Corey Rosier - 06/14/23
Training a dog is an essential part of responsible pet ownership. It establishes a bond between owner and dog while ensuring a harmonious and well behaved, reliable companion. Over the years, different dog training methods have emerged, each claiming to be the most effective. However, the concept of "Purely Positive" or "Reinforcement Based" training has gained significant popularity. While positive reinforcement is an essential component of dog training, relying solely on this method can be limiting at best, and severely detrimental at worst, even resulting in death! In this blog post, we will explore the benefits of balanced dog training methods and why they offer a more comprehensive approach to dog training than purely positive techniques.
Understanding Balanced Dog Training:
Balanced dog training methods emphasize the use of all 4 of the quadrants of operant conditioning, including the use of positive reinforcement along with positive punishment, negative reinforcement and negative punishment. This approach aims at addressing a dogs behavioral issues by providing appropriate consequences for unwanted behaviors while rewarding desired behaviors. It is important to first teach the dog what is expected of them without using aversives until the dog understands what we want from them at which time, if the dog chooses to make a poor decision, that is when the correction would be applied. It recognizes that dogs, like every other living mammal including humans, respond to positive and negative feedback. This balance approach ensures clear communication, resulting in a well rounded and obedient dog.
2. Addressing Complex Behavioral Issues:
While purely positive training methods can be effective for basic commands and simple behaviors in a controlled environment, they fall short when dealing with more complex behavioral issues. Dogs are capable of exhibiting unwanted behaviors that can be challenging to overcome solely through positive reinforcement, such as self satisfying behaviors like jumping, counter surfing, chasing cars and barking. Many of these behaviors are major safety concerns as well, that can result in the death of the dog. Balanced training methods incorporate techniques such as negative markers, time-outs, and corrective measures, which help address these behavioral issues more timely and effectively.
3. Building a Reliable Recall and Off-Leash Control:
One area where balanced methods excel is building a reliable recall and off-leash control. Positive reinforcement alone does not provide the necessary tools to ensure a dog's (or humans) safety in potentially dangerous situations. Balanced methods include tools such as remote collars to ensure your dogs reliability and understanding of boundaries in distracting or high stress environments. Think of it as an insurance policy.
4. The Truth About Reinforcement Based Trainers:
Purely positive or Reinforcement based training is an ideology consistent with many people in the veterinary practice and humane societies all over the country. Many of the times it is due to lack of knowledge or leadership subscribing to the ideology. In most cases these people would rather recommend euthanizing a dog, versus using any aversive techniques whatsoever. They have a very limited toolbox in other words, and refuse to accept that there are other methods that will fix the issue. There are cases where some dogs need to be euthanized but many of the dogs can be rehabilitated with proper techniques. This happens all over the country, everyday. Most if not all veterinarian behaviorists subscribe to this ideology and are taking part in a huge movement to use psychotropic medications on dogs when the issue could have easily been addressed with proper training.
While purely positive methods have gained popularity over the years, it is important to understand the limitations. It is simply a marketing gimmick, designed to attract people to the ideology. Who wouldn't want to use zero force to train their dog? What they won't tell you, is that for positive training to be successful, would need a very specific type of dog and you would have to control every environment the dog is in at all times, which is not possible. Balanced dog training prepares the dog for real world situations and strengthens the bond between dog and owner through clear communication. Ultimately, the key to successful dog training lies in tailoring the methods and approach to suit the individual dogs, their unique needs, and specific behaviors. Dog training like many other things, is an industry in itself, it requires many years of learning and practice to be successful. Don't hesitate to hire a professional to get started training your dog as soon as possible.