In today’s society, we are very much aware of how our actions can have an impact emotionally on other people. There is so much information out there now about mental health and how we should be kinder to one another.
But what about our dogs? Do those same principles apply to them? Do they feel emotions the same as us? Should we care? Does the dog training methods we choose impact on the relationship we have with them?
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There are so many ways to train our dogs and so many trainers give themselves labels – Positive reward-based, balanced, force-free, compulsion trainers to name but a few.
What do these terms actually mean? Who is best and how do we know which type of dog trainer to choose? Let’s explore.
How dogs learn
To answer the above questions, we must first know how dogs learn and then we must decide which method sits comfortably with our ethics and beliefs.
Above are the 4 basic principles of learning and how they can be applied. When using this language we are looking at increasing (reinforcing) or decreasing (punishing) behaviours.
I class myself as a positive reward-based dog trainer.
To me this means I focus on how to increase the frequency of behaviours I’d like my dog to do again. Rather than how I can decrease the behaviours I don’t want.
I won’t use anything that would cause fear, pain or alarm to a dog. Therefore I use positive reinforcement and negative punishment when teaching my dogs.
Recent studies show dogs that learn using these 2 parts of the quadrants learn quicker and are more confident in their understanding of what they are being asked.
We see the same principles applied in schools. Corporal punishment has been banned for decades as science showed us teaching through fear and intimidation doesn’t work the way we hope.
Instead, the focus of learning has shifted to helping children achieve the best they can through the use of the 2 parts of the quadrant above. Creating a safe and effective learning environment is where results happen.
What’s a balanced dog trainer?
What about a balanced trainer? Typically balanced dog trainers use both food & toys to reward a dog. But they will also use aversives to punish behaviours. To most people, this sounds like a logical way to teach a dog. As humans, we know there have to be consequences to unwanted behaviours. What we need to be aware of is what those consequences are and what they mean to our dogs.
These trainers predominantly use the opposite 2 quadrants to a positive-based dog trainer. They focus on negative consequences to show the dog how to behave.
Aversive Dog Training Methods
When we use positive punishment (adding something nasty) to stop a dog’s unwanted behaviour we use what is called an aversive.
An aversive is anything that your dog does not like and that stops the behaviour happening at that moment. The image above shows a common selection of tools a balanced trainer will use.
Not all aversives are physically painful but that doesn’t mean they still don’t hurt the dog emotionally.
Would you be happy starting a new job and your boss’s way of letting you know you had done something incorrectly was to blast an air horn in your ear without explaining why? Would you go into work confidently, and look forward to seeing your boss? I know I wouldn’t!
Would you stay on and work extra hours to help out? No way! I’d be doing the bare minimum whilst looking for another job with a better boss.
Does aversive training fix dog behaviour?
When we use aversives we tend to suppress unwanted behaviours rather than tackle the why’s of the behaviour.
For anyone who has tried to suppress how they feel about something how long were you able to suppress it before it came exploding to the surface?
There’s a reason we are told to talk about what upsets us, so we can deal with it! If we don’t, it ends up sneaking out in ways we don’t want – being more irritable, snappy, tired, becoming more introvert etc. At some point, it will all come out and it will be more explosive than you intended. Dogs are no different.
Ready to try a positive reward-based dog trainer?
Positive rewards-based dog training can help you solve your struggles, without resorting to making you or your dog feel bad. If you’d like help, please take a look at our dog training classes or our online classes – and let’s get you on the straight and narrow.