Friday, January 10, 2020

Why Choose Positive Training?

What is positive training?

Positive training, (reward based training, force-free training, what ever else you call it), means to utilise positive reinforcement techniques to teach dogs (and anything else capable of learning) cues, behaviours and is also used to condition feelings towards stimuli, in order to have the dog behaving in an appropriate and safe manner, in this human-centred world where they find themselves. 

The Dogs Trust tell us :

Positive training rejects the notion that dogs need to be taught using aversive methods such as prongs, shock collars, being "told off" or yelled at, jerking on leads and anything else designed to bully a dog into doing as they are told.

A dog who has been trained using punishment and aversive methods will likely stop the behaviour. When they stop, so does the training as there is no need to keep punishing and using aversive methods. The unwanted behaviour can then return, perhaps with more resilience than before - as the dog has practiced the unwanted behaviour already. What we practice we get good at. This may then need harsher punishment and aversives to train the behaviour away again. However a dog who is trained using positive methods, is rewarded every time they get the behaviour "right". In this way, training never needs to end and the dog will always be guided in the right direction.

It means many things to different people (including the sciencey bit terminologies) but what does it mean for owners who do not want a degree in behaviour, they just want to know how to "fix" the issues their dog may be struggling with? Or for shelters and rescues who want their dogs to find homes as well adjusted, happy good boys and girls?

It is firstly not a quick fix. It is a long lasting one.

It is a kind and ethical way of teaching cues and behaviours to dogs, and shaping emotional responses that they can carry with them throughout life. This takes time - especially when counteracting behaviour issues. This also effects a long - lasting, positive change in the dog's overall view on life. 

Just as a human might not expect a good therapist to cure them of all of their life's woes in 60 mins and a follow up phone call, neither can a positive trainer/behaviourist do that for a dog (At least not very often). 

It takes work and can seem to be yielding slow results compared to a balanced/dominance trainer's methods. But think of it - if you went to see a therapist and told them your issues, and they treated the issue by whacking you straight in the face, with a punch - you certainly would not want to explore your issues further with them. This would not mean your issue was fixed. It would mean you were afraid of getting whacked again. When the therapist left after claiming your behaviour had changed and therefore you were "fixed", you would still have your issues, but now added to that perhaps a fear of talking about them again. So these issues might build up until one day you could no longer cope and you had to react. Then what? Does the therapist need to whack you even harder to contain your issue?

Now imagine the therapist had done their job properly. Had used positive methods. Had listened to you, looked at everything going on in your life that had made you feel as bad as you felt and dealt one by one with those things - pain, sadness, irritating cats, shown you the thing you were worried about from a safe space, explored your fears and then boosted your overall confidence level by making you feel happier in yourself both near that thing that worries you - and away from it in general life situations. They might even do it over a slice of really nice cake and some coffee. Gradually getting you to a point where you no longer feel the need to worry about that thing, and giving you the tools to not feel so worried about other things too. Yes - it may not have worked as quickly as the therapist who whacked you, but the effects of this approach are much more pleasant and longer lasting.

It means enriching your dogs life instead of leaving them to a bowl of kibble and an hour of marching briskly along a pavement as their daily outlet. Allowing them to utilise their noses and engage their brains will set them up to be calmer, more focused and feel more fulfilled, leading to less destructive behaviours and boredom issues. Just as reading a book or watching a film, listening to music or doing other things that involve our primary senses of sight and hearing are good for our mental well being, the same goes for dogs and their sense of smell. Sniffy walks, scent work, food puzzle toys, scatter feeding are all easy ways to increase your dog's daily dose of joy in life - and do not need to break the bank or specialist dog training.

It means not bollocking them if they "get it wrong", but setting them up to succeed in the first place so they can practice getting things right - and then when they have practiced getting things right, these things become their go-to behaviours. What we practice we get good at. If Fido practices going and waiting politely on a mat for a treat when the doorbell goes, this is what Fido will get good at. If Fido learns that when the doorbell goes this is a great opportunity to bowl over the incoming visitor, Fido may well get good at doing that instead. No amount of yelling "NO!!" tells the dog what they should be doing. "NO!!!" is not an instruction and has no clear desired outcome. "NO!!" could mean "stop doing that but chase the cat instead", or "stop doing that and run out of the front door", or perhaps "stop doing that and bark at the visitor, because now you associate visitors with your human being cross and you don't like them any more". Similarly, leash jerking every time the dog who reacts to other dogs on lead, sees another dog, will not make the dog like oncoming dogs very much more. And so on...
Think of what you DO want and then reward the heck out of it with something the dog loves, until it becomes his go-to behaviour.

"There is nothing that can be taught by fear, that can't be taught with fun, apart from fear itself" ~ F.Locke