This is why we clash! (a chapter from the upcoming book “The Foundation Principles of Dog Training”) By Ivan Balabanov
(c) Copywrite 2017 Ivan Balabanov. All Rights Reserved. Do not Copy or Reprint Without PermissionAs dog trainers we may not need science to “discover” what we already know: dogs have feelings and emotions and dogs are capable of cognitive processes. They are deserving of our protection, deserving of individual dignity, and deserving of respectful treatment. Unfortunately, this shared understanding and high regard for dogs among trainers has not led to shared perspectives about training methods and training tools, but rather (and too often) just the opposite. The current controversies – over method, approach and outcomes – have deeply divided dog trainers to a point where we can identify different cultures within the dog training community. These divisions don’t just reflect individuals training individual dogs for varying purpose (pet, competition, field and so on). They are collectives, groups of trainers (and sometimes even non-trainers) who hold strong and often oppositional beliefs and values. In the popular press, on social media and elsewhere we witness angry and prescriptive disagreements about which language, which behavior, and what tools each collective will accept as “correct” regarding dog training. In an effort to characterize the different ideas that predominate in dog training, we might begin by identifying groups that share some common core concepts and viewpoints about training, values about what is right and wrong regarding our relationship with dogs, and how dogs fit in contemporary culture. Currently, we refer to all types and breeds of dogs as companion dogs, but it is also true that not all humans choose to own a dog for the same reasons. So before I begin to talk about dog training methods, let’s first consider differences among type and breed. Some dogs are bred and selected for their cuteness as pets, but many others do have a different purpose for their lives (and ours), therefore breeders select for different qualities of breed type and temperament. There are hunting dogs, guard dogs, service dogs, protection dogs … just to name a few. Still, those who adhere to B. F. Skinner’s central theories have been trying for a long time to “wrap up” all dogs in one generic type with regard to temperament and ability, and ultimately to propose a “one size fits all” method for training them. This is quite impossible if we would like to recognize, value, and preserve the qualities and characteristics of a specific breed for specific purpose. In other words, a cute little neutered Yorkshire Terrier may have twenty “behavior problems” but nevertheless is still a little Yorkie. An intact dog, bred and selected for protection work (or sport) is very much a different animal. Some activists within dog ‘culture’ disapprove of protection dogs all together, but of course they can exercise their rights as consumers and need not acquire one. So let’s take the protection dog as an example. It may be difficult to understand the role and responsibility of protection dogs: if we are not rich or famous enough to be a target for kidnappers, and we don’t have a crazy stalker; if we are not aware of people who actively wish us dead, such a dog may seem scary or at least, unnecessary. Yet, unless we live alone in a remote isolated area it is still hard to watch the news about missing children and believe such tragedies will never happen to ours. Bad people do exist. And after more than twenty years’ experience with training and placing personal protection dogs with families around the world, I deal with two categories of people. In the first group are those who are paranoid about safety but may not really need a protection dog. The second group are those who may have already lost a child, a spouse or even their whole family because there was no one to protect them. Police too often show up after the fact, and in very many instances, the body guards themselves are part of the setup. People do disappear (or are ‘disappeared’) and these are the facts. I have come to the realization that a lot of what we see at the movies is not strictly fiction. So for as long as such people are out there (which will be as for long as mankind exists) there is nothing that can compare to the feeling of security that a true protection dog gives to its owner and family. Such a dog is extremely self-confident, physically fit and strong; it will quickly establish dominance against a human that threatens their pack or territory. This is not the a typical — or generic — spayed/neutered Sheltie, Poodle or Border Collie and you can be certain that “one size” of training does not “fit all’. It could sometimes implied or subconscious but as humans we have long recognized and appreciated dogs for their alertness and protective traits. We have admired them for the ability and desire to accept us in “their world” as family and taken upon themselves the responsibility to protect us from others if needed. We have cultivated and extended this affiliation, and benefitted from their working abilities. This has been the case for thousands of years, and it is arguably the most significant purpose Canis Lupus Familiaris (the dog) has had for living side by side with us. Although the natural protective trait is very important, for the dog to actually be able to protect in contemporary society there are multiple skills that must be taught. Most protection-trained dogs are selected and encouraged to be social in everyday life; they are not fearful, overly aggressive or crazy. These dogs are not (and cannot be) the sort of dog that will nip someone out of fear or bark while backing off. Such dogs lack character and will ultimately fail to protect. It sometimes seems the public perception of the personal protection dog is of an aggressive dog that growls and barks without allowing anyone near the owner. The absurdity of this perspective is clearer when you consider that first and foremost a personal protection dog should be able to accompany its owner anywhere, anytime — on the street and at home. To do so, the dog must be social, stable, extremely controllable and completely trustworthy in public and around strangers. Without these characteristics the dog presents a liability, and it useless as personal protection, though it may do well for guarding an area. As with protection dogs, we should also investigate and understand what exists in the temperament and character of a hunting dog, a herding dog and so on. So, what follows as a description that oversimplifies a complex reality, but helps us understand dog trainers’ arguments about how to work with dogs. We need to educate ourselves because an education should be, among other things, an inoculation against the blind or uncritical acceptance of nonsense, fads, and superstition. To a large extend the current clash among dog trainers is due to misconceptions, misplaced emotions and some myths, that little by little over the recent decades have created whole cultures within the field or industry. The evidence of this is in the extreme ideologies that some groups represent and those who some quite often falsely present them as “science.” I am skeptical that the different camps would or could come to a common understanding. On the contrary, I feel that they are drifting farther apart. The main point is that as dog trainers we need to know the different ideas these positions they embrace regarding training, reinforcements, aversives and punishment as we build our own perspective about what is correct and appropriate in dog training. I see that to a great extent the confusion dog trainer’s voice, is the result of constant exposure to the jargon, slogans and cliché that claims to be rooted in science and even so, is rarely applied properly when working with dogs.
Who is qualified to train dogs?
“Knowledge without practice is useless, yet practice without knowledge is dangerous.”
Animal Behaviorist: What’s in a name?The title behaviorist derives from an academic position or certain school of thought termed Behaviorism. Although it may sound erudite, it is simply a subfield in academic psychology. B. F. Skinner, American psychologist instrumental in defining the field argued that all actions can be explained through observations, that organisms only engage in behaviors that are specifically reinforced, and that positive reinforcement is superior to any other form of learning. One point of contention is the claim that behaviorism either denies or ignores the mind and internal states such as emotion or belief experienced by animals and humans alike. Behaviorists believe that how and why dogs act can be explained without reference to non-behavioral mental (cognitive, interpretive, or representational) activity. Behaviorists also strongly believe that punishment doesn’t work to alter or change behavior. Behaviorists believe that through observations they can get to the root cause (diagnosis) of a behavioral issue, and from there, solve a behavioral problem. But in recent years Behaviorism has lost some of its influence. The experiments exclusive to the laboratory have been dismissed by cognitive ethologists and ecological psychologists, who find that such limited methodology is irrelevant to the study of how animals and persons behave in their natural and social environments. How does a Behaviorist differ from a Dog Trainer? There are varying categories of “Animal Behaviorist.” The most credentialed are the Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB). These are certified professionals with earned doctoral degrees in a behavioral science and extended or additional training in science and theory. The Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (ACAAB) holds a master’s degree; the Veterinary Behaviorist has a DVM and additional training (ACVB). While knowledge of animal behavior is not required to earn a veterinary degree, and animal behavior is not comprehensively integrated into veterinary school curriculum, some veterinarians seek specialized education in animal behavior and earn board certification through the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB). The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is another group of veterinarians and research professionals who share an interest in understanding animal behavior. Don’t’ be confused by the schools for dog trainers who include ‘animal behavior’ as a catch phrase in their business name. These programs provide nowhere near equivalent of the educational requirements of accredited university graduate programs. The behaviorist (DVM) may have the advantage over the dog trainer with regard to the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions that could be affecting dog’s behavior; among other medications they also can prescribe psychotropic medications. But when marketing psychotropic drugs to the dog owner, the result can be abuse of psychiatric drugs, prescribed or used at a rate that is increasingly alarming. We are medicating dogs in a manner that parallels the use of drugs in human psychiatry yet there are few studies on the long-term use of these medications, and that should give us pause. Such drugs come with side-effects, major health and welfare warnings regarding how the drugs affect the workings of the heart, the liver and the kidneys as well as the brain. Selective publication of clinical trials on psychotropic drugs also could lead to a bias about their perceived effectiveness, according to a study led by researchers at the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center (New England Journal of Medicine, 2008). The study examined 74 FDA-registered studies for a dozen antidepressants and found that most studies with negative results were not published in scientific literature or were published in a way that conveyed a positive outcome. So do they really work? Although I am sure there are dogs out there that have benefitted from such drug protocols, it has been my personal experience over these last thirty years that medication has neither improved a dog’s life nor his ability to learn. Across all areas of dog training, I have worked with dogs already on medication when I first encountered them, and not one demonstrated any improvement in their condition. Some of them had become zombie-like, but that is not healing. My own Yorkie, Sammy, is now 10 years old but he first came to me the age of six months with “history.” The original owner took him to an animal behaviorist who did every possible test, and extensive blood work. They found nothing medically wrong with the poor guy, yet turned to the prescription pad. The behaviorist wanted to put him on Prozac. When the owner initially brought him to me for an evaluation, I saw nothing but a lively little puppy. Not in a million years would I have imagined myself owning a Yorkie but after having him here for two weeks, I asked the owner to sell him to me: I had fallen in love. The owner had his litter sister so it wasn’t a terribly difficult choice for her, especially since the whole experience she’d had with him at the at the behaviorist’s office had scared her into thinking he was beyond repair. Alternatively, dog trainers find their insights not in books or research articles, but via interacting with dogs. They are not investigators observing behaviors passively through the glass. Rather, to be able to accomplish anything beyond basic obedience commands like sit, down and come a higher level of understanding, interactivity and communication is needed, something we might call total immersion. Consider this analogy: if you wish to acquire a foreign language, you may study it in school. In fact you may study at many different schools and graduate, attaining increasingly higher levels of skill, earning diplomas and certificates and the like. You may become more fluent in formal grammar, and even understand the origin and evolution of this particular language, beyond what’s known by its native speakers (in fact this is quite common). But to be fluent in communication with native speakers you have to understand their culture, their values, and their humor which is impossible unless you gain fluency via interaction, or what language teachers call total immersion. In fact, purely behavioral models of language learning cannot explain various features of language acquisition such as the rapid acquisition of language by young children. A dog trainer’s most valuable strength then, is the result of endless hours spent interacting with a variety of dogs, teaching and training, accomplishing advanced skills through higher level of interaction, and deep relationship and therefore gaining understanding of how animals learn. Such lessons cannot be learned at the veterinary school and should not be dismissed in the name of more scientific pursuits. In fact, in order to have scientific credibility any study purporting to compare dog training or handling methods would require a significant number of dogs from an inbred line, from exactly the same breeding, raised identically, placed into identical families, treated identically (i.e. walked for the same length of time, fed the same food, etc.), one third trained (competently) one way, one third another, and tested by some objective standard vs. the final third of control dogs. Of course this raises enormous logistical hurdles, and any claims of scientific authority have to be tempered by that limitation. When the rhetoric of abuse is used to stifle opposition without having to make a rational argument in defense of one’s position, no one benefits from the resulting paralysis of debate. Meanwhile, there is a difference between pathological mental illness and unruly but otherwise perfectly healthy dog that has simply never been taught how to behave properly. In truth, if your goal includes competitive dog sports like obedience, agility and tracking, or you want a working service dog or a police K9 you best not look first to the animal behaviorist. If your dog does not obey a “sit” command, does not come when called, or pulls you down on the street; if the dog lunges at strangers or other dogs to start trouble, or isn’t fully housebroken, destroys household items when left alone, chases wild animals or cars, a diagnosis can be made but drugs won’t fix the problems. You do not need an academic animal behaviorist when a dog trainer will do, just as kids need good teachers to give them guidance and education, not therapists and medications. Please do not be fooled by the title Animal Behaviorist. Many years of schooling, residency, research and practice in veterinary medicine may not measure up to equivalent experience with training dogs in, and for, real life. As far as actual dog training, most of the methods suggested by the behaviorist range from vague to flat-out irresponsible, and potentially (or significantly) harmful. Either way, my goal here is to generate points for a free and scientifically-valid discussion concerning the ways dogs behave and learn. I hope both to refute some of the criticism aimed at dog trainers, and explore both differences and common ground in training approaches while avoiding theoretical and ideological dead ends.
Divisions among dog trainers
The “Positive Reinforcement Only” or ‘no force’ campPositive Reinforcement is a brilliant approach, and should be used whenever possible, though an obvious condition (for Positive reinforcement to work) is that the dog wants your reinforcer (reward). The problems and limitations for positive-only trainer becomes apparent at that unanticipated moment when the dog has found something to do that is far more compelling or intrinsically reinforcing than getting the trainer’s treat or toy. Like their colleagues the behaviorists, these dog trainers follow the same core ideology and often meet and network at seminars or educational events and workshops. This is why you may hear “science based” used as a synonym for force-free. Following Skinner’s belief that Positive Reinforcement is overall superior over any other approach, the Positive trainers will try to convince dog owners that “science says…”, when in truth, science as a whole does not say anything. The rejection and attacks on punishment and negative reinforcement are coming particularly from the advocates of a strictly Skinnerian model of understanding behavior. Dogs make liberal use of physical corrections with each other; this instance where one could make an analogy between inter se canid behavior and dog-human behavior is rejected by behaviorists because it does not fit with their reward-only training ideology. What is missing is evidence that this ideology is either morally or scientifically superior. In the absence of evidence, arguments are made on the basis of self-interest and emotion. As training is a popular service for dog owners, it is to be expected that jostling for credibility and market share among its practitioners will take place, but persuasive scientific results remain elusive. The core idea of Positive Reinforcement is to encourage desired behaviors, most of the time (but not necessarily always) marked with a clicker that signals “a treat is coming” as a result of the performance of the desired behavior. The movement towards a Positive Reinforcement-only approach to dog training arguably emerged not long after the publication of Karen Pryor’s book Don’t Shoot the Dog (1984). A follower of Skinner, Pryor falls back on a misleading “bait and switch” strategy to oppose all use of punishment. Her lively and sometimes humorous analogies illustrate how the theory (Positive Reinforcement only) should facilitate superior outcomes compared to positive punishment, but her analogies between positive reinforcement and positive punishment are misleading to say at least. Glorifying positive reinforcement with simple examples of success, and showing how punishment does not work with extremely poor examples of its application portends a generalization: that all dogs all respond the same way to any single training method. Nevertheless the book is an important read for anyone who works with dogs. In general, the trainers and non-trainers in the force free collective have been rigorous and outspoken critics of any method of teaching or training other than ”Positive Reinforcement”, arguing that everything else is outdated and have been “disproved”, that the methods are cruel and abusive, and that the results will not hold up over time. These criticisms are founded on, among other things, a) A self-interested view that the critics themselves hold the one and only “scientific” authority on how to manage or train dogs; b) An extreme ideology that modifying behavior by controlling food intake and social interaction is morally superior, and the belief that this superiority can be backed up by scientific findings; c) A generalization that all dogs respond the same way to any single training method, regardless of the circumstances; breed, gender or age. d) The opinion that pretty much any physical touch, pressure, or force used with a dog amounts to torture and abuse.
Over at SeaWorld, the killer whale trainers and their training approach serve as a model for, and an example of the “Positive Reinforcement Only” trainer who works with dogs. If you have been to SeaWorld more than three times, the chances are that you were present for at least one show that was cancelled because the whales did not want to perform. Or, you may have witnessed them perform until there is something more interesting around and they happen to have the opportunity to investigate. For example, if a pelican lands in the aquarium during a show, all orcas immediately cease performing and because there is nothing the trainers can do to make them continue, the show is cancelled.I live just forty-five minutes away from Orlando SeaWorld and back when they still had the shows with trainers in the water, we used to take our out of town friends to these performances. What was obvious to me time and time again is that no matter how much the whales were punished with social isolation or food deprivation, they still refused to perform the tricks reliably. Smiling for the audience, their trainers adhere to the party line: that they use only “positive reinforcement techniques” and if the whales don’t want to perform they don’t have to. We’ll just wait for the next show. All the while, the whales are being held in isolation tanks and deprived from fish in the hope that they’ll cooperate in time for the next show. These strategies are not positive but punitive, and I think we experience a profound cognitive dissonance as come we to understand that the “Positive Reinforcement Only” trainer first has to punish in order to create in the animal a desire to be positively- reinforced. Generally speaking, as a cohort the main focus and goal of all positive dog trainers is rehabilitation of shelter dogs and very basic pet-focused training. There are several nationwide associations with regular yearly events promoting the style of training and opportunities for its proponents to meet and network with one another. If they are involved in dog sports at all, the “Positive Reinforcement Only” trainers are generally participating and succeed most often in sports such as agility, free style (dancing with dogs), and fly ball. Still, the force-free party line insists that by choosing to use anything other than some form of negative punishment, “time out”, or food deprivation, you take a huge risk. The dog could be traumatized for life, and who would want that? Yet to create such permanent and dramatic effect on the dog is not so easy, and besides, our objective is to learn how to teach correctly, not to damage the dog either physically or psychologically. But I know that the argument posed by the positive-only trainer strikes a sensitive chord in anyone who cares for their dog, and leaves reasonable doubts about the possibility of trauma. Fear is a powerful motivator and I’m not talking about lessons a dog learns. Here’s what I mean: positive trainers and behaviorists have adopted alternatives, indirect techniques called Differential Reinforcement Procedures. The idea is that instead of addressing the bad behavior directly, and stopping it by using punishment procedures, they endeavor through positive reinforcement to increase the occurrence of completely different (desirable) behaviors. To make the picture clear for all, consider a dog engaged in something as simple and natural as what may occur when a certain dog spots a squirrel in the park. In that moment, he has shut off the whole world around him while going instinctively into a hunting or predatory stance, indifferent to his owner’s command to sit or come. The positive-only trainer has few options, entirely limited by ideology. Depending on the procedure selected, they will be “differentially reinforcing” (rewarding under certain conditions): – the decrease frequency of inappropriate behavior (DRL) – avoid all sites where squirrels might be, and ensure the dog is always restricted by a leash. – the absence of the undesired behavior during a designated time period (DRO) – rush to reward the dog before it starts the chase. – to teach or compel the dog to perform an alternative behavior instead of chasing the squirrel – substitution of a more appropriate behavior in place the inappropriate one (DRA). – rewarding a behavior that cannot possibly be demonstrated at the same time as chasing the squirrel (DRI) – a “down stay” for a treat instead of chasing the squirrel. Later upon reflection, food deprivation and social isolation most likely will find their place in the plan of action as well, likely associated with the reinforcing of an alternative behavior. It is also possible to actually allow the dog to chase a squirrel on cue with the hope that it will only chase it when the cue is given. I will go in detail of the differential reinforcement strategies in the Reinforcement chapter of the book. Depending on the age of the dog and specific breed characteristics, whether or not the dog is spayed or neutered, the dog’s level of training and its motivation to hunt, differential reinforcement procedures may or may not be successful. Nevertheless it has the potential to become an indirect and very long term project that will never truly address the issue at hand: “I don’t like you to chase squirrels now, so don’t do it”. Yet, this actually can be a simple straightforward concept for the dog to quickly grasp. Contrary to a very popular myth, the dog does not need to have a PhD in obedience (advanced titles) or already know the alternatively-desired behavior in order to stop the chasing of the squirrels. It is at this level that the idea of “Positive Reinforcement Only” tends to break down. Their ideology limits and prevents them from being as good, when they have to deal with Competitive Reinforcers, specifically the ones that are more extreme and the ones that trainer is not able to predict or control. Regardless of how creatively a trainer can describe the brilliance of “Positive Reinforcement Only” approach and its benefits to the dog, such techniques can also be abused and will have aversive emotional effect on any dog. When we are talking about crossing the line to certain level of food deprivation and social isolation, such manipulations are by no means harmless to the dog. Another very important factor to consider is that positive reinforcement-only trainers work primarily with dogs that are neutered or spayed. In case of an intact dog they will very strongly advise surgical alteration (castration) first, before proceeding with training. But I will submit to you that no matter how sugar-coated the spay/neuter message — by veterinarians, animal shelters, and no force trainers — this kind of surgical procedure dramatically changes the mental and emotional makeup of a dog. The earlier in development the altering is done, the less the dog develops sexually. This is hormonal change that affects the dog and it completely changes his lifestyle and make up. Recent research strongly indicates that spay/neuter also affects the long-term health weakens the bones, increases the risks of developing hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tears, lymphosarcoma among other deleterious consequences. While castration may decrease the incidences of some tumors and medical conditions, it is both a well-known and a scientifically-proven fact that it also increases the incidences of various tumors and other medical conditions. (Dr. Benjamin L. Hart, UC Davis- 2013). It often comes as a surprise to learn that for these reasons, other countries consider castration to be inhumane, and may even be against the law. Norway is just one example. With respect to spay/neuter, the paradox can be summarized like this: the so called “Positive Reinforcement Only” trainer will rather alter the true nature of an individual to make them fit their lifestyle and notions of good behavior than to open their mind and commit to their dog, respect its true nature and find the time, knowledge and skill to nurture its natural process in the right direction. This is a risky position to adopt in a world where more and more owners regard dogs as children. One criticism of electronic collars says ‘you wouldn’t do it to your child’ yet how outrageous it would be to suggest the same procedure for children to prevent behavior problems in the future? They will not go out at night to meet up with the opposite sex, won’t fight or compete for a girlfriend or boyfriend; this will reduce crime and wars around the world tremendously. A ‘Modest Proposal’ for modern times? On a more serious note, I want the reader to understand that if we change the makeup of a dog by castration, we are dealing with a completely different member of the species, and accordingly most of the training methods that apply to this case certainly may not be as effective while working with intact dogs. In the end, we might ask of the positive only trainer: what are the moral and ethical implications of our training approach, when the first step of the method is to inhumanly modify a dog, because otherwise the method won’t work? And at the other end of the spectrum is an unanswered question about the effect and ramification of the regular use of spay and neuter, i.e., how long would it take before a doggy day care with eighty intact sexually-mature dogs explodes into a major dog fight? So for a moment let’s return to our conversation about the protection dogs, their confidence and dominance genetic make-up. It is extremely rare to see the positive-only trainer involved in Protection Dog Sports, Police and Military K9 programs, or field work (hunting dogs), herding, more so when we consider that most of these dogs are intact, sexually mature, self-aware, and possessed of individual character. These dogs have mental self-control acquired as a consequence of training which causes them to make the right decisions both in and away from the owner’s presence. While some of these dogs are bred, selected and trained for qualities and traits quite different than what’s needed in the pet or agility dog, it is not unfair to say that most “Positive Reinforcement Only” trainers highly disapprove of dog engaging in activities where positive reinforcement only approach will surely fail. I find that even when it comes down to rehabilitation of problem dogs in shelter this attitude can be pervasive. But when the positive-only trainer fails to recognize the limitations of their approach they’re willing to “write off” a dog as untrainable and unmanageable or beyond help. This is a short path to euthanasia for far too many dogs. They would rather stay thinking inside their narrow box, comfortable with themselves than giving positive punishment and negative reinforcement options a try. Such trainers, and behaviorists will claim they have “tried everything” and that the dog is hopelessly unable to overcome his horrible past and is better off at rest. I am not the only one to have witnessed this first-hand as an employee in a municipal shelter or SPCA; in San Francisco, I spent five years as someone who was responsible of evaluating and, rehabilitating problem dogs to fit back in society. In other words, there are behaviors that the rats in the maze or the dolphins at Sea World do not have an opportunity to demonstrate. And just as “interventions” are used to stop people from destructive or self-destructive behavior, one version of compassion doesn’t let dogs or people continue practicing behavior that destroys the chances of either species for a normal life. Being narrow-minded when considering what a trainer can do is not the sole prerogative of the no-force culture. The same can be said of the opposite position on the training continuum. At both ends there is an inability to be flexible and look at all the alternatives at hand and to put the dog first, even if it means to take the trainer out of the comfort zone that their personal ideology and beliefs provide. The Einstellung Effect and conformation bias are both equal opportunity employers. But in truth, the main disadvantage is not found in the methodology itself because of course positive reinforcement most certainly has its place in dog training. The problem is tribal, to the extent that the social pressures that come from within the group or collective ads another layer to the individual trainer’s unwillingness or inability to consider an approach that challenges long-held beliefs. Instead they will go deeper and deeper into their own methods and look for innovative techniques but still within their camp and methodology. If nothing works they will abandon whatever the training objective might have been, justifying the decision as something that is simply not possible to accomplish. Sadly, once again the most probable, predictable and willful failures occur when dealing with purpose-bred, sexually mature, self-confident intact dogs. Meanwhile, in recent years Skinnerian behaviorism has continued to lose strength and influence. It is widely dismissed by other branches of science, where laboratory experiments are regarded as irrelevant or of much less value to studying how animals and people behavior in their natural social environments. The belief that everything can be achieved solely through positive reinforcement is simply wrong. How such a flawed argument received wide approval will be a project for future generations of sociologists to engage and understand. This phenomenon is not unique to dog training, but somehow the controversies are more heated with the debate circles around human behavior. Since the positive crowd likes to tout their scientific research, I have also included various current and comprehensive studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of negative reinforcement and punishment. (Please see last chapter for specific references). As far as opinions go, I have expressed mine and everybody else is entitled to theirs. But opinions aren’t enough; what’s needed is evidence. The advocates of force free have yet to produce the transparent and objective results that demonstrate their methods of training are superior and the outcomes are measurable, quantifiable and replicable, for that is the requirement of science. Some of the marketing strategies used by positive reinforcement trainers are also largely- based on misinformation. When they begin to engage – and win — in dog sports such as IPO or Ring Sport, Police K9 patrol work, hunting tests, and field trials, all areas where the dog is presented with competitive reinforcers, and where uncertainty and reliability are at the core of the test then they will hold the evidence in their hands: the indisputable evidence that they know better how dogs learn and how learning happens in the hands of true experts. I am sure there will be examples of other sports such as agility, but in agility there are really no competitive reinforcers. Even the most motivated agility dog may run the course once on its own, but will stop and wait for you to go along. In IPO, or hunting/field this is not the case. A dog can be completely satisfied grabbing a hold of the decoy without you being present. Winning at such competitions will be the true indicator that they have indeed found the better explanation and approach to teach a dog, and the dog world (myself included) will beat a path to their door.
The Traditional or “old school“ trainersWithin the dog training community is a second group, positioned at the other end of the spectrum from the force free trainers. This cultural group shares common core ideas, values and beliefs regarding how best to train a dog and chief among them is a deep faith in the Escape-Avoidance approach to training. This classification is, I believe, a better term to describe them; you may have heard them otherwise labeled as “traditional”, “old school” or “compulsive” trainers. My preference to name them using their approach to training is to frame their techniques for teaching and problem solving in the same schematic for understanding that the conditioning theories provide. In this theoretical framework, with Escape/Avoidance as counterpoint to positive-only, we can better understand why it works and when it doesn’t. Escape/Avoidance allows us to view this group from a theoretical perspective. It may not be the best phrase to use, since most people belonging to this group are not aware of the conceptual approach and consequently (sadly) do not apply the laws of Escape/Avoidance training correctly in their training. As you will read later, the techniques associated with Escape/Avoidance learning (also known as Negative Reinforcement) are not any more complicated than the Positive Reinforcement especially the Differential Reinforcement Procedures. It is just a matter of education before one makes the correct judgment as to when and how to apply it. Unlike the all-positive trainers who build part of their argument utilizing elements of scientific body of knowledge, the Escape-Avoidance trainers generally tend to lack scientific knowledge of even the very basic laws of learning or are very reluctant to use the same jargon to describe their process. They are not as unified as the positive reinforcement group. Unlike the ideas and beliefs of the positive-reinforcement-only trainers, this alternative camp of dog trainers are obsessed with the reliability of results and are generally against using reward- based methods because they falsely perceive it as “bribing that will not work” for the “real dogs.” Unsurprisingly, this type of trainer tends to believe that teaching a dog is akin to going into battle: a battle of wills. The initial fallout from this combative frame of mind is the trainers´ own inability to create proper environment for the dog to learn, and an inability to convey to the dog the objective for a particular lesson. This is a matter of education of the trainer and the ideas he or she brings to the training session. If a dog is not obeying a command, the trainer is convinced that the dog is solely being defiant and that the dog is being willful or stubborn or dominant. This belief prompts them to escalate the level of intensity (generally physical) before re-evaluating any other possibility, such as mistakes made during the teaching process that they themselves have devised. In many countries around the world has become a trend to ban different dog training equipment in order to prevent dog abuse. Later on I will talk at some length about this, but in truth does one really need a tool to abuse a dog? Isn’t it more important to recognize the true problem for what it is, instead of “washing hands” by taking away a valuable dog training tool?
“]The following video link is quite drastic it shows dog abuse so you may choose not to watch it. This is torturing a dog as I said without the need of any dog training equipment; I still would like to point out that social isolation and food deprivation can be just as abusive. I know such extremes are not the norm but nevertheless, neither should be tolerated. The terms “old school” and “traditional” trainer can be traced to Konrad Most, whose foundational book “Training Dogs, a Manual” (1911) is a must-read book for anyone interested in dog training, even if it just to see the evolution and thought process . Still, like the all-positive trainer, the Escape-Avoidance trainer’s limitation is his or her unwillingness to try any approach that goes against their core beliefs. Just like the all positive reinforcement / force free trainers, they will label the dog as untrainable etc. and give up if their set of ideas and associated techniques do not provide the expected results. But just like the no force trainers, before they give up they will escalate and exhaust their options within their ways. They will go deeper and deeper into their own methods and look for innovative techniques but never ‘break ranks’, searching only within their camp and methodology. Eventually, when things do not work, some of them become so preoccupied with labeling the dog as defiant, willful or stubborn that they may lose sight of the wellbeing of the dog. More often if nothing works, they often simply go out and get another dog. These types of trainers have difficult time succeeding in modern dog world and competitions. Although they love dogs, they tend to greatly underestimate the dog’s intelligence and may have low regard for the dog’s well being. The relationship between such trainer and dog is most commonly fear-based.
The Complete TrainersI have already described the two extremes within the culture of dog training. We find them at opposite ends of a continuum, each looking at the world through their own peculiar lenses tinted by the views, ideas and values that they apply to dog training and each looking with suspicion and hostility towards the other. What they share is an inability and unwillingness to see beyond what their ideologies and vision of the world allows them to see. Thusly half-blind, they also are incapable of finding new paths and ways to improve themselves as trainers and put the sincere well-being of their dogs and relationship as their priority. Along this continuum there is a third group of trainers. I am not going to describe myself here, as some sort of perfect middle between the two extremes. On the contrary, I don´t want to grant myself a position in reference to the extremes as my flexibility to move closer and farther from the extremes when necessary is my strength. I have made an open and enduring commitment to strive for maintaining flexibility and the capacity to constantly change transform and adjust to the context, circumstances and needs of the learning situation. As a teacher I don’t restrict myself to a certain theory or approach. I always look for approaches that will make the teaching/learning experience highly interactive, simple, quick and fun. In this book I will show you how to teach efficiently, and help you design the best approach for every situation so that the dog learns without confusion the objective of each the lessons. And I’ll emphasize how to create an amazing relationship with your dog that is not based neither on fear or bribing. While teaching, I believe in and love to motivate through positive reinforcement but I also recognize that in certain circumstances the less complicated and better approach to reinforce my ideas and/or achieve the objective of the lesson is through negative reinforcement. I do not exclude or twist the facts or the power of positive punishment, because dogs do not need a “special introduction” to punishment. A five week old puppy that lives with his mom and litter mates has already been introduced to positive punishment through direct and very natural interaction. Maybe the pup decided to eat when it was not feeding time, or got too close to Mom’s toy (just to name few examples). We the humans do not need to take sides as to whether punishment is “humane” or if it works. We do not need behavioral scientists to waste money on biased experiments. If you have ever observed a dam with her puppies, you know very well that punishment works brilliantly just as positive reinforcement in the great grand scheme we call learning. We can learn much from a mother dog, as nature has gifted her with the skills to teach those puppies to respect her rules without ever developing a chronic fear of her. Both positive reinforcement and punishment have their advantages and disadvantages: punishment is better for suppressing behavior, positive reinforcement better for generating behavior; avoidance (punishment) schedules tend to produce more persistent behavior than reward schedules, and so on. The effects of positive reinforcement also dissipate when the reinforcement is withdrawn, and there is no positive-reinforcement procedure (including all differential reinforcement procedures) that produces such persistent behavior as a negative reinforcement schedule. Just as any other form of learning, Positive Reinforcement protocols can also provoke aggression and have undesired side effects. There are plenty of arguments on both sides, but the net conclusion is that the scientific evidence is neutral in deciding between reward and punishment. Favoring reward over punishment is inconsistent with science and the basic laws of learning. Wouldn’t be great to learn and have the freedom to choose between negative and/or positive, reinforcement and/or punishment, to move smoothly and instinctively across the training quadrants, knowing just what to do when unwanted and sometimes very dangerous behaviors must stop? Or to know for certain when one approach will work and the other will not? Any scientist studying dogs, any animal behaviorist or dog training guru who purports to advise you exactly what to do and how to train overall (advocating that one size fits all) is nothing more than a snake oil salesman. Instead, I will share what has worked for me over the last thirty years and has resulted in winning two world championships. It has saved many dogs from euthanasia and has benefited many trainers in all areas of dog work and dog sports. When you see something working, when you know how the dog feels about it, you stop caring about the Skinner box or what the latest research study is trying to convince you of. Happy dogs and great results are the outcome of excellent communication. In a media climate where alternative facts make the headlines and where trainers’ methodologies are both misapplied and misunderstood, animal rights groups have seized on the public’s growing awareness of the real costs (to the animal) of positive-only. When limitations in effectiveness and high cost cannot be overcome, one result may be public disenchantment with ALL behavioral interventions and a call for the end of animal training. For example, PETA’s alleged “investigation” of the company that supplied dogs for the recent film A Dog’s Purpose claims that dogs were kept in “barren kennels and forced to sleep outside in the cold,” and that animals were denied adequate food so that they would be hungry while being trained to do tricks. The fallout from the documentary ‘Blackfish’ brought scrutiny and economic pressures (direct, and indirect) sufficient to force the closing of Sea World. Ringling Brothers is closing as circus animals are retired to sanctuaries. Models of productive collaboration between consumers and animal trainers are skewed by these ‘investigations’ and we all pay a price for the misunderstandings. The result may be increasingly restrictive laws governing dog ownership, dog training, and plenty of ill-will. Animal rights groups that promote media scrutiny and raise unfair and unfounded public suspicions about training and animal welfare affect us all. So, what to do? Simply collecting (and telling) our stories is not enough – we must teach each other to connect the dots in ways that allow us to see genuine cause-and-effect. To keep dogs as members of a household, as part of the family, and as working partners in an American city or suburbs requires training. That means our work with dogs is not an isolated event, but a distinctly communal one – we are bound together as trainers in many ways: as scoopers-of-poop, as consumers of pet-related products and veterinary services, as users of shared public space, as concerned parents, and as professionals interested in the future of dog training. About the author and his Credentials
(c) Copywrite 2017 Ivan Balabanov. All Rights Reserved. Do not Copy or Reprint Without Permission