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Negative and positive training (53 #oneaday)

March 24, 2010

There is a whole lot of debate at the moment about positive reinforcement training, versus punitive training. I have used both, with the same dog, and thought it might be useful for me to share.

In the beginning I was introduced to the world of punitive training. I think most people are. Rory jumped and bit, which upset me a great deal. I knew he just thought he was playing, and did it when he was overexcited but that didn’t make it better. It hurt, it was ruining my relationship with him and any chance of bonding. I had a whole range of advice from flooring him (a dominance move that just made him worse) to kicking his back legs out from under him (which didn’t work, apparently a first for the trainer who suggested it). Eventually I went to someone I very much dislike and asked her advice. To her credit, considering she openly suggests using shock collars and can be vile to her own dogs, she was helpful and suggested a coke can filled with coins as noise aversion when he jumped up. This worked for a while.

But, what actually worked long-term was asking him to sit for food. I’d love to say this was instant but that is really not the case. I had to teach him to sit, wait and take treats gently when I said ‘ok’, otherwise he would just jump all over me. It took work, as most good things do, but long-term major score! *Touch wood* this is not something he does anymore. A shining example of positive training if ever there was one. I can not emphasise enough how much this changed the bonding between me and my puppy. It made a whole world of difference to our lives.

Actually, once I stopped demanding things from my dog everything improved. His recall was always subjective, depending on whether he decided the grass was greener on the other side or not. I’m not going to lie and say it’s amazing now, but it’s pretty good. Good enough that it works 80% of the time, which I think is probably higher than average for a dog walked mainly off-lead. And our bond has improved, to the point where I can’t pass him off to someone else mid-walk and leave because he will pull to get back to me, he will always follow me after saying ‘hello’ to a new dog, and despite all this he knows I am coming back and never appears to suffer separation anxiety.

I love my dog and would never dream of using extreme negative training again. Rory is who he is, and I love him for it, all bouncy four paws of him. That’s not to say I don’t yell, because I do. This applies particularly when he is rolling in something, like earlier today. But, having variations in the tone I use with him means he is very clear when it is unwanted behaviour, without any requirement for the use of a shock collar or spray. Our life together is better now. I think the only way those using punitive training methods will understand that positive reinforcement is better, is by us who have experienced both, sharing our stories. Preaching never helps. So here is my story, what’s yours?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 24, 2010 10:08 pm

    Can I suggest you take it to the next level and work with your dog’s own nature.

    Read “The Dog Listener” by Jan Fennell, she will show you how to guide Rory using his own instincts, often without even having to speak, let alone yell. You’ll be surprised at how easy life together becomes and just how close you can be.

    • sorayaleila permalink*
      March 24, 2010 10:31 pm

      Thanks for the advice. I have read some of that book already, but will endevour to finish. Noone likes yelling! Rory is a challenge to work with, no one training method alone has ever worked – he’s too smart for that. I’ve found using a combination of training methods works best. I only yell to distract him from the negative behaviour, like a shrill catch his attention. I should have probably mentioned Rory has hearing problems from ear infections when he was a puppy, and is trained to respond not only to voice commands but also hand signals. We have a good working relationship these days. Not that I’m saying we will stop learning because we most definitely will not. Education through reading and experience should continue for a lifetime! So again, thank you for highlighting the Jan Fennell book. I will be reading it more in full! 🙂 xxx

  2. Rob permalink
    March 26, 2010 1:10 pm

    With all due respect, Jan Fennell is yet another unqualified self-taught dominance theory peddler (and breeder I might add) who has no understanding of the science of animal behaviour. Have a look at the sound non-aversive training methods used by Ian and Kelly Dunbar…you can’t go wrong. All the best to you and Rory.

    • sorayaleila permalink*
      March 26, 2010 1:37 pm

      Ok. I’m taking all advice on board. Will also look at Ian and Kelly Dunbar. I think it’s important to read all theories, even if you don’t agree with them because it’s a different viewpoint, and because of that I may still read a bit of Jan Fennell, but me and Rory will never be doing dominance based training again.

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