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Why positive only training?

23173 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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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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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.

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!"
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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