Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What's this "Stay Pawsitive" thing?

What? I was cold!
Hello again!

Yesterday I introduced myself and Juno, today I feel I should delve a little more into the name of this blog. Many shows that positive--or Pawsitive ;) -- reinforcement training is more effective and less detrimental than punishment based training.

(check out the 2 studies citied in this little article by Pat Miller:

Science is on our side! ...but that does not mean it is always easy! We humans are very emotional and it is hard to keep our emotions out of our training. (I just KNOW that he chewed up my shoes because he was mad that I have been working late recently!)  We also LOVE quick results and are reluctant to put actual work into things. Take the huge weight loss market for example. They hook customers with promises of instant weight loss for little to no work on the customers part.  We all know that good old diet and exercise is the best way to lose weight but that tempting promise of getting the same results with little to no work is oh so tempting!

Switch back to dog training.  You have a dog that practically drags you down the sidewalk whenever you try taking him for a walk.  You talk to 2 trainers. Trainer A tells you how to use a correction collar to punish your dog's pulling. You don't need to change anything except let the dog know whenever he does wrong.

Trainer B shows you how to use a clicker and treats to reward Fido for walking by your side. Trainer B says you will slowly add more steps between rewards and it will take time for Fido to learn to do this consistently.  You will need to be proactive and set Fido up so that he is almost guaranteed to succeed. (You need to actually PAY ATTENTION when walking Fido!)

Of course you are tempted by the quick results of using Trainer A's suggestion. You don't have to change anything, it's that naughty Fido that needs to change.  If you use Trainer B's suggestion you actually need to change YOUR walking routine (oh the humanity!) and it may take some time to get consistent results (especially if YOUR inconsistent).

But what you also need to think about are the long term and side effects of both suggestions.  If you follow Trainer A's suggestion you will probably become very good at STOPPING Fido from pulling. He still pulls now and then but you know how to put him in his place.  Unfortunately Fido also starts to become more reactive (barking and lunging) towards other dogs on walks. (He used to pull happily towards them but now other dogs are paired with punishment and he does not feel as happy about seeing them as he once did.) Long term for this dog, you will always need to make sure you correct any pulling, the moment the dog gets to pull with no correction he is actually rewarded for pulling (by the absence of a correction) and will try again.

If you follow Trainer B's suggestion you become really good at teaching Fido dog to WANT to walk on a loose leash.  Yes, Fido may still pull now and then (because you weren't the MOST consistent in your training) but when Fido does pull, he usually catches himself and go back to his happy place on your side.  A dog trained with Trainer B's suggestion always looks so happy to go on a walk and has the time of his life working with his human! (Shouldn't walks be fun for both parties?) Long term for this dog, you will get him on a variable reinforcement schedule (think random rewards like a slot machine) so it doesn't matter if you "miss" a reward.  Eventually the dog finds walking on a loose leash so fun that you rarely even need to bring rewards with you, the simple ability to continue walking with you becomes reward enough.

No matter how hard it is, it is important to Stay Pawsitive. 
Trust me, it will be more than worth it in the long run.

After thinking a lot about it, I do consider myself a semi cross-over trainer.  Most of my experience with dogs is positive training methods but there was a dark period in the beginning when I feel victim to a certain charismatic trainer on TV.  It didn't take long to see the negative side effects of that training and it was quickly thrown out (with MANY apologies to my poor dog Kirby!)

I also come from a heavy horse and mule background.  This is a very force dominated world and ever since I was a child I learned to give corrections and MAKE the animal do what I wanted, never stopping to think about actually TEACHING the animal WHAT I want him to do! (Sorry hooved friends of my past, I am trying to do right!)

Now I know better but the temptation is always there, especially with the habitual knee-jerk reactions when dealing with horses and mules. A big part of this blog is to journal my experiences and training while Staying Pawsitive even though it is sometimes hard to do so.

Because even though we may KNOW something is right, we could still find it very hard to do. 

I named this blog Stay Pawsitive it as a constant reminder to myself and to my readers (if I ever get any!)  If you ever catch yourself in a situation where your instincts tell you to get negative (shouting in a traffic jam, dog destroys cashmere sweater, etc.) remember to STAY PAWSITIVE and acknowledge your accomplishment when you put emotions aside and choose right! I know it was hard, but you rock for making the right choice! Go give yourself a pat on the back! (We have to Stay Pawsitive with ourselves as well!)

Until next time,

Stay Pawsitive!

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