Sometime ago, I read an article by a Dr Haug entitled The truth about positive reinforcement” and to start with what she said made a lot of sense, positive reinforcement is an integral part of using operant conditioning to train and teach dogs, I was happily reading away, and then I got to the bit about balanced trainers – “trainers who still use techniques that involve corrections, or, to give them their accurate scientific label – positive punishments “.
Personally, I don’t like labels, I’ve blogged about that before here.
So, here is what she wrote: (and I quote directly from the article)
“What Positive Reinforcement trainers do avoid is using positive punishment” –
– I agree, mentally I went “yup, that’s what positive reinformement trainers do, cool”
and then she continued:
“ hitting, yelling, correcting the dog with a collar, holding the dog down on its back or side, or grabbing the dog by the scruff, etc. Research over the past several years has shown that dogs trained with such punishment are more likely to misbehave and more likely to show aggression toward their owners.2-4 These interventions are unnecessary, detrimental, and dangerous”. Yup. – who wants to be physically aggressive towards their dog?
And then she goes on to say that balanced trainers should be avoided because of these training methods. I just wanted to yell STOP (actually, the word I yelled started with F, and rhymes with “duck off”)
In 15 years of training dogs (12 professionally) these are not techniques that I use or condone. Even as a ‘balanced’ trainer. Which apparently is the current term for any professional using positive punishments (or corrections) these days.
Anyone who has worked with me will hear me say repeatedly, “don’t get mad at your dog, it is ineffective, and will probably only raise your blood pressure.”
Using all the areas of operant conditioning (positive and negative reinforcement and punishment) is not about being aggressive or violent or physically intimidating with your dog. It is about using operant conditioning to help your dog learn right from wrong.
So here is what I do do, I apply a training system that has been used and developed for over 20 years here in Victoria, Australia, (The Alpha Canine Group) it has trainers all around the world using it as well as here in Australia, and is currently being used for animal assisted therapy programs. The founders of the system had decades of experience before they developed this system, so they know their stuff.
Personally, I use the system’s principles to work with people and their dogs in their home environment rather than through group or weekly classes.
The system teaches us to use praise and rewards to train our dogs using positive reinforcement (typically praise and pats and love), and condition them to a positive (good dog, followed by a pat, cuddle, play) and a negative (‘no’ and apply a known consequence) A consequence should never be given in anger and it should certainly not ever be violent.
If you are mad at your dog, please go and take a breather.
If you are frustrated or concerned by your dog’s behaviour, please call your dog behaviour specialist to discuss the issues and arrange a consultation. You can contact me here.
Your dog is trying to live its life in our human world and we need to understand how difficult that must be as well as provide clear and consistent feedback.
Good dog trainers and behaviourists understand that without contrast you have nothing useful to work with.
The positive reinforcement is what does the hard work. Without it, why would your dog want to work with you?
If you are going to use a training method that uses both positive and negative punishment and reinforcement, make sure there is not just a balance, but that the positives outweigh the negatives at about 5:1. Ensure you have clear and consistent rules and guidelines in your home and out and about, and if your dog is frustrating you with his or her behaviour, find a trainer/behaviourist who you feel understands you and your dog and their needs, and is willing to work with you both and provide support for during and after the initial learning process.
There are no quick fixes in dog training, but an effective learning environment should see change in a short period of time.
Now, back to this article where Dr Haug goes on to say ˜More importantly, for a dog that is accustomed to being told when it does something right, the absence of feedback actually tells the dog when it has done something wrong!
This also got me a bit frustrated. I am pretty sure that dogs don’t like being ignored, ignoring a dog is often used as a negative punishment. (if you have turned your back and walked away from a dog that has jumped on you, you have used a negative punishment).
I’m sure no one, dogs included, like being ignored. Let’s take inappropriate digging behaviours for example, you are out in your garden and you see your dog digging a hole.
Instead of ignoring the behaviour and allowing it to continue, why not step in and show your dog what is right and wrong using your marker and known consequence and contrast it with praise and rewards for appropriate behaviour. You and your dog can get back on with hanging out together in the back yard.
If you are teaching your dog effectively, the digging behaviours should decrease and eliminate.
If you are confused about the difference between reinforcement and punishment, you can youtube “operant conditioning” and find many many explanations, but here is a basic:
A reinforcement is anything that is done with the intent of increasing a behaviour and a punishment is anything that is done with the intent of decreasing a behaviour.Positive means something that is applied to the dog and Negative means something that is taken away.
So, after all that, I think I will stick with calling myself an Independent Dog Trainer/Behaviourist.
Always train with kindness and unconditional positive regard, and if you need help, or have questions, please click here to send an email contact, or call us on 0438 423 230