Force Free. Least Invasive Minimally Aversive (LIMA). Aversive. E-Colar. Positive Only. Fear Free. Alpha. Dominate. Clicker. Treat. Respect. Nothing In Life Is Free (NILIF). Balanced. Prong Collar. Choke Chain. Gentle Leader. No-Pull Harness.
These words and phrases build a concept in our minds about right and wrong. Good and happy vs mean and painful. For me they are all elements of working with dogs. All are important for building a relationship with a dog. This is no different than building a relationship with another person or any other animal. Let's break down a few of these concepts in their purest of forms.
Positive reinforcement only, force free, fear free, these philosophies hold that a dog should be trained through rewards only. Mostly this reward is food, sometimes praise, petting, toys, or access to a desired resource. It's a beautiful thing to be able to teach a dog new behaviors and encourage puppies to try new things. However the concept of these methods are not obtainable. No domestic companion dog lives in a force free world.
The closest to this would be village, feral, or stray dogs. They are not forced to stay inside, be on a leash, and contained. Food is not withheld from them. Companion dogs who are crated or left alone in a home or yard while their owners are gone at their jobs. They do not have to stop eating when food is present and can eat to their hearts content when food is available. They mate and do not undergo surgery to remove their reproductive organs. However their environment is at many times aversive. Their environment establishes natural aversives, corrections, and biological needs.
We are always controlling our dog's environment and their access to resources. We take away their ability to have complete free will. This is extremely important to be able to establish boundaries that keep our dogs safe. The more you are able to create a boring and limited environment the better your results with positive reinforcement only training is because the dog is hungry and bored with these moments as the only excitement in their day. Their environment is limited, sheltered, and sometimes very controlled. This can go to such an extreme as food being withheld until the dog is hungry enough for the food to motivate them to work.
Aversive, e-collar only, dominante philosophies work on a similar but opposite in the reinforcement. It is still important to create a dull environment working inside before working outside or around distractions. Again we control the dog's environment and then use an aversive to compel the dog to perform a behavior. This aversive is not necessarily one that is extremely hurtful or damaging to the dog. What this method creates is a dog who works due to the demand for compliance and to avoid an aversive stimulus.
What these recipe based training philosophies have in common is to control the dog's environment and utilize a stimulus to ensure compliance for the desired behavior. These methods don't sound like a lot of fun for the dog. Positive reinforcement only can cause a dog to constantly be in a state of arousal consistently hoping for a bit of food or reward at any moment. Aversive training creates a dog who is consistently waiting for a negative stimulus and tend to be shut down.
Whether the dog is shut down or in a state of overarousal they are definitely not in a comfortable emotional state. How could they be?
In the next blog I will bring thoughts about how all of these methods when implimented properly can be a wonderful addition to a training program. There are some very helpful and amazing things we can learn from both of these philosophies. Taking either to the extreme of being the only interaction with the dog can easily be damaging.