WHAT IS POSITIVE TRAINING?
Understanding positive training includes understanding traditional/aversive training and how they differ. Aversive training teaches the dog what not to do through fear, intimidation, and physical punishment. Trainers often use methods and equipment such as choke or prong collars, shock collars, leash yanking, physical corrections, scolding, and “alpha rolls” ultimately suppressing the undesired behaviors. On the other hand, progressive trainers adopted the modern learning theory and applied it to dog training.
Positive training isn’t purely positive, as it practices both positive reinforcement and negative punishment. It focuses on teaching the dog what to do and preventing undesired behaviors with rewards (food, toys, praise, affection), while also removing things that the dog wants in order to reduce unwanted behaviors (removing the dog or yourself from the situation, taking away a treat or toy), as well as ignoring, interrupting, or redirecting undesired behaviors onto alternative, desired behaviors. Unlike traditional training, positive training is not just a style of training, but a new approach to raising your canine. It incorporates several philosophies and techniques to build a trusting relationship between a dog and their human. Concepts focus on rewarding the dog for learning, seeking the root of the problem, implementing management, and fulfilling the mental and physical needs and wants of the dog. Positive training emphasizes understanding canines biologically, socially, emotionally, and cognitively.
The Four Pillars of Positive Training
- Using Positive Reinforcement
- Avoiding the use of intimidation, physical punishment, or fear
- Understanding the Misconceptions of Dominance Theory
- Understanding the Canine Experience from the Dog’s Point of View
Pillar #1 – Positive reinforcement is effective and provides long-lasting results that are humane and safe. The use of positive reinforcement means to add something immediately after a behavior occurs to increase the frequency and likelihood of that behavior. Negative punishment
is also necessary in order to communicate what the dog is doing wrong. This is done by removing or withholding something the dog likes (the reward) such as treats & food, attention, toys or human contact for a brief moment. In some cases, a positive vocal interrupter or cueing another behavior is used to redirect undesired behavior onto a wanted behavior. When pairing the two types of consequences, we are teaching dogs what we want them to do and guiding them into making the right choices. Not dependent on a one-size-fits-all approach, but tailoring training and management plans specifically to the dog’s unique personality and learning style. This is why these two methods are the core of positive training.
Pillar #2 – Avoidance of Punitive Methods is the most important element in all aspects of your canine’s life. Although traditional training can appear to be effective, efficient and show results, in reality it is the lazy, abusive, shortcut way of training. Modern behavioral science and learning theory studies have shown that the use of confrontational, punitive techniques (such as shock collars, prong & choke collars, and physical corrections) on dogs only suppress the undesired behaviors and do not work long term. Even if the initial undesired behavior “goes away,” it will resurface in another form. Aversive methods have a greater chance to provoke aggressive responses and cause an already aggressive dog to be even more aggressive. Training traditionally or positively is a choice similar to choosing how to raise a child. Most people would rather avoid inflicting unnecessary pain and fear onto their dog (or child) and instead set them up for success by guiding them into the correct choices and building confidence by rewarding good behavior.
Pillar #3 – Using dominance to control, train, or even understand your dog is one of the most misinterpreted concepts. Dominant behavior does exist, but not in the way our modern culture has portrayed it to be. Dominant behavior is situational, individual, and resource related. This behavior is conspecific and shown temporarily, and without either party incurring injury. If injury occurs, then the behavior is aggressive.
Referring to ourselves as the ‘alpha’ ‘leader of the pack,’ or ‘top dog’ explicitly contradicts the fact that dominance is conspecific. Most canine behavior problems stem from insecurity, lack of innate mental and physical stimulation, and/or a desire to seek and maintain safety and comfort – not from a desire to estable higher rank and be the ‘alpha’ over you. Therefore, forcing canines into a ‘calm submission’ is the exact opposite of what they need to overcome behavioral issues effectively and in a healthy manner.
For general dog owners, the most important thing to take away is that our relationships with our canines are not built through hierarchy, and that their dog’s misbehavior is extremely rare due to them asserting dominance over their human.
Pillar #4 – Understanding how dogs perceive the world and how they cope in our strange human world, will help you build a stronger bond and prevent behavioral issues. This is accomplished by knowing how dogs learn, how they communicate, and appreciating their sensory experience.
The extreme capabilities of dogs’ sense of smell, sight, and hearing abilities, are closely linked to emotions, and like humans, emotions drive behavior. Knowing that dogs experience the world through their senses, we want to use those strong abilities to help dogs learn and resolve any possible behavioral issues. This is highlighting a dog’s strengths and using them to their advantage, rather than focusing on their weaknesses and faults.
Learning how dogs communicate will give you the crucial foundations to determine effective, positive solutions to work through or prevent any problem behaviors while forming a stronger and perceptive relationship.
It is our responsibility to give dogs the confidence and tools they need to be successful in our human world.
Bottom Line: Traditional old school trainers often argue that positive training shows weakness and a lack of leadership, but the truth is that the most respected and successful leaders are able to effect change without the use of force. Progressive positive trainers understand that dogs quickly learn that good things happen when they do things their human likes. Instead of punishing bad behavior, we determine the cause of the behavior and guide the canine into making the right choices, training behaviors that conflict with bad behaviors, and fostering an environment that encourages them to learn and feel confident will set them up for success. Learning how to connect with your canine and work through problems, instead of suppressing them and assuming dominance, will contribute to enhancing the mutual trust and respect needed for a strong bond. It is our responsibility to accommodate and bridge the gap between our domestic world and our canines’ world by providing positive novelty and fulfilling their biological needs and wants.
The overarching goal is to develop a strong relationship through mutual trust, respect, and positive cooperation.