The dog training world is filled with differing opinions. Which training methods actually work best? As we’ve learned more about dogs and their behavior, some methods, which seemed to be based in animal behavior, have actually been proven to be based on flawed science. For example the idea of dogs needing an “Alpha” has long been debunked, but yet, the idea remains pervasive in dog training.
It helps to understand the difference between the different methods. We thought it would be best to have an expert explain! We were very excited to have a chance to chat with Jill Guin from Underdogs Long Beach. Jill is a certified dog trainer with clients all over the U.S. She has worked extensively with rescue dogs to help them learn healthy behaviors so they’re set up for happy new lives! So let’s check out the interview to learn more about positive reinforcement, aversive, and balanced training methods!
PW: In short, what is force free/positive reinforcement training?
JG: Positive reinforcement is when we add something (generally, a food reward) immediately after a behavior occurs that makes the frequency of the behavior more likely to happen again. Example: when we add a treat every time our dog gives us eye contact, we’re more likely to see more eye contact.
The benefit of positive reinforcement is the strong bond we build with our animals, built on trust and respect. We help our animals to heal from fear and anxiety, ultimately changing their emotional response to triggers. These methods are mentally stimulating, fun, enriching, and confidence building. Science supports these methods.
PW: In short, what is aversive training?
JG: In aversive training, or positive (adding) punishment training program, the dog’s undesirable behaviors are punished by adding an aversive. Example: When a dog jumps, we add a knee to body block the dog. Or the dog barks at the door and we add a “NO!” to lessen the barking.
PW: Balanced training sounds like it is a healthy compromise between the two training methods. Can you explain more about balanced training?
JG: Balanced has always been this thing that we are all striving for, right? Not in this case! Balanced dog training uses both corrections (punishment) and reinforcement (rewards) to teach dogs. It’s essentially a “do it, or else” mentality. There is no such thing as “balanced training”... it’s just punishment. Example: Dog sits>reinforce with a treat> dog stands up>human punishes with a verbal correction “NO!”. While punishment does work, it often leads to pain, fear, confusion, and behavior suppression, essentially ruining our bond with our animals.
Dogs are scientifically proven to be cognitively 2.5 years old in human years. Therefore, they actually do not make the connection between the punishment and what it was that they did. Punishment teaches our animals to stop exploring and offering behavior, as they aren’t sure what is coming.
PW: What are some examples of tools or techniques used in aversive training?
JG: Where do I start?! We are the tool; it’s our mindset. We often start with easy, verbal or loud noises for punishment. This may be “NO!”, a clap, stomp or yell. These do eventually stop working, and we need to use intimidation with spatial pressure. Things like walking towards our dogs intimidatingly, looks, and then we end on physical punishment. These are typically swats, smacks, and many tools like choke chains, pinch collars, slip leads, muzzles (if used incorrectly). Any tool can be used as punishment if the intent is there.
If the item stops behavior, then it’s aversive. For it to work, it must be uncomfortable, create fear, or hurt.
PW: Are there proven consequences to using aversive training methods?
JG: Thousands of studies since the early 1990’s have proven the damaging effects of aversive training on dogs and their resilience. Evidence has suggested that punishment-based training techniques reduce animal welfare. Scientific studies have shown an increase in cortisol levels after training using punishment. The more often people used punishment, the more likely they were to say their dogs are aggressive, excitable, fearful, and anxious.
“There is evidence that using physical punishment with dogs can lead to an aggressive response (Herron et al 2009). For example, 11% of owners who used prong collars (a common tool of balanced dog trainers) reported that it led to aggression. 15% of those who yelled “No!” at their dog also said that it sometimes led to aggression. Of those who said they “hit or kick [the] dog for undesirable behavior”, 43% said there was an aggressive response.”
PW: If someone is currently using an aversive method of training, what can they do to change their method?
JG: I would start by hiring a certified trainer! Then educating themselves! There are some great books to start with! Canine Enrichment for the Real World by Emily Strong and Allie Bender, The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell and Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor. If you’re on social media, start following trainers that are educating on social media.
PW: As an industry, dog training isn’t regulated, in other words anyone can say they are a dog trainer. But there are certifications in the dog training industry. What certifications should a dog parent look for and why do they matter?
JG: Of course I’m biased and think Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training and Behavior is the best! There are many different schools that provide the much needed and important certification that we have extensively studied; Victoria Stillwell Academy, Animal Behavior College, Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and many more.
What’s important is that we are always doing ongoing education and keeping up with the science! Many of these schools teach the basics; we have to branch out to become specialists in each field of animal behavior. The best trainers I know are forever students, always growing and learning more about behavior.
We would like to thank Jill again for sharing her expertise with us. If you would like to learn more about Underdogs Long Beach, and look into their training services, you can take a look at their website here.
At Pet Waggin’, we have had the pleasure of working with Jill on multiple occasions. She has helped us learn more about dog behavior and positive reinforcement training methods that we can use with each and every visit. Needless to say, after listening to her expertise and conducting our own research, Pet Waggin’ is a huge proponent of positive reinforcement training over other training methods! And we’ve truly seen, firsthand, how it can do wonders for so many dogs!