That Dog Sure Has You Trained…

Everyday we train our dogs we make a choice about the relationship we want with our dogs and the relationship we want our dogs to have with the world.

That dog sure has you trained…is a common statement I hear from a lot of folks.

The reality is that any good trainer has been well trained by their dog—one way or the other.

Teaching new skills goes through successive approximations to achieve better and better behaviors with a final goal in mind. It can look like the trainer is rewarding crappy behavior. But, in fact we are rewarding better-than-before behavior knowing that we are nudging the behavior closer to our final goal.

We will gently shift our criteria for each rewardable event to slightly improved behaviors, little-by-little.

In other words, if I want a dog to settle while their favorite thing on earth is nearby (say kids playing ball) I have two choices:

  • Pay the dog for the settle in a currency that is greater in value than the kids – Treats, kibble, or cheese…depends on the dog
    • Keep the payment going in reasonable intervals that will allow the dog to make the better choice and stay in the settle
    • This dog learns to LOVE being in a settle around a challenging trigger (kids)
    • Positive Reinforcement
  • Collar correcting the dog every time he tries to reach the children
    • The reward for the dog is the cessation of correction when he lays back down
    • The dog will make many mistakes in this set-up
    • The dog will probably not love being in a settle around a challenging trigger (kids)
      • In fact it be just the opposite and we would have a dog who is not happy around kids.
    • Positive punishment and Negative reinforcement
Both handlers had to be trained by their dogs in order to know when to reward or when to correct.
For example:

The positive reinforcement trainer has been well trained by their dog to know how often their dog will need rewards to remain in the settle.

The positive punishment/negative reinforcement trainer has been well trained by their dog to know when they need to correct the dog, how much they need to correct, and when to release the collar.

In the end any trainer who achieves reliable behaviors has been trained by their dog to know what that dog requires to learn.

The real question is not who is training whom—it is about the choices we make as the caregivers of these animals.

Positive reinforcement is a back and forth negotiation that allows for the dog to say,

“This is too hard for me so you need to pay me a bit more.” Or, “I really don’t care for this but if you pay me well I will do it.”

A. Verg Dog

This is not unlike when we look at our boss and tell them we will need time-and-a-half to work on a holiday. With appropriate payments the final result will be a great settle that has not negatively effected how the dog feels about performing the well-paid-for settle in the face of the children?

Positive punishment/negative reinforcement training it is not about negotiation but about forcing the dog to comply. Here the dog will probably say the same thing,

“I really don’t care for this thing,” Or, “This is too hard for me.”

A. Verg Dog

But this dog receives punishment for her inability to comply or lack of understanding. This is not unlike the boss who tells the employees they will have to work on the holiday and if they do not, they will be fired. The final result in this instance is a dog who learns to comply but has a negative association with their handler (boss) and the activity

Every day we train our dogs, we get to make a choice about what kind of relationship we want with our dogs and what kind of relationship we want our dogs to have with the world around them.

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