positive reward based methd

The untold truth about positive reinforcement only dog training

In a perfect world you wouldn’t have to punish your dog.

Your dog would do everything you told them to do because you have a reward for them.

But I get calls about people who want to do positive reinforcement only dog training and they are having trouble because it isn’t working like they thought it would. I am going to tell you why in this article.

I have had ups and downs before I truly understood what dog training was about. I watched Cesar Milan and thought I had to be dominant over a dog. I would visit dog training stores who always marketed to positive reinforcement only training.

No wonder people are confused about who to choose as a dog trainer. There are conflicting views and opinions. Who is right? Well let me start off by saying that neither are always right. But I want you to think about something.

If I give a dog a treat it will encourage him to keep doing what he was doing. But how do I get a dog to stop a behavior. I can’t distract a dog forever with a treat. And this is exactly what positive reinforcement only trainers do.

I watched an episode of Cesar Millan where he wanted to prove a positive only trainer wrong. The trainer was sticking to their ideas of using absolutely no force. I forget what type of dog it was but the trainer was struggling to get the dog not to charge at people and jump on them. Cesar did the exact same thing and it took seconds to get the dog under control. This same pattern of the inadequate trainer and the competent Cesar played out in different scenarios.
Seeing it play out like this I thought to myself why is the positive reinforcement only trainer sticking to doing what doesn’t work. Why doesn’t he observe Cesar and do what works. I realized why and Im going to share with you some lies and problems with positive reinforcement only dog training. It’s about holding on to an ideology instead of getting results. I am an advocate for the least aversive experience for the dog, but sometimes a correction is necessary. Here is what I hear:

Reasons positive reinforcement only trainers give

  1. “You have to stay patient”

    I hear this one a lot and sometimes these trainers will blame the owner’s lack of persistance for the reason the dog isn’t getting it. I first think it is unprofessional to blame the customer, especially if they are using the method that the trainer taught them.

  2. Another reason why this doesn’t work is because It needs to be a perfect scenario

    Positive reinforcement only can work but it often doesn’t work alone to help serious problem behaviors.. This is because we don’t live in a perfect world. We have distractions and changes.

    A dog needs enough SUCCESSFUL reps to get the right picture. If they are dog reactive and you successfully get them to not react around dogs 9 times out of 10, the 1 time that they react can set your training all the way back. Some might argue that if this happens then the dog was probably not ready to be so close around the other dogs. And I would have to agree. But the true problem is that there is no consequence for their actions.

  3. They are coming from a place of human psychology and not dog psychology.

    Many people feel bad for a dog. They think that every time they see a dog with their head down that the dog was abused. When in reality this is a social show of submission. It has nothing to do with a dog being abused.

    It is important that you understand that dogs are not humans. When we treat dogs as if they are humans then we are showing we really don’t care about them. We care more about our viewpoints than giving our dogs what they actually need- Rules and boundaries and understanding.

There are some more stuff but Im not trying to go on too much of a rant.

To recap:

You have to stay patient but it shouldn’t take forever to get results.

Since you are not stopping the behavior you will never feel truly confident that your dog wont display that behavior with positive reinforcement only dog training.

Dog are dogs, not humans. Treat them as humans and you will be doing a disservice to them.

Hope you guys enjoyed. let me know your experience with different dog training methods in the comments or email.

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The positive reward based method to stop and help reactive dogs

Isn’t it embarassing every time you walk outside or go to your vet’s office and your dog lunges to bite a stranger or another dog. There is advice out there on the internet on how to deal with this issue. But I’m going to explain a method that I have found some success with in the past on dealing with reactive dogs.

First, I want to talk about a study done by Dr. Emily Blackwell and Emma WIlliams. They took 630 dog owners whose dogs showed reactive/ aggressive behavior, such as lunging, barking, growling, and biting.

They had these owners take a survey asking them about their knowledge of positive reinforcement and if they understood dog behavior on a basic level.

The purpose of this study was to find out what influences an owner decision to use outdated punishment- based methods and what are the barriers and motivators to dog owners using positive reinforcement based solutions.

The results of the study showed that there is a potential for extreme negative emotional responses and feelings of failure are experienced by owners when their dog reacts badly towards another dog or person. Therefore the owners confidence needs to be built up.

They also need to be shown how to use positive reinforcement based methods and how they work in different situations. There is a reason why punishment is not always the answer as stated below.

“Current evidence suggests that positive reinforcement-based behavior modification techniques are both humane and effective in the treatment of aggressive behavior in dogs and that the use of punishment-based techniques are likely to be detrimental to the welfare of the dog and can lead to an increase in aggression. However, many dog owners continue to use punishment-based techniques in an attempt to inhibit this problematic behavior. “

The researcher also wrote "When learning to use positive methods, people are likely to need practical support that demonstrates the effectiveness of reward-based training and also provides an opportunity to practice under expert guidance, so that people feel truly confident in using the techniques themselves in a range of challenging scenarios."

So it isn’t that people dont want to use positive methods. Dog owners just don’t know how to. They need expert guidance.

As a balanced dog trainer I use both positive reinforcement and positive punishment. The key is to know when to use each. I always err on the side of positive reinforcement if I think it will not only harm my dog but damage our relationship.

I know it can be frustrating when your dog is exhibiting these behaviors. First we are going to be going over positive reinforcement and why you should use it. Then we will go over some reasons why they behave like this. ( Its not always what you think)

What is positive reinforement and why should I use it?

Positive reinforcement is giving a dog a reward to increase the likelihood that they will repeat the same behavior they were doing.

Why should you use it?

First let me ask you this. If you had a fear of heights and I told you to come to the edge, would you come? What if I told you its going be okay and that nothing will happen to you. Would you come then? Probably not.

This is what most people do with their dogs. They try to coerce their dog to going near people or other dogs instead of listening to their dog. Your dog will tell you their fears and then you can take effective action.

Triggers for dog reactivity

  • Lack of socialization: A lot of dogs just don’t know how to act because they haven’t been properly socialized. (No I’m not talking about take your dog to the dog park and let them run around)

  • How your dog sees the world: This is similar to the first one except for maybe your dog has socialized. The problem is the learned bad socialization and not the correct way to behave. They learned to either bite, lunge, growl, or flee when they are uncomfortable.

  • Genetics: This is self explanatory. Some dog just are genetically wired a certain way. Training can not fix everything

  • Hormones ( This is rarely the case)

Notice how I didn’t say that your dog is reactive because it was abused. Many people think this. This is applying human psychology to dog psychology. They are not the same. If we want to truly understand dogs then we have to stop humanizing them.

Understand Canine Behavior

It is important that you understand the signs that your dog is giving off. For example, growling is a warning sign to get back. When a person or dog doesn’t listen to this request then your dog feels they have no choice but to lunge to make them get back. You can look up calming signals as a starter to reading dog behavior.

Behavior adjustment therapy

Now I’m not big on using a lot of methods, but this one seems to work pretty good. When your dog is uncomfortable around another dog or person they might not want to take a treat. They usually want space. Giving your dog the space they need is comforting and releases some of the social pressure they are feeling.

I will use the term “below threshold”. This just means below the level or moment when the dog explodes and lunges for a person or dog.

How to do this: This is done in a straight line of vision. It can be done in a park. On the street or any other location.

  1. Take your dog and stand with your dog on a leash. Do not move.

  2. Have another handler walk their dog on the leash up to the point where your dog notices their dog

  3. Your dog will either stare intensely, growl, or forcibly trying to ignore the other dog.

  4. If your dog lunged at the other dog or started barking then the dog is too close to your dog. Move the other dog back further until your dog is not reacting intensely. Notice the signs of stress ( yawning, lip licking, sniffing the ground out of context, forcibly ignoring the other dog, and others)

  5. Wait for your dog to look away or to the side. Then mark that behavior with a YES!!!

  6. Remove the stressor ( the other dog) from the situation and give your dog space.

    The point of this is to reward your dog (give space), for doing the correct behavior( ignoring the trigger and not aggressing forward).

  7. Repeat the process

Do you move the helper dog back or do you move your own dog back?

It depends. If your dog is fearful and trying to flee then I move the helper dog back. If your dog is aggressive moving forward then I would move your dog away when they show signs that they look away or deliberately disengage from the other dog.

This is the same way it can be done with a human reactive dog. Just replace the helper dog with a human.

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