Recently I read an article that stated force free dog training is a scam. I found the article really interesting as it went onto say that they didn’t use force to train either, which leaves a huge question mark over how they would approach training.
The dog training industry is full of labels which can be really confusing for dog owners who are seeking a professional that they would like to work with, from force free, positive only, balanced training and using the least aversive method available (LIMA).
So how do you choose who you want to work with and how do you know it is going to work?
First of all it is important to look at how dogs learn and how trainers use learning principles to teach you and your dog.
All dogs learn through association no matter what breed they are! However, this does not mean that the training approach will be the same for all dogs as everything has to be considered such as the dogs genetics, previous history and what motivates them to want to work alongside with you.
Positive reinforcement has been scientifically proven to work. There are vast studies that have been done to show the intricacies of it so stating it is a scam is quite a bold statement to make. More often than not it is seen as bribery and corruption as food is often used when working with a dog; that the dog is only performing the behaviour because they are getting stuffed with food, that the dog should work without the presence of food.
Although food is used in positive reinforcement it is important that it is not used as bribery but as a reward for good behaviour. When your dog is training with you it is important to pay them for their good work, but you can take this out of their daily diet or even use a part of their diet as rewards. Or you can use alternatives as a reward such as toys or verbal praise.
If I flip this around to humans, if you go to work and you did not get paid would you go back to work again? Highly unlikely! Every species is motivated by payment, it is just a different currency when working with our dogs.
If you do not use positive reinforcement what other alternatives are there? There are three other aspects of learning for dogs these are positive punishment, negative reinforcement and negative punishment. With learning theory, 'positive' just means adding something to the equation and 'negative' means taking something away. So, calling something positive, like 'positive punishment'' it does not necessarily mean it is something good.
I have seen many different ways of training with dogs having worked with dogs for twenty years. I personally believe it is important to develop a relationship together with your dog and learning about how each part of the relationship works. Training does not have to turn them into robots or take away their character. It also does not have to harsh, intimidating or needing to use a firmer hand.
When you are learning something new if someone kept telling you you were doing it wrong how long would you keep trying to learn that skill?
Dogs have a really tough time with training as they do not speak the same language as what we do, and they have to try to figure out what we are asking of them which can be really difficult. When you go to another country and they do not speak the same language it is just as confusing for us and often we ask the person to repeat what they say but it often comes down to watching body language to explain what they are saying or using modern technology to interpret it.
Dogs are often stated to be man’s best friend. How would you treat your best friend if you were teaching them something new? Through compassion or through intimidation?
Force free dog training is really not a scam. It works, and it works really well. Sometimes it is just about learning how it works and how to apply it in different situations.