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Discussion Starter #1
An interesting side discussion developed in the Mouthing and Biting thread which I'd like to follow up here.

Here's the thought starter: What are the benefits and demerits of positive (reward-based) vs. leadership (dominance) training? Which do you follow and why? Are there valid points to each we should incorporate in our training, and if so, which are they?

Here are a couple of links in case you need to read up on the topic:
Dog Training: Positive Reinforcement vs. Alpha Dog Methods

Dog obedience training : Positive Reinforcement vs Dominance Based Training
 

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I think that there is an ethical responsibility to make sure that dogs actually understand expectations. I think that "leadership" style methods typically bypass or short-cut the "teaching and proofing" stages of behavior modification and just leap to the correction stage of things. In the end, I think that many dominance-style methods actually just shut a dog down rather than train it.

I am mostly an R+ trainer, but I am still the "dominant leader" in my home. I don't think that the two are mutually exclusive. I just think that it is critical to always be fair to the dog. As a whole, most reward-based trainers concentrate on the teaching and proofing and many leadership/dominance trainers go straight to the shutting down model. I have a strong preference for the former. I want an impish, bright-eyed dog who trusts me.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
I think that there is an ethical responsibility to make sure that dogs actually understand expectations. I think that "leadership" style methods typically bypass or short-cut the "teaching and proofing" stages of behavior modification and just leap to the correction stage of things. In the end, I think that many dominance-style methods actually just shut a dog down rather than train it.

I am mostly an R+ trainer, but I am still the "dominant leader" in my home. I don't think that the two are mutually exclusive. I just think that it is critical to always be fair to the dog. As a whole, most reward-based trainers concentrate on the teaching and proofing and many leadership/dominance trainers go straight to the shutting down model. I have a strong preference for the former. I want an impish, bright-eyed dog who trusts me.
That's a good way to put it. Would you say that when dominance goes awry it is a matter of degree, where one goes from assertive leading of the dog to [often times] a frustrated angry response that results in abuse?
 

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That's a good way to put it. Would you say that when dominance goes awry it is a matter of degree, where one goes from assertive leading of the dog to [often times] a frustrated angry response that results in abuse?
I think that the tendency to place responsibility on the dog rather than the handler invites escalation. I also think dominance-based stuff seems to get a little "mystical." Like, if you just stand straight, your dog won't pull... That's crap. And thinking that if "energy" is correct increases how personally a trainer/owner takes bad behavior. And THAT leads to heavy-handed responses to the dog.

But what do I know? :)
 

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I don't personally see any benefit to dominance based training. When there are parts of dominance training that do work, I don't think it's for the reasons dominance trainers claim. The entire theory that this training is based on has been disproved. So why would you train with a system that occasionally gets it right for the wrong reason? You're shooting in the dark. And so much of it is based on "energy" which is a completely vague and non-descriptive term that means nothing practically. I also agree with trainingjunkie that dominance based training is very light on actually teaching the dog what to do, and instead relies on shutting a dog down so they stop doing things.

I'm more interested in science based and relationship based training. Science based in the sense of understanding what you are rewarding or punishing in the moment and doing that mindfully. I lean towards positive reinforcement, but I have used all four sectors of the quadrant. I like to know why I'm doing something and why it works, and have something to fall back on explain why it's maybe not working in this situation. Animals, huamns included, respond to reinforcement and I'm going to use that to my advantage.

And relationship training as basically the extension of that, but also focusing on the dog's emotions and how we are interacting together. For me this is more for sports based stuff. If I need my dog to sit or stay or come in a real world situation, I'm not necessarily going to care if he's super happy and excited to do it, because he needs to do it sometimes. I've used an ecollar to proof recall because my dog needs to come when I call him and it's not negotiable. Even in those situations I am fair and my expectations are clear - I'm not just zapping the dog as hard as I can because he blew off my recall, and I spent months laying the foundation. If we're going to work on a sport together for fun, then it should actually be fun. I'm not interested in using punishment or compulsion based methods to train obedience or agility. I try to use my dog's enjoyment of the activity as a barometer for how I'm training.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
A related question I should have asked up front: does positive reinforcement/reward cover every scenario? From my perspective, the answer is rather obvious, and... negative.

Here's an article that ferrets out when positive reinforcement does not fully address a situation:
Positive reinforcement without guidance, leadership and discipline does not work 100% of the time because you are missing some of the communication. You tell the dog if it does this good thing I will reward you, but you never tell the dog that you do not agree with the other behavior. How is the dog to know what he is not to do if he only knows he gets rewarded for one behavior but nothing is said about the unwanted behavior?
This seems to make sense at a very basic level. Positive reinforcement works best when you are encouraging a positive behavior. But how do you discourage an unwanted behavior with a treat or a "good girl"? As the quote above indicates, teaching the alternative behavior positively only communicates that this behavior is good, but not that the other is bad. If the two behaviors are physically mutually exclusive, job well done. But if the two can coexist (as in the example given before the quote), the issue still remains. You haven't discouraged it.

Now, the question, of course is how to discourage unwanted behavior without abuse or shutdown. With the dogs I've had, tone of voice, physical redirection (leash leading, etc.), and a stare-down usually get the point across. Then I follow up with a positive behavior and reward/praise to show we've made up and we're cool.
 

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It is a misunderstanding of +R based training that it is permissive. Positive != permissive. Any article claiming that +R trainers let their dogs get away with everything and only reward good things doesn't understand how it works, and therefore isn't really qualified to argue against it.

ETA: The vast majority of +R also make use of negative punishment, which means the removal of good things to discourage a behavior. Think of timeouts as a basic example of that.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
...so much of it is based on "energy" which is a completely vague and non-descriptive term that means nothing practically. I also agree with trainingjunkie that dominance based training is very light on actually teaching the dog what to do, and instead relies on shutting a dog down so they stop doing things.
If "energy" doesn't work for you, think in terms of pheromones/hormones--what you emit and your dog sniffs in spades depending on how you're approaching them. This is backed up by recent studies (one sample). "Energy" is just code for the mental posture (calmness, assertiveness, patience, love, etc.) that you have to assume in order for your body to emit the right chemical signals to your pooch. This works with positive reinforcement, too! When you are saying "good boy" and petting away, that's not all your dog is getting from you. So make sure you mean it, or he'll make you for a liar. :D
 

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Discussion Starter #9
It is a misunderstanding of +R based training that it is permissive. Positive != permissive. Any article claiming that +R trainers let their dogs get away with everything and only reward good things doesn't understand how it works, and therefore isn't really qualified to argue against it.

ETA: The vast majority of +R also make use of negative punishment, which means the removal of good things to discourage a behavior. Think of timeouts as a basic example of that.
Then, by definition (and I hate to get overly semantic here) it isn't strictly positive. And we (again, simply and with straight-up common sense) can conjure up scenarios where the "removal of good things" can turn into abuse. As in: I don't feed you for days; I take away your freedom by chaining you to a tree (an extreme timeout); and so on... Which may show this debate isn't about negative vs. positive, but rather about the right balance of each?
 

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I don't like dominance. I see no benefit in even framing my interactions with my dogs in such terms. I have thumbs. I open the doors, throw the balls and dispense the thumbs. I have the bigger brain; I joke sometimes but I am smarter than my dogs. I am automatically in possession of all resources and in charge of our relationship, just by nature of being a *human*. Furthermore framing that as 'dominance' just gets in my way and implies an adversarial relationship where no such thing exists.

My dog is not 'out to get me' or to take over the household and take charge of me. They aren't wolves. Even wolves have family structure instead of dominance based hierarchy.

I *don't* tell my dogs no - seriously, I rarely use so much as a no reward marker. I simply don't tell them yes. Oddly enough telling them yes and controlling the resources works just fine. It works for my 100lb GSD mix, it works for my terrier, it works for my deaf dog, it works for my BC and it works for my 12lb mix. High drive dogs. Low drive dogs. Hard dogs. Soft dogs. Fearful dogs. Excessively confident dogs. Dogs with toy drive. Dogs with food drive. Dogs who have no apparent drive for anything. Deaf dogs. Old dogs. Hyper dog. Slow dog. DOGS.

They don't jump up. They don't mouth. They don't door dash. They recall off any and everything. They don't chew my furniture or get into the trash. They walk nicely on leash. 4 of the 5 are sports dogs of various levels, albeit in different sports. Successfully completing complicated series of commands at speed and behavioral chains, with distractions and with for no reward.

So, yeah. Positive works just fine for me. The rest of it? NOPE. It's damaging a relationship for no benefit, no reward, and no NEED.

And, yes, anyone who thinks positive = permissive, or even reads my 'I don't even use a no reward marker' to imply that dogs get to do whatever they want really doesn't understand learning theory at all, much less positive training.
 

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I use a combination of reward based and dominance, though I hate the word dominant getting thrown around as if my dogs are scared of me. Scolding is definitely involved, and they understand my body language and assertiveness. They know the term "bad boy" and my "ah ah" noise that discourages them from doing what their about to do. I use a corrective collar (I hate the word choke chain) to teach them to heel by my side. Combined with the collar I use treats and praises, and my dogs have never reacted badly to it. I guess in my eyes as long as the dog doesn't fear you and what you are doing doesn't cause anxiety, then what is the harm in it? I have never let him get to the end of the leash or yanked on the collar. I've never had to do more than tighten the collar a couple of "clicks". The noise is always enough to get them to slack up. I've never made them choke or cough.

Strictly positive reinforcement has not worked for me. All the treats and praises in the world are great, but without the other side to teach them what not to do it just doesn't work out. And any training, IMO, can get out of hand and go into abuse if not done correctly. I think it takes a good balance of both positive and negative reinforcement to make a dog understand what we want from them.

I WILL ALSO NOTE: I am not, under any circumstances, a certified trainer. The methods I use have always worked for me, but I would never profess to having all the answers when it comes to this debate. I just don't like the idea that some people would consider me a monster for using anything other than reward based methods.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
...My dog is not out to get me ...I *don't* tell my dogs no - seriously, I rarely use so much as a no reward marker. I simply don't tell them yes. Oddly enough telling them yes and controlling the resources works just fine. It works for my 100lb GSD mix, it works for my terrier, it works for my deaf dog, it works for my BC and it works for my 12lb mix. High drive dogs. Low drive dogs. Hard dogs. Soft dogs. Fearful dogs. Excessively confident dogs. Dogs with toy drive. Dogs with food drive. Dogs who have no apparent drive for anything. Deaf dogs. Old dogs. Hyper dog. Slow dog. DOGS.
I'm really encouraged to read your response, coming as it does with so much varied experience. As a point of reference, have you raised all your dogs from puppies, or have you had an opportunity to employ your 100% positive approach with an older dog you've taken on, say, as a rescue, or out of a bad situation? I'm thinking of cases where the dog comes with "baggage" brought on by bad training and/or circumstances. If you haven't dealt with such dogs, can you imagine some scenarios where a dog with bad ingrained habits (maybe even bad enough to be out to "get you") requires more than 100% positive reinforcement?
 

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I'm really encouraged to read your response, coming as it does with so much varied experience. As a point of reference, have you raised all your dogs from puppies, or have you had an opportunity to employ your 100% positive approach with an older dog you've taken on, say, as a rescue, or out of a bad situation? I'm thinking of cases where the dog comes with "baggage" brought on by bad training and/or circumstances. If you haven't dealt with such dogs, can you imagine some scenarios where a dog with bad ingrained habits (maybe even bad enough to be out to "get you") requires more than 100% positive reinforcement?
I have raised my youngest 3 from puppies, and the older 2 - 1 was a rescue from a farm (and deaf) where she ran wild her entire life with a bunch of boxers and the other came from a show home where he was compulsion trained for what he HAD to know and pretty shut down (but also still had some bad habits like marking, but mostly just wanted nothing to do with training). So the mix in here is about 50/50. Or, I guess, really, 60/40.

ETA: Both the older dogs were acquired at 4-5-ish years old. Well and truly adults.
 

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Also no, not really.

I mean I DO use some very harsh negative training. That's basically down to 'things that will get you killed and must be fixed and fixed RIGHT NOW OR YOU WILL DIE' like snake training or serious car chasing or a large dog, slick conditions and a serious prey-drive lunging problem. In those cases I also 200% believe that a trainer/professional needs to be brought in, because if you do that crap wrong you will destroy your dog. Doing positive training wrong will not. It's safe.

Dog training isn't about 'fixing problems' for me. It isn't even about teaching them to do a command in response to a verbal cue, though my dogs certainly know lots of commands from the useful obedience stuff to cute tricks. Dog training, in my head, and my philosophy amounts to 'build relationship, trust, and communication'. That means learn to read the dogs. Help the dogs learn to read YOU. SHOW THEM very clearly what you want and don't want. That's all standard as heck.

The only real difference is once the dog understands that working with you gets them stuff they want, you can communicate 'hey buddy, no way' by simply... not giving them the treat, resetting the exercise and letting them try it again. I promise. 98% of the time if you have a relationship with the dog and you are in possession of what the dog wants... that's enough. Not in the face of major distractions right away, maybe, and sometimes that outside stuff continues to be more rewarding, but none of that changes the basic principal of the thing.

Build a relationship, build trust, teach your dog how to 'read' your communication.
 

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Then, by definition (and I hate to get overly semantic here) it isn't strictly positive. And we (again, simply and with straight-up common sense) can conjure up scenarios where the "removal of good things" can turn into abuse. As in: I don't feed you for days; I take away your freedom by chaining you to a tree (an extreme timeout); and so on... Which may show this debate isn't about negative vs. positive, but rather about the right balance of each?
Nobody on this post has claimed to be purely positive in the sense that there are zero consequences ever, and I doubt you will find anybody who thinks it's possible to train a dog without any consequences for behavior. So I'm not sure what you're arguing? Anybody who think positive training mean ignoring bad behavior and hoping it goes away just doesn't understand positive training. Therefore the author of that article doesn't understand it and really can't make a good argument against it.
 

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Nobody on this post has claimed to be purely positive and I doubt you will find anybody who thinks it's possible to train a dog without any consequences for behavior. So I'm not sure what you're arguing?
Yeah, this. Even my 'Not even no reward markers' doesn't mean there's no consequence. If the dog is doing something I don't like I either:
Remove the opportunity/rewarding thing
Manage and train some incompatible behavior
Both

The dogs aren't just... doing whatever with no consequence. The consequence is just 'lost opportunity for what they want, sans a verbal cue to accompany it.

The dog pulls, I stop walking or turn another direction. The dog jumps, I walk away. The dog gets into the trash, the trash goes away. Dog blows a cue, the dog is reset, tries again. Dog comes back and catches up with me walking, we carry on. The dog stops jumping, I come back and give attention. Dog leaves the trash, they get a 'good dog'. Dog gets the cue second time around, reward. It is literally the same stuff as you'd see with someone saying 'no' or giving a leash correction and then praise/reward, minus the cue or correction.

And it WORKS.
 

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I'm not 100% sure that esuastegui is actually arguing. I think it's a nice discussion about the benefits of different types of training and why we use different methods.

Or that we're all just interested in learning more about different methods and their benefits/damage.
 

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I'm not 100% sure that esuastegui is actually arguing. I think it's a nice discussion about the benefits of different types of training and why we use different methods.
Probably.

And for what it's worth, I have had radical changes in training philosophy through agility and dog sports in general. It's really made me realize there are things dominance and negative reinforcement simply can't do, and if the higher level activities requiring lots of training need to find another way to get solidly good performances out of all sorts of dogs, and that 'another way' is cookies and toys and play and praise... there's something to that.

And even if it wasn't, training MYSELF, in a sport that requires the dog read the handler accurately and quickly, requires YOU trust the dog to do their job while you do yours, well. It just makes 'communicate with your dog' more important to me as the center of dog training.
 

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I'm not 100% sure that esuastegui is actually arguing. I think it's a nice discussion about the benefits of different types of training and why we use different methods.

Or that we're all just interested in learning more about different methods and their benefits/damage.
He was arguing that we weren't talking about purely positive. And I was saying that nobody ever was arguing for pure positive. That's all I meant.
 

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Probably.

And for what it's worth, I have had radical changes in training philosophy through agility and dog sports in general. It's really made me realize there are things dominance and negative reinforcement simply can't do, and if the higher level activities requiring lots of training need to find another way to get solidly good performances out of all sorts of dogs, well. There's something to that.

And even if it wasn't, training MYSELF, in a sport that requires the dog read the handler accurately and quickly, requires YOU trust the dog to do their job while you do yours, well. It just makes 'communicate with your dog' more important to me as the center of dog training.
I could agree with that. Any negative training that I use has always been for just basic obedience around the home and public. I could definitely see how if I was working in sport training I would want to look into different methods.
 
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