Today’s blog has to do with terminology. Kinda dull, huh? Yeah, I know. I can’t help it, guys. I’m still exhausted from the holidays.
There are two basic types of dog training, and each type has pros and cons. Now, when I say either “pro” or “con” in these lists, you should mentally add, “If you’re not careful, it can…” to the sentence. There are fabulous people, fabulous dogs, and fabulous dog trainers out there who know how to get around these cons and how to be careful. (I count myself among them!) There are also, sadly, a great number of people, dogs, and dog trainers who don’t. Keep this in mind.
Let’s start! All dog training can be boiled down to two types: Positive reinforcement type, and adversive type. Every other type of dog training is derived from these two. For instance, my type of dog training, holistic dog training, just means that I everything I can find, regardless of which type of training it comes from, depending on what works best with the dog and owner combination. These are broad, sweeping categories.
Shall we look at them?
We shall! Woo hoo!
Positive reinforcement means, very simply, that you’re rewarding good behavior. It’s a specific term taken from psychology, so it’s pretty well defined! When used in dog training, it can mean that the trainer is rewarding for good behavior (typically by praise or treats), while doing anything from ignoring to reprimanding bad behavior. If a dog trainer identifies as a positive reinforcement trainer, they are probably on the reward-more-reprimand-less mode of thinking. Ask them what their policy is when you catch your dog doing something naughty, and that will give you an idea of how strictly positive reinforcement-only they are.
Pros to PR training:
- Confident, well adjusted puppies who become confident, well adjusted dogs.
- Happy dogs and happy owners.
- A generally good feeling about what you’re doing.
Cons to PR training:
- Dogs who only listen when the owner has a treat.
- Dogs who would rather chase a squirrel then have praise, a treat, or their toys.
- An increase in toy obsession.
- Mania in dogs.
- A longer time for some dogs to learn what they’re supposed to do.
Adversive training means that you’re using something that is adverse to get your dog to stop doing something. A squirt bottle, a sharp “no!”, a loud noise, a tug on the leash — these are all adversive techniques. You apply something annoying, alarming, or uncomfortable to stop an undesirable behavior. In short, there are consequences for bad behavior! If a dog trainer identifies as an adversive trainer, they are probably on the Cesar Milan mode of thinking. (“Dogs don’t praise each other, they only correct for naughty behavior. Therefore, we will correct for naughty behavior and not praise, too.”) Ask them what their policy is when you catch your dog doing something fabulous, and that will give you an idea of how strictly adversive-only they are.
Pros to Adversive Training:
- Dogs who listen whether or not the owner has a reward ready.
- Dogs who listen even when they would rather chase the squirrel.
- Works on dogs who are not food-motivated.
- Typically works faster than PR training.
- Creates calm, confident dogs.
Cons to Adversive Training:
- When used on puppies, creates anxious adult dogs.
- Can cause stress and anxiety when over-used or used on stressed, timid, and anxious dogs.
- Can instigate aggression when over-used.
Generally speaking, the problems created in poorly done positive reinforcement training are fixable, while the problems created in poorly done adversive training are significant. Since I use both, depending on the dog, you might wonder why I’m mentioning this. Here’s why: If you’re unable to hire a dog trainer, or you’re watching a training show and emulating those techniques, you might want to know that you can create a bigger problem using adversive techniques. Even though they take longer, use more positive reinforcement ones! (The only adversive techniques I ever put on this blog are ones that are pretty neutral, and won’t cause issues. If your dog is aggressive, don’t even do those. Get help, and in the meantime use the positive reinforcement techniques.)
Now, depending on what you’re comfortable with (maybe you don’t like saying “no!” or perhaps you don’t want to carry around treats), different training styles will work better for you. Neither is good or bad on their own: both have pros and cons. If you know what the pros and cons are going in, then you can act accordingly.
Now, go! And the next time you see a dog and owner interacting, look at your spouse and say, “Ah, that’s positive reinforcement right there.” You’ll sound like you know more than you do. *grins*