I want to address a very common misunderstanding about dog training. I have written about the subject of all positive reinforcement training and using aversives in training quite a bit. I always think I have nothing more to say about it, then some time passes and I read an article that gets the old wheels moving again.
Usually it is an article by a dog trainer. I generally don’t pay much attention to what other dog blogs are saying about this. Now that I have dog blogging friends on Google Plus I read a lot more general dog blogs. I find it interesting that the all positive reinforcement doctrine has moved to become such a pervasive dogma. It does sound warm and fuzzy, but is it really best for our pets? I also have to ask are the promises of all positive reinforcement really true?
There are also other questions that need to be asked about the promises of all positive reinforcement. There is the moral question, when is it okay to cause discomfort? Another question that I toil with and one where I usually differ from most is, what are my client’s personal rules? My strategy for helping people is different than many trainers I know of.
If this wasn’t enough I have even more questions. Are all aversives bad? Is there ever a time when an aversive is not aversive? Is it possible that what is aversive to an individual now could actually become something positive in the future?
There is also the fact that our society is based in punishing others and getting revenge more than loving our enemies. While people may want to be positive reinforcement oriented our society insists on a punishment based orientation.
To me all of these are interesting questions.
I plan on exploring these issues in a series of future posts
Wishing you the best in dogs and the best in life, Andrew Ledford Southern California Dog training 714-827-4058
Dog training action plan and human friendly dog training
A dog training action plan functions as the controlling signals for taking needed action. When we first start a new endeavor we often don’t have enough experience to know what actions to take. One of the tasks of an experienced teacher, instructor, or coach is to teach us what we need to do. I know this is true in dog training. It seems that everyone has an opinion and advice on how to train a dog. I often arrive at a person’s home to find they’ve tried four or five training suggestions from friends and family members. On top of friendly advice we now have television advice and the internet too. Not only is there a lot of free advice, but a lot of it is contradicting as well. One person will says you’re not human if you do one training technique. Next you are told by another that you have to do that same technique to be a good dog owner. What is a person to do? What is a person to believe?
To separate the chaff from the wheat it’s helpful to get advice from a well rounded professional. However, some professionals are better at harvesting the meaty kernels of truth better than others. Dog training is an interesting blend of tradition, myth, and science. I happen to be one of those strange people who does not condemn many training systems. I do have some reservations about some training styles, but I acknowledge their functionality.
I believe through dog training we have more to learn than just how to control our dogs. This insight probably puts me three quarters the way into the holier than thou positive reinforcement camp. I believe that humanity must learn how to use positive reinforcement as a default response if we are to survive as a species. On the other hand I also see the value of using aversives in controlling behavior. While I don’t like that the primitive use of aversives works so well in some oppressive societies, it’s been my observation that they can be effective. I feel the primitive use of aversive control does tend to make us more animal like and therefore speaks to our more primitive lower nature.
My observations and insights have put me in an interesting situation. I know what needs to be done to help owners in a way that will give that individual the best results within certain limits of a household’s dynamics. I also must be aware of what training aversives the people in the house are inclined to use and will accept. Aversive control is usually thought of as punishment or negative reinforcement. Usually people are more likely to want to use punishment or negative reinforcement when the dog’s behavior problem is aversive to the humans. I feel it’s justified to use strong aversive control if it’s needed to save a dog’s life.
When implementing a training program I judge what a person will accept by how they handle the dog. It’s best to structure and apply aversives in a way that will be useful and have the most benefit with the least chance of doing harm. The training plan should set up rules that replace random emotion based punishment with a very measured and well planned response. Developing control over the use of punishment and negative reinforcement allows us to transition into using less aversive control. As we use fewer aversives we can increase our reliance on positive reinforcement.
I also know what CAN be done with positive reinforcement. The problem is what can be done and what most people do are two different things. My plan is that once a client is involved in my training program the dog’s behavior will begin to reinforce the family’s increased use of positive reinforcement. I try to give the people in the household some choices in which training technique to use. Most of the time people will pick what works best for them and their dog. What works best often revolves around time? When people realize that rewarding behavior is less work than other forms of control they chose to use positive reinforcement. The idea is to let the dog’s family choose to use positive reinforcement without forcing them to conform.
The whole point being that there is often a plan behind a method. I have a very strong feeling that most of the positive reinforcement trainers I know really don’t like the way I train. However, I do train with positive reinforcement, it’s just that I emphasize being human friendly.
Wishing you the very best in dog training and in life,