February 1, 2016

Getting Fast Results

This isn’t rocket science. But it is science. Dogs will repeat a behavior that has a positive outcome and avoid a behavior that has a negative outcome. That’s the secret to fast, long-lasting training.Because I’m results-oriented, I use training methods that are scientifically proven to work. If just so happens these are also the most up-to-date and humane available. Generally called non-aversive (or positive reinforcement) training, this approach relies on rewarding dogs for the behavior we want to see more of. The reward should be whatever the dog thinks is valuable (a treat, tug with a toy, a good scratch from her owner), not what we think is valuable. It is most effective when used in combination with a reward mark (“Good boy!” or the click from a clicker, for example). If your dog doesn’t like carrots, a piece of carrot is not a reward, even if you think it should be.One of the common objections to positive reinforcement training, when there is one, is that some owners don’t want to be dispensing treats to their dog for life just to get a sit. And you know what? These people are right!But what they don’t know is that reward-based training does not mean you continue to reward the dog for response to a command for the rest of its life — you reward when the dog is learning the behavior and then fade the use of the reward when the dog knows the behavior.You can learn more about a dog’s learning process here, but in general you reward your dog a lot when you first teach a behavior, someone what it’s basically learned and then just once in a while when it’s being maintained.So that’s how we get a dog to repeat behaviors we want to see, like Sit, Come or Let’s Go!. What about reducing behaviors we don’t want to see?That depends on the behavior. If we’re teaching a dog to respond to a command, we can ignore all the behaviors that are not the proper response to the command. Better yet, we can give the dog a signal that the behavior she offered is not the one we’re looking for. (In dog training lingo, this is called a “no-reward marker” and the dog must be trained to recognize what it means. It’s a lot easier than it sounds!).If the behavior is something that’s more intrusive to us humans, like excessive jumping up during greeting, especially when the dog’s a big one, ignoring the behavior can work but it’s much more effective to replace that unwanted behavior (jumping up) with a desirable one (sitting).These methods are effective, yield quick and lasting results and – ta da!—are fun for both human and dog.If this is the foundation of effective dog training, you might ask why some people continue to use aversive or punishment-based methods. Well, many people, including trainers who have been training for a long time using the methods they learned 20 years ago, just don’t know about all the advanced work and studies that have taken place on the issue of dog behavior and how dogs learn. And none of the books praising those outdated methods were ever pulled off the shelves in a recall when they were proven to be ineffective and inhumane. So they’re out there, and new dog owners may not know the difference.When I started out in my dog-training career in the early 2000’s, I was lucky enough to study training in the behavior department of New York’s ASPCA. There, under the auspices of nationally renown behaviorist Dr. Pamela Reid, I worked with dogs that had been taken by Humane Law Enforcement out of terrible situations and not surprisingly had some significant obstacles to adoption.Often these dogs had been mistreated and “trained” using aversive methods, so you can imagine they might be wary of the next human who tried to teach them something. But the great thing about positive reinforcement is that dogs love it, and even horribly abused, hand-shy dogs quickly decided the learning games with us were fun. Positive reinforcement training became a bridge to their hearts, and enabled them to trust and like people again. So in the process of being trained with positive reinforcement, these dogs were made more adoptable. Hip hip, horray! Isn’t that what you want for your own dog?For professional trainers, membership to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and certification as a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (visit the site to learn why you should look for a trainer who is a CPDT) requires adherence to “dog-friendly” training methods.According to the APDT, “dog-friendly training is training that utilizes primarily positive reinforcement; secondarily negative punishment, and only occasionally, rarely, and/or as a last resort includes positive punishment and/or negative reinforcement.”Positive reinforcement is giving something the dog thinks is good in order to increase the likelihood of a behavior being repeated (flipping him a treat when he sits on the Sit command).Negative punishment is removing something the dog thinks is good in order to decrease the likelihood of a behavior being repeated (withholding said treat when he lies down on the Sit command).Positive punishment is giving something the dog thinks is bad in order to decrease the likelihood of a behavior being repeated (a jerk on a choke chain when he lies down on the Sit command).Negative reinforcement is removing something the dog thinks is bad in order to increase the likelihood of a behavior being repeated (releasing a tightened choke collar when he sits on the Sit command).In these scenarios, positive reinforcement and negative punishment do not employ either pain or discomfort to your dog, while positive punishment and negative reinforcement do. And surprise, surprise, in studies of how effectively dogs learn, both positive reinforcement and negative punishment got the highest marks, in that order. Positive punishment and negative reinforcement didn’t teach the dogs a thing, other than the world is a painful place.If you’re not convinced, go ahead and shoot me an email with your questions. I am passionate about humane training and will be happy to invest my time in discussing it with you one on one.  

About Jennifer Reed