An Introduction to
Written by Lindsey Mills
Picture yourself in grade school. You're sitting at your desk, notebook and pen at the ready when the teacher asks the class a question. You raise your hand to answer and wave it in the air because you know this one! You know the answer! The teacher points at you with their ruler and with confidence in your voice, you say, "Three plus three equals five!" Wrong! frowns the teacher, slapping their ruler down on your desk. The teacher tells you to think for a couple more seconds and to retry. With slight hesitation, you say, "Three plus three equals s-six?" Answer with confidence! reprimands the teacher who then slaps the back of your hand with the ruler. After a few seconds, the teacher walks away in order to ask the class another question while you gently massage the back of your hand. In this scenario, would you want to raise your hand in order to participate further or would you keep silent to avoid attention?
In an alternate scenario, let's say you raise your hand that first time and answer incorrectly, but instead of chastising, the teacher turns around to the chalkboard and shows you how to reach the correct answer by breaking down the steps in a simpler way. They then ask you to retry. With a question in your voice, you say, "Three plus three equals six?" Yes! smiles the instructor. They ask you the same question and with more confidence in your voice, you respond, "Three plus three equals six!" The instructor praises you for the correct answer and gives you a sticker for your notebook. They then give their attention to the rest of the class in order to ask another question. In this scenario, would you want to raise your hand in order to participate further or would you keep silent to avoid attention?
As you have already guessed, the second scenario is a simple example of positive reinforcement training. By using rewards and breaking down a behavior in order to promote understanding, dogs learn to enjoy training and are encouraged to offer participation. Although there are trainers who achieve results through positive punishment for their dogs (adding a punishment in order to discourage a behavior like in the first scenario above), The Prestigious Paw LLC trainers have steered away from this method due to its proven ill-effects. In some cases, dogs will become fearful, aggressive, nervous, or anxious in nature.
Positive reinforcement is the method of adding (positive) something in order to encourage a behavior to repeat (reinforcement). So, when a dog sits and is rewarded for doing so, they will generally want to repeat the behavior in order to reap more rewards. At The Prestigious Paw LLC, we use a tool called a "clicker" which aids in this training technique. As much as we'd love to believe otherwise, dogs aren't able to completely comprehend and understand our language at a human level. Every day, our dogs are exposed to conversations, the blare of a TV, the roar of cars driving by, the shrillness and bravado of laughter, and other day-to-day sounds. With proper socialization and conditioning, they are able to ignore most of these and nap or observe peacefully. When first training a behavior, the clicker is an excellent tool to use because the unique sound of a CLICK-CLICK is not something our dogs hear on a regular basis. We are able to "mark" or "capture" a desirable behavior very much like how a camera snapshots a point in time; perfectly capturing an exact moment. Clicker training is a precise technique that requires exact timing in order to correctly mark a desirable behavior. Our job is to help you learn how to properly use this training tool in order to aid in training. Once your dog understands that a CLICK preludes a treat when a behavior has been performed correctly, the possibilities are endless for what types of desirable behavior your dog will offer!
Why Lisa Chose Positive
Positive reinforcement principles are used in all of my training classes. I have assisted various different trainers and seen a multitude of methodologies and the best results I have achieved are using positive reinforcement principles.
I believe this works best because you get a dog that enjoys training and wants to offer you behaviors. Positive reinforcement training does not create any ill effects such as anxiety, nervousness, fear or aggression. I have seen firsthand and on numerous dogs the impact that punishment or correction based training can have on dogs.
I have owned a variety of different breeds and have trained using a variety of methods. I graduated from the University of Delaware and concentrated on animal science and behavior. I studied learning theory and the different types of reinforcement and punishment and the effects it had on dogs.
I trained one of my first dogs, a German Shepherd named Onyx, using correction and force. The trainer I was working with at the time told me I needed to show him who was boss. He was a tough dog and had a very high threshold. Simply saying or even yelling "No" did nothing. The trainer took control of Onyx and delivered a sharp leash correction several times on a prong collar. After this happened several times, Onyx became very frustrated and was showing signs of stress. After a couple more corrections he lunged and growled at the trainer. The trainer then returned the dog to me and asked me to work with him. I regretfully did what I was asked, but Onyx did not respond. He did not lunge at me, but avoided me completely. My instinct told me this was not working and I concluded our session. A couple of days later I came home from work and Onyx began growling at me for no apparent reason. I would just walk in the house or enter another room. Even if I was sitting at the table I would hear a low rumble. I knew something was very wrong, but wasn't sure what was going on.
I worked with several trainers and all of them gave me various theories and assumptions on what to do and what not to do. They all said he was dominant and I needed to become the leader. I heard such things as don't let him on the bed or sofa, don't let him go out the door first, don't let him eat first, don't give him any attention if he demands it. I tried all these things and no change. I then found a positive reinforcement trainer who finally made the difference and really showed me how powerful positive training could be. I started to bring Onyx to positive training classes and within 2 weeks I noticed a huge difference. Onyx enjoyed working and remained focused on me. The growling ceased and was never experienced again!
She explained the association that was being made and how I damaged our relationship and trust. I realize now that if I had continued correcting Onyx the situation would have gotten a lot worse and I could possibly have a dog with a bite history on my hands. A growl is a warning and just that. If you punish the growl, the growl may disappear, but the dog may then just bite without warning. A growl is a serious indicator and help is needed. It is in the best interest of both parties to seek professional help.
After that I began to read every book that explained and encouraged positive reinforcement training. I even went back to my old psychology books and reviewed the different theories and quadrants. I attended numerous seminars including three with Ted Turner who specializes in training marine mammals. He really gave me a strong background on how to train animals scientifically and without emotion. He explained to us how he trained killer whales and other predatory species using positive reinforcement principles. It was amazing what one could accomplish! Having an animal offer themselves for examinations or vaccinations or something as simple as cutting nails (this really doesn't need to be the horrid ordeal it tends to be!). His seminars are very informative and he is a wonderful speaker. We all laughed when he said you can't tell a killer whale "No".
Positive reinforcement training is about reinforcing behaviors you like and want repeated and catching the dog doing something right! A trainer will show you how to break a behavior down into simple steps and then raise the criteria gradually. By being proactive and managing your dog correctly until he/she is trained, you should be able to prevent accidents or misbehavior from happening most of the time. If a dog is unable to rehearse or start a bad behavior, it will cease to exist. This will set the dog up for success. Most of the problems I see start with poor management and too high of expectations from the owner. Dogs don't instinctively know how to do anything except eat and relieve themselves. It is up to us to train and show them what we want patiently.
Dogs learn through repetition and consistency. You can't expect them to learn after a couple of trials. It must be repeated and reinforced using different types of rewards, in various environments and with distractions added gradually. These are the three parts of dog training: understanding the behavior and what we mean; being able to work in various environments and with multiple distractions. The latter part is what takes time to train and work through. Dogs always perform best in the home, what’s important is that they perform everywhere. Your dog’s classroom is everywhere and always!
There is a misconception that this type of training is based completely on food and nothing else. This statement could not be further from the truth. Food is given, but so is verbal and physical praise, play and anything else the dog desires known as life rewards. The word positive in positive training does not mean good, it means to add something. Positive reinforcement is adding something to get a behavior to repeat itself. Food typically is a powerful, primary reinforcer and works very well as dogs want this more than anything, but a good trainer will tell you it is imperative to vary your rewards. This keeps the dog highly motivated. My dogs were trained using food, play, and just praise. They work for me anytime I ask and in any environment with or without food. They enjoy working and participating in training. To them it is a game and loads of fun and that is my goal. Traditional methods may not use treats, but they use a correction. Something is still being added. I choose to add something pleasant such as food instead of something unpleasant. The result is a much happier and cooperative eager worker!
Positive training is not hard to learn and dogs learn fast. Best of all, the dog never becomes stressed or anxious, but happy and a willing participant. Don't get me wrong, you can correct a dog and he can learn. The only problem with punishment is that it has to be delivered each time the behavior occurs and some dogs become tolerant to the correction. You then have to increase the correction as the dog adjusts to it. I do not want to have to keep doing this and to me it is borderline abusive. Punishment also damages the relationship and can often cause avoidance in dogs. Often the dog ignores the owner and wants nothing to do with them. Imagine if someone was to consistently nag you, yell at you and constantly say no at everything you did. I don't think you would want to interact with that person too much. Fortunately dogs are very forgiving.
I could ramble on and on about all the benefits of positive dog training, but the results show themselves. Find a positive trainer in your area and reap the rewards it produces. You will not only be thankful, but your dog will thank you too!
"Dogs do speak, but only to those
who know how to listen."