“Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.”– Orhan Pamuk
Positive reinforcement, or force-free, training doesn’t mean we don’t train our dogs to be compliant with our wants and needs. Of course, we do. It simply means we do it without pain, force, fear or intimidation.
With patience and consistency, we can develop a common “language” that we both understand to get the results we both want: effective communication. Win-win.
Dogs don’t know how to get along in our world- it’s our job to show them. So, I teach people how to train their dogs; basically, how to communicate with their canine companions.
The best part is witnessing the moments when real honest-to-goodness understanding takes place. When the light bulb goes on for both human and dog and they “get” each other. That’s where the magic is: communication.
And training your dog is all about improving communication. We achieve more success – and a greater bond- when we work with what a dog already knows and their natural behaviors.
However, when training dogs we have largely and traditionally relied on mastering, dominating and forcing them in a misguided effort to control the dog’s behavior. We have tried to be their “pack leader” even though we know they’re not human and they know we’re not dogs.
Sure, training based on these methods has achieved results, but at what cost? Jerking on the leash, pinching the back of their necks, firmly holding their muzzles closed, using painful collars, even yelling and hitting…all these methods, I promise you, are absolutely not needed to train your dog. I’ll promise you something else: positive reinforcement training is a whole lot more fun, too.
And modern science proves it. As we continue to understand more about how dogs learn, these outdated methods become just that: outdated. Think about how you learn best. Or your kids. Everyone and everything respond to kindness. Who likes to be yelled at? Who likes to feel pain? Who likes to be scared? We don’t. Dogs don’t either.
Developing a Common “Language”
Positive reinforcement training focuses on developing a “language” that both dogs and humans use to communicate. This language does not stem from fear, intimidation or pain. Rather it’s based on patience, consistency and trust and involves deliberate body language, calm tone of voice, motivation and rewards.
I’m much more interested in helping people establish deep connections with their dogs than I am in teaching them how to control them. It all starts with abandoning the idea of attempting to make dogs think more like humans and instead embracing the idea of trying to think more like a dog.
We focus on repeatedly showing a dog what TO do, instead of repeatedly disciplining him for what NOT to do. The results are a happy, confident, cooperative dog whose bond with you reaches far beyond his leash and collar.
Punishment only leads to unhappy dogs, unhappy people and fundamentally unreliable behavior. What do you expect to happen when the prong collar comes off? When the electric/shock collar runs out of battery? Does the dog still respond? If he does, is it out of fear of what will happen if he doesn’t respond? Or is it because he’s happy to comply with his kind human who’s giving of praise and good things?
I realize choosing a dog trainer today can be a challenge and that terminology can be confusing. In a nutshell, always be sure to ask a trainer, “What will happen when my dog does something I don’t like or want?” Their response will let you know what kind of trainer s/he is.
You love your dog—do right by her.
What it all boils down to is that effective and compassionate dog training isn’t fast and convenient— it’s tough stuff. Ultimately, you choose whether you’d like to motivate your dog to work for something she likes or coerce your dog to work to avoid something unpleasant.
So, if you could train your dog without pain, fear and intimidation, wouldn’t you want to give it a shot?