Dog Training: Common Misconceptions and Myths About Positive Trainers
Positive training: A relationship based on trust, bonding and mutual respect
Why are Positive Reinforcement Trainers Accused of Bribing?
Why are positive reinforcement trainers often accused of bribing? This misconception may have erupted from the tension derived from trainers of different schools and methodologies. There appears to be, indeed, some conflict between trainers using force-free training methods and balanced trainers using a variety of tools and techniques to train dogs. This conflict can at times become quite fierce, ultimately leading to name calling. The saying:“If you put three dog trainers in a room, the only thing two of them can agree on is that the third is wrong" is very close to truth.
Force-free trainers, are often referred to as "cookie trainers", "treat trainers", "pure positive" and "bribery trainers". These terms are often used to depict trainers who object to the use of certain training tools and training methods based on intimidation, fear and compulsion.
The purpose of this hub is to debunk some common myths and clear some misconceptions which seem to be flooding websites and other media venues.
Eight Common Misconceptions About Positive Trainers
The following are some common misconceptions used to portray force-free trainers. I am not sure how these misconceptions have formed, but there are an abundance of websites that have been unjustly posting erroneous information. Some of this misinformation demonstrates a strong lack of knowledge in learning theory.
*Note: to clarify, the term positive in this article denotes a force-free trainer. If you find a trainer who uses choke collars, prong collars and electronic collars and uses the word positive to depict his/her training, he/she is likely using this term for positive punishment not positive reinforcement!
Misconception 1: Positive Trainers are Cookie Trainers
While it is true that force-free trainers may use food, especially during the dog's initial stages of learning, it is also true that food is not exclusively and always on their agenda. Not all dogs are food motivated, and not all positive reinforcement trainers use food. Many use anything that causes a behavior to increase and maintains that frequency. What is rewarding for one dog may not be rewarding for another; therefore, the term "reward" is highly subjective. To learn more about this read: The Use and Rewards of Punishment in Dog Training
Positive reinforcement can, therefore, be a word of praise, a gentle pat or a fun play session. If the trainer uses the Premack Principle to train dogs, he or she may heavily rely on life rewards such as access to another dog, a game of fetch or the opportunity to go sniff some grass.
Misconception 2: Positive Trainers Use Bribery to Train Dogs
Bribery is absolutely something that should not take place in training when done correctly. Calling a force-free trainer a bribery trainer is very inaccurate and denotes little knowledge in training methodology. Truth is, bribery has no place in training whether it is force-free or not. If you have to hold a treat to have your dog listen to you, you are not training correctly! Luring a dog into a sit or a down is often referred to as bribery, but it is not. It is a prompt. To learn the differences and get a little technical read: Luring Versus Bribing
Misconception 3: Positive Trainers Are Permissive
There is a saying in the world of force-free trainers and that is: "positive does not mean permissive"! Force-free trainers are often accused of spoiling dogs and ruining dogs with excessive permissiveness. While it is true that training methods based on coercion are not used, it also true that force-free trainers do use consequences for actions The consequences, however, are never aversive. They are rather meant to help the dog figure out what behaviors are best to repeat and which are better off being extinguished. Negative punishment is used rather than positive punishment.To learn more about the differences between the two, read: A guide to behavior modification techniques and terms.
Misconception 4: Positive trainers Work Only with Small, Happy Dogs
Not true. Positive reinforcement training can be very effective in training even large, stubborn dogs. According to the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, it is a myth that only small, happy dogs respond to positive reinforcement. Killer whales and tigers have been trained using positive reinforcement; therefore, there is no reason why a large, stubborn dog weighing 100 pounds should not respond!
Misconception 5: Positive Trainers Cannot Treat Severe Aggression
This is far from truth. Many reputable dog behavior specialists and veterinary behaviorists treat severe cases of aggression every day and with success using force-free behavior modification programs. To go to the root of the problem, a good behavior modification program should not focus on suppressing the outward manifestations of a behavior, but rather, changing the underlying emotional state.
Misconception 6: Positive Trainers Do Not Put Titles on Dogs or Compete
Sadly, there is a myth suggesting that if you want to compete in any canine sport and put titles on your dog, some compulsion training is needed. Unfortunately, there are some trainers and owners that are so driven to compete that they do not care about the measures needed to get their hands on some ribbons. They may, therefore, resort to shock to get that perfectly straight sit, or give a harsh prong correction for correcting a dog failing to heel. Yet, there are many force-free trainers who have accomplished a whole lot and their homes and offices are full of cups, trophies and ribbons! They may just not brag about it enough; but rest assured, there are plenty!
Misconception 7: Positive Trainers Contribute to the Dog Obesity Problem
A reputable, positive dog trainer is concerned about those extra calories derived from giving treats. For this reason, he or she will recommend making adjustment to the dog's diet. Often this entails reducing the quantity of food fed at dinner time. If dog owners are concerned about giving treats for either health, training principles or dietary reasons, they can always use a portion of their dog's food and use it for training purposes instead of giving it for free. Nicole Wilde in her book "So you want to be a dog trainer" suggests mixing pieces of hot dogs with regular kibble in a bag so the kibble becomes more appealing. Of course, owners of dogs with health problems should always consult with their vet before giving any types of treats.
Misconception 8: Positive Trainers Ignore Bad Behavior
Often, there is belief that positive trainers ignore bad behavior. This errouneously implies the trainer cares less about the dog rehearsing bad behaviors just as a mom fails to scold a child who is whining in a store asking for candy. Positive trainers do not ignore bad behavior; rather, they prevent bad behavior from happening in the first place, by managing the dog's environment so to prevent rehearsal while rewarding appropriate behaviors. They may withhold reinforcement for undesirable behaviors which can be much more effective and less damaging than repeatedly correcting a dog. They do not ignore behavior or fail to provide consequences; rather, they acknowledge the problem, manage the dog, reward appropriate behaviors and wisely choose consequences that do not harm, hurt or intimidate the dog.
*Note: there is no such thing as "pure positive" dog trainers. This is a term crafted by balanced trainers for the purpose of depicting trainers who use exclusively positive reinforcement. The term is quite inaccurate for the simple fact that positive trainers do not rely exclusively on positive reinforcement; rather, they also use negative punishment and extinction when training dogs.
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