Raising Canine

Becoming a Positive Reinforcement Dog Trainer

Have you ever watched a video (or even a live presentation) of a “new” method and felt your world rock? There are lots of gurus in the dog training world; people who have a new training system that will make your life easier, and your animal training a breeze. That’s one of the key goals in becoming a positive reinforcement dog trainer.

The truth is, there is no new method out there. Every method that’s out there can be explained through basic learning theory. When you hear a trainer talk about a revolutionary new method of training, be wary! You can get that same information for a lot less money, and probably a lot less wear and tear on your animal, by just understanding basic learning theory.

Positive reinforcement dog training (clicker training)

Here are a few examples:

  • Watch Me – positive reinforcement
  • BAT – negative reinforcement
  • Clicker Training (as a philosophy) – positive reinforcement
  • LAT (Look at That) – positive reinforcement
  • The Horse Whisperer – negative punishment, some negative reinforcement
  • Natural Dog Training – positive reinforcement
  • Parelli – negative reinforcement
  • Syn Alia – hard to tell, probably negative reinforcement

You’ll notice that almost all of these (with one exception) are either negative or positive reinforcement. That makes sense, because the goal is to increase behavior, rather than reduce it.

Often, there is really good information to be had by watching and listening to these experienced trainers; so, we don’t want to dismiss them out of hand. For instance, in “Watch Me,” Patricia McConnell introduces the idea of an autowatch. Again, there’s nothing new about this – it’s simply a conditioned stimulus for a particular behavior – but, it’s a very useful concept in dog training. However, the method and how the animal is learning is not new.

In the process of becoming a positive reinforcement dog trainer, it’s very important to understand what is going on when watching another trainer. BAT is a great example of this. It seems very gentle, and there’s a lot of discussion about letting the animal decide. This all sounds really great; however, it’s still negative reinforcement, which is an aversive. I want to clarify that I have no problem with BAT, and I think trainers should have this tool in their toolbox. But it should not be the first option – Watch Me is very similar and is positive reinforcement, so should be the first choice. If, for some reason, Watch Me doesn’t work, then pull BAT out of your toolbox.

I recommend watching dog training videos with the sound off. That allows you to ignore what the instructor is saying, and actually watch what is happening. Of course, you must first have a good grounding in learning theory, or you won’t have the knowledge you need to identify specific techniques.

If you find this information intriguing, I will be presenting a webinar on this topic. We’ll view videos of various “systems” and analyze them. You’ll be surprised at what you learn! For more information on this webinar, go to Method Comparison – a Critical Look at 7 Different Methods for Fear-Based Aggression

Susan Smith, CPDT-KA, CDBC is the owner of Raising Canine, LLC, which provides remote education for professional dog trainers and dog behavior consultants, as well as business and marketing educations and consulting to help their businesses, including an intensive course for those wanting to become professional dog trainers. Sue is also the co-author of the book “Positive Gun Dogs: Clicker Training for Sporting Breeds.” Sue is certified through CCPDT and IAABC. She is an ex-Board member for the CCPDT, an active, professional member of CCPDT, APDT, and IAABC, and was named APDT Member of the Year. Sue also owns East Valley Dog Training in the San Tan Valley of Arizona.

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