What is positive reinforcement training

Jul 9, 2015   //   by ContentedCanines   //   Dog Training Info  //  Comments Off on What is positive reinforcement training

What is positive Reinforcement training

4 types (2)Most families when they get a new dog have some idea how they would like their new canine companion to behave. It would be nice if they would not chew on their furniture, bark excessively, jump on or mouth their house guests, come to them when called and walk nicely on a loose leash.  A dog that is well behaved has a lot more opportunities to share activities with the family. If the dog is not well behaved, he may spend his days in tied in the back yard, isolated from the family he loves. At the least he won’t have the enriched life that he and the family should be able to expect.

Unfortunately behaviors that seem normal to us are not necessarily natural to a dog. We have to teach our dogs what is appropriate to chew on. We have to train them not to pull on the leash when we go for a walk and that while a little barking may be ok, they need to know when to stop. Most people don’t have the necessary skills or time to effectively train their dogs so they will likely turn to a professional for help. This help may be in the form of private training or maybe they will choose to attend a group class.

When looking for a trainer, the number of choices can be confusing. You will hear about “traditional trainers”, “positive trainers” “cross-over trainers”,  “balanced trainers” or maybe clicker training. I will try to clarify as briefly as I can what each of these terms mean.

Traditional Trainer

After World War ll and for much of the next fifty years, dog training was pretty much dominated by the philosophy of one man William Koehler, Koehler had been a dog trainer for the army and later made a name for himself training dogs for the movie industry. He thought that a dog should be able to make its own choices and that the dog would be severely punished for the wrong choice while the right choices would be pretty much ignored. If you wanted to teach a dog to walk on a loose leash, for example, you would use a chain or pinch collar and a 15 foot leash. The dog would be allowed to use the entire length of the leash but if he reached the end of the leash the trainer would turn and run the opposite direction giving a very hard correction. He would train other behaviors much the same way and by today’s standard, his methods are considered very severe. His book “The Koehler Method of Dog Training” is still published and there are still many trainers that still adhere to his methods.

Positive Reinforcement Trainer (Sometime incorrectly referred to as Positive Training)

Positive reinforcement trainers reward the desired behaviors and mostly ignore the undesired behaviors. They do not use chain or pinch or electronic collars. Usually they use food based reinforcements but the reward may be anything that the dog will work for that tends to increase the likelihood of the desired behavior being repeated such as praise or play. As the response to the cue (command) becomes conditioned, the reward is faded away. Like the traditional trainer the dog is rewarded or punished for its own decisions but the positive trainer will maximize rewards and minimize punishment while the traditional trainer will maximize punishment and minimize rewards.

Balanced Trainer

A balanced trainer will use both reward and punishment as they see necessary. They will often use chain or pinch training collars but usually train in a more humane way than a traditional trainer. A balanced trainer will use treats or other reward to teach a behavior and will ten correct with a jerk on the collar when the dog does not get it right. The use of punishment versus reward is an individual choice but the main objection we have to punishment based training is that it is not any more effective than reward based training and people tend to use correction far longer than it is necessary.

Cross-over trainer

Most trainers that have been working with dogs over 15 or 20 years began as traditional trainers. That is just the way it was done at that time. About that time I had been asked to be a judge for The Dog Writers of America competition and was exposed to writers such as Karen Pryor, Patricia McConnell, Pat Miller and Jean Donaldson who had all written books on positive reinforcement training (+R). These writers had a big influence on me and I began applying the principles of +R in my classes as well as my private training. Although it took me a while to make a full transition, I made the successful “cross-over” to the use of +R. Just because a trainer says that he is a +R trainer, it doesn’t mean that he never uses punishment but usually the punishment takes the form of withholding a reward rather than hitting or jerking on a dog.

What about Contented Canine

Both the American Veterinarian Society of Animal Behaviorist and The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers have a similar position statement for the use of punishment in the training of dogs. The AVSAB’s position is “Punishment (e.g choke chains, pinch collars, and electronic collars) should not be used as a first-line or early-use treatment for behavior problems” (or in the case of Contented Canine, any training) “This is due to the potential adverse effects which include but are not limited to: inhibition of learning, increased fear-related and aggressive behaviors, and injury to animals and people interacting with animals.” The CCPDT has a similar position on the use of punishment in training but goes on to establish a hierarchy for the application of humane training where physical  punishment is only used after all other methods have failed. Contented Canine agrees with these principles as stated by the AVSAB and the CCPDT and will not use force based punishment either in group classes or private training except as a last resort where the safety of the handler or dog is at stake.





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