By Joan Hunter Mayer
Pet Parents, what is your exercise style? Do you give a treat when your dog is on command? Scream when your dog jumps on guests? Reward some behaviors and punish others? When looking for practical dog training solutions to everyday challenges, you are likely to come across advice that falls into one of three broad categories: 1. nonviolent, 2. aversive, or 3. âbalancedâ (a combination of rewards and corrections) . ). So let’s dive in and dig a little deeper into each approach and find out why training styles are important to you and your dog.
In the first part of this two-part series, we’re going to take a closer look at these three philosophies and how they relate to hot-button topics such as the use of training collars, the science of learning theory, and the use of food in education.
Popular dog training styles: The Nitty-Gritty
A non-violent, fear-free, humane approach Training a dog includes training without the use of force, fear, pain, coercion or intimidation. The goal is to teach you and your pup the real-world skills while both of you are safe, having fun, and strengthening the dog-human bond. Techniques in this category are based on a dog love training approach.
Positive reinforcement is a common effortless option. Technically, reinforcement is the process by which a consequence increases the strength of the behavior it follows. Emphasis on the word process – positive reinforcement doesn’t mean cookies. It can be anything that motivates your dog. As reinforced behaviors are repeated, dogs learn what we want from them and lead them to offer behaviors that we prefer (such as sitting quietly instead of jumping up to get attention).
Aversive approach Correction-based training uses what is known as positive punishment, which adds a harmful stimulus to “correct” undesirable behaviors. Training collars like gagging, pronging, shock, and others add something aversive after a behavior to reduce the frequency of that behavior. Punishment is the process by which a consequence decreases the strength of the behavior it follows. This term can get a bit confusing. But as long as we are delving into the basic concepts of behavioral terminology, we should note that there is positive punishment – adding something aversive and negative punishment – taking something away. (For example, taking âtime outâ in sports is considered a punishment. The player loses time while playing.)
“Balanced” dog trainers Use both positive reinforcement and positive punishment, reward some behaviors, and use aversive stimuli to “correct” others.
The use of training collars
Force-free Means that pet owners and trainers avoid using devices that can pinch, choke, shock, scare, annoy or frighten dogs. If you are dealing with undesirable behavior, a more thoughtful approach is offered instead of punishment. Let’s say Fido tirelessly pulls on the leash while walking. It is helpful to think about why your dog is pulling or falling. Does he have adequate opportunities to engage in normal species-appropriate behaviors such as sniffing and socializing? Perhaps he is frustrated, scared, anxious, experiencing overexcitation, or releasing pent-up energy. He may not get enough mental and physical exercise between walks. When you can identify and address what your pup is struggling with, you can work as a team to make walks more enjoyable for both of you.
Aversive – Training collars use pain and positive punishment to reduce behavior. To illustrate, a touch, a buzz or a vibration alone would not change the behavior. By definition, an aversive stimulus can only change behavior by causing fear, pain, or stress. Punitive methods tell dogs what not to do; Training collars don’t teach dogs what to do instead.
‘Balanced’ – Please note that it is impossible to be non-violent and use corrective collars. Philosophically and physically they are contradicting and incompatible.
When it comes to the use of training collars, pet owners should be aware of the risks, including the fact that correction-based training can lead to increased anxiety, behavioral problems, and an injured human-dog relationship.
What does science say
Force-free Dog training is rooted in the scientific methods of animal learning and has been shown to be effective without causing harm. Pet parents are asked to understand how dogs learn, how to communicate, and what is considered normal, species-specific behavior. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) position statement on humane dog training states: âBased on current scientific knowledge, AVSAB recommends that only reward-based training methods be used for all dog training, including the treatment of behavioral problems.
Aversive – “Aversive training methods can be dangerous for humans as well as animals and pose a threat to animal welfare by inhibiting learning, reinforcing behaviors related to anxiety and stress, and causing direct injury,” reads the American statement College of Veterinary Behaviorists for humane, effective and evidence-based education.
‘Balanced’ – As corrections are included in this approach, the same risks apply here as mentioned above for aversive methods.
Based on the science of learning theory and the leading animal behaviorists in veterinary medicine, a more humane approach to dog training is safer and more effective for learning than using aversive training methods and tools.
The use of food and other rewards in training
Force-free Training can involve using anything your dog wants. For example, positive reinforcement training focuses on using rewards to reinforce desired behavior. Treats, pats, praise, and interactive games can help strengthen your bond and provide opportunities for fun and connection while you exercise together. Rewards can motivate your dog to stay interested, curious, and engaged. Once you and Fido know how to get the most out of reward-based training, it’s pretty easy to apply.
Aversive Methods focus on punishing behaviors you don’t want.
‘Balanced’ – Meal rewards are often used here in addition to corrections … which can be downright confusing! Dogs may not trust the training process because it is unpredictable and sometimes even scary and / or painful.
Back to science, positive reinforcement training (adding rewards) is safe and effective, while correction-based training (adding something aversive) can be dangerous; Also, it doesn’t tell your dog what you want. Combining the two in trying to be kind of “balanced” simply adds unnecessary stress and risk.
In Second part In this article (which will be published next Saturday) we will talk about how dog training styles vary in terms of time spent, unintended consequences, treating dogs as individuals, and what’s for you as a pet parent and / or animal welfare officer.
Until then, as you and your pup tackle life’s challenges together, please remember that dog training is an unregulated industry. There is no shortage of opinions on the subject from television, social media, friends, family, strangers, self-proclaimed “experts” (the list goes on … and on), but we hope that this closer look will make you curious and think critically and compassionately when we decide how we can help our canine companions thrive as furry friends and family members.
The Inquisitive Canine was founded by Santa Barbara canine behavioral consultant and certified professional dog trainer Joan Hunter Mayer. Joan and her team have made it their business to offer humane, energetic and practical solutions that meet the challenges of dogs and their people in everyday life. Let’s bark with the dogs, cheer the people and have fun!