Is your dog trainer really as positive as you think they are?

It’s pretty easy to find a ‘positive’ dog trainer these days, but the thing is, when most people see the word positive, they think of a good experience. So if you choose any positive trainer, you probably assume they must be making it a good experience for your dog. You will be getting positive results. Maybe, maybe not.

However, in the dog training world, positive is used more in a mathematically sense, to add something; a plus +

Now, when trainers ‘add’ something, that can be adding a reinforcement, usually something good, such a treats, play etc OR they could be adding a punishment or a correction, something not so nice for your dog.

There is also another type of trainer out there, they are referred to (but may not  refer to themselves) as ‘balanced’ trainers. These trainers use a balance of + reward and + punishment, meaning they use a mixture of corrections and treats to get the desired behaviour.

The thing is that both training techniques can work, but the delivery, timing and experience for you and your dog can be completely different!

Growing up in the 90’s the majority of training available was positive (+) punishment with a slip/choke collar and is still widely available today.  But to make this type of training work, to no detriment to the dog or your relationship with them, it comes down to timing.

You have literally have HALF a second (0.5) to ‘mark’ a dogs behaviour.

Positive (+) Punishment training means you have that amount of time (remember it’s only half a second) to use a correction and for the dog to have the correct association to that correction.

Timing is one of the biggest challenges to a novice dog owner as you have to be acutely aware of exactly where your dog is looking, what their focus is on and correct the dog all within that 0.5 seconds, to correctly mark the behaviour.

Now I’m not saying impossible to learn this impeccable timing, and I am sure that with many years and decades of training you will be able to get this right, but what happens to your dog in the meantime?

If you correct when they move towards dogs, the dog can associate a negative experience being around other dogs, which can then lead to more reactive or difficult behaviours on and off the leash.

I am pretty sure that as a child, if you were told off, or corrected every time you did something wrong, or didn’t do it correctly, it wouldn’t take you long to either:

  1. resent your parents or the person giving the correction or punishment
  2. give up because you cant get anything right – known in the dog world as shutting down
  3. get frustrated and start lashing out because you are just going to do your own thing anyway (insert difficult behaviour here!).

One the other hand, there are many benefits of using a + reinforcement dog trainer. In the last decade, science has come a long way in proving that this is by far the most beneficial way of training and is used by most trainers around the world, whether training dogs, chickens, elephants, dolphins etc. Whilst the timing is just as important there are less things at stake if you get it wrong.

Whilst most + reinforcement trainers use clickers to mark the behaviour, (much quicker and simpler than snapping your arm for a correction!) they are able to teach the lay person (you) a pretty easy way of marking the desired behaviour without needing any additional equipment or years of training.

A simple “YES” can replace the need for a clicker and be just as efficient as marking the behaviour in the 0.5 seconds.

What happens if you accidently say ‘YES’ at the wrong time? Your dog gets an extra treat – no real biggie in the grand scheme of things. And as you get better at looking for, and marking desirable behaviours, your errors will get less and less.

The best bit?

Everyone loves a treat! If every time you looked away from someone, you got a treat, you are much more inclined to do that behaviour and it also improves your relationship with the person giving you the treat – you like them, you want to please them.

I always loved my granddad – and not just because he was a pretty amazing human being, but because, every night I stayed over at my grandparents house, I would get a single square of chocolate after he tucked me up in bed. In fact, its one of my most favourite memories growing up as a child. Don’t we want to foster the same memories in our dogs? That training is fun?

When choosing a trainer, and the equipment they choose to promote, please always consider what consequences this might have on your relationship with you dog.

You may get the behaviour you want with + punishment methods, but at the end of the day will you have the relationship you want with your dog?

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