Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why I do what I do . . .

I have been training dogs for 11 years now. I've run my own dog training business for 7 of those years. I find myself well-versed in dogs--mentally, physically, emotionally and even medically (I'm not saying take medical advice from me but I am educated in symptoms and signs of medical problems then I will recommend clients to see a vet.)

Most people are very receptive to what some call "treat training" but there is a whole other side to what I do. Yes, there are some trainers who will not allow you to do a single thing from the negative reinforcement quadrant of operant conditioning and rely heavily on negative punishment and positive reinforcement only. However, the truth is that a balanced, real-life trainer (like myself, I must say) will use, at some point, most of the four quadrants of operant conditioning. . . .

Let's dive in. Yes, I use tons of positive reinforcement. It works, and it works well. I also use most of the other quadrants with the more rare use of Positive Punishment (P+)--adding an [aversive] stimulus which will reduce the frequency of behavior. Spanking, shouting, or cutting off air supply through a choke chain can be examples of positive punishment. Obviously it can get ugly. I don't obviously do most of those, some never. Anyone who says they haven't yelled at their dog at some point is lying. While it's not a way to train and I don't use it, I'll admit that I have yelled at my dogs! When you just got a baby down for a nap and then four dogs start barking at the UPS man at the door your first reaction is to yell "Quiet!" in quite a frantic way. Do I do it all the time? No, but I've done it. Do I recommend it to get your dog's attention? No. I shouldn't even do it to "quiet" barking dogs. I'm simply stating that I've done it. As far as training goes I pretty much don't use P+.

Let's get to why I do like how I train and why P+ doesn't work well. If you train properly it (training, that is, not P+) works. There is no need for harsh punishment, none whatsoever. You also don't have to carry treats around to get your dog to comply if you can do it properly. However, if you use too much P+ or misuse the other quadrants then you will quickly see things deteriorate or a dog that "only does it when I have treats". This simply indicates a lack of good communication and something that has caused conflict in your dog. It could be something very trivial but to the dog it's enough to prevent it from wanting to comply, or quite possibly it's conflicted and worried it will receive punishment for non-compliance.

I saw this video on someone's Facebook page and it inspired me to write this post. While some may watch this and simply see a well-trained horse there is so much more to it than that. This girl, who is 20 years old here and lost her dad 24 days before this performance, is only using verbal cues and her body to make this horse move and perform. She has no saddle, no bit, no reigns (no tack). This is proof that with a good relationship, proper training and understanding you can train [almost] any animal to happily and easily do what you want when you want it.

Sure, you can use harsh methods (or positive punishment) to get an animal to do something . . . and yes, it can often work but the long-term results are not usually good. Also, if you do happen to have an animal that complies they often do it out of fear of the punishment. I don't care what tricks or bragging I can do if it's the outcome of me having to use punishment to get the result I want.

Learn to communicate properly with your dog. Don't expect overnight miracles, they just don't happen. A well-trained, happy and compliant dog is a work of art!

Here is this amazing video of the girl and her incredible horse. You have to watch the entire video, it's truly amazing!

1 comment:

  1. I love this video! it is so beautiful and brings tears to my eyes. The girl is One with her horse! You can be one with your dog as well. building a relationship with your dog through training will enable you to be "one" with him or her as well. There is virtually nothing your dogs won't do for you... I've learned that through working with my shy semi feral dogs. When there is trust, there is a solid foundation and trust is built through proper training. :)
    Thanks for this post Stacy.