditional trainer may ask a dog to sit. If the dog continues to stand (an unwanted behavior), the trainer will administer a correction or punishment using a leash pop. Leash corrections then will continue until the dog does the wanted behavior by sitting. The trainer then may praise the dog for sitting, but this does not always happen.

Force Free, Positive Reinforcement Theory

Force Free, Positive Reinforcement Theory As opposed to using corrections, positive trainers seek to reinforce desired behaviors using treats, toys or praise, and ignore or redirect unwanted behaviors.

Therefore, a positive trainer may ask a dog to sit. If the dog does not sit, the trainer may walk away or ignore the dog if she believes the dog understood the cue but chose not to comply. The trainer may then again ask the dog to sit, and if the dog complies, then the dog will receive a reward or treat.

Comparing Traditional vs Positive Reinforcement Training Outcomes

Studies have shown that traditional-based training can cause aggressive behavior and therefore puts individuals near the dog at risk of being attacked. If the punishment is not strong enough, the animal may develop tolerance to the pain, so that the handler needs to escalate the intensity. Using force causes a risk of permanent physical injury.

Positive reinforcement – force-free training – is more effective, and causes less pain and anxiety than traditional training. Positive reinforcement training is at least as effective as correction-based training to change even highly stimulating behavior such as chasing livestock.

There is only one logical conclusion:

We must reject punishment and correction-based training as valid dog training methods. Positive, force-free training must become the only acceptable way to train. If you think about it, this is not just about dog training. As humans, negativity and punishment surrounds us – just watch the news on television. Notice how it makes you feel. Sad, anxious, angry, uncomfortable. Wouldn’t it be great to shift to more positive relationships in our world, including those with our pets? This is how we can teach anyone – cats, rabbits, dolphins, birds and humans. When we remove the violence, pain and corporal punishment, everyone benefits.


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