My January blogs have been focusing on National Train your Dog Month. In my mind, dog training is not really about pets, it’s an animal welfare issue. Over the years, many trainers have crossed over from more traditional, older school training methods to science based, positive reinforcement training. However, many dog lovers are not familiar with the various styles and how our dogs are affected, both short and long term, by different training techniques.
Traditional training methods are about getting dogs to behave in a certain way so that they fit into our human world in the manner we desire. This often involves teaching them commands that imply, “Do it or else”. An example would involve the use of a leash “jerk” on the collar to correct a dog’s non-desired behavior (i.e. the dog pulling on the leash). Other ways to correct would include the collar itself, i.e. choke chain, prong collar, or shock collar. If the dog is behaving in an undesirable way, the human applies enough pressure that causes momentary physical pain to the dog so that the unwanted behavior stops. In other words, we are telling the dogs, walk politely on a leash or else you will feel pain. The physical pain may be short term and the desired behavior may improve, but the long term results often show emotional scarring that result in other undesired behaviors.
Science based, positive reinforcement training creates partnership with our animals and can be used effectively with any species. Certain behaviors result in pleasant consequences and all other behaviors result in no consequence, inspiring the animal to think creatively on their own. Behavior is a function of its consequences. Observation is given to what animals do naturally, the behavior is marked at the exact time it happens (i.e. with a click, “good boy” or “yes”) and is reinforced with a reward (i.e. treat, toy, praise). Cues are added when you have a reliably built behavior. And the food consequence is phased out or given intermittently while praise and verbal commands and/or hand signals remain.
As Karen Pryor says in her latest book, it is about “Reaching the Animal Mind”. Many people consider Karen Pryor to be the inventor of clicker training. She is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training. Clicker training is an animal training method based on behavioral psychology that relies on marking desirable behavior and rewarding it.
Clicker training is a system of teaching that uses positive reinforcement in combination with an event marker. Desirable behavior is usually marked by using a “clicker,” a mechanical device that makes a short, distinct “click” sound which tells the animal exactly when they’re doing the right thing. This clear form of communication, combined with positive reinforcement, is an effective, safe, and humane way to teach any animal any behavior that it is physically and mentally capable of doing.
Next: Dog Training Video plus interview with Karen Pryor