Below outlines five ways to train NEW behaviors when working with dogs. When possible, teach a NEW behavior using positive reinforcement (food, toy, or other reward the dog enjoys) before moving on to other methods. This is not covering using techniques to proof and make behaviors the dog already knows and understands faster or more reliable.
Positive Reinforcement – Correct behaviors are rewarded with food, a toy, or other reward the dog enjoys.
Capturing – Even the most hyper puppy will eventually lie down. Reward when that behavior happens. Dogs who bark will eventually be quiet, reward the quiet. Capturing is also useful for hard to create behaviors such as full body shakes, sneezes, teaching to potty on command, etc. but a poor choice for things your dog rarely does or doesn’t do naturally at all.
Luring – Luring involves using a treat or trained target stick to move the dog’s head to get a behavior you want. Nose goes up, rear goes down and you get a sit. Luring is great for puppies and novice dogs. Luring also creates hand signals (treat in the right hand, hand moves up – take the treat away, move hand up and you have a signal for sit). The problem with luring is when the treat hangs around too long – “My dog only does it if I have a treat!” This is where many big box stores fail and create unreliable behaviors when the treats go away and the dog decides that treat isn’t worth coming back for when he rather chase the squirrel.
Shaping – This is where a behavior is broken into the tiniest portions. While this method takes extra time, it creates the strongest behaviors and requires the dog to think. It can also build confidence in a dog when the dog figures it out and gets it right. You can get behaviors you couldn’t possibly get any other way.
These three are rarely used alone. You may use different methods for the same behavior or use different methods depending on the behavior.
A mix of pressure (negative reinforcement) and positive reinforcement “balanced training” –
When we talk about pressure (negative reinforcement) we are using a stimulus the dog finds annoying or unpleasant (it does not need to be painful!). We use the annoying or unpleasant stimulus (such as the pull of a collar or stim) and when the dog performs the correct behavior the dog is rewarded with food, a toy, or other reward the dog finds pleasant.
Example 1: The trainer uses a pressure point in-between the dog’s shoulders to create an unpleasant feeling, the dog lays down, the trainer immediately removes their hand off the dog and the unpleasant feeling goes away (negative reinforcement) and the dog is rewarded (positive reinforcement). A confident dog should be none the worse for wear and should be willing and happy to participate for positive reinforcement.
Example 2: Modeling with positive reinforcement can be another example of this. Modeling is when we move the dog into position as someone might model clay. Most people don’t think of modeling as negative reinforcement but on simple terms it is. Trainer places their hand on the dog’s rump and pushes down and at the same time pulls up on the collar, the dog sits, the trainer removes the tension and rewards the dog with positive reinforcement.
Negative Reinforcement is in and of itself reinforcing to the dog because once it understands what the behavior is it learns that the faster it performs the behavior the faster the annoying or unpleasant feeling goes away thus creating a dog that wants to perform a behavior and fast. Rewarding with food after is only adding more of a positive association.
Pressure (Negative Reinforcement) Only –
This is everything described above exception of rewarding with food or other positive reinforcement. This method stops at the pressure being removed.
Let’s look at an example above –
The trainer uses a pressure point in-between the dog’s shoulders to create an unpleasant feeling, the dog lays down, the trainer immediately removes their hand off the dog and the unpleasant feeling goes away (negative reinforcement). We repeat this annoying sensation until only the slightest feeling of a hand causes the dog to down with no actual pressure involved.
The downside to this is this is often a stressful way to teach a dog a new behavior and will create unhappy dogs when taken too far. Use this only as an absolute last resort. Some take this over the line to the point of causing pain and/or panic. That is animal abuse in my opinion and we must be very careful not to cross that line for a behavior that is not a life or death situation.
Let’s look at a scenario teaching with only pressure where someone crosses the line. The trainer has a dog that doesn’t know how to down. It knows no hand signal or verbal cue. The trainer puts a corrective collar on the dog with a leash and steps on the leash near the collar dragging the dogs head to the ground. The dog may panic but eventually lays down. The trainer lets up off the leash, the dog gets up. The trainer does this again and again until the dog drops to the ground at the slightest movement toward the leash.
Yes, the dog is downing consistently – but was it worth it? It is up to your personal ethics to decide – no one else can decide where you draw your line.