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Why positive only training?

23155 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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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?
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?
By "verbal correction" I essentially mean "Get off the table you jerk!". I wanted to make it clear that when I am talking about corrections I don't mean hitting the dog, just communicating my unhappiness. I am definitely on board with the idea that you want a strong, positive relationship with your dog. If you dont want that you probably have no business owning a dog. And, yes its best to teach good manners before bad habits crop up but there is often enough work to be done with things that ARE issues that sometimes things which arent get set aside.

We have a problem in our house with a self-reinforcing behaviour, jumping up on the kitchen table. Generally we keep unattended food out of reach but a couple of times our dogs found some. They are even jumping up there when we are in the room! I'm not prepared to 'just ignore' that behaviour or essentially relinquish our food to doggy appetites. If I don't set a negative consequence with getting up on the table wont their motivation for our food win out every time? What if its both, a negative consequence ("NO!) for jumping up and reward for leaving it alone? I think its really important to keep the vast majority of your interactions positive but surely the world cannot be engineered to be all positive all the time.
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Hmmm... I hadn't really considered that before. It does work, because he stops whatever he's doing (unless hes eating something particularly delicious) but why? Maybe he's intimidated that I'm angry? But I haven't hurt him or given him any reason to believe me being angry will be directly harmful to him... Pete in particular is very owner-oriented, almost too much so. That reaction is part of my "dogs aim to please" idea I guess. Maybe its just instinct, angry atmosphere = bad?
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.
Without getting philosophical let me just say I don't agree with the premise that society and human nature is based in selfishness. That said, it makes sense to create incentive for good behaviour, unfortunately sometimes bad behaviour has stronger innate incentives (food on the table is a good example). In that situation you would have to either come up with something more motivating than the bad behaviour or find a way to lessen the bad incentive... or both.

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.
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True, if you're looking for a pristine apartment or you're not prepared to occasionally lose your dinner a dog is not a good idea. I'm pretty far from a perfectionist but there are some basic lines I don't want crossed. I would never want to scare or traumatize a dog, the way that WORKS with the least amount of of discomfort all around has my full support. While I'm not prepared to rule out all aversives if there is a better way to deal with a problem then I'm all for it.
AHA! I am secretly pleased that this thread took a 'housebreaking' turn. Pete has this problem and its driving us pretty crazy. He has never been disciplined for going indoors by us but he is a rescue and his previous history is unknown. He NEVER goes in the house in front of us but instead he sneaks away and goes in the attic, or the basement. I reward him for going outside but he doesnt really like to be outside anyways and wont go if I'm not out with him (a big problem for when I'm not home and he has to pee). He also has some SA issues so I dont want to tether him to me 24/7 because I don't want to reinforce the needy behaviour. He whines and barks in his crate but can be left alone quietly when given room to run. Its a conundrum... can we deal with both the SA and the housebreaking? Without use of the crate?
Thats where we got into trouble initially, the rescue told us he was housetrained so in the first few days when he was with us 99.9% of the time we didnt notice any accidents or leg-lifting we just assumed... and then discovered he had been peeing on our couch in the basement the WHOLE TIME! Seriously, in the middle of the cushions. Oh Pete.... the funny part is when I put the cushions outside to dry Pete came out and immediately lifted his leg and peed on them AGAIN!!! I just laughed. I guess I'll tether without attention and maybe try to block off part of the kitchen for him. Maybe he'll stay outside alone with a treat involved, hes not so much into playing, only cuddling so if he expects me to come outside and pet him he will be even MORE annoying when I am not there.

I've been pretty well convinced about positive training, I'm still not going to rule out mild aversives but they will definitely be a last resort.
Curbsideprophet: I think what Miss Bugs is trying to say is that sometimes the dogma of balanced training or classical conditioning gets in the way of actually finding a solution and being intellectually honest. I think its pretty unfair to suggest that any trainer who isn't aware of classical conditioning and treating it as gospel is horrible. Classical conditioning is a theory like any other and has to be subject to some doubt. Remember how convinced everyone was that the world was flat? Now we are more sure it is round... who knows maybe we'll find out that our fallible human brains can't perceive the world as it truly is and its not any shape at all.

Gally: sometimes fear is good. I never want my dog to be afraid of me but I would like him to be afraid of jumping off our balcony or running into the busy street. To a MUCH lesser degree I would like him to think twice about jumping up on the table. We teach our children (even more cherished beings) that some choices are BAD and unacceptable. The way we teach is different but the premise is the same. Not every option is a good one, choose wisely and you will be rewarded, choose poorly and you will face somewhat unpleasant consequences. Often the world can be engineered to offer mostly motivators (especially in a dogs limited world) but not always and I prefer the job of preparing the dog for the world than the world for the dog.
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ofthelogos - I started this thread... as I said at the beginning I'm not an expert by any means, just an average dog owner interested in learning. The intention was really to ask why people are so against "Dominance Theory" and "blalanced training". The thread has taken several twists and turns so at this point the title isnt necessarily a perfect indication of the content. It has been mentioned that no one is positive only so I guess the premise is not ideal.

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!
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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.
Yikes, this thread seems to have taken a confrontational turn...
Pawzk9 when I mentioned dogma I was actually responding to this post from curbsideprophet
It doesn't matter where you place yourself, or where you believe others are in this camp thing...either you're cognizant of classical conditioning during training, especially with aversives, or you're a horrible trainer, and perhaps a foolish one.
I've been told positive only doesnt exist and I'm happy to accept that, even if it did I wouldnt consider it a "beastie" at all. I've actually found your posts (actually pretty much everyones) helpful and informative and was bridling at the suggestion that if you don't use classical conditioning you're horrible or foolish. That is why I mentioned dogma. I really am not interested in deriding anyone here or their methods.
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