A FEW WORDS ABOUT TRAINING STYLES
An Investment in the Future Relationship
Between You and Your Dog
Most people sign up for dog obedience classes and have no idea that there are actually two dramatically different schools of thought on dog training. When pet owners select their first dog training class, they often make that decision based on factors like price, location, or time. Dog owners should be making their dog training decisions based on criteria like the instructors skills, experiences, continuing education programs, and training techniques.
Training techniques can be generally categorized into two different methodologies. The training techniques that our parents used were popularized in the 40 years after World War 1. Today these methods are commonly referred to as traditional training. In the 90's positive reinforcement training started growing in popularity. Today you will find trainers that exclusively use one or the other of these two training styles, as well as trainers that use, or claim to use, some combination of both styles.
Traditional training started during war times by trainers who worked for the military. These methods eventually found their way into the training of police dogs, competitive obedience dogs, and finally pet dogs.
These trainers typically use what was originally called a choke collar. Today, it is referred to as a correction collar. Correction collars can be either nylon cords or metal chains. The other tools in traditional training include prong collars and occasionally electric collars. If a reward is used by a traditional trainer it is generally verbal praise.
Traditional training relies primarily on the principles of negative reinforcement and punishment. Using negative reinforcement means behaviors are taught by removing an unpleasant sensation when the dog performs the task you are looking for. Upward pressure or jerks on the leash will be removed as soon as the dog sits. Physical manipulation or pressure will be stopped as soon as the dog lays down. Punishment refers to the infliction of something that is uncomfortable or unpleasant to the dog when he does something undesirable. Trainers will give a jerk on the correction collar when the dog pulls or does not sit. Trainers will knee a dog, or pinch his toes, when he jumps up. Traditional trainers often eliminate negative behavior by "setting the dog up" to perform the undesired behavior so a harsh correction or punishment can then be administered.
Positive Reinforcement training has also been around for many years. Although it really became popular in dog training in the 90's. Learning theory dates back to Pavlov and B.F. Skinner. B.F. Skinner studied the relationship between rewards and behaviors. He learned that rewards increase the frequency of an action. People who get paychecks continue to go to work. Pavlov noticed that his dogs salivated in the presence of the lab technician who normally fed them. The dogs associated the lab technician with their food. That taught us that rewards can be associated with items that might not normally be considered reinforcing. Paper is not reinforcing to people, but money is because it represents an ability to buy things we want. In marine mammal training dolphins are taught that the whistle is rewarding because each time the whistle marks the desired action, they receive food. Some positive dog trainers use these same theories by marking desirable behaviors with a clicker.
The primary tool of the positive trainer is food. Other rewards like games of tug, balls, squeaky toys, and praise are also used. Tools to mark desired behaviors like clickers and verbal markers are generally incorporated into positive training. Occasionally head halters and no pull harnesses are also used.
In Positive training rewards are used to increase the frequency of a desired action. If your dog sits, he gets a treat. When your dog comes when called, he is rewarded with his favorite game of fetch. Positive trainers eliminate negative behaviors by removing what is rewarding to the dog. If a dog jumps, the trainer will turn his back to the dog, take away eye contact, and avoid any contact with his hands. The removal of all that is rewarding for the dog when jumping, eventually extinguishes the behavior. In positive training dogs are set up for success and rewarded for performing appropriately. All tempting items are removed from the countertops so when a dog simply looks and passes by without jumping up, he is rewarded for making the correct decision. Positive trainers know that food is a primary reinforcer for every dog, and is therefore the most powerful training tool available. They also understand that as training continues and the bond grows stronger, primary reinforcers, like food, can be replaced with secondary reinforcers like praise
Traditional trainers will claim that positive trainers do not get quick or lasting results. They claim that dogs will not perform anything without food and will always be dependent on food. Traditional trainers argue that they do use positive reinforcement and rewards because they use praise after a correction. They believe that dogs have a high threshold for pain and therefore corrections and punishments are viable training tools. Traditional trainers are more likely to advocate theories that promote the ideas of dominance, alpha dogs, and pack hierarchy.
Positive trainers believe that traditional training is harsh and inflicts unnecessary pain, discomfort, and in some cases, even harm to the dog. They understand that punishment can have serious collateral side effects, and is often ineffective particularly with an inexperienced handler. They believe that the "quick fix" generally does not last. Positive trainers advocate training that is fun for both dogs and handlers. They believe in the strength of the dog and human bond, and understand that the bond only grows using humane methods. They understand theories of dominance and pack leadership, but are cautious of its application to domestic dogs. Most importantly, positive trainers know that they cannot cause any collateral damage as a result of their training. A poorly timed reward is not likely to cause your dog to bite, growl, or snap because of fear, frustration or pain.
When selecting a dog trainer there are many factors to consider. Your investment of time, energy, and money is well worth the expense. Talk to different trainers, and ask lots of questions. Ask your friends, neighbors, and associates if they have taken any dog training classes. Do some research on the internet. Make sure the trainer you have selected has experience and is in constant pursuit of continuing education. Time spent working with your dog is an investment in you and your families lifelong relationship with your dog. Don't be afraid to spend a little of that energy in selecting the right class for you and your canine companion..
--------------- Robin Crocker