My last blog addressed how a trainer’s attitude could affect his dog training efforts. Here are some additional thoughts about dog training that I want to share with you.
Have you heard of dog body language? If so, did you bother to look into it? Alternatively, did you assume what you think you know about how a dog “looks” is correct? What if you are wrong? It is easy to misinterpret dog body language, especially if you believe in “alpha dog” theory.
Either way, whether you are familiar dog body language or not; I have great news for you! A knowledge of dog body language and good observation skills are a virtual window into your dog thoughts and feelings. You can gauge how your training methods are affecting your dog! It does not get better than that in training!
All trainers use one or more aspects of classical and operant conditioning. Some trainers understand they are, and some deny it. The deniers are more likely to be “alpha dog” trainers. There are so many negatives to alpha dog style training that I plan to address them in another post in the future.
I am also not going into the technicalities of either approach here. There is plenty of information on the internet regarding classical and operant conditioning. It is learning theory. What I am going to do is compare differences between a dog trained with aversives versus one trained with positive reinforcement. I am generalizing my observations.
I am writing from the perspective of having used negatives in the past and, then, learning a better approach. I do occasionally use negatives today; however, the negatives do not involve force or punitive devices, such as pinch, choke or e-stim (shock) collars. I might, though, turn in a circle if a dog jumps up, putting its paws on me. Turning in a circle makes it difficult for the dog to keep standing with its paws on me. More importantly, I am not going to look at the dog, touch the dog or say anything to the dog. Not giving the dog attention by looking, touching or talking to the dog, is the punishment. The dog is jumping for attention. If I look at, touch or talk to the dog, it would be rewarding the dog with what it wants for jumping. I only pay attention to the dog when all four of its paws are on the ground, which is what I want.
Moving on to the point of this post, when one is aware of and familiar with dog body language, one can see subtle telltale signals indicating a dog is enjoying or is not enjoying the training. Negative emotions can impede learning, making it more difficult to train a behavior. Negatives can cause fear or aggression in obvious and unforeseen ways.
When one is knowledgeable about dog body language, one can easily distinguish between a dog trained by a good clicker trainer and a dog trained by an “alpha dog” trainer.