WHAT EXACTLY DOES POSITIVE TRAINING MEAN?

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A lot of people get confused when they hear the phrase positive training... isn't ALL training a positive for dogs?  Well, what this actually refers to is a very specific style of training, but to be completely honest it may not mean the same thing to every trainer who uses the label!  Let me take a moment and break down my psychology degree for you so you can avoid wasting four years of your life, a lot of debt, and an unreasonable affinity for clicker training rats.

In the field of learning psychology there are a few different approaches, the one in particular that I am going to focus on today is operant conditioning.
In operant conditioning a subject, our dog in this case, makes associations between certain behaviors they perform and different outcomes.  The outcomes are divided in half between Reinforcement and Punishment. Reinforcements cause a behavior to recur more often and punishments cause the behavior to diminish over time.  That seems simple enough, right?

​But it gets a little tricky in the next step, both reinforcement and punishment are both divided in half into positive and negative versions. So you have 4 quadrants that you can choose to train within: Positive Reinforcement (where you give the dog something good to increase the likelihood the behavior will happen again), Negative Reinforcement (where you take away something bad to increase the likelihood the behavior will happen again), Positive Punishment (where you do something bad to to DECREASE the likelihood the behavior will happen again) and Negative Punishment (where you take away something good to to DECREASE the likelihood the behavior will happen again).

For me, being a positive trainer means I will work as often as possible in the realm of positive reinforcement. I want to help you build your relationship with your dog and make training truly enjoyable for everyone involved. Does that mean that I will ONLY ever use positive reinforcement? Not exactly. I will also use negative punishment, such as walking away from a misbehaving dog so that they learn that jumping is not an acceptable form of greeting. I will also use Negative reinforcement, specifically when working with reactive dogs. If being near another dog is an upsetting thing and behaving in a calm manner means we get to turn and go the other way we are reinforcing the calm behavior over time.

Now, could other methods of training, like positive punishment, get the same results that I see from my reinforcement based training? It is possible, but you wouldn't treat a headache with a morphine drip if Tylenol will do! My goal as a trainer is to use the least invasive methods in the most effective manner possible. My training plan will always follow this format: ​

  1. Verify that any behavior issue is not caused by health, nutritional, or physical factors.
  2. Environmental management to prevent the behavior from happening
  3. Positive Reinforcement or Classical Conditioning
  4. Live With or Manage the Behavior, Consult Another Professional, Negative Punishment, Specific Types of Negative Reinforcement
  5. Consider Positive Punishment

None of my group training classes will ever move beyond step 4. It is a commitment that I have made to my furry clients and to my own ethical standing. I will not judge other trainers or owners based upon their training methods as long as they are used in a humane and educated fashion, but I will not allow the usage of these methods in my classes.

I firmly believe that there is a trainer out there to suit every family. I may not be the trainer for you, but chances are I can refer you to one who is! And if you are interested in learning more about how positive training can work for your dog and just happen to see a crazy lady with blue hair out all over town with her little brown pibble, clicker, and treat bag then by all means come say hello!

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