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Do Treats and Kisses Lead to Training Misses?

June 9, 2011

The Real Deal with Positive Dog Training Methods

For most people, “positive” is a popular term used to describe a more kind and gentle way to train a dog. For others, it’s an impractical word that is often perceived to be synonymous with “ineffective,” or “new-age, hippie dog-trainers” (as a former veterinarian once told me).

Some dog owners think training their dog with treats, or other motivators, such as toys and praise, will simply create a dog who will listen ONLY when food, or that specific reward is present (we’ll have more on this later). Some think that clicker training is a worthless gimmick, despite its early uses by expert animal behaviorists to train dolphins and other marine mammals. You can’t put a training collar on a dolphin!

It’s kind of ironic for there to be so much negativity about such a feel-good word, don’t you think?

There is a familiar look that I see whenever I meet and speak with potential clients who don’t believe in, or understand positive reinforcement methods. It is the look of a skeptic or critic, maybe from a person who feels that something is wrong with their dog, and it is beyond “fixing” with positive methods. How could someone ever “fix” a dog without getting rough, without the use of shock collars (for scientific research on this go here), and a demonstration of “dominance”? You might ask, “How could treats and praise create a controlled and obedient dog?”

A part of me gets a little stressed out when I hear these misconceptions, but another part of me lights up inside; I know there’s an opportunity to educate and demonstrate what positive training is really all about.

The Real Deal with Positive-Reinforcement (R+)

When I first meet with potential clients, I always make an effort to explain my methods in the most simple and concise manner. In a nutshell, I call it “rewards-based training, free from intimidation or physical force.”

  • LEARNING takes place first; the dog must be taught how to do specific behaviors/skills from the start, without being physically punished or intimidated.
  • PRACTICING your dog’s new skills should continue until the dog proves that s/he understands what to do for each individual verbal cue and hand signal with at least 90% accuracy before going on to the next step.
  • PROOFINGthe most important step – Once the dog is reliable in their response to a specific behavior, they must be “proofed” in a variety of other environments (outside of your home). This is the stage where steadily adding distance, duration and distractions will make your dog’s training skills even stronger.
  • MAINTAINING your dog’s skills is the easiest step: Simply by integrating super short training sessions (1-2 minutes) into your day. This is where your dog’s training becomes a part of his or her everyday lifestyle, so that you can say “thank you” whenever you hear a compliment about your wonderfully behaved dog!

Positive is NOT Permissive…

Finally, what to do when your dog is misbehaving, or ignoring your requests? I’m sure by now, you know that “positive” also means “free from pain,” but it does not mean free from punishment and this includes verbal corrections with an even, stable tone of voice. However, this does not include shouting, or screaming at your dog.

Punishment and corrections do exist in the world of positive training, maybe just not how you’d imagine them. The message we want to send to our dogs is that there are always consequences to their behavior, whether it is in their favor or not.

Removal or Withholding of Rewards: Treats, toys, leashes, petting, attention from you, etc–anything that they perceive as a reward is promptly taken away from them when their behavior is undesirable. These are also effective in the form of short breaks and time-outs, when timing is properly used.

“Nothing In Life Is Free”: If your dog doesn’t comply with your verbal cues and/or hand signals, he does not earn his bowl of kibble on the floor, his leash being put on for a walk, or that VIP parking spot on your lap. Period! If your dog must work to earn his keep and privileges, too, then he will soon understand the value of your requests and respond accordingly, each and every time!

If you’re already training positively, we’d like to hear about it! Let us know why it’s working for you and what your greatest training accomplishment has been so far. We hope this will inspire many more dog owners and professionals to reconsider the powerful science of positive dog training. We will continue to write blog posts pertaining to this topic in the hope that we may help educate others.

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About Austin Dog Zone

Austin Dog Zone formed in 2011. We offer dog training for all breeds and temperaments. We are committed to staying up-to-date on the most current scientific research available for dogs regarding both behavior and wellness. Our methods are effective, dog-friendly and family friendly.

8 Comments to “Do Treats and Kisses Lead to Training Misses?”

  1. melf says:

    Great post! All of my dogs have been trained using positive training methods and I have always received compliments on how well they behave. I will admit that I haven’t been as diligent with Daisy and Jasper, but they are still a great example of why rewards-based training works. I have seen more dogs with behavior problems when an owner is inconsistent or uses the more forceful methods. I am of the mindset that our desire to use force with our dogs is more a reflection of us than of our dog. Why would people choose the more aggressive methods if there was one that was less so AND it worked? I think it’s about power. Plain and simple.

    • Austin Dog Zone says:

      Thank you! We couldn’t agree more. There is absolutely no need for shock collars and other nonsense when it comes to training your dog. 🙂

  2. Great post. Too many people don’t fully understand the power and the benefits of using positive training methods.

    BTW, the veterinarian who described R+ trainers to you as “new-age, hippie dog-trainers” is WAY behind the times in terms of our profession and in terms of the scientific evidence. He (or she) needs to educate himself before he speaks further! I’m embarrassed that one of my colleagues would say something like that 🙁

    • Austin Dog Zone says:

      Hi Lorie! Thank you! We are extremely thankful for vets like you who continue to learn and share knowledge with others. It truly counteracts any negative vet comments, or behavior when we see this!

  3. […] Though positive dog training methods require you to reward your dog for performing the expected behavior in the early stages of the training, they do not require that bad behavior go unpunished. This is explained very well in a post by Caitlin Lane, CPDT-KA over at Austin Dog Zone. Caitlin discusses whether treats and kisses result in training misses. […]

  4. Therese says:

    Great post – very reader-friendly for passing on to pet owners (with proper acknowledgement of course).
    I agree completely with previous comments and have had my share of ‘old school’ veterinarians who know nothing of positive training methods, let alone behaviourism. I so wish that this subject was given more credence when training veterinarians and vet nurses.
    My greatest accomplishment? My dog, Shelley, unfortunately suffers from trachea collapse and 8 months ago her medication (animal) was discontinued. The replacement drug (human) contained theophylinne to which she is allergic so I had to search for something else – that is Ventolin (Salbutamol) which has to be given via chamber with face-mask attached. Within 7 days Shelley was voluntarily putting her nose into the mask. This could never have been accomplished without +R clicker shaping/treating. I was/am so proud of her! She will take her ‘puffer’ anywhere, anytime, once she gets her treats…chopped apple!

    • Austin Dog Zone says:

      Hi Therese,
      Thank you for sharing your story with us. Shelley is lucky to have such a caring dog mom that is dedicated to her quality of life, as you demonstrate. 🙂 I wish this topic was covered more for veterinarians too. Feel free to share this post with others (if you could link back to us and include our name that would be great). Thank you again!

  5. Larry M says:

    I’ve been studying through Animal Behavior College to become a professional dog obedience trainer. I’m nearing the end of my course study and about to enter the real world of dog training as soon as I can find a R+ trainer in my area to serve my externship with. I’m getting very excited about joining the ranks of positive trainers and learning from all you pros out there. I have a lot to learn and a lot of desire to work with problem behavior dogs who are on the “green mile” and get them adopted into good families. I also want to work with families who have a dog with problem behaviors to help them keep their beloved pet in the family. I need to this to make up for having given up on one of my dogs two years ago before I learned the skills needed to correct her behavior. Not sure I’ll ever forgive myself for that mistake but perhaps I’ll feel better helping other families avoid the mistake I made.

    • Austin Dog Zone says:

      Hi Larry,
      Thanks for taking the time to read our post and respond! Please forgive yourself and go out and make a positive difference out there. 🙂 It is very rewarding and challenging, but we wish you the best in your new, upcoming career.

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