One of the biggest misconceptions is that force free dog training does not mean you cannot, and should not, correct your dog when it misbehaves. It does mean that you are working to help your dog learn an appropriate behavior using reinforcement instead of an alpha (master/slave) relationship.
Force Free Dog Training Does Not Use
- Fear to overwhelm and bully a dog
- Pain to cause a dog to shut down emotionally
- Anger to break your dog’s trust
- Bribery (only) to make working with a dog easier
- Allowing a dog to run wild and do what it wants because ‘it is having fun.’
- Quick fix methods that does not correct the behavior
Force Free Dog Training Is:
- You and the dog learn together
- You are both accountable for your actions and reactions
- Training is a lifestyle
- The dog is allowed to say ‘no please’
- It is based on respect, humane expectations, and relationship
- Based on repetition until the dog ‘gets it’.
Many dog handlers understand and can manage the targeting and luring. They understand reward and reinforce but they put so much focus on the reward and the games that they find it very difficult to transition to a performance level of obedience, or a street level, because the dog will only work for treats.
When a dog will only work if there is a treat in front of it then you’ve missed the heart of force free training. The objective is to work with a dog until it chooses to obey you instead of acting on its own impulses.
New trainers focus on teaching the heel, and lot at me. They work with their dog every day on targeting. But they forget the ‘other half.’ Here are a few tips to help you succeed as a force free trainer.
Working on impulse control is difficult. It takes time and patience. About 25% of all students who are learning a calming protocol insist on trying to make the dog stay longer. They try to move farther away. They lack the patience needed to teach impulse control.
You can work on impulse control exercises for 20 minutes every day, but if the dog breaks a stay, or grabs at a treat, or just loses interest and walks away then the only thing you’ve reinforced is that the dog is allowed to do what it wants, when it wants.
Impulse control is a carefully crafted series of events designed to make the dog believe it is better to obey you than to ‘react’ to environmental stimuli. It takes time. You can’t just spend 1 – 2 weeks on ‘look at me’ and ‘leave it’ and expect to have total control.
The second problem I see is that people treat their dog’s training as a game. They ‘turn it on’ and ‘turn it off’ when it is training time. The rest of the time the dog runs wild and behaves anyway it wants.
Obedience is a lifestyle. Each obedience task needs to have a daily application. It needs to be something that is rehearsed through the day.
When teaching a dog a new task, say heeling, you need to create a behavior string that results in the dog walking at your side. The dog’s action needs to be reinforced so that the dog will stay at your side as you walk.
Trainers who are just starting to learn force free training are so caught up in the behavior chain and reinforcing that they forget to correct when the dog doesn’t complete the task of heeling.
In the old style of training the dog was punished. In force free training we remove something positive. We may repeat the exercise without a treat until the dog complies.
Yes, we do want to make it so much fun to do what we want that the dog doesn’t want to do anything else. We want our dogs to focus on us instead of the other dogs playing ball. When the dog doesn’t focus on us, and wants the ball, most trainers fall apart.
This is the part you don’t see on youtube.com. All those dogs behave perfectly. They make it look so easy. Force free training is a lot of things, but it isn’t an easy quick fix. It takes time and patience. It also takes responsibility.
When heeling it is the dog’s responsibility to stay at your side. If the dog strays, then the dog must correct itself. But we don’t wait for the dog to fix itself. It is too easy to pull out a treat and lure the dog back.
We all know the concept behind thresholds. We’ve had it drilled into us, ‘don’t let your dog go beyond threshold,’ ‘walk away’, etc. But again we miss part 2. Once we teach the dog how to cope with its stress it is time to slowly, carefully, teach the dog to ‘deal with it’. This is part of impulse control exercises.
You and the dog must work together so that you can safely venture into society. Too many handlers are running interference for their dogs. They haven’t taught the dog how to cope, and how to trust them to ‘take care of it.’
Can You Punish the Dog?
The answer is yes. But instead of fear and pain, remove something the dog wants. Instead of squirting a dog, don’t let it come and meet the friend they were so excited to greet. Wait until they display the behavior you want, and then reinforce the ‘right’ behavior.
One of the biggest problems I have with punishment is that we are always 2 seconds behind. Even if our timing is excellent we are still reacting to the dog’s behavior. It is almost impossible to anticipate behavior 100% of the time.
We also need to realize that we may be sending the dog mixed signals. We may ask the dog to stay, but our body language is too active. It may be sending a different message. So we are never 100% sure what behavior we are correcting.
At the same time, if your timing is off you may be rewarding and reinforcing the wrong behavior. Even a one second delay can result in reinforcing the wrong behavior.
This is why it takes time and patience for you to learn, so that you can teach your dog. If you both work together then you will succeed.
Dog Oriented Training
The biggest differences between old training and new training are:
- Old Training: The trainer’s agenda was all that mattered.
- New Training: Dog focused to help the dog cope in our urban environment
- Old Training: Force and punishment
- New Training: Learning and shaping
- Old Training: Dog is seen as an animate object void of emotions, hormones, feelings, fears, and personality. It has one option – to obey or be punished.
- New Training: learn to communicate with your dog so you both can work as a team.