It seems that many dog owners are understandably confused about which training options are most effective and efficient, especially in light of popular television programming that promotes methods that were once traditional and widely practiced, but have since been discredited by research and study. I wish to offer some clarity and suggest helpful resources to the average dog owner and trainer alike.
Force, or Force-Free
In the world of animal training and behavior there are no greater legends than Bob and Marian Bailey, whom Dr. Sophia Yin interviewed. On 8-13-12 Dr. Yin posted the interview on her web site. (http://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/the-best-animal-trainers-in-history-interview-with-bob-and-marian-bailey)
Between the two of them the Baileys trained about 16,000 animals, 140 species (including dogs) and used positive training methods almost exclusively. When asked about using positive punishment Bob Bailey replied they had used such methods “maybe a dozen times” and “under really extreme, unusual situations.”
When asked about training methods for family pets Bailey stated “…certainly in pet training, there’s no reason I could see that you’d need to use an aversive…”
When I got my first puppy 35 years ago, aversive methods were the traditional and most widely used methods of the day. I bought a training book and tried to apply the punishments promoted by the author, with the exception of one chapter. In that chapter the author criticized other trainers for being too harsh, and then went on to explain the “proper” method for striking a dog.
I never hit my puppy, but I did use yelling, scruff shaking, rolling and pinning and other aversive methods. They only served to upset me and my dog, made me angry, left me feeling guilty…and my puppy was left with the same behaviors as before all the drama.
Now I understand that was because punishment only served to briefly interrupt the behavior and did not teach my puppy “what” to do. In short, they did not work for me and I abandoned them.
Years later when we adopted Buddha we had the good fortune of finding a local professional trainer whose methods were force-free. The methods were easy and fun to apply and they worked quickly. I was so inspired by force-free methods that I undertook a serious study of training and eventually began teaching others how to train their dogs.
Getting Ready to Cross-Over
In her article (“Guide Dogs for the Blind Changes Training Methods, and the Results are Amazing”) Mardi Richmond, MA, CPDT-KA describes the process by which an organization whose 65 trainers (using traditional punishment-based) methods switched to positive force-free methods.
“Quietly and without fanfare, Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB)—an organization with a rich history and proven track record of training safe and effective guide dogs—began the process of crossing-over almost a decade ago. The results have been nothing short of astounding.
According to Michele Pouliot, GDB’s director of research and development, Karen Pryor Academy faculty member, international Freestyle champion and the force behind the switch, success rates have soared. Using traditional methods, roughly 45 to 50 percent of the dogs entering the formal training process made guide dog status. With the incorporation of clicker training (one type of positive reinforcement), 60 to 85 percent graduate and are successfully paired with a blind partner.”
Thanks to their openness to considering modern science-based methods, GBD now provides far more service dogs each year to people who need their help. The only change in the training program was from punishment-based to force-free methods, and the results came quickly.
Resources for Dog Owners
There are many great books available to dog owners, but I will keep things simple and offer one suggestion to start with.
“How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves” by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS. This is an easy to understand book describing the science of learning, with sections such as “Five-Minute Guide to Basic Good Dog Behavior” and “Five-Minute Guide to Solving Common Canine Problems”.
Web sources offering hundreds of free articles and videos:
Dog Star Daily, Dr. Ian Dunbar (Veterinarian, Animal Behaviorist)
Numerous articles on dog training and behavior, download the free PDF ebook: “After Getting Your Puppy”
Dog Behavior, ASPCA
Great source of objective dog training and behavior information.
Dr. Sophia Yin (Veterinarian, Animal Behaviorist)
Scores of free dog training and behavior articles, posters and videos.
Family Paws: Dogs and Babies
Safety information for parents.