Monday, April 16, 2012

Dog Training Methods

So, I guess I am not a very conscientious blogger. Sorry. Luckily I have a very small readership ;)

Regarding dog training methods, the actual topic of this post, now I am going to get long-winded (you have been warned!):

I just had an interesting phone query, specific to my business, and thought I'd share it. A man called and told me he was inquiring about my dog training, but first had a question about the methods I use. His question was, "Which do you train with, punishment or food?"

Well, I hesitate to answer those sorts of leading questions which have black/ white answers. There seems to be no room for anything else--something my questioner may not of thought of, for example; something like a more innovative system.

Still, some things are totally clear. With certainty I assured my caller I do not train with applied punishment or compulsion.

As for the use of food, I hedged a bit; would saying "yes" cast me into a category of stereotypical, so-called "foodies?" There are many people who train in different ways, along a spectrum of methods. Training with food doesn't automatically mean the trainer is a pleading, crossed fingered, food-filled-fanny-pack-wearing pleader. Some of the best training out there right now is purely food-reinforcement based, and I strongly approve of it; I just hate when people try to create a "lumpers" category (versus "splitters,") where, by saying "yes" to any degree, you are tossed into a tiny, preconceived, pigeon hole. I am proud enough of my training system, which I believe is highly evolved from a standpoint of motivational theory, that I want to take a stand and put forth my version of what I do. I don't want to concede to one of two assigned options.

So, yeah, a lot goes on in my mind, but no, I didn't inflict all of this on my caller, in case you are wondering. After a half-second processing delay I answered truthfully: in my dog school we employ a variety of positive reinforcers, sometimes including food.

Apparently my caller didn't like this response, and somewhat rudely demanded I "just answer the question."
Actually, I did answer it; I think he was just too closed-minded to accept my outside-the-box thinking ;)

There are many creative approaches to dog training motivation, some which use food, some which don't. I mostly don't, only because my system works so well without it--in most cases. Where we can boost results without compromising relationship and attention, we use food, too. Food is one of an array of motivating dog training rewards, and provided the dog is desirous of food in a given setting, it can generate amazing, pain-free advances for both performance and behavioral modification training.

The food--and the many other--rewards we do use are generally remotely located, and then earned through a dog's team cooperation with his or her handler. We facilitate access, but do not actually manipulate the dog to get the food directly from us; instead the dog gets the food, or any other rewards, through us. We serve as conduit, or like three legged race partners, or team members; together with us dogs achieve things that cannot be achieved on their own. This approach helps dogs desire to work with us, rather than to "obey," which sounds so...old-school, pedagogic, and...condescending, really. This isn't particularly original; my training is solidly, scientifically based upon learning theory and any good dog trainer knows, recognizes, and uses similar methods. For example, Clicker Training, à la Karen Pryor, et. al, does. My training is similar, but tweaks some finer points (not elaborating here; ask me and I'll be glad to share my 2 cents.) My forte is how I innovate existing systems, along with my ability to help students make changes while protecting and building deeper connections with their pets.

On that note, I guess all of this was lost in translation during my phone call this afternoon. I didn't even get the chance to try to explain how important I think theory, ethics, and scientific underpinnings are to dog training outcomes. The guy on the phone curtly said "Thank you," and hung up on me. In his defense, some people just want their dog to come when called and stop pooping in the house, regardless of the means.

As for me, I am committed to a very picky purity of system which I am always striving to refine--but if you are reading this, you probably already knew that!

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