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Why positive only training?

23156 Views 313 Replies 36 Participants Last post by  Laurelin
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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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.

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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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.
Yeah, as others have mentioned, dogs are social animals, not pack animals. Left alone to fend for themselves, feral dogs are generally solitary. When I visited Taiwan, I saw a lot of stray and feral dogs, and they were all solitary, with the exception of two huskies who seemed to follow each other. They were more concentrated in areas with human activity and food. All of my observations were consistent with research done by Ian Dunbar on feral dogs.

The idea of dogs as pack animals is subconsciously ingrained by stories, TV, and media. Everybody *thinks* they understand dominance, but really don't. Ask yourself how dominance or pack hierarchy works. Can you explain it? It's actually a complex and debated subject even in the academic world.

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?
That dogs aim to please us is also a myth. They aim to please themselves. It's possible to use corrections with minimal fallout, but it's a very fine line and it's a risky thing to try to pull off. At first I thought the positive reinforcement stuff was just a new age mumbo-jumbo fad. As time went on, the fallout from aversive punishments was real and observable. Everything I read about the fallout from aversive/dominant training came true. It was clear I needed to shift my paradigm.

You can minimize your need for corrections by setting up the environment so that your dog does not have the opportunity to get practice unwanted behavior. Then as your dog gets more reliable, you can start adding stuff back into the environment. Reward methods actually require planning, creativity, and forethought. We're humans, so we're capable of it.
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I wanted to make it clear that when I am talking about corrections I don't mean hitting the dog, just communicating my unhappiness.
People who aren't savvy to operant conditioning will see nothing wrong with this explanation. The issue with the bolded part, is that it is our own interpretation of what we're doing. Whether the dog sees it that way is anyone's guess, but I'd say it's highly unlikely that the dog cares the slightest about our happiness or unhappiness. The only reason why the dog would care about us being unhappy, is because bad things usually happen to the dog when the human is in an unhappy state. Regardless, trying to communicate unhappiness is likely to do nothing about behavior. The only reason why a correction will change behavior is because the interaction was aversive to the dog.
I'm not sure I buy the idea that dogs are entirely self-interested. I think that there is an emotional bond which extends both ways. If a close friend is upset I experience that as an aversive, it would be all the more so if they brought me my dinner each night! Dogs don't experience the world in the same way as humans but kindness and emotional bonds arent solely the province of humans. "Aversive" events happen in relationships (between both people and animals) all the time and it doesnt destroy the bond, I've never had a relationship that didnt involve at least one disagreement.

Even if you break down altruistic human behavior, you will still trace the roots back to basic selfish needs.

- If my boss is in a bad mood, I'm going to stay out of his way so that I don't F myself over somehow.
- If my best friend is upset, I want to cheer him up so that I can be back to joking around. You could say, "but I'm concerned about my friend's well-being". Why? Because you like your friend and you don't want to lose him/her.
- If my dog does a bunch of cute stuff at me that makes me laugh, there is a good chance I will give him food or play with him or pet him.

As kids, we're taught selfishness is a bad thing, but actually, if you think about it, it's kind of the driving force behind society. It's just, there's proper selfishness which helps your society and ultimately yourself, and improper selfishness which helps yourself in the short term but harms everybody in the long run. Everybody wants to do whats best for themselves because that increases your rate of survival, and as it turns out, for social creatures like dogs and humans, what's best for ourselves correlates with what's best for everybody. So if we are able to tap into our dogs' selfish needs for survival, we have about a 100% chance of reaching his brain.
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Aversive is the operant conditioning term but I prefer the idea of consequence. A predictable system that offers both good and bad outcomes, I think the system should be set up to create the maximum good outcomes but occasionally its in the best interest of everyone to teach that a certain choice is a BAD one. In those cases the discomfort of the aversive might be WAY less than the possible real-world consequence (eg. a dog that chases animals into the street who wont respond to treats but will respond to an ecollar). Mostly though I think we all agree that minimizing discomfort and unhappiness is the way to go, the world's not perfect though and there is only so much we can control.

I can relate with this viewpoint. Training = operant conditioning, and operant conditioning is ALL about consequences - how to manipulate consequences to achieve desired behavior or lack of behavior. The general trend is that the better people get at reward training, the less they need to use aversive stimulus. In your real-world example where a dog may run into the street, first and foremost, we would have to manage it with a leash, but beyond that, there are ways to solve the problem that don't involve aversive methods. It just takes more preparation, creativity, knowledge. Aversive-less training is more sustainable, because you can do it forever. If someone trains with ecollars and prong collars and has to rely on that everytime they train, then they run a serious risk of permanent injury to the dog.
Ooorrrr . . . you can teach the dog that HIS bed is absolutely the best place in the world. Sometimes when you are on it, treats fall from the sky. In early stages of training, management is key. But once you've created a habitual behavior you don't need the management or the presence of the human. I've taught all my dogs a very good leave it. True story, we have some awful hailstorms in OK lately. In the last two years we have had storms with tennisball sized hail, having to replace glass in cars and roofs. It's also very hard on any birds around to be hit by something that big. Kills a bunch of them. About three days after the first storm, Ray came trotting around the house with a rotting starling. I told him to drop it (he did, without any attempts to keep his prize) and I told him and his mom and auntie (who were also out) to "leave it." I went into the house to get stuff to dispose of the mess. When I got back out, all three dogs were sitting a respectful distance from the carcass and it had not been moved. Because I had trained the behavior I didn't have to be right there to enforce it.

Did you use any aversive feedback or punishment methods to get such a reliable "leave it"?
There are hard core behaviors, though, that can be eliminated much more quickly with a proper punishment procedure.... and sometimes, within one single trial! Whether this is ethical is up for debate, but I'm saying that this feature is the "big attraction".

What would be considered a hardcore behavior?

I will use forms of P+ or aversive punishment, such as body blocking, sharp sounds, screaming in horror, to deal with stuff like getting into trash or getting too close to my dinner. The good thing is that over time, I don't have to use it anymore, and that's the whole goal. It's not ideal, but those are minor problems and the degree of aversive needed to effectively deal with the behavior is low. Sometimes, it's just not possible from a logistical standpoint to do R+ for every single problem. I don't need my dog on his bed for 30 minutes while I eat. He can do anything around the house, just not eat my dinner.
Is body blocking +P or -P? I'm denying him what he wants, that would seem to be negative punishment just like closing my hand over a treat.
The act of body blocking is a kind of aversive stimulus. What it does is reduce the occurrence of a behavior by adding my body in the way of the dog. It can also be negative reinforcement if it makes the dog do something else, but whatever the result, the tool used is a physically intimidating body, which qualifies as aversive.

How would you handle a dog that attacked you? Say you had him out on lead, and he attacks your leg, not letting go. Is there a way to handle this positively?
Extreme life situations don't really qualify as training examples. If a dog attacks me, I'm not training jack, I'm trying to save my life. The difference between a reward trainer and a balanced trainer, is that the reward trainer will work with the dog during the threshold moments, keeping the situation safe, while the balanced will push the dog into a dangerous situation and justify the use of aversive punishment because the dog is dangerous. Dogs are not inherently aggressive or dangerous or red-zone, they are under or over threshold. Can a correction possibly work? Yeah, possibly, but it can also amp the dog up even more. You see that all of the time in the Dog Whisperer.

I believe dogs need a leader especially when they are living in close social proximity to others the way they must when living with humans. Someone needs to set the rules so everyone can live in happy coexistence but being a good leader for your dog doesn't need to equal physically dominance
I don't think characterizing the relationship with terms like leader and hierarchy is necessary. They might make it easier for the human to relate, but are by no means accurate representations of the dynamics of the relationship. Our relationship with another animal is dynamic, not static. Nothing is fixed, it is always changing. The ways in which we are "higher" than a dog - 1) that we own them, 2) that we buy them everything, 3) that we control their environment etc, etc... are irrelevant to the dog. Only WE care about it, but the dog does not see what we see.
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It doesn't matter terribly much regardless of how we conceptualize these details. What matters is that the dog's "world" just worsened as a result of the behavior... whether through positive punishment or negative. With punishment (or reinforcement), THAT is the most important thing behaviorally: "Did my world just worsen (or improve) as a consequence of my behavior? "
I like that way of describing it.
You can keep him on a catch pole, muzzled, or not have access to you, but how do you train? I have had two dogs that were Hell bent on biting the handlers. No toy or treat was going to prevent this. I don't see how any positive method would work here. Most situations, yes. On these occasions, no. It was simply having the dog on lead. No distractions to put him over threshold yet. However, after the corrections, redirecting that aggression was so much easier when distractions were added.

Not knowing the full past, I don't know how the dogs got to this point, but it had to be corrected.

If the dog is hell bent on biting someone, there HAS to be a trigger. Dogs don't just aggress for no reason, unless there is a serious mental issue. The idea is to work on the trigger, not correct what happens after the trigger has set off.
for the record I am not a dominance theorist, but I DO believe in dominance, and I HAVE pinned some of my dogs(OMG!!!! cue the abuse calls!!) I dont hate CM and I dont hate BP(dont love them either), but I cant stand VS. I have been training and competing for half my life and my mom has been training and competeing since she was 14. I do train with treats, and I own several clickers, and I dont think its fair to correct a dog for incorrectly doing something it has never been taught. but I never ignore behaviour I dont want, and if my dogs are afraid to do something I dont want them doing...GOOD.

What's the difference between dominance theory and dominance? There's one form of dominance that you don't agree with and another form that you do believe in?
Is there a link? All I see is a dvd for sale.

Here's a youtube video from the guy

He says stuff myself and others have mentioned in this thread.
Thank you. Perfect example of some of the crappy training that goes on in LE. Again, its a totally different situation than working a dog on a sleeve, and the example of the two dogs I mentioned. Mr white states he does use corrections, but he sounds fair with them.
I would still like to hear if there is any positive way to handle the dogs I described.
If you were to pay a little more attention to Steve White with a really open mind, I think you might find the answer to your question. The biggest problem is that the answers require a completely different mindset, and often the hardest part is being willing to let go of what you think you know.

In short, as Steve would ask - Are you setting your dog up for success?
Curbsideprophet - I mentioned the "flat earth" to illustrate the fallibility of people's belief systems, not to suggest the earth is actually flat. Its really the dogma I wanted to address, the idea that a single system is the ONLY acceptable one and the fact that there needs to be some room for doubt in everything. People who arent familiar with the system you use or don't choose to follow it arent inherently terrible. Its pretty terrible to use force indiscriminately on another living being but I don't think all people who use another system are guilty of that. Essentially we are talking psychology here and even human psychology is as much art as science... for a dogs brain, we can have an idea but fundamentally, who KNOWS what goes on there!

The flat earth society is where people say stuff like, "my mom trained this way and it worked for all of our dogs. you MUST correct." With only rough anecdotal, biased memories as evidence, this is dogma.

On the other side, reward trainers can also be dogmatic. Some R+ folks will declare any instance of a prong, choke, or ecollar as inhumane.

There are extremes, but what is not extreme and is not up for interpretation, is the HARD evidence that supports a reward based training approach.
Pretty impossible I would say... some of it would be simple (no meaningless cruelty) but so much of this is complicated and grey that I personally find it better to learn as much as possible and sample sensibly from several systems.

Be aware not to confuse methods with principles. There are a million different methods out there and any of them can work, but the reason they work is based on principles. Because people don't understand the distinction between principles and methods, you'll see people justify faulty principles with a certain method that appears to work. This is why the Dog Whisperer is flawed from its core. While his methods may appear to work, the core principles he presents in the show, dominance & energy, are not the primary reasons why his methods work. Tiger Woods didn't perfect his swing by being calm assertive, he got good at golf by practicing and actually getting good at it. The calm assertive part is an outcome of him being good at what he does.
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