Why positive only training?
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Thread: Why positive only training?

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    aiw
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    Why positive only training?

    I'd like to ask a question about positive training methods that I realize will be a little controversial, just to be clear I am not a dog trainer, just an average owner interested in learning.

    My question is this: why use only the positive in absence of the negative?

    I understand that a positive association makes the behaviour more likely to occur again but shouldnt the inverse also be true, a negative association makes the behaviour less likely to occur again? Essentially, consequence cuts both ways... we teach our children using this idea, why not dogs? Its true that the human psyche is different from a dogs but dog-dog communication is almost exclusively negative (you will not see a dog give another dog a treat, but you might see one snap at another). Also why is dominance theory so denigrated, dogs aren't wolves but they do have pack hierarchy. Shouldnt we be trying to communicate with dogs in a "language" that is most natural to them?

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    Re: Why positive only training?

    Basically, because most people stink at properly using punishment, and there's a fair chance we'll mess our dogs up if we try.

    Same with kids, too, actually.

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    Senior Member Amaryllis's Avatar
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    Re: Why positive only training?

    Humans, including children, see the world in cause and effect. So children can easily see "I am being punished because I hit my sister". Children also speak English and have a working memory, so you can punish a child today for drawing on the wall yesterday and the child understands this.

    Dogs, however, learn by association and do not have the same working memory. In order for punishment or praise to work, it must occur within 3 seconds of the action.

    This is why you cannot train dogs like children.

    Consequence does cut both ways, but association is tricky and hard to predict. For example, the dog pees on the rug. You smack him. You mean to tell the dog that peeing on the rug is unacceptable, what the dog learns is that peeing in front of the humans is unacceptable. So now he won't pee in front of you outside, and he'll hide in the closet in your bedroom to pee. Not really what you wanted, is it?

    Using positives in training bonds you to your dog. Using negatives can easily damage your relationship. So why risk it, especially since the average person doesn't have the timing to make punishment work anyway. Punishments can also have other, undesired, consequences. Suppose my dog lunges and barks at other dogs we pass on walks. I buy a choke chain and "correct" the dog every time he lunges and barks. He's very likely to start associating the other dogs with pain in his neck, and now his behavior is even worse.

    As to why we shouldn't take our cues from wolves or other dogs . . . why would we? Dog mothers frequently eat their babies, should I take parenting advice from a dog, too? We're humans, we can do better.
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    Re: Why positive only training?

    Not to mention even wolf pack hierarchy is starting to be disproven...

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    Re: Why positive only training?

    When most people use negative techniques, they actually get angry and that doesn't help the bond between human and dog, and it doesn't teach the dog anything, just scares them. If you are actually calm and use negative techniques, it's less likely to hurt that bond. There's a difference between smacking your dog when you're angry and when you're calm.

    By using positive training only, for one, it keeps your dog having fun and the actual person stays happy and relaxed when they see constant success, which is better environment for dogs to and it doesn't hurt their confidence, it builds it.
    There is a place for dominance theory and negative reinforcement, like in a K-9 environment, where the dog HAS to do what the handler says to do and it could end badly if it doesn't do what they say, but it's going to become less necessary in a pet environment and the dog does it because it's the preferred behavior.
    Personally, I believe negatives should be used in a more desperate situation, after positive methods have failed.

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    Re: Why positive only training?

    I use both in training. I use as little negative as needed though. I want training and interacting to be super fun. My retired patrol dog, was originally trained the old yank and crank way. He works, and well, but he doesn't live for it. My younger dogs absolutely live and breathe to work! They can't wait to train, can't wait to find the victim, and will work non stop in any situation.

    Have you ever tried training a new command or cue? You think the dog knows it after a couple rewards, then you see it doesn't.quite have it yet. Same.for punishment, many people think the dog knows what it did.wrong, so they jerk the pro.g collar, when in reality the correction wasn't timed so the dog is confused.

    I'm in the process of teaching the pups (12 week old malinois) their names and basic obedience. They are also learning "no". While all four were playing like crazy in the house, Hunter, the trouble maker, grabbed the shih tzus tail. Instantly I said "hunter, no!" And each pup dropped their toy and looked to me lol. So I just corrected all 4 puppies my mistake, for doing right as three were.

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    Re: Why positive only training?

    Quote Originally Posted by juliemule View Post
    I use both in training. I use as little negative as needed though. I want training and interacting to be super fun. My retired patrol dog, was originally trained the old yank and crank way. He works, and well, but he doesn't live for it. My younger dogs absolutely live and breathe to work! They can't wait to train, can't wait to find the victim, and will work non stop in any situation.
    This.

    Kabota loves training. He was terrified of it at first, and I had to switch to using hand gestures only because the word "sit" sent him into a complete shut down. Now, he'll walk up to me, sit, stand, lay down and roll on his side. It's his way of saying, "Let's train!"
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    aiw
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    Re: Why positive only training?

    Yeah, I agree that working out of anger isn't productive at all but isnt there the same potential for mistakes when working with a positive method? What if the dog associates the treat with peeing and not necessarily peeing outside? Or a dog who is bristling with other dogs, if they get treats won't they think that being wary/aggressive was the right thing?

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    Re: Why positive only training?

    While I'm not sure that "positive only" really exists, I concentrate on the things I want to see, because I believe the saying "What you focus on grows." So, I can give my attention and energy to the things I like rather than the things I don't like. Dogs are not children and don't understand concepts in the same way as someone you can explain it to in words. Even so, I haven't seen evidence that most punishments meted out to children are that effective either. Frequently negative attention is better than no attention at all, and you'll see children pushing their parents' or teachers' buttons just to get attention. I know when I was a kid, punishment seldom stopped me from doing anything , it just made me careful not to get caught.
    As to dogs teaching dogs - the things dogs want from each other are simple. Leave me alone, leave my food alone, don't hurt me. The things I want from dogs are complex and against their nature. Invade my space bubble, look into my eyes, come to me quickly and in a straight line. Leave that yummy dead toad alone. If I don't want a dog who gives me a respectful amount of space, refuses to meet my gaze, and wouldn't come to me, I suppose imitating dogs would be okay.
    Another reason I prefer reinforcing good behavior is that I like a dog who is "in the game" Everytime I punish a wrong choice I am risking the possibility that next time the dog will be less willing to try to offer me stuff. For a lot of people, that's what they want. A dog who won't do anything it's not told to do. That's not my idea of enjoying the relationship with my dog.
    Last edited by Pawzk9; 07-10-2012 at 05:15 PM.

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    Senior Member Losech's Avatar
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    Re: Why positive only training?

    I would rather have a relationship with my dog that is based on friendship and trust than a relationship that is based on intimidation and fear.

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    Re: Why positive only training?

    Quote Originally Posted by aiw View Post
    Yeah, I agree that working out of anger isn't productive at all but isnt there the same potential for mistakes when working with a positive method? What if the dog associates the treat with peeing and not necessarily peeing outside? Or a dog who is bristling with other dogs, if they get treats won't they think that being wary/aggressive was the right thing?
    Mistakes can be made in positive reinforcement. In general, if you just get it right the next three times, you're golden. The difference is that clicking at the wrong time isn't likely to have a lasting effect on your dog the way a punisher can. And while being emotional can make your use of aversives more than it needs to be, your dog will still perceive punishment as punishment if you are cool and calm. Otherwise it wouldn't work. Why would you want to punish and not have it be effective? It is also quite difficult to give the exact right level of aversive. Too much and your dog may shut down, too little and you may desensitize him to the aversive so you have to keep upping the ante.
    Last edited by Pawzk9; 07-11-2012 at 04:23 PM.

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    Re: Why positive only training?

    It's a myth that treating can enforce anger or fear in a dog. Dogs cannot feel two emotions at once. A dog is either happy about getting treats or angry/fearful, but not both at once. Using treats shifts the dog's emotion from angry/fearful to happy. Besides, a dog caught up in fear or anger won't take treats, anyway. You have to work "under threshold", so you're reinforcing behavior/emotion that isn't fully engaged fear or anger, rather the calmer emotion/behavior you want.

    Yes, you can reinforce behavior you don't want with poorly timed treating, but you don't damage your relationship and you can always retrain the correct behavior. If you mess up with corrections, it's hard to fix. I'm trying to add back verbal commands, (see my previous post in this thread) and its not going well. Kabota associates "sit" with something scary and getting past that association is proving to be difficult. Mind you, I have never corrected him, ever. I can't imagine how hard this would be if I had been the one whi scared him in the first place.
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    Re: Why positive only training?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amaryllis View Post
    It's a myth that treating can enforce anger or fear in a dog. Dogs cannot feel two emotions at once. A dog is either happy about getting treats or angry/fearful, but not both at once. Using treats shifts the dog's emotion from angry/fearful to happy. Besides, a dog caught up in fear or anger won't take treats, anyway. You have to work "under threshold", so you're reinforcing behavior/emotion that isn't fully engaged fear or anger, rather the calmer emotion/behavior you want.

    Yes, you can reinforce behavior you don't want with poorly timed treating, but you don't damage your relationship and you can always retrain the correct behavior. If you mess up with corrections, it's hard to fix. I'm trying to add back verbal commands, (see my previous post in this thread) and its not going well. Kabota associates "sit" with something scary and getting past that association is proving to be difficult. Mind you, I have never corrected him, ever. I can't imagine how hard this would be if I had been the one whi scared him in the first place.
    This is all good stuff.



    Quote Originally Posted by aiw View Post
    My question is this: why use only the positive in absence of the negative?
    It's impossible to be 100% positive. The idea is to practice reward based methods. In otherwords, we're dealing with adding or removing appetitive stimulus to make behavior happen or to stop behavior. By dealing with appetitive stimulus instead of aversive stimulus, we run minimal risk of hurting the animal. It's a matter of ethics. If you were able to equally effectively teach a dog to sit using either food or by pulling up on a choke collar, which would you choose to do?

    The other thing is, people who use aversive punishment tend to become addicted to it. When the dog is misbehaving, we want to make it stop, so if we use a quick punisher and it stops, it's a very rewarding process for us. Because it was so easy to do and required very little forethought to pull off, we will tend to use it more in the future. As the dog becomes accustomed to pain or yelling, the less effective it becomes, and the harder your punishers have to be to stay effective.


    Also why is dominance theory so denigrated, dogs aren't wolves but they do have pack hierarchy. Shouldnt we be trying to communicate with dogs in a "language" that is most natural to them?
    Dogs are in fact, not pack animals. That is a myth that still lives on.

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    aiw
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    Re: Why positive only training?

    REALLY? Dogs aren't pack animals? That seems pretty surprising. I've heard people say that dogs arent a whole lot like wolves (makes sense given the centuries of breeding) but I've never heard that they're not pack creatures... gives me something to think about.

    I think NEVER correcting a dog might require emotional control beyond my abilities, if someones in the garbage I think they should learn that makes their owner very unhappy. Most dogs aim to please so a verbal correction is plenty (firm but not scary angry). I would then follow up with teaching "leave it". That seems like a reasonable approach to me, it does include some correction though. If the bond between owner and dog is good then wouldnt the dog continue to respond to verbal corrections without needing the escalation?

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    Re: Why positive only training?

    Not sure what you consider a "verbal correction". Is "hey, get out of the trash!" a verbal correction? Because I think most people would do that .

    But it's not really fair to punish at a dog if you've never actually taught him what to do (teach "leave it" AFTER you've yelled?).

    Dogs as pack animals. . .well, if you've ever lived anywhere with street dogs, you'd see they don't form packs. They may loosely hang out together, but no actual pack is formed.
    Last edited by Willowy; 07-11-2012 at 01:14 AM.

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    Re: Why positive only training?

    Quote Originally Posted by aiw View Post
    My question is this: why use only the positive in absence of the negative?
    Because the results you get from positive interaction are much better than those you get from negative interaction. While there will be cases of negative interaction, such as giving meds or grooming, and negative training, "stop right now!", these should be far outweighed by the positive.

    Quote Originally Posted by aiw View Post
    Its true that the human psyche is different from a dogs but dog-dog communication is almost exclusively negative (you will not see a dog give another dog a treat, but you might see one snap at another).
    Dog-to-dog communication is far from all negative.

    Some dogs do give others a treat of sorts to encourage play/interaction with other dogs. For example, last week at the dog park a poodle brought over her tennis ball and dropped it in front of our dog trying to get her to play. Our pup, who's only 6 months old and still a bit unsure around other dogs, joined play after this friendly gesture.

    Quote Originally Posted by aiw View Post
    Also why is dominance theory so denigrated, dogs aren't wolves but they do have pack hierarchy.
    Dogs don't have a pack hierarchy as it's traditionally thought of. They're social animals that will form loose associations based on their current needs and situation. This isn't the stable pack/family relationship found in wild wolves.

    Dogs also also adept at forming social relationships with other species, including humans and other pets (some more than others). This isn't a pack but a social cooperative relationship.

    Dominance is often used as an excuse for abusive or potentially abusive and often dangerous and ineffective training techniques. That's why it's viewed not being good by many. Dominance is also incorrectly used by some as a blanket cause for many dog problems which isn't the case.

    Quote Originally Posted by aiw View Post
    Shouldnt we be trying to communicate with dogs in a "language" that is most natural to them?
    Dogs are naturally bilingual. Not only do they understand dog-to-dog communication but human-to-dog communication. So, communicating with humans has, over many centuries of breeding, become part of the natural dog. It actually confuses them when a human tries to speak dog because it doesn't seem natural to them.

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    Re: Why positive only training?

    Dogs (and people) experience punishment every day. That is, they make direct contact with aversive stimuli every day.

    There is nothing bizzare or particularly cruel about these things. Of course, aversive stimuli are certainly the most common ingredient in cruelty, but aversvie stimuli are entirely common and natural.

    When a dog (or person) is laying in one position for too long... starts to feel uncomfortable like that and rolls to a new position for relief and renewed comfort, he has just confronted aversive stimuli and reacted to it. Not a particularly cruel scenario to my eyes.

    When you are "being a tree" and a dog expends effort pulling on that leash (as well as the probable discomfort from the collar pressure on the neck), and then ceases ....voila... your dog has probably just encountered aversive stimuli and responded to it.

    Walk outside in the glaring sun and then go back inside to find those sunglasses. Again, you have been punished: for going outside unprotected from the glare.

    I do agree that these situations can be considered "cruel" (or extra, extra aversive) if the dog (or person) did not know how to escape the aversive stimuli... and I think it is here that the use of aversive stimuli requires some ethical and behavioral consideration.

    Regardless of our desire to use 80% or 100% positive reinforcement, the world is utterly dripping with aversive stimuli that are unavoidable, daily events, and they come at our hands and at the hands of the natural environment.

    What I like most about a positive reinforcement philosophy is that it might help make the dog a bit more responsive to mild corrections (mild aversives) without having to resort to heavy handed measures. Dogs that have been raised with lots of aversive techniques can get desensitized ... or so my theory goes... and require even more intense versions of aversives to get the same result. (assuming you must you punishment) Things can get ugly fast.

    OhBehave

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    Re: Why positive only training?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amaryllis View Post
    It's a myth that treating can enforce anger or fear in a dog. Dogs cannot feel two emotions at once. A dog is either happy about getting treats or angry/fearful, but not both at once. Using treats shifts the dog's emotion from angry/fearful to happy. Besides, a dog caught up in fear or anger won't take treats, anyway. You have to work "under threshold", so you're reinforcing behavior/emotion that isn't fully engaged fear or anger, rather the calmer emotion/behavior you want.
    .
    Plus, treats induce endorphins, which have a natural calming effect on a dog. If I have a dog too stressed to take treats I help him, and then his ability to accept treats becomes a pretty good barometer of small internal changes.

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    Re: Why positive only training?

    Quote Originally Posted by aiw View Post
    REALLY? Dogs aren't pack animals? That seems pretty surprising. I've heard people say that dogs arent a whole lot like wolves (makes sense given the centuries of breeding) but I've never heard that they're not pack creatures... gives me something to think about.
    Dogs are social animals. As small prey hunters/scavengers, they don't need a pack to bring down large prey, and it would not benefit them. In feral dogs, they sometimes hang together with other dogs, but there is no true consistent pack or pack order.

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    Re: Why positive only training?

    Quote Originally Posted by aiw View Post
    My question is this: why use only the positive in absence of the negative?
    Perhaps think of it like a bank account, with positives being the deposits and negatives being the withdrawls. Some people strive to see their account balance go up up up, exclusively.

    A poor person has likely experienced the deterimental nature of excessive withdrawls. A wealthy person has done their best to avoid them entirely.

    My question is this: would you rather be poor or wealthy, figuratively speaking?



    The cultural shift away from a reliance upon negatives towards a 'purer', more positive-style of training has allowed many individual dogs and some non-obedience breeds to become highly competitive in dogsports, who I suspect would not have been so competitive otherwise, under the old regime.

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