What I Mean by “Balanced”

[The following was written for Animal Behavior College in response to a request for an article on balanced training.]

I’m not big on labels, especially empty ones. Tags like positive or balanced don’t signify much, in my opinion, beyond the public image a trainer wishes to project. These are marketing terms, not definable training methods. Yet all of dogdom seems to have settled into the opinion that every trainer is either one or the other.

The more serious trainers I get to know from both sides of the supposed divide, the more I reject this idea. But if pressed, I do identify as balanced, and will continue to do so going forward, regardless how the scales of positive and negative or punishment and reinforcement truly fall within my programs. Balanced may not go a long way toward conveying what I do, but it’s not inaccurate, and I like to think it evokes something of what I actually mean when I use it to describe myself and my colleagues.

To my mind, balanced trainers are by and large pragmatic. We approach tools and methods sensibly, unfettered by politics or ideology. We do what works, within an ethical framework involving fair expectations, clear communication, and respect for the dog in front of us. This may mean building a foundation of understanding and enthusiasm via positive reinforcement, then layering instructional corrections overtop to enhance reliability and steadiness under distraction. It may mean choosing negative reinforcement or positive punishment first, if so doing resolves a problem safely and efficiently. In all cases, it means remaining flexible, reading the dog at every turn, and keeping all options on the table.

Balanced training is unapologetically results oriented. Results matter, both to the client rightly expecting some deliverables, and to the dog, whose quality of life may ultimately depend a great deal more on whether his owner may walk him confidently in public or take him hiking off-leash, than on which quadrants of operant conditioning happened to land the dog such opportunities. Good results also represent the most reliable indicator that a given method is sound, which is not to say ends justify means. Means, particularly highly aversive or costly ones, are justified by the knowledge and experience that they represent the optimal path toward a good result, not the mere hope of achieving one. Being results oriented is not about being a cowboy. It is about being open to both new and traditional tools and methods as long as they have practical utility, and being prepared to do some amount of internal calculus before settling on the best approach.

Photo courtesy of Lionheart K9

Balanced trainers acknowledge that the deliberate inclusion of aversives within a training program is neither inhumane nor unscientific. Our commitment to canine welfare and fostering healthy relationships between dogs and people does not inhibit us from taking ownership of those aversives we employ. We focus our energies on applying them productively and responsibly, whether via electronic collar or head halter, with maximum efficiency and minimal risk. Denying their legitimate (and largely unavoidable) role in training and behavior modification both constrains trainers unnecessarily and inhibits frank discussion of how more socially acceptable tools and protocols actually work.

There have been some major shifts in dog training culture over the past several decades. On the upside, there’s been a great surge of interest and innovation, along with a new emphasis on ethical standards and humane methods. On the downside, it has become highly politicized, and lousy with specious claims driven by competition over market share. Balanced trainers recognize their work as existing on a continuum with what dog men have been doing for centuries, not as a departure so radical as to deny their influence and contributions to our field. Even if our approach bears little outward resemblance to the training of old, we refuse to reject traditional tools based on popular trends, and balk at the arrogant dismissal of generations of skilled and accomplished trainers as backward thinking relics.

In the end, it’s a matter of devotion to craft ahead of devotion to methodology.

Does every trainer currently advertising himself as balanced conform to my private definition? No, but I think it holds true for the balanced trainers I know best and attempt to model myself after, including a number who do not identify as such.

Whether positive trainers will mainly sympathize with or feel excluded by the above, I cannot guess. But I invite them to rethink the utility of defining ourselves according to terms that are ultimately more divisive than descriptive, and to help move our industry away from empty labels and toward an honest discussion of what we really do and why.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2012.

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  1. Eleanor Sobkowiak’s avatar

    Brava!

    Reply

  2. Jan Floyd’s avatar

    Thank you for describing so eloquently what I like about balanced training! The focus is on the dog and what works best to achieve the results desired within a humane, rational and relational training program.

    Reply

  3. regina steiner’s avatar

    Wow. This resonates very strongly with me, you put this so well and I hope lots of people read it and GET IT!!

    One additional thought. You wrote: “Even if our approach bears little outward resemblance to the training of old, we refuse to reject traditional tools based on popular trends, and balk at the arrogant dismissal of generations of skilled and accomplished trainers as backward thinking relics.” YES I do agree 110 percent. But I also have a problem with long time trainers who refuse to consider any of the newer approaches. There’s definitely room for growth on all sides of the argument.

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  4. Shannon S’s avatar

    Yes! And I agree with Regina as well, there is room for growth on ALL sides. There are still plenty of people out there who refuse to pick up a treat, even when it would be in the dog’s best interest, simply because they “don’t train that way”.

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  5. Tricia Breen’s avatar

    Well said. Both camps have extremes however. (It is also worth looking at whether the ritual dance of competition obedience, beautiful as it can be, should be attained by any means. It is no longer utilitarian in practice, but is a competitive aim at perfection, a beautiful team, a difference of a point here and there being very meaningful. So getting to that should have a lot of give and take involved in the training for those shooting for OTCH and/or HIT.) Fairness should always be a part of the equation. Indulgence doesn’t pay for dog or owner, but I have also had to turn away from trainers that are being unreasonable and harmful. Hence the birth of extremism from one camp, I think.

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    1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      I wasn’t really targeting extremists on either side with this article, so much as questioning the paradigm of positive v. balanced. But I agree, the positive movement does not have a monopoly on crazy (although it may currently be the majority shareholder).

      As for formal obedience, I think it has a great deal more utility than it’s commonly given credit for, artificiality notwithstanding. And no, that doesn’t give a handler carte blanche….

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    2. Lynn Fitzpatrick’s avatar

      If you think that positive training is indulgent then you have no understanding of the method . It is not permissive in any way when properly practiced.

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      1. Lynn Fitzpatrick’s avatar

        Whoops…replied to the wrong comment. This was for Tricia.

        Reply

      2. ruthcrisler’s avatar

        Lynn, no worries. It’s just how the comment thread works. If you’re not the first person to reply to a comment, yours may wind up below someone else’s. So just include the name of the person you’re responding to for clarity.

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      3. Tricia Breen’s avatar

        I do know that the good trainers do not confuse permissive with positive. It is a trick to get average pet owner to see the difference. It is also really important that people stop using ‘purely positive’. There is no such thing. Head halters can be aversive, no response markers can be aversive, and so on. It would help with the defensiveness on both sides, open better communication in the interest of helping dogs.

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  6. daudet’s avatar

    Thanks!!! For those that don’t mind labels. ;-)
    http://www.balancedtrainers.com

    Reply

    1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      Hahaha. Now you owe me a link on the forum.

      Reply

  7. Lynn Fitzpatrick’s avatar

    I was a baIanced trainer for years. I have read many essays by balanced trainers recently. The thing that strikes me is that they universally do not have a complete understanding of R+ training. It takes work to become a successful R+ trainer. Instinct and experience helps but it is by no means simple. There are strict rules and guidelines. Your position that punishment is largely unavoidable is very wrong. We now train obedience,agility, field work,service dogs, search and rescue, police dogs and even schitzhund (sp?) with operant conditioning methods. And they consistently outperform methods that include punishment.
    The thing is that we have to go back to school and take seminars by people like Kathy Sdao, Ken Ramirez, Michelle Pouliot. Go to Chicken Camp with Terry Ryan. I guarantee it will be an amazing experience. Go to Karen Pryor’s Clicker Expo .We must learn from competent instructors. There are good and bad instructors just like everything else. Yes, balanced training is scientific, too. Unfortunately, science proves that while P+ is effective it also has fallout …disastrous fallout in the hands of poor quality trainers. Poor quality R+ trainers merely have poor results, but at least they do no permanent damage.
    The failure rate in guide dogs is reduced by 30% when trained by positive methods only. This is a proven fact. It’s time for us to leave our comfort zone and go back to school. We need to study positive training to be successful at it. We need to fully understand the science and how to apply it. Our dogs are worth it. All creatures with a brain stem and an appetite can be trained to do anything they are physically capable of doing, including goldfish and hermit crabs with this method.
    This is not a fad or extreme in any way. It has been used for the last 50 years and is used extensively to teach autistic children, zoo animals for husbandry purposes, athletes in university programs and employees in industry It is science with proven excellent results. It will eventually be the predominant method in training animals.

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    1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      “I have read many essays by balanced trainers recently. The thing that strikes me is that they universally do not have a complete understanding of R+ training.”

      I offered my definition of balanced training. What’s your definition of R+ training?

      “Your position that punishment is largely unavoidable is very wrong. We now train obedience,agility, field work,service dogs, search and rescue, police dogs and even schitzhund (sp?) with operant conditioning methods. And they consistently outperform methods that include punishment.”

      I said aversives, not punishment. But in any case, it makes no sense to compare operant conditioning methods to those that include punishment, as if the two were mutually exclusive. Operant conditioning includes punishment, both positive and negative.

      “Unfortunately, science proves that while P+ is effective it also has fallout …disastrous fallout in the hands of poor quality trainers. Poor quality R+ trainers merely have poor results, but at least they do no permanent damage.”

      Science has not demonstrated that all P+ results in fallout. Nor is it true that R+ trainers (however we define that) are immune to doing real damage.

      “The failure rate in guide dogs is reduced by 30% when trained by positive methods only. This is a proven fact.”

      Please provide a citation. I’m genuinely interested.

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      1. Lynn Fitzpatrick’s avatar

        Here I am , hopefully in the right place. You are right. That is why we train. The point is how do you punish a Killer Whale ? Or a goldfish ? Yet we can still train complex behaviour chains with R+

        Reply

    2. regina steiner’s avatar

      “All creatures with a brain stem and an appetite can be trained to do anything they are physically capable of doing”

      YES. and all creatures with a brain stem are able to decide they don’t feel like doing something, just because. Dogs are far more than the product of their conditioning. Life has consequences, that’s just the way it is.

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      1. Lynn Fitzpatrick’s avatar

        I meant to start a discussion as opposed to an argument. Truly sorry. I will try to answer your questions. There are many definitions for R+ training , some as long as a paragraph and one that is 3 pages long. Here is my short version. Training with the use of a marker and positive reinforcement. The P- quadrant is also used but never the P+ quadrant. There is controversy about the name of the method , Clickertraining suggests something gadgety and is misunderstood. Some people think they will need to carry clicker and treats around all the time, Also you don’t have to use a clicker. Any clear consistent , unique marker will do. Operant Conditioning does not fit because it does include P+. It’s a sloppy name. just as you stated. Positive Reinforcement suggests that the dog is allowed to run wild and behave in undesirable ways which is also a misconception.
        Clicker trainers include aversives in the P+ quadrant.

        The fallout from using aversives is anxiety, slow response times, fear of trying in case of reprisal, This is a product of the personality of the dog and the skill of the handler. It also slows learning. For some it helps to see quality clicker training to appreciate the difference.

        Ah, about the guide dog stats. I got my info at a conference in California several years ago. A presentation was made of peer reviewed scientific studies by Phd’s in behavourism. They studied guide dogs programs in the US. We were presented with data, videos, etc. It was extensive. I will try to find it for you. The 30% reduction was the outcome of the study. Btw, accepted studies must be free from bias.

        I never cease to be amazed at how reactive people can be . Some of the comments made personal petty remarks. R+ trainers were called “crazies”. This is not productive.

        Please tell me what you consider fallout from R+ training.

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      2. ruthcrisler’s avatar

        Lynn, please forward the guide dog info whenever you can. I’m a natural skeptic, and have found most studies related to dog training don’t in fact demonstrate anything like what they’re taken to prove.

        As I said, though, I’m genuinely interested.

        I do recognize that P+ can result in fallout, as does every balanced trainer I know. But I disagree that fallout is inevitable. That’s just not supported, and certainly hasn’t been my personal experience.

        R+/P-, whether done poorly, imperfectly, or just to the exclusion of other potentially more direct or meaningful communication, can and occasionally does result in intense stress, anxiety, and/or frustration. Note I’m only speaking of the most immediate effects, not going down the path of blaming R+ for every dog who gets put down after flunking out of a clicker class.

        As for a definition of R+ training, there are many as you say. And all of them involve more than one single quadrant, so the label can be misleading. Personally, I tend to assume “positive” trainers put more stock in the significance of quadrants generally than “balanced” trainers do. They also seem more likely to take a more clinical, less relationship-based approach to problem solving, in my experience. And yes, I assume they will be very reluctant (if not totally unwilling) to use traditional tools (full slip collars, prong collars, Ecollars).

        To be clear, the above is not being offered as an actual definition, just as a loose description of what the label says to me personally.

        Reply

      3. regina steiner’s avatar

        Lynn wrote: “The point is how do you punish a Killer Whale ? Or a goldfish ?”

        well to start, by severely restricting their environments…..dogs restricted the same way would likely either learn to cooperate, or go mad. So maybe you wouldn’t need to apply specific P+, but that wouldn’t make it any more humane.

        Reply

  8. Kirsten Rose CPDT-KA’s avatar

    I think at the end of the day we can and should all do a better job, especially with one another.

    Reply

  9. H. Houlahan’s avatar

    Read your excellent article and wanted to start a betting pool on how long it would take before someone would claim to “have been” a balanced trainer, ‘splain that she has found the Way, The Truth, and The Light, name-drop a string of gurus, and then claim SCIENCE as her own exclusive domain with the unsupported assertion of “proven facts.”

    Alas, it was there before I finished reading your post.

    It is schutzhund, honey. If you don’t know what the discipline is, you probably should not “cite” it.

    Sigh.

    Carry on, Ruth.

    Reply

    1. regina steiner’s avatar

      wishing for a “like” button! AMEN will have to do.

      Reply

    2. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      Heather, betting pools are immoral. Please mend your ways.

      Reply

    3. Beth Goodbody’s avatar

      Heather,
      I knew you would have a good response. As I keep pointing out, there is a difference between science and science based. I tend to be amazed at what gets published in peer reviewed animal behavior journals. The observation bias is so strong and the methods so poor the papers would never get published or even beyond the first review in other sciences.

      Beth

      Reply

      1. Kaitlyn’s avatar

        Beth, I don’t know what peer reviewed journals you read but plenty of the articles are published in other science journals (my vet school library is full of them!). There are plenty that are based on the science of hormones which correlate to different situations or body language

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  10. Rob McMillin’s avatar

    Balanced training is unapologetically results oriented.

    Well, yes, and THIS.

    My friend Ken Chiacchia — Heather’s husband — once put it quite eloquently: “[A]ll-positive dog training, despite the name, isn’t at all about training dogs. It’s about demonstrating how superior you are to other human beings.”

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    1. Lynn Fitzpatrick’s avatar

      My goodness. this is vindictive.

      Reply

    2. Kaitlyn’s avatar

      What? That doesn’t make any sense unless we are talking about positive punishment training.

      Reply

  11. Meghan Longhurst’s avatar

    I am a “positive” trainer, though I despise the labels too. I have never found a reason to use anything harsher than BAT and time-outs for my dogs, my pit bull fosters, the pitties in my rescue, or my clients. I say this so you have a context when I say – thank you for this article. Nothing angers me more than vigilante, cultish positive trainers. Ok, maybe a horribly abusive punishment trainer – but at least what you see is what you get, there.

    I think, just like in politics, the discussion is dominated by extremes, while most of us are much closer in philosophy than our labels would have us believe. I look at the dog – is the dog happy? Is the dog stressed? Does the dog have clear communication from the handler? Is training helping, or hurting?

    I don’t see myself ever putting a choke, prong, or e-collar on a dog. But I refuse to say those who do are abusive. It is a fine line to walk with aversives – are you using them because it makes sense, or because it’s easy? Do you really know the fall-out, and is it worth it in this situation? But the trainers who can walk that line have my respect. And shutting down the discussion of aversives will result in people using them without understanding how to do so safely.

    Reply

    1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      Meghan, thank you for commenting. I respect your choices and your ability to train as you see fit. And I couldn’t agree more with your analogy to politics.

      I believe that as more trainers of all stripes openly protest extremism, the voices of the ideologues among us will be drowned out by productive dialogue.

      Reply

  12. Lynn Fitzpatrick’s avatar

    I very much agree with you.

    Reply

  13. Lynn Fitzpatrick’s avatar

    Please understand that if I use P+ on occasion I won’t lose my badge. I just do not use it to train. Eg. My young golden bit me in his enthusiasm to play and he got a quick smack on the nose. If he nips me again he will get another one. This is not verboten.

    Reply

    1. regina steiner’s avatar

      and that’s a reasonable correction.

      Guess I don’t get why a quick smack on the nose is OK when done with your hand, but a quick pop with a leash is considered by some people to be a horrible punishment.

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    2. H. Houlahan’s avatar

      Striking the dog for a MISTAKE = “positive training?” Or, striking the dog is okay because it is conveniently defined as not “training?”

      Wow.

      FYI, balanced trainers of high-drive performance dogs teach mouth control to animals who are far more formidable than your pet golden retriever without hitting them. Frequently this can be accomplished without corrections, even verbal corrections. All it takes is a deep understanding of the individual dog’s motivating drives, good timing, good planning, body control, and patience. In those cases when a correction is warranted after the dog shows that he understands the rules and chooses to indulge in a dirty bite or fails to out, smacking him on the nose is not generally on the table.

      This is for SAR, police service, personal protection, and the elusive “schitzhund” dogs.

      Reply

    3. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      Lynn, Heather is bang on here. Unless you’re talking about a situation in which you are literally fending off an attack, any discipline you dole out has to count as training. Otherwise, it’s just losing control and lashing out in anger, right? So, assuming what you’re doing is calculated, then own it. And more importantly, consider whether this is the wisest application of P+.

      Personally, I think of “teaching corrections” differently from disciplinary action, and I think Heather is correct in categorizing a nip to the hand like you described as fundamentally an innocent mistake, not an offense against you personally. I doubt it’s deserving of discipline, so much as further instruction. Instruction can and even should include physical corrections in many cases, but those should be doled out neutrally, in my opinion.

      Reply

      1. H. Houlahan’s avatar

        I once watched the handler of a powerful GSD who was among the top-ranked in the nation in Schutzhund protection correct him for not outing on the hold and bark at a training session. (Dog did not take a dirty bite, but did not come to heel on the first command, as required for competition.)

        Douglas silently stepped forward, leashed Lodi, and silently, without drama, walked him back to the car and crated him.

        The entire audience of club members and visitors made that “oooooh” sound that schoolkids make when a classmate has just been sent to the principal’s office. We all understood that removing his chance to perform was THE WORST PUNISHMENT POSSIBLE.

        Lodi looked like his best friend had just died, and also, it had been his fault. He understood that the “correction” was absolutely fair.

        When Douglas brought him back out after a suitable interval, his responsiveness was much improved, and he worked the blind *perfectly.*

        That’s how a trainer who truly understands his dog communicates about grave matters.

        I understand that in competition — including regional, national, and international trials — Lodi never, ever, failed to out. This is notable in ANY dog with a long career in competition, almost unheard-of in a dog with the levels of drive and power that he brought with him to the field.

        Reply

  14. Tricia Breen’s avatar

    I did get caught up in looking at the extremes rather than your valid point of looking at labels, extremely limiting and non elucidating as they are. In fact, the divisiveness they immediately elicit gets very much in the way of learning and listening and helping dogs and their people.

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  15. tamandra’s avatar

    I don’t want a badge. I just want to be the best trainer I can be, and bring out the best in my (future) dog that I can. Relationship takes center stage, not a model, or label. I do prefer to avoid jumping to considering aversive tools, mostly because I feel more sloppy at it, and not liking doing so, probably it shows. I would rather challenge myself to think through where it is I’m going wrong. What’s most important though, is clear communication, not ideology. I’m turned off by extremism on the ‘sides’. It’s pretty silly to argue that there’s all this horrible fallout from any application of aversives, when you can clearly see smiling dogs, wagging tails, and good relationships.
    Glad I found this blog, and the exchanges here have been really refreshing! And educational to boot!

    Reply

  16. dianeatdogtrain’s avatar

    Ah, yes Beth G. “Science based” is to reality just as the popular old description “Champion bloodlines” usta be.

    Reply

  17. Sapphire L.’s avatar

    Ms. Crisler, I share your dislike of labels. The first ones that I would love to see go are “extremist” and “ideologue”. More productive than those labels, I believe, would be honest discussion of what those who are labeled as such really do and why.

    Reply

    1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      Call me Ruth.

      Am I right in taking your point to be that I and/or others play fast and loose with those words? Or maybe that protesting the “extremists” and “ideologues” among us is essentially tilting at straw men, a bit like pointing to all the sadists in our ranks?

      Personally, I try to avoid slapping labels on casually, and rarely use the word extremist, in any case. I’ve been labelled an Animal Rights extremist myself, simply for challenging our right to capture elephants for delivery to Ringling Brothers. I certainly don’t consider every clicker trainer to be an extremist or ideologue.

      As far as an honest discussion of what those you feel have been unfairly labelled really do and why, I’m all for it. But you’d need to be more specific…

      Reply

  18. Me’s avatar

    Like Lynn said, positive doesn’t mean permissive. Any healthy animal can be trained by reinforcing the wanted behaviors and removing reinforcement for unwanted behavior and/or redirecting the animal to an appropriate behavior instead.

    If you can’t get compliance without force, then you’re just not that great a teacher. You either raised the criteria too fast, weren’t understood, weren’t interesting enough, didn’t provide sufficient positive motivation, or any number of things. It’s to easy to punish the animal for your own poor training instead of criticizing and critiquing your own training for where you went wrong and improving yourself.

    Reply

    1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      Trouble is that saying it doesn’t make it so.

      Also, please define “trained” and “force”, because I find both these words mean very different things to different people.

      Reply

      1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

        For example, to my mind when we confine, restrain, or physically steer an animal, we are using force; and I frankly don’t see any trainers succeeding at wholly avoiding such means. But force may also be defined as something closer to brutality, as in overpowering with violence.

        Both definitions are potentially valid, but one has to have one in my opinion, before advertising oneself as force-free and accusing others of using force.

        Reply

  19. madigansmom’s avatar

    The ends are never an excuse to justify the means, if force, fear, pain or intimidation are being used. If you can’t do it without using positive punishment or negative reinforcement, then simply recognize your own incompetence and refer to somebody who can.

    Reply

    1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      For future reference, it’s considered polite to read the post prior to commenting.

      Reply

  20. Kaitlyn’s avatar

    Actually yes it does…we all know dogs don’t generalize well. So if you haven’t tried something in all situations, then it’s your fault for either A) having too high expectations or B) not teaching your dog to think.

    Reply

    1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      Kaitlyn, can you clarify what your comment is in reference to?

      Reply

  21. Beth Goodbody’s avatar

    Dear Me,

    When something is intrinsically rewarding to the dog but something that society frowns on, how does one remove the reinforcement? Or is this one of those “management” situations?
    Lately I keep reading about balanced training being force/confrontational/dominance based training. Can you explain force/confrontational/dominance based training? I find the terms being slung about by some of the R+ camp, as they refer to themselves, to be most confusing.
    And I am being serious, not a smart ass in my questions.

    Thank you.

    Reply

  22. Anne Springer’s avatar

    I found the example of the German Shepherd quite interesting. Wondering if was possible that the dog was not experiencing P+, but rather P- at being removed from the field. After all, if the dogs truly love the game, why wouldn’t they experience removal from it as the removal of a powerful reinforcement? Food for thought anyway. Unless of course the dog was *dragged* off in an unpleasant manner. I find that you can couple a cue with removal (we do this to teach more appropriate play to dogs that bully others) so that the dog is told at the instant he transgresses that his reward just disappeared and he is in time out.
    I want to straighten out a huge misconception, too. People seem to think that positive trainers are not results oriented. They are. We just arrive at our goals differently. A skilled trainer is a skilled trainer. And, a trainer with no chops is a trainer with no chops. Please don’t make it the method’s fault that a trainer cannot train. That is a separate issue.

    Reply

    1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

      I agree the GSD was experiencing P-. And I think it’s important to appreciate how devastating P- can be to a dog, when considering one’s options. More to the point, I think it’s crucial to appreciate how irrelevant one’s choice of quadrant may be, compared to the intensity of the punishment or reward, not to mention the overall value of the lesson.

      I also agree that all trainers are results-oriented to some degree. How could they not be? But at the same time, results have been aggressively downplayed as a meaningful criterion compared to methodology, by a non-trivial segment of the R+ community. And sadly, there are trainers on both ends of the spectrum, who are simply more invested in promoting their chosen tool or method, ahead of investigating and/or utilizing other potentially more effective strategies.

      Again, it comes down to the problem of relying on labels to tell you very much.

      Reply

      1. Leonard Cecil’s avatar

        I don’t really see how you can say that +R people downplay results. Well, ok – I see how you can say it, but not how you can substantiate that statement. I would say the opposite, the +R people are very results-oriented. For example http://www.auf-den-hund-gekommen.net/-/Proof_Positive.html
        I do believe, that there is a great difference in how we approach training and everyday life with our dogs. When training, we use the principle of “setting them up to succeed” this means, in the acquisition phase, we break the desired behavior down into mini-chunks and only move to the next when the previous one has been “digested”.
        When we move into the generalization phase, we don’t throw a dog in over her head and punish for non-compliance, we build up the behavior again from the beginning – it goes of course much faster than the first time. This applies also to behavior modification. With a reactive dog who has had one meet-greet go well with one dog, we get another and start over. Then we move to another location and start over, and another.
        The next difference is, that we learn to read a dog and respect the signals she giving. If she’s telling us, that she’s uncomfortable with another dog or person, we do not force the dog through that situation without help. There are various training tools and management tools our clients learn to help the dog through such a situation without any overt punishment. Especially in cases of reactivity the German game Zeigen & benennen (show and name) is extremely effective and for even more immediate and unexpected situations Look At Me is, when practiced and taught well just about bomb-proof. In other words, we don’t wait for the dog to get into the deep end, make bad choices and then punish her for doing so. We help her as a team-player to make the right decisions.
        We also teach responsible ownership (for lack of a better word): “Yes, I know, that everyone else takes their dog to the dog park, but fido isn’t ready for that yet.” Yes, I know Ms. Brown’s dog has a perfect recall, you Fido doesn’t yet, so please don’t unleash him yet.” It’s not, that these things are not teachable with positive methods or that we don’t get the results the owner wants – as said before, we have another route to that end.

        Reply

        1. ruthcrisler’s avatar

          I don’t really see how you can say that +R people downplay results. Well, ok – I see how you can say it, but not how you can substantiate that statement.

          Neither can I, probably because I didn’t. I said results have been downplayed aggressively by a non-trivial segment of the R+ community. That implies a potentially significant minority, clearly not all.

          As for your description of the type of training you endorse, it’s not substantively different from what skilled balanced trainers do. The importance of setting dogs up for success, breaking lessons down into small steps, helping dogs to generalize via repetition, working reactive dogs below threshold, responding to a dog’s signals, and setting fair expectations, are all principles I first learned from balanced trainers.

          Are some trainers advertising themselves as “balanced” more combative than instructive? Yes, I make no bones about that. Neither is there much consistency among those trainers advertising themselves as “positive”. This was pretty much my point, when describing these labels as empty marketing terms.

          It’s much better to talk in detail about how we actually train, as you did in your comment. We just need to keep in mind that no single segment of the dog training community actually has a corner on basic principles.

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  23. Kristin’s avatar

    Yes, all 4 quadrants of learning are scientifically backed up. They all work on some level. The difference is are you going to get desired behavior because dogs fear a consequence, or are searching for relief from a consequence? Even if you pair the right decision with a treat you are breaking down the relationship with a dog when you add in aversive methods. Luckily, science does show the preferred method of training in the long run and with qualified trainers aversives need not apply.

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    1. Ruth Crisler’s avatar

      First, there is no such thing as aversive-free training, except in highly controlled and ultimately transient contexts. Once you enter the world, or even take a short break from a given positive reinforcement exercise, you are most likely moving into the realm of either confinement, deprivation, or physical restraint, most of which is certainly aversive on some level.

      Second, the deliberate and unapologetic application of aversives in a training context is no more liable to undermine one’s relationship with an animal than the accidental or reluctant variety, given an understanding of how to do so fairly and productively.

      As to science, it supports the utility of all four quadrants, as you acknowledge.

      Reply

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