In recent years there has been much debate over techniques used for training animals.
Traditionally all animals were trained through a dominance-style technique. This method requires the animal to show submission to the handler. When using this method the animal is demanded to perform actions when given a cue; if the animal ignores the handler or performs the wrong behaviour it is punished. This was the technique traditionally used for circus animals, performing zoo species, working animals, animals used in television and film, competition dogs, as well as pets.
Over the past couple of decades a significant transition in training styles has occurred. Through extensive international research, we now have a far greater understanding of the cognitive abilities of different species. This has allowed better training techniques to be developed. The available research indicates that dominance-style training is not the best approach, and the newer techniques are far more appropriate from an animal welfare stance.
The older-style techniques are sometimes referred to as "traditional training", "punishment-based training", or "dominance-style training".
The newer-style techniques are sometimes referred to as "positive-based training", "rewards-based training", or "modern training".
Most trainers and handlers who use the newer methods WILL use the terms, modern, or positive, or rewards-based when referring to the techniques they use.
Most traditional trainers WILL NOT use the word dominance, or punishment-based, in the discussion of their training style. As an owner it is important to look for phrases like "you need to make sure the dog knows who's boss", or "ïf you let your dog get on the furniture he will think he's in charge", or "we need to punish that behaviour so he stops doing it", or "he needs to submit to us". Also watch for any signs of punishment (yelling, grabbing, smacking, pinching, yanking on the collar, etc), these techniques are common in dominance-style training. The dominance-style of training may also include rewarding desired behaviour with verbal or physical praise (sometimes this use of punishment as well as reward is referred to as "balanced training"). Any technique that intimidates the dog or causes the dog to submit, is a dominance-style technique. This can simply be yelling at the dog until he averts his eyes, turns his head away, crouches, cowers, urinates, rolls over, or shows appeasement behaviours. The punishment does not need to be physical to cause anxiety in the dog.
Dominance-style training techniques will frequently create dogs that are anxious, and sometimes create dogs that attack "without warning". When this occurs, most dominance-style trainers will determine that there was a flaw in that individual dog's temperament, and typically suggest euthanizing the animal. Unfortunately they rarely appreciate that the training technique was what created the issue.
Many people don't feel comfortable with the word OBEDIENT. They feel that is sounds demanding and dominant. However there is a need for dogs in our society to look to us for instruction. To find out why, click on the link below.
It is a very passionate topic for trainers on both sides. The dominance-based trainers believe that rewards-based training doesn't work reliably enough, and the positive-based trainers think the traditional-styles are cruel. There are however some cold facts to consider. Both techniques are capable of producing obedient dogs, both techniques are capable of producing winning competition dogs, and both techniques are capable of producing dangerous dogs (for completely different reasons).
A lot of people don't like to hear that the traditional dominance-style techniques work, but of course the fact is they do. This is why they came about in the first place, and this is why they have survived until now. In many less-developed countries, they are still the only technique used in the day-to-day training of working animals and also performing animals.
So why change??? Well, we are fortunate to have access to a vast array of scientific research. This research suggests there are better ways. Better in terms of faster and more consistent results, better in terms of more enjoyable for the animal, and better in terms of limiting unwanted disasters such as "without warning" attacks.
A handler definitely has to work harder, and be more knowledgeable, to successfully train a highly obedient dog using rewards-based training. You also need to have better control over your own emotional state; there is no room for frustration or anger in training animals properly using rewards-based training. On the upside, it is much more fun for both the handler and the dog. When applied well, this technique produces very reliable dogs, and is effective with a much wider range of dogs.
So why are the older techniques still in use??? Well, change is difficult, and some trainers find the transition to learning a new approach impossible. Perhaps the biggest problem though, is a lack of full understanding of the newer techniques. It is not as simple as praise and food and the dog trains itself! When I speak with most trainers who still use dominance-style training, it is clear they don't fully understand how to implement the newer techniques. They have read a little about them and immediately decided they didn't agree, or they've had a small (unsuccessful) trial of using a positive approach, never fully understood the system, and then gone back to the style they already know. I have never met a trainer who has used both methods successfully, but chooses to use the dominance-style techniques.
Sadly though there will always be trainers / handlers that want to feel "in control" of the dog. They enjoy the power of being dominant over the animal. These people will never choose to transition to the newer methods, as they lose the feeling they are looking for from training an animal.
Rewards-based techniques use positive reinforcement to increase a desired behaviour. The rewards can be in the form of anything that the dog finds rewarding; this might include verbal praise, physical praise, food rewards, playing with a favourite toy, or similar. Typically at least initially it will involve rewarding with treats.
Positive-reinforcement is the technique we use and recommend for everything from toilet-training, to politely going through doorways, to not jumping up on visitors, to loose leash walking, to creating relaxation in aggressive and anxious dogs, to training high level competition movements.
Contact us if you would like to discuss a one-on-one consultation in basic training, competition training, or to modify an unwanted behaviour. Many behaviour consultations can be conducted via Skype or over the phone or email with video footage provided by you.
Nowadays many people feel uncomfortable about the word OBEDIENT. Traditionally the word was associated with not just animals but children as well. The word obey even appeared historically in wedding vows. It is a word that makes many people uneasy, but it is just a word. When I say I want an obedient dog, I am not saying that I want to a dog that is submissive to me. However there are three main reasons why I need my dog to follow my instructions:
The safety aspect is super important. Due to the differences in cognitive abilities between humans and dogs, a human can analyse the danger of certain situations far more accurately. Hence if I say "stay", I mean stay where you are as there is a risk if you move you could get hurt. If I say "come", I mean come to me right now as there is a potential risk of a car, or an approaching aggressive dog, or a snake nearby. If I say "leave it", I mean do not touch or pick up that item as it could be dangerous or poisonous. These are basic instructions that a dog needs to follow to remain safe. Deferring to our greater ability to analyse risk is necessary for keeping a dog safe.
Dogs that are obedient get to go to more places and do more things.
Our society requires a dog to act in a certain manner when in a public place; no lunging at people, dogs, bicycles, etc; no jumping up on random strangers; no barking at people walking past; no urinating or defecating in inappropriate places. Dogs that can follow instruction, and travel and walk calmly, get to go to more places. This is understandable as their owners feel relaxed and comfortable taking them out in public.
Likewise, even within our home, a dog is more likely to be allowed to socialise with invited guests if the dog behaves in a calm manner, and can follow instructions. Dogs that cannot follow instructions are typically locked in a room or a portion of the yard when guests are present. The inability to follow owners instructions ultimately reduces the dog's enjoyment of life, as he is not often taken out to fun places and is not involved in social household activities.
RELAXED HOME LIFE
Dogs that do not follow instructions can cause a home to be chaotic. Owners of untrained dogs often complain of homes that are not relaxed, everyone's on edge, items are being destroyed, neighbours are complaining about barking, multiple dogs within the household are fighting, and individual dogs are requiring constant separation from other dogs or pets in the household. None of this makes for a relaxing and enjoyable home life. The most common reason given when dogs are re-homed or taken to a shelter is "behavioural issues". Issues with behaviour are also a common reason for euthanasia. A dog that can follow instruction is easy to manage and is a joy to share a home with. This approach provides an overall better life for the dog and the human/s.