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Here is an article I have really enjoyed reading. I agree 100% with what the author says.

Nowadays when I’m walking with my dogs, I almost feel like I have to whisper to say «*no*» for fear of people judging and thinking I mistreat my dogs. It shouldn’t be this way.

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The Punishment of Positive-Only – Growing Up Guide Pup


The Punishment of Positive-Only
Guest WriterJune 7, 2016
Written by Katie Burland Poremba
originally posted June 7, 2016

Dexter was confused. Scared. Alone. Why was he back here? Would this family never come back for him either?

No. They wouldn’t. Dexter had become one of the millions of dogs relinquished to shelters across the country each year. He could have easily been one of the two million dogs to never leave. He was already on strike two, you see, and he was only ten months old.

What was his crime? Being humongous, young, strong, and silly. That was it. A terminal case of no manners. “Incorrigible,” it was said. Dexter was one of the many silent victims of the R+ movement, which advocates the use of only positive reinforcement in training. He had been turned into the shelter twice, because he was not a dog that responds 100% to R+. Perhaps if he had been taken in hand by a phenomenal R+ trainer with excellent timing and a true talent for training, maybe. Herein lies one of the problems: the average dog owner is not cut out to train a high-drive, incredibly strong, adolescent dog with only R+. These dogs need a little guidance and some boundaries to go along with all that bounce. But because of the prevailing attitudes in most dog training available to the average dog owner, corrections are synonymous to abuse.

Dexter at the ballpark. Dexter is a Weimaraner-Viszla mix.
Dexter at the ballpark. Dexter is a Weimaraner-Viszla mix.
The end result is Dexter. A Weimaraner-Viszla mix that was twice relinquished to a kill shelter, because potential death at the end of a hypodermic needle at ten months of age was considered kinder than a leash correction and the word “no.” Many people will tell you that the notion that R+ can cause things like this to happen is a myth. I am here to tell you I own that myth. He’s drooling on my foot as I type. And he’s my service dog.

For those of you who don’t know, R+ stands for Positive Reinforcement, which is one of four quadrants of operant conditioning, a learning theory that illustrates that by applying or removing stimuli, you can elicit or extinguish behaviors. The other three quadrants are: negative reinforcement (R-), which is when you remove something in order to increase the likelihood of repeated behavior; positive punishment (P+), which is when you add something that decreases the repetition of a behavior; and negative punishment (P-), where you remove something to decrease a behavior. These four quadrants work together. To use one, without the other three, is a bit like hopping around with your hands tied behind your back to get to the grocery store. Sure, you can do it, but it’s not a very efficient way to travel, and it is far more difficult and time consuming than it needs to be.

"But corrections! They’re abuse, right? No. Dogs correct each other, naturally, all the time… Is it not kinder to teach our dog with a harmless correction for attempting to eat a porcupine, chase a horse, or dash into traffic, rather than have the dog experience a far more dangerous natural consequence?"

Here’s the thing about dog training. Dog training is supposed to involve the human figuring out the drives, motivations, and learning style of a dog, and then putting that all together and communicating with the dog in the language and methodology he, the dog, chooses. That is not how it often ends up working out to be though. All too often, the human uses the exact same strategy for every single dog, and makes no allowance for individuality of the dog. It is a bit like stepping into a classroom in Kansas and proceeding to teach a biology class in French. Sure, maybe the some of the kids know French, but odds are fairly high that most will stare at you with a blank look on their faces.

Katie and Dexter at the Capitol
Katie and Dexter at the Capitol
When some dogs do manage to learn via an inflexible training ideology, it should not be thought of as a glowing endorsement of that ideology, but instead an amazing commentary on the ability of dogs to adapt to a multitude of communication strategies. The flip side is the sad side, because while the successes of an inflexible training ideology are attributed to that training ideology, failures are often prescribed to faults of the dog, or faults of the owner that is trying to execute the training. The shockingly high failure rates of R+ in the community setting lead owners to get discouraged, and dogs end up being the ultimate losers in this situation.

But corrections! They’re abuse, right? No. Dogs correct each other, naturally, all the time. The environment corrects, whether it is the consequence of attempting to eat a porcupine, or being kicked by a horse, or being hit by a car. The real world is full of natural consequences for behavior. Is it not kinder to teach our dog with a harmless correction for attempting to eat a porcupine, chase a horse, or dash into traffic, rather than have the dog experience a far more dangerous natural consequence? Personally, I think so.

Katie and Dexter in front of artwork
Katie and Dexter in front of artwork
I think we do our dogs a great disservice by treating all of them as though they were spun glass, ascribing all of their behaviors to fear, and thinking you will break their spirits and their bond with you if you simply pop the leash and tell them to knock it off. Rover isn’t trying to chase a squirrel because he is frightened. Fluffy isn’t knocking over house guests because she is traumatized. Eventually, many pet owners give up on strategies that are failing them, as R+ requires very specific skills to work, namely excellent timing, a dog that is toy/treat-motivated, and an environment devoid of any stimulation that is more rewarding (like squirrels) than the highest value treat you happen to have on you. R+ trainers are quite simply asking their clients to hop on one foot with their hands tied behind their backs and expecting a graceful result. What they get is clumsy flailing and a pet owner who gives up, tired and frustrated.

And then you get another Dexter. Sad, scared, confused, and wondering what he did wrong.

To quote Anna Sewell, in the book Black Beauty, a book that quite literally started the humane treatment of animals movement… “It’s a pity, that a good horse should go to the bad, for want of a real good chance.”

Let’s give all our dogs a real good chance, and teach them not by the ideology we think they should like best, but by the method that proves to be the most successful, as evidenced by a happy, healthy, and well-adjusted dog.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Growing Up Guide Pup.
 

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Thank you for this. I'm Click-N-Treat on the forum, and click and treat is my preferred training style. However, I definitely use all four quadrants in my dog training because dogs need boundaries and limits. I love the last sentence.

"Let’s give all our dogs a real good chance, and teach them not by the ideology we think they should like best, but by the method that proves to be the most successful, as evidenced by a happy, healthy, and well-adjusted dog."

You have to train the dog you have on your leash. My old SD, Honey, had a hard temperament. If she was distracted, and I popped her collar, she snapped back to me, like, "'Wha? Oh, sorry, got distracted." Noelle's temperament is softer than a microwaved marshmallow. Collar pops make her wilt and quit trying. Noelle's idea of a correction is me saying, "excuse me?"

If I tried to train Honey the same way I train Noelle... Well, Honey would have ended up in a shelter instead of being a working dog. Shoes are not one size fits all. Neither is dog training. Train the dog you have on your leash. Do they need a firm hand or a soft touch?

R+ fails when the world is more reinforcing than you are. Honey taught me that as a teen. Chase bunny or return to you for a hunk of cheese? Let me think about that. Chase bunny, bye. Oh, you have a toy. You actually thought I would choose to play ball instead of jumping this fence? You're adorable. Boing! Bye!

If you have a dog like Honey, you learn really quickly that punishment is part of dog training. Honey wasn't reliable off leash until she was 11 and too old to run away. I don't live in a binary world of off/on, all/nothing. Dog training isn't binary, either. At least, not for me.
 

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That was a brilliant piece. And it reflects much of what I do with my dogs and encourage in my classes and with private clients. After all, isn't balance something we should strive for in all aspects of life? As Click points out balance of the four quadrants of operant conditioning doesn't have to be 25% of each but rather needs to be the right balance for the dog in front of you. Some dogs will not think much of wearing a pinch collar (a P+) whereas others will melt at the sight of one. Some dogs are hugely food motivated and learn best with treats (an R+). Both of my poodles benefit from occasional time outs (a P-). When they are acting silly they both get put on a settle to "think" about what they could be doing if they hadn't gone off the rails. About the only quadrant that I don't rely on too heavily with our current dogs is R- since to them taking something away rarely is going to increase a behavior I desire (although a time out could potentially be an R- too).
 

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Thanks for this article. I see it was posted quite a while ago, so the forum may not see my response. I'm afraid I am an example of the R+ failure. I would love some suggestions for P+ and P- corrections. My 4& 1/2 month old spoo is proving to be very head strong and there are several annoying behaviors (jumping, nipping, biting) that I have not been able to correct with my R+ approach. Thanks
 

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Zina just because a thread is old doesn't mean it isn't able to be added to or useful I certainly had forgotten this piece, but on looking at it again just now I see why I posted my part of it as I did. Training requires balance of the four quadrants in ways that a suitable to the dog in front of you.


To try to address the things you mentioned having problems with, it seems to me that the basis of what is going on with your pup is a lack of impulse control coupled with normal baby dog zest for life. With that in mind: look up and practice Susan Garrett's It's Yer Choice; teach a settle order (lie down on a mat or bed); use withdrawing your attention to behaviors that you find unacceptable (like jumping up) and consider teaching some tricks that will help your pup to redirect their attention away from an annoying behavior. Since I know there are lots of threads and posts on PF that deal with how to do these things I won't explain them here, but if you are really unable to find what you need ask again for specifics.


And please be patient with your puppy who is truly a baby dog. They can be annoying (its their job). Your job is to be informative in virtually everything you do with the baby.
 

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Thanks for this article. I see it was posted quite a while ago, so the forum may not see my response. I'm afraid I am an example of the R+ failure. I would love some suggestions for P+ and P- corrections. My 4& 1/2 month old spoo is proving to be very head strong and there are several annoying behaviors (jumping, nipping, biting) that I have not been able to correct with my R+ approach. Thanks
You're not an R+ failure! Your pup is just a baby.

Are you working with a good trainer? I didn't with my last puppy, but so wish I did! This time around, our trainer has been such an excellent resource. And we've had many breakthroughs in our weekly puppy class. Real ah-ha moments!

Peggy is just ahead of your puppy, at 5 months, and I know all those behaviours you're describing QUITE well. They're so normal, honestly. But extra annoying from a clever, athletic spoo.

The challenge I've had with R+ is how patient and consistent you really must be. We try to have treats on us at all times, but as Peggy gets older, rewarding that exact moment her four paws land firmly on the floor with the attention she's asking for seems to be an even more effective motivator than treats.

Gosh is it ever hard to ignore her when she's trying to get in our faces (especially when teeth are involved!), but I can tell you I've seen huge improvements in just the past week, as she matures, and some days it's like we can see the training suddenly clicking in her mind. All those months of effort and then a sudden lightbulb moment for her.

It's like talking to a baby: You don't give up because they don't don't talk back. And then one day they DO and it's so exciting! They were listening all along, processing on their own schedule.
 

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Annie is a marshmallow dog. A stern No! Is a harsh correction. Gentle leaders make her shut down.

I am really enjoying trying R+ training, as it's forcing me to think my dogs motivations through. I think a mistake people make is only focusing on food as a reward. For example, we have been working on not chasing squirrels on walks. Treat? Nah. Toy? Nah. What has been working is demanding the behaviour I want (sit, look at me) in exchange for allowing a more controlled version of the behaviour she wants (chase squirrel). I also have been only randomly reinforcing (we don't chase ALL squirrels). If you sit you will SOMETIMES get a squirrel. If you pull you will NEVER get a squirrel. It's fascinating how this has changed her behaviour. I also tried a choke chain in desperation one day for this. Nope, not effective, her brain is 100% on get that squirrel, and 0% on 'oh, I am getting corrected".

I have started to use a clicker when training and I think the biggest advantage is it forces ME to think about timing.

That being said, I am not 100% a follower of R+ training. I will walk away from a dog, take away something, or, gasp, even use aversive methods if I have to (dangerous behaviour like car chasing, for example). But I think timing with aversive a needs to be just as precise. Trying to go to R+ first has been a really interesting and valuable endeavour, and has really improved my training.

4.5 months is a jumpy time. What worked for Annie was teaching jump up as a command ("hug', I thump my chest with a first) and the corollary,off. So now when I say off, she knows what I mean, and I can reward her for staying in the off position, just like I reward her for staying in the sit position.

As for nipping and biting.... These are natural behaviours for a dog learning bite inhibition. I allowed her to nibble my fingers, if she pressed too hard I yelled "ouch!". If she persisted I calmly left the room and shut myself in the bathroom. Playing too hard = losing attention is a really good correction. Gradually the behaviour faded, but I can still put my hand in her mouth without any worry for her closing her teeth hard.

We went through a period where she was jumping and nipping me when I had her toy. Hard, she even broke skin once. Nope. For a while we instituted the rule... If I have the toy, you must sit to get it. Basically, I taught her a mutually exclusive behaviour. She has passed that stage and I have relaxed the rule, but she still demand sits if I have something she wants. Way less obnoxious than demand barking though :)

So my suggestion would be... Don't give up on R+ training, but do think about what she wants and how you can use it as a reward on your terms. As you have discovered, it's not all about treats!
 

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Zina I agree you are describing typical puppy behaviors, and it takes both training and maturity to work through them. Toys can be a great way to teach impulse control because dogs are naturally enthused by them and it can teach them to control themselves even when energized. I started this early by requiring a sit before tossing a toy. After 6 months of age, my pup was controlled enough to make progress learning "drop" and "leave it" with toys. If you pup loves to tug, you can play a game with "leave it" and "get it" where you have them sit and not touch the toy then you yell "get it!" and wiggle it with enthusiasm. I also work on impulse control when out on walks with anything that pup wants to chase. For where I live, that's squirrels, ducks, peacocks, and cats. As soon as it has pup's interest I require a sit and he gets a treat. After a while you will notice their automatic response to these triggers is to sit rather than to chase them.

The biting is rough. I'm still not out of it yet at 7 months. But it gets better with consistent removal when they get rough. Pup that loses control goes in pen or crate to settle down.

I have a headstrong pup as well. I prefer that to a shy pup though. It just takes a lot of repetition and consistency because you have to work through the stubbornness. You need to have a no nonsense attitude. I use mostly R+, but I also use a lot of exiling the pup when he is bad, and just plain being stubborn myself. If you don't give in to them they will eventually learn that it doesn't work. It just takes much longer than you expect it to sometimes.
 

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Thanks for this article. I see it was posted quite a while ago, so the forum may not see my response. I'm afraid I am an example of the R+ failure. I would love some suggestions for P+ and P- corrections. My 4& 1/2 month old spoo is proving to be very head strong and there are several annoying behaviors (jumping, nipping, biting) that I have not been able to correct with my R+ approach. Thanks
Every dog that I've ever had has outgrown biting as soon as those horrible baby teeth fall out, no matter what anti-bite training I've tried or failed to try. Our latest recruit went to puppy daycare and played with puppies twice a week for three hours per day. That was supposed to help him learn bite inhibition. It worked too, because he stopped grabbing my clothes just as soon as he lost his baby teeth. I have no idea if the daycare helped or not, but he really loved it. His tail looked like a helicopter when arrived and he would sleep for hours afterwards.
 

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Thanks for the game suggestions. I will try those. He loves playing tug. I'll also remind myself about being stubborn. It's the persistence that really counts.
 

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Thanks so much for the encouragement. I have had one session with a trainer and have another scheduled for next week. We are also in week 6 of an 8-week puppy "obedience" class. He is such a "party animal" though, he gets too excited with all the other puppies around to pay much attention to the training. I will take your tip about the treats and just keep at it!
 

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The reason people sometimes think you can't train with only PR training is because they don't understand behavior fully. They don't implement all the possible tricks of the trade and they over-anthropomorphize their dogs. For example, calling the dog stubborn as if he knows better but he's just immoral and blowing off his owner. This is a big mistake. It is not the way dogs think, as is well explained in the book, Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson among others.

There are trainers who don't use any intimidation or positive punishment and have fabulously trained dogs. I see a very common mistake and that is to NOT prevent unwanted behaviors from developing in the first place by teaching wanted behaviors, such as in this video following. The lack of aversives is not a part of PR training. There are definitely aversives. But positive punishment is not used by many behaviorists who have excellently trained dogs and they have their reasons for not implementing positive punishment. There is a certain amount of unexpected, detrimental fall out that can occur with that, as is explained in animal behavior lectures, seminars, classes, books etc.

Here is one example of intercepting unwanted behaviors and in their place, teaching the incompatible and wanted behaviors. This is a trainer I highly respect and admire.



You might find these helpful:

https://www.pinterest.com/pamelamarxsen/kikopup-youtube-videos-rock/

Another behaviorist who uses only PR training whom I respect a lot is Jean Donaldson. Another is Karen Pryor and there are many more whose books I've read and lectures I've seen.

Yes, in PR training there may be a lack of a reinforcer for an unwanted behavior and the dog is shown the contrast of a reinforcer for the wanted behavior. But yanking on a collar or using pain or intimidation is not necessary, as is evidenced by many behaviorists' dogs and dogs they train. I just used a couple for examples here. I myself have trained many dogs and I have never needed to use positive punishment in order to teach them something or to extinguish an unwanted behavior. I have spoken harshly to my dogs at times but that was not in training. It was on account of the fact that I'm a primate. :monkey: (as is explained in one of Patricia McConnell's books. lol)

(And please...let's not turn this into a "make bully breeds extinct, kill them all" hate thread. It can hurt feelings of those who have those kinds of dogs or mixes.)
 

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I just re-read that article since it's been a while since I read it. It's true, like it says, that the average dog owner hasn't spent a long time learning dog training and behavior so trying to do something half way, of course doesn't work well. And that's what most people do. Take a little information, run with it, leave out important facets and then blame the science of learning behavior. Karen Pryor trained dolphins before utilizing a clicker for dogs. You can hardly punish a dolphin for a mistake. You can either reinforce or not. I don't think you can even take away the fish once he has it in his mouth either.

When the author of the article talks about a dog needing boundaries and guidance as though that can't be gotten through PR training, that's simply not true. If my dog pulls on a leash when on a walk, I don't have to give a collar "correction" aka jerk that's uncomfortable or painful or intimidating. I simply have to remove the motivator...being able to go on the walk for one more step. That is a boundary. You pull, walk stops. You stay near me, walk resumes plus you get a treat. This is one little example. But the dog will learn to walk nicely IF it's done consistently and the timing is immediate. That is guidance.

What other boundaries or guidance is she talking about that a dog...any dog with a cortex can't learn without positive punishment? The principles of behavior that behaviorists use are behavioral law. It is not true that they won't work on some dogs but will on others. Certain ways of going about them, using different motivators or different strategy on various dogs to make the dog more receptive is effective and sometimes needed. But the basic principles of behavioral law work on any organism with a thinking brain.

We were talking about puppies biting? I never had any trouble with my poodles, partly because they used each other for pin cushions. (one other benefit of raising two puppies at the same time) lol. They learned further bite inhibition besides what they learned from their litter mates. If they chomped on me, I abruptly disengaged ANY attention...walked away. If the puppy came after me, was about to grab hold of my pants, I did like Kiko pup does in the video (above) showed the dog what behavior works and what doesn't. There was no pp needed or any intimidation at all. My puppies both had very soft mouths anyhow and got onto chewing on a toy and not me within a couple weeks of having them.

Leadership, guidance and boundaries comes, imo from teaching. The definition of discipline is teaching, not punishment or intimidation.
 

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Thanks so much for the encouragement. I have had one session with a trainer and have another scheduled for next week. We are also in week 6 of an 8-week puppy "obedience" class. He is such a "party animal" though, he gets too excited with all the other puppies around to pay much attention to the training. I will take your tip about the treats and just keep at it!

Then I would skip some of the exercises in favor of developing your pup's centripetal attraction for you. You need to work on becoming much more fun and interesting than anything else in the world.

A puppy class should not be focused on lots of specific training of behaviors (sit, down etc.). It should be more about the social skills of the puppies with each other and with some well mannered older dogs, lots of free play with short sessions of attention and recall behaviors with a sprinkling of sit and down, stay and such. When Javelin was young I did not take a puppy class but instead brought him to my club and to box chain pet stores where the main "work" was teaching him to think I was more fun and interesting than the other people and dogs. Even though I did that ages ago it is still something we work on. For example, at our class today, since we just returned after missing a couple of weeks I mostly worked on attention with pressure from a "judge" rather than throwing a dumbbell and having him act crazy. After practicing ring entrances and exercise set ups with good attention he was in a much better frame of mind to do recalls and flat retrieves than had I not refreshed the attention skills.
 
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https://www.pinterest.com/pin/254312710180585973/

Here's a demonstration of some amazing self control. Kiko pup doesn't use "corrections." She doesn't use PP at all. With this, the dogs already have some training behind them for leave it. She started without throwing the kibble all over, no doubt and just started with a small area, covering the treats and getting compliance for leaving it for a second or two, then allowing the dog to have at it, gradually increasing the pressure. She's practicing and showing how it works in the video. Notice all of her other dogs on the couch, also demonstrating amazing self control. Again, she uses no pp.
 
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