You have a dog with a behaviour problem, he is aggressive to other dogs, she is scared of people, he is territorial…
This is of great concern for you as you really were aiming at raising a calm, friendly dog to all others, but it has not turned out that way.
Maybe you did everything right and something just happened? Maybe you did make a few mistakes, but you never thought it would turn out like this.
Right now, none of those things matter, you need help to help your best friend.
He or she is perfect in every other way.
You ask some friends or jump online, you have not researched dog behaviour modification before and your dog really is worrying you.
You come across this amazing ideology that you just give your dog lots of treats and all the problems will melt away. You sign up with a trainer that can help you find your dreams and the treats are going into your dog lives aside.
It is all so filled with sunshine and happiness.
You really commit and train your dog every day, avoiding any contact with the triggers that behaviour.
A few months go by and there have been times where you have been unable to avoid those triggers and even with all of this training, a bag full of the most delicious treats, your dog ignores you just like before and explodes.
It is like you have done no training at all!
You explain all of this to your trainer and the advice is more treats, of HIGHER value.
You dive in and put in the hard yards for another few months, but every time that trigger appears, he will not take the treats, and just explodes like before.
So, it is back to your trainer and explain the problem.
It turns out your dog is “anxious” and needs to be medicated.
Your sad to hear this but wonder why he needs to be medicated when he is perfectly fine in every situation, except when he sees another dog (for example).
But off to the vet you go and your dog is given Prozac. Your told that it takes a few weeks to have an effect.
You work your dog as the trainer instructed and now your well past that few weeks for the medication to take effect, but your dog is still the same.
You explain this to your trainer who gives you a great solution, “just don’t walk him where he may see another dog”.
Yes, this is the PERFECT WORLD. Unfortunately, not the REAL WORLD.
You explain to your trainer that you can in no way make sure that never happens, and then we discuss increasing the dosage of the Prozac and adding a secondary medication.
You explain your not keen and say some terrible things to your trainer, like “there must be another way”.
Now, you see a different side of your trainer, they become angry and start to tell you that some trainers just will hurt your dog and shut it down and turn you into an ABUSER!
They start highlighting everything you did wrong with this dog and that the only way to train a dog is using Positive Reinforcement ONLY.
The ranting goes on and on and starts to turn into a blur as your thinking, this person is not “positive” at all!
You head home and find a number of emails linking you to 50 page “scientific studies” that you really don’t understand nor seem to apply to your dog.
The studies sure might prove that it works but your dog is proving it hasn’t.
You do some more research and find many recommendations for a trainer that has had many successes with dogs just like yours and worse.
You go to see this trainer and they explain what they feel is the problem, they tell you how they will work with your dog and begin doing so.
Your dog is working really well, the trainer is using some leash pressure to encourage or motivate your dog to follow instruction.
You are anxious and ask “wont the relationship between my dog and I break into pieces if I use that leash and not treats?”.
At the time you ask this question, your dog is licking the trainers face and enjoying a great scratch behind the ear…
Half an hour later, yes that same session, your dog is walking past another dog at a few metres away.
Your dog is rewarded with food, the leash is always loose now, your dog is eating the treats and does not seem that interested in the other dog ONLY A COUPLE OF METRES AWAY.
You would not believe how many times this exact set of circumstances occurs in my daily life.
The truth is that, good Balanced Trainers are extremely good at using Positive Reinforcement to strengthen / reinforce behaviours.
I have spent a good part of my life trying to improve – perfect the application of Positive Reinforcement and maximise its benefits.
I know what it can achieve, and I never train any dog with out it. In fact, there are some dogs where I ONLY use the addition and removal of the reward, i.e. Positive Reinforcement and Negative Punishment.
But, I am very aware that the two quadrants being used as a stand alone will leave many dog owners failed, because they simply will not work with every dog in a reasonable amount of time.
That is fact, many times I wish it wasn’t, but it is.
The sooner we all accept that, the happier we will all be, mainly the dogs.
The 4 quadrants of Operant Conditioning detail the way that a dog interprets certain stimuli and that the applications of these can influence the way a dog behaves.
That’s right, there are FOUR of them in the EVIDENCE BASED, SCIENTIFIC method of learning known as Operant Conditioning.
My goal as a trainer is to make sure that training is effective and results are delivered within the expectations of the client, which I help set.
Which of the 4 quadrants are used is determined by the dog.
Fanaticism at its worst.
I used to believe that there were professional trainers that choose to be force free and I had no problem with that. I still don’t.
I have a huge problem with these things though: –
- Taking a client’s money and time and forcing them to remain within your ideology, even when it is not working.
- Medicating dogs because you simply can’t train them, even puppies 6 months and younger!
- Scouring Social media platforms in search of a dog with a piece of training equipment you don’t like and attacking that person or group.
- Frightening and threatening your clients into staying away from trainers with broader experience than you, denying them and their dog access to real help simply because they do not fit into your ideals
- Hiding behind someone else’s studies rather than showing your own work as an example.
I personally believe that these are all unethical, unprofessional, and inhumane practices.
At some point, you need to come to the realisation that when training is not working, professionals find something that does or refer to someone that can.
When you don’t accept this realism, you are actually contributing to the amount of dogs that are being killed due to unresolvable behaviour problems.
If you are “Pro Dog”, “Pro Life”, “Pro Training”, “Pro Helping”, “PRO PEOPLE!”, then you need to move away from preaching and forcing single ideologies being applied to ALL dogs with variable temperaments, history’s and dogs instincts.
You will NOT see me saying Positive Reinforcement does not work, what I AM saying is that many dogs will not respond well enough to Positive Reinforcement ONLY to create reliable, effective results.