Last week, I discussed finding a dog trainer to fit your values and needs. If you want to read it, check out Don’t Be Fooled. Basically, the intention of the post was to encourage the reader in considering his/her options for training methods and finding a trainer who uses a preferred method. Now, I’m steering the discussion towards the problems with adversive or compulsive training methods and a better alternative in training your dog.
After last week’s post, I found myself encountered by a situation which made me think about writing this post. Let me give you a snapshot of what transpired. Every morning, Jack, Bernie and I go out on our daily run which meanders through the neighborhood and loops back to our house. Usually, we end at the park so Bernie can roll around in the grass and Jack can just chill before we finish up our last mile. Most days we are greeted by friendly neighbors walking their dogs and we sit and chat. This particular day, Eddie had the day off which means, we all got to sleep in a bit more and Eddie came with us on our run. Since we left early, we missed the usual crowd who makes their way to the park in the morning. As we took our last pass by the park, we came across a couple walking their two dogs. One was a lab or retriever puppy and the other was either a mini Schnauzer or Schnauzer puppy. In any event, the Schnauzer became reactive when the dog saw the four of us. The Schnauzer had high pitched barking and was unable to settle down. This in of itself is not abnormal. What struck me was how the woman walking the dog responded. As the dog was barking, she began yelling at the dog “NO” and repeatedly said “NO,NO,NO”! Since that clearly was not working, she then crouched down next to the dog. Her Schnauzer kept on barking. She then smacked the dog on its rear end and yelled at the dog to shut the f… up!. Well, let me tell you, this too didn’t have any effect on the dog as the dog continued on with what he was doing. The only thing that helped in ending the barking was Eddie, Jack, Bernie and I who slipped by and moved in a different direction.
What this showed me was how pervasive compulsion training is in our society. In actuality, this type of method is usually the most widely known because it being popular for so long and attention being paid to trainers who use these methods and have their own network shows. First, compulsion trainers traditionally have more of a “since I’m in charge, I tell you (the dog) what to do and you must do it or else”. In this experience of the woman with her Schnauzer, the woman demanded her dog to stop barking and tried negatively reinforcing her dog by yelling and smacking him. What this teaches the dog is when another dog is present, I (the dog) get smacked which makes me (the dog) fear the other dog. Therefore, if the dog continues in receiving smacks and being yelled at when another dog is present, the dog can potentially rev himself up to the point where he then is aggressive towards another dog. Then the person’s response gets more aggressive. Also, in watching the woman with her Schnauzer, she didn’t appear to enjoying her confrontation with her dog. Her body language alone indicated she was tense, frustrated and irritated. I wonder if she chose an approach of walking the dog away and rewarding when the dog was quite, how much better of a response of the dog not barking as long or at all while at the same time making her feel better about getting a desirable response.
In addition to actually creating and reinforcing reactivity with a dog by yelling and smacking the dog when the dog barks, a person who chooses to use compulsion methods must also think about the physical and psychological/emotion impact on the dog.
Let’s take Bernie. Bernie is a more reserved dog. He is more internal and more calculated in his behaviors. Bernie is more cautious when meeting people, especially men and is very challenging to motivate. After seeing the results of a pinch collar on Jack ( check out Pinch Collars, No More.. pinch collars are more in line with compulsion training methods) and understanding its effects, I knew this tool would be detrimental to building a bond and actually be harmful for Bernie. Not only would using a pinch collar not be in the best interest of Bernie, but neither would compulsive training or yelling at Bernie as a consequence for exhibiting an undesirable behavior. How come? Well, as I mentioned, Bernie is reserved and pretty independent. Giving Bernie a smack or angrily yelling his name, Bernie would withdraw. He would hide and show fear towards us and refuse our attempts to get him to comply. This would then set us up for failure in positively encouraging him later. He would see as inconsistent and essentially, he would not trust us. The secret with Bernie, which is adaptable to any dog who is independent and a bit more cautious, find those things which make the dog excited. For Bernie, he loves when he hears high pitched voices. He loves working for food and he loves squeaky toys. But, for him, he loses interest FAST! Basically, when we are teaching a new behavior or reinforcing one already, we ask for the behavior. When Bernie does it, we say good boy and reward him with a toy or tasty treat. We constantly change up the reward and incorporate all of these things into a training session as a way in keeping his attention on us rather than get distracted with a bird or anything else he deems more interesting. Since he’s motivated in many ways, it helps for him in making a positive association with a new behavior which in turn helps him learn and habituate it faster. Win, win for the both of us!
Hands down, the job of the pet guardian, handler, or owner is bridging the gap between you and your dog, so you build a strong bond and relationship with your dog. Compulsion training method only widens the gap between you and your dog, and inhibits learning potential. Positive reinforcement offers both you and your dog a pleasant learning experience and one where learning is faster. You may need to become more animated and use exciting toys or treats in order for your dog’s response be towards you. You may only need little motivation in order for the dog to desire to work and get rewarded. Whatever the personality of your dog, the only method I’ve found which works and works with reliable results which can be built upon with more challenging training is with positive reinforcement techniques. Not only is the dog happier in working for a reward, but it leaves the handler feeling better in how the relationship is being built.
For more insight, check out Paul Owens, Original Dog Whisperer. You’ll definitely see a difference in training between the other Dog Whisperer!