1st of September is the day when new school year starts in Lithuania. If you’ve decided to teach your four-legged friend, too, read this article about dog training methods. Two of them are most popular: you will need to choose between dominance based training and positive training.
During the last dozen years science of canine behavior developed more than in whole XX century. In the past scientists thought that dogs are too simple to be interesting, and they took a deeper look at these animals just recently.
Their new findings created a base for positive training methods, and these methods are gradually displacing old methods, based on dominance against an animal.
What are the differences between these two methods?
Old school: dominance based training
Traditional dominance based training by its’ supporters is described as a quick solution to behavior problems. In Lithuania you can also find trainers who are promising to teach your dog “absolute obedience” in just 2 weeks.
These techniques are based on an idea that a human must be a dominant leader and he should manage the dog in the same way as alpha wolf lead his pack. It is believed that otherwise a dog will try to take over the role of a pack leader and will impose his own rules on humans.
These traditional dog training techniques include not only rewards for good dog’s behavior, but also punishments for dog’s decisions, which are not acceptable to his human leader. Tought in this way, a dog obeys a trainer, but mostly not because a dog wants it, but because he seeks to avoid a threatening punishment. A dog fears to make “bad” decisions, and thus might become nervous and… aggressive.
The most popular punishments used by supporters of this training method are (Herron & al., 2008): hitting or kicking the dog (43%), growling at the dog (41%), physically forcing a dog to let go of an object (43%), alpha rolling (41%) and staring the dog down (39%). Some supporters of dominance based training also use choke collars, chains, electric shock or other similar equipment. This research conducted answers only from dog owners who came to see a professional dog trainer. Among the most common problems they facing were aggression to unfamiliar people (48%), aggression to familiar people (43%), aggression to dogs (40%) and separation anxiety (32%).
However, supporters of punishment based training believe they reinforce their status by using these methods.
But do dogs care about a status? Human is always a manager of all recourses important to a dog – including space, food, water, and play. A human decides when a dog gets to play and what does he eat.
And even though dogs are similar to wolves by 99 percent of their genes, dogs’ behavior has changed a lot during the several dozens of years of the existence of canis lupus familiaris.
It’s important to know that almost all scientists now agree that dogs are descendants not from wolf packs, but from individual scavenging wolves. Only ancestors of the most friendly wolves were the ones who wasn’t afraid to be next to humans. And when you live individually, not in a pack, and there is a lot of food left by humans around you, there’s no need to go hunting.
Positive training encourages thinking
While dominance based trainers are paying attention to negative dog’s behavior and it’s correction, supporters of positive training are making efforts to notice and reward a dog for making good choices.
Supporters of this new wave believe that dog will be more willing to obey a human who dog respects, and not the one he is afraid of.
The same works in human interactions – a person is more willing to obey if he is asked to do something by a person who he respects. And on the contrary, if you gained no respect, you might need a gun to make other people to do something you’d like them to do. By using physical power on an animal a human demonstrates that he doesn’t have any potency to agree with a dog.
Positive training covers many different methods, but they all are based on rewards, when a dog gets what he wants – food, treats, play, praise – when he makes choices we like.
Bad choices – if they make no harm – are ignored. However, positive dog trainers use constructive discipline, if needed. They can stop unwanted dog’s behavior by distracting a dog with unusual sounds, and then redirecting a dog to a more acceptable activity, or they ignore the dog.
Positive training also makes an animal to think more. You don’t use physical power, but a dog is lured with things he values. Trainers have to be patient, because they give time for animals to understand what they want them to do. Besides, while a dog is solving a task about how to get a treat he wants, there’s no time to think about chasing birds.
If you use positive training a dog always has two choices: to do what he’s asked to do and get a treat, or get no treat. If he chooses the latter, a trainer reconsiders if a treat is really valuable for his learner, and thinks about other tools he chose for training as well as the environment.
Thus a dog feels that he always has a choice and is in control of the situation. He trusts himself and a trainer, because he knows he will not be forced to do what he is scared to do, or what he doesn’t understand. This kind of mutual trust is a key to a solid bond between a human and a dog.
The secret of positive training is simple – reinforcement for good behavior increases the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated. Besides, this kind of training is fun not only for a learner, but also for a teacher. And if lessons are pleasant, a trainer is much more willing to have them more often, so learners learn faster!