Sunday, April 8, 2012
Q & A with Denise Joyce on Positive Reinforcement Training and Choosing a Dog Trainer
*This is the follow-up to my previous post, How NOT to Train Your Dog
Q. WHY IS POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT MORE EFFECTIVE (THAN PUNISHMENT-BASED TRAINING) IN ELIMINATING UNWANTED BEHAVIOUR?
A. Training is meant to bridge a communication gap across species to increase understanding for a harmonious relationship. Most of the behaviours we expect from dogs are largely unnatural for them so the road to a harmonious relationship will have its challenges, regardless of the type of training you choose, but the humane methods will build a bond like no other.
This issue of positive vs. punitive has polarized dog owners and trainers around the globe. There are many, many considerations when it comes to discussing how dogs learn, the best way to teach/train, etc., but I like to keep it simple; if every person working and living with dogs would step back and consider exactly what is required to perform the two options for training, I would hope that most people would make the smarter, kinder choice. I know there will always be a certain type of person who feels that physical force is the only way to train an animal. It reminds me of the situation with human parents who believe that hitting their children is necessary to teach them how to behave.
#1 Training Style: includes Lure/Reward, Marker Based /Positive Reinforcement
This method asks you to show your dog how to behave and reward them for doing so – regardless of age. For the behaviours you don’t like you must remove any reward the dog might enjoy as a result of the unwanted behaviour. (The opposite of reward is no reward). You must remain patient, calm and consistent. Your timing is important to speed learning but a few seconds here or there doesn’t typically have any negative repercussions. You will need to be ready to enjoy and celebrate your dog’s success and feel pride when they learn to control their own behaviour in the presence of any distraction. This method typically prevents unwanted aggression and can rehabilitate all sorts of unwanted behaviours, especially those caused by anxiety.
#2 Training Style: includes physical punishment via leash corrections, pinning, electric shock and various other pain causing devices.
This method asks you to show your dog how to behave by causing severe pain whenever they make a mistake – regardless of their age. You must be on alert for any deviance from desired behaviour to administer punishment (i.e. pain). You will need to remain, patient, calm and consistent as you administer severe pain and your timing must be impeccable. The pain must be severe enough that the dog will never want to experience it again. This type of training has been proven to exacerbate existing anxiety or cause anxiety and stress where it had not existed in a dog prior to training.
If given the right information, I like to believe that any decent human being will choose to not administer pain to their companion animal. They are meant to be our friends, our family members, not our adversaries. The fact that they are a different species does not justify the administration of pain.
Q. ARE THERE DIFFERENT TYPES/STYLES OF POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT TRAINING?
A. Well, the Term Positive Reinforcement Training has taken on a bit of a generalized meaning. First of all, “positive” does not mean it’s all rainbows and lollipops. It is a scientific term meaning the addition of....
It’s all part of Classical and Operant Conditioning as described in the Laws of Learning. Generally, people hear terms such as clicker training, marker based training, positive reinforcement training and lure/reward. The punitive method is actually Positive Punishment; the addition of punishment.
The general idea is this: you bring meaning to a previously neutral cue (sound) by pairing it with a highly prized reward. The same can be done using pain, by the way, but again.....why would you?
Whenever the dog does something you like – you mark it and reward it. All creatures repeat behaviour that is rewarding. If behaviour is not rewarded, the animal will cease doing it over time. This is called extinction of a behaviour.
You can add sounds, verbal cues and or hand signals to name behaviour and you are essentially teaching English as a second language. Dogs don’t come to us knowing any of the words we are saying.
I think it’s very important for the detractors of positive training methods to know that positive does not mean permissive. Food is just one way to reward the dog and there is a scientifically proven way to remove food as a reward. One of the common criticisms I hear is that we are bribing dogs to perform and that is simply not correct. Often, dog owners will take one obedience course and they get stuck using food, not knowing when and how to wean the dog off food reward using other principles of reward.
Q. HOW WOULD YOU ADVISE AN OWNER ON CHOOSING A DOG TRAINER?
A. This is a bit tricky. Anyone can call themselves a professional dog Trainer.
Get a recommendation from three people whose dogs’ behaviour you like.
Ask the Trainer(s) for references and for a copy of their Training biography.
The responsibility is on every dog owner to understand the animal they have invited to join their family - due diligence, so to speak. I recommend www.dogwise.com as a great source of reputable authors on all things dog. You want to read Dr. Ian Dunbar, Dr. Patricia MacConnell, Karen Pryor, Brenda Aloff, Pat Miller, Jean Donaldson, Dr. Stanley Coren, Karen Overall and Ray Coppinger, to name but a few.
Ask a lot of questions in an interview and if any answers make you uncomfortable – ask more questions until you feel comfortable with the information or you decide the Trainer is not right for you.
Ask the Trainer what they plan to do with your dog before they ever lay their hands on your dog.
Q. BRAD PATTISON SAYS, "IN A DOG PACK THE LEADER WILL DISCIPLINE AT ANY COST. THIS IS ESSENTIAL AND MANDATORY ALPHA BEHAVIOUR IF ORDER IS TO BE KEPT. WHEN THE MEMBERS OF THE HUMAN FAMILY FAIL TO ESTABLISH THEIR SUPERIORITY, THE DOG NATURALLY ASSUMES IT IS IN CHARGE AND WILL DISPENSE DISCIPLINE AS IT SEES FIT, WITH OFTEN DISASTROUS RESULTS."
HOW WOULD YOU RESPOND TO THAT?
A. I find it most unfortunate that largely incorrect information is disseminated through such a powerful medium as television. Just because it’s on TV it doesn’t make it true. You know, TV, the medium that brought us such superlative shows as Jerry Springer. I can only suggest that people question what they are seeing and reading with healthy skepticism and probe in to someone’s sources. The “alpha dog” myth which is becoming a bit of a societal syndrome isn’t supported by any scientific research. Behavioural Scientists and Animal Behaviourists the world over have decades of research to disprove some of the dangerous but prevalent ideas put forward by some so-called Trainers.
Q. POSITIVE TRAINERS OFTEN SAY THAT THEIR METHODS ARE BASED IN SCIENCE - WHAT DOES THAT MEAN EXACTLY?
A. It means that Behavioural Science has put forward some theories, based on research through observations and experimentation. These theories have yielded results that are rigorously scrutinized and then tested and verified by many others working in the field. The theory can then become a scientific law. I believe everyone is well acquainted with the laws of other disciplines, for instance - Newton’s Laws. Training falls under the Laws of Learning.
In short, the Laws of Learning tell us that learning occurs through experience and involves making judgments about current and future behaviour based on what was experienced in the past. All creatures learn primarily by association. These associations will occur whether you are consciously training your dog or not. The dog is making associations and picking up patterns of events all the time.
Q. IS IT EVER OK TO PUNISH A DOG?
A. It’s not that punishment doesn’t work. If the pain is severe enough and timed correctly it can certainly “teach” a dog to cease doing something. So, by this method the dog experiences its environment through a series of negative experiences and has to learn how to behave by process of elimination. It also requires the handler to micro-manage the dog’s behaviour and always “be in control”. The question is: why would someone want to cause severe pain in their companion dog? The fallout of this style of training is stress and anxiety. Stress, anxiety and fear are known to result in generalized aggressive behaviour or anxiety disorders. What if instead - you can provide consequence to inappropriate behaviour that will signal to the dog there is no reward forthcoming? If the behaviour does not net a reward it will eventually extinguish. That also falls under Laws of Learning and has been scientifically proven. The dog owner need not hurt their dog or their relationship with their dog to make a point about what constitutes unwanted behaviour.
I think it is important to ask any Trainer or person working with dogs how they chose their methodology and where they get their “philosophy” for working with animals. When I hear anyone using terms like “alpha dog”, domination, superiority, etc., I know this person is using a homespun method of punitive training and from where this information came......nobody knows. I can say without hesitation, it is completely and entirely incorrect. We have more than sixty years of animal science data that can really shine a light on these amazing companions and our complex and wonderful relationship with them. I know from experience, that you can be a “leader” for your dog without ever putting your hands on him/her.
Something else to consider; fear and stress is the greatest predictor of aggression in dogs. Is it reasonable to punish a fearful response? Punishment tends to add stress and create anxiety and it sets the dog up for more reactivity and aggression. Let’s look at leash walking as a perfect example of how punishment can go very wrong very quickly. The dog owner wants their dog to walk in a strict “Heel” position. Their three month old puppy is excited to meet and greet every dog, person, squirrel and blowing leaf. The pup forges forward with excitement and then gets a yank. Their excitement keeps them in a moving forward pattern and they keep getting yanked and the “corrections” become more severe as the other dog or person approaches. In no time, most dogs will develop anxiety and then leash reactivity. Dogs who are otherwise friendly and lovely will become furry chainsaws on a leash. From the dog’s experience they have learned that the appearance and proximity of another dog (or whatever) means pain for them. Dogs use snarling, growling and lunging as distance increasing signals. They want the other creature to go away so they won’t feel pain. The walk becomes something akin to an urban minefield and that isn’t fun for anyone, dog or human. I know of two popular training companies in Toronto who advise owners to leash correct any movement away from the formal Heel position and they like to add in a pseudo-growl to admonish the dog for wanting to explore their surroundings. Some people, including Trainers, are unfamiliar with canine body language or the natural body language of dogs. Dogs use all sorts of body language to negotiate social situations. They perform calming signals which help diffuse tense greetings and they begin these ritualized behaviours the moment they see the other animal. Signals such as sniffing the ground and looking away will prevent unwanted conflict from as far away as 20 ft. If a dog is in a strict Heel and on a tight leash the calming signals are prohibited and the ensuing leash corrections will remove a dog’s basic social skills. It gets very ugly quite quickly and then the dog is no longer capable of living in our society and we know what happens next....our shelters are full of anxiety ridden dogs with reactivity and aggression issues. Some dogs will go straight to the veterinary office for their last needle. Some people don’t realize they are the incubators of tomorrow’s problem dogs.
I believe that when enough people have the correct information we will see progress in the human species and our relationship to dogs.
For anyone interested in learning more about dog behaviour and training methodology and where the heck I get off making such bold statements please see the following sources:
The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller
Aggression In Dogs: Practical Management, Prevention and Behaviour Modification by Brenda Aloff
If Bones Would Rain from the Sky by Suzanne Clothier
Positive Perspectives by Pat Miller
Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor
The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson
Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas
How to Teach a New Dog Old Tricks by Ian Dunbar
Dog Behavior by Ian Dunbar
The Other End of the Leash by Patricia MacConnell
It's Not the Dogs It's the People by Nicole Wilde
Whole Dog Journal
Dogs In Canada
About Denise Joyce:
After finishing her studies at the University of Toronto, Denise decided to turn her passion into her full time profession, dedicating herself to working with dogs and their guardians. In 2000, she opened her own pet sitting, training and behaviour consultation business, with a focus on holistic care and positive leadership. Denise has worked with animal advocacy groups lobbying for responsible dog ownership, and has assisted rescue organizations in an effort to keep dogs in their forever homes. Denise has worked as the Head Trainer for several full-service organizations and she developed a reputation as a knowledgeable, caring and professional trainer using humane and positive methods. Denise has appeared on Breakfast Television, Cityline, and Animal House Calls. She has also been featured in the Globe and Mail, Bloor West Snap, and Dogs,Dogs,Dogs. Denise shares her life with her partner and son and is owned by her mixed breed rescue dog, Hank.