I say this a lot, to my students, friends, children and now...well...to you! Ideas have consequences.
And few ideas have had consequences as devastating to dogs and their mental health as the positive only movement.
So what is positive only dog training? Well, first I should say that there are many different names used to refer to Positive only training, and in fact, the term that I prefer to use is the least accurate, Positive Only dog training or PO trainers. Some of the other names include Reinforcement-Based, Force Free, Aversive Free, and so on.
Virtually all PO trainers and schools will also refer to themselves as being the only trainers to use scientific methods and claim that science backs their training and methods. This statement is completely inaccurate as PO training utilizes limited science at best as it applies to dog training and behavior modification, specifically.
So why has a movement that practices limited science, struggles to achieve any lasting results as it pertains to behavior modification, and causes massive amounts of stress and frustration for dog owners and dogs so popular today? The answer is complicated, but I think a lot of it has to do with the vicious campaign mounted by PO trainers toward other dog trainers and dog owners who utilize correction.
In years of research, some of the most vicious, vile and vitriolic things I have ever heard have spouted from the mouths of PO trainers towards Balanced and Compulsion trainers. Why is it that people claiming to do no harm and who care so much for animals think nothing of viciously attacking their fellow man? Well, bullies often do that, don't they?
The fact is, your average brick and mortar PO dog trainer has very limited knowledge and experience when it comes to working with aggression and severe behavioral issues, and most of them will tell you that success rates for aggression will be 50% or lower. (Don't believe me? Just ask them! In my research of PO trainers, contacting them for help, attending their classes, etc. I have found that if one thing, they are very honest about their inability to achieve results in behavior modification.
Most of them are more than happy to tell you to lower your expectations, and ALL of the PO trainers I contacted in my research were proud to tell me all about their own dog's reactivity, aggression, and behavioral issues that are still ongoing.) Their results are minimal, so all that's left in many cases is to attack others who are more successful and shame dog owners into thinking that by correcting their dog, they're abusing their dog.
Unfortunately, this works in a lot of cases as humans are concerned about their images and certainly don't want to think of themselves as being abusive.
But who suffers as a result of this?
The PO trainer doesn't suffer. They will happily take your money for months and months years and years on end, delivering no or minimal results, blaming you for just not trying hard enough. In fact, this is the perfect training system from a business perspective- clients for life with absolutely zero accountability for the PO Trainer.
But you suffer. You suffer through the embarrassment of having your dog pull and lunge and bark and scream at every dog they pass and more importantly, your dog suffers. Happy, healthy and sound dogs are calm and relaxed. They don't care about goings on in the environment; they are comfortable in their skin and just happy to "be." They don't scan rooms frantically and jump up and bark anytime they see something new. Anxiety is a sickness that leads to many behavioral issues including reactivity, aggression and more and it is almost always caused or perpetuated by PO training and the Positive Reinforcement only paradigm.
Most behavioral problems can be quickly eliminated by following a sound, balanced training protocol and using an aversive such as saying "no," or administering an appropriate leash and collar correction. Some of the most pervasive training tools that we have available today would include the pinch/prong collar or the electronic training collar. These are tools widely used by balanced, and reward based balanced dog trainers such as yours truly, that save countless k9 lives each year with tremendous success.
Unfortunately, there is a huge majority in the PO world that flat out refuse to use any aversive under any circumstance. Many PO trainers hold to the mantra of "Death Before Discomfort." If you say it quick, it doesn't have much effect. But take a minute and think about what that means.
That means that there are a HUGE group of people and professionals out there that will put a dog to death through euthanasia before they will use an aversive training tool.
That is just sick.
Sick and disgusting.
There are actually professional dog trainers out there who will recommend that you euthanize your dog before exhausting every single other option available such as aversive training tools that have been proven over and over and over again to work and to work quickly.
Why is this?
Why is it that we are giving people any recognition when they are advocating death over correction? Why is it that many humane societies and rescue groups will only recommend PO training techniques that are the causal agent for surrendering dogs into animal shelters in the first place?
There is something rotten at work here when we are killing dogs that could easily be saved and rehabilitated by a reward based balanced training system that utilizes all of the science we have available today.
There is something wrong when we have a PO dog training school on every corner, yet we have animal shelters stacked to the roof with dogs who have severe behavioral issues and lack any obedience skill, many of whom are doomed to die as a result.
Now, I love dogs, and I love dog training! I've spent the last 20 years working primarily with behavioral issues, creating some of the most comprehensive behavioral modification programs in Canada, today.
In my early life, I have trained dogs using compulsion. I have personally raised two dogs from puppyhood to adulthood using PO training only as an experiment, and for almost a decade, I have practiced reward based balanced dog training. I now utilizing all science and apply techniques on a per dog basis and have been very successful in doing so. That said, I have seen dogs trained under pure compulsion and purely positive techniques, and I can tell you that while both are extreme, I have never seen a dog die as a result of compulsion training, even when trained very, very harshly. They learn quickly; they listen, and as a result, they have homes and families and get to go on walks and get to accompany their families on outings and are loved.
How many hundreds of thousands of dogs have been murdered as a result of Positive Only dog training and the death before discomfort mantra?