There are always rumblings on social media about different dog training methods and their names and acronyms. Everyone seems to have comments and opinions on why one method is better than another. In some cases, in fact in many cases long Facebook threads, arguments breakout that become extremely aggressive and rude.

Comments like

  • I never use .... because it functions on the use of negative reinforcement.
  • That method is punishment based
  • My method is superior because it works on the application of positive reinforcement.
  • I never use luring I always shape
  • Capturing is lazy
  • You have to correct a dog how else can it learn

I am often asked what do you think? Do I approve of this method or that method?

In answer I never allow myself to get pulled into these types of conversations or share my opinions and thoughts on one method versus another for a few reasons.

  1. We are often talking at odds about the procedure with no shared meaning or visual behavior to functionally analyze
  2. We have different takes on a procedure because we are discussing it in theory only and not looking at and observing what is actually happening
  3. We have different beliefs about what is considered an acceptable procedure, we draw our ethics line in the sand at differing locations.
  4. The philosophy of the individual is not aligned with mine so we are starting with a huge void, one difficult to bridge if points 1-3 are present.

So, I just don’t do it, I don’t think we can make these kinds of general statements about a hypothetical dog training method because of reason x, y or z!

I remember one discussion about a method that had two different people passionately promoting it.

Both individuals provided links to videos they had of their training in action.  When I watched the videos of their actual training session and I functionally analyzed what was happening they were both very different. One was a -R protocol and one a +R protocol, yet both were promoting the training method as examples of great positive reinforcement training protocols.

So, to summarize.

Rather than make general sweeping statements about one of the many training protocols methods or philosophies, is it not more accurate to observe a training session and functionally analyze what is happening?

  1. What is the targeted behavior?
  2. What are the consequences and how are they affecting the behavior?
  3. Is the behavior as a direct result of the consequences increasing or decreasing?
  4. What is the emotional response of the pet?

And for me, the most important factor in determining if the training protocol should be used is

“Is the animal enjoying it?”

I am more concerned with the emotional state of the pet, are they relaxed, are they having fun, are they a willing participant. Only then can or should we discuss whether actual skills are being learned and if so, what are they and how effectively are we teaching them.

Then you can quietly decide if it’s a protocol you would choose to use in your practice. I will always use empathy in my training as this supports and upholds my ethics.  Our training has to be “informed by science, guided by empathy and governed by ethics” ™