So, in my last column, we talked about the many reasons why treating our dogs is a good thing, especially when we are reinforcing behaviours, keeping our dogs “playing the game” of training!
But, what is positive reinforcement training….and what isn’t it?!!
Many people get very confused about what this kind of training entails and I wanted to discuss some misconceptions I’ve heard over the years.
Firstly, I actually now prefer to use the term “force free” training instead of positive reinforcement. I know it seems unimportant, but many balanced trainers (trainers that use both positive and punishment based methods) will say that they are positive method trainers. This is extremely confusing to the average dog owner, looking to hire a trainer. Generally, a balanced trainer will correct a behavior they don’t like (with a pop of a prong collar, choke chain, e-collar), and then when the dog does the behavior that is expected, the dog will then be reinforced in some way, verbally praised or possibly treated. This is not positive training though! This would be considered a balanced training approach, a method that is not needed, given the information and research we have about behaviour these days. This is just one example:
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Positive/force free training has the evidence to back up the fact that it works, and it works well! Not only that, but we know that it effects how the dog “feels” about the stimuli in the environment that was scary prior to training. Now your dog is happy to train with you, and starts to learn that the scary man with the umbrella predicts yummy treats. Food changes the emotion of a dog, so over time, we have a dog that learns man and umbrella make me feel good. Before you know it, your dog actually hopes to see men with umbrellas, instead of fearing them!!
Force free training is an excellent way to communicate with your dog in a non-confrontational way. Dogs learn they have choices, if they are too afraid to go closer to the scary bike, they will not be forced. Slowly, through training, they progress to a point where they can be closer and comfortable, which build confidence. You teach your dog what you actually want, instead of what you don’t want. If you’re teaching loose leash walking, your goal is to heavily reinforce the dog for where you like him to be, resulting in him wanting to be in that position even more. In a correction based system, you would let him pull, then correct him in some way. He would then stop and stress for a moment, you would carry on forward and he would pull again….and that same circular process would carry on for months if not years!!!! Behaviours that are reinforced will be repeated, it’s really that simple!
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It’s all about setting your dog up for success.
What does this phrase mean? You’ve probably heard it before, but what it means is to always begin training at a level your dog can actually do. For example, if I’m working with a dog that reacts to other dogs by growling and lunging at 30 feet from another dog, I am going to begin working at no less than 35-40 feet away. I’m beginning at a distance where I know my dog won’t react, and as a result, a distance my dog is not upset. This is force free training being implemented well!!
Force free training has been misunderstood to some, as never saying no to a dog!! Of course, there are times when dogs are behaving inappropriately and we need to ask them not to do something or remove them! But it is much easier to reinforce an alternate behaviour, which is re-directing them to something else instead. When we constantly say no, this 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 high probability they will go right back to what you didn’t want them to do because they are still thinking about it!!!
Force free training causes less stress for both the human and the dog! It involves being kind to animals, but still teaching boundaries, manners and behaviour. It is based on the science of behaviour and really does result in dogs who love to train. So, to me, there is no question about what method to use when teaching dogs.
Missed the last column?
About Lisa Davies:
Lisa Davies (KPA-CTP, CDBC, CTC) has been training for 17 years. She graduated from the Academy for Dog Trainers, the Harvard of Dog Training Programs, and is also a certified Behaviour Consultant, specializing in aggression, including dog to human. She has a huge passion for helping rescues become more adoptable through training and is an 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 bunnies.
Contact Lisa at:
Pawsitively Canine Dog Training Services