What exactly is positive and force-free dogtraining?
Many dog owners and “trainers” have come to believe that positive and force-free dogtraining is something that it is not. I have now as a dogtrainer many times met dog owners who either come to me with problems, or show up at my classes with a distressed and confused dog.
When I ask about their daily routines and their training I often experience that people refuse to tell their dog if it is doing something wrong. Their dog is therefore very confused. Not because it is allowed to do whatever it wants, but because as soon as people take the dog out in public they start to get embarrassed of the dog’s behaviour. This results in their own behaviour changing, maybe even showing signs of stress, impatience or annoyance. The dog picks up on this and becomes insecure or confused about the situation, and their no-boundary behaviour becomes worse simply because they do not know how to handle the situation.
I don’t want anyone to become physical when telling their dog off, but teaching the dog a simple “no” when it is doing something wrong can benefit and prevent potential “problem behaviours” from becoming habits and first choice of action.
Positive dog training does not mean that you will never say “no” to your dog. What is important to remember is that a “no” command should never be used in a training session as a way of telling the dog, that it did not offer the right behaviour in terms of a trick or command.
For example, if you ask your dog to sit, and it lies down instead, this is not an appropriate situation to use a “no” command. Here, you should simply ignore the wrong behaviour and wait for the right one.
But if your dog is about to do something that might even injure itself or cause distressing situations for someone else, you should definitely tell your dog “no” !
What positive training IS
Positive training is when you turn your training sessions into something fun and something your dog enjoys. It also means, that your aim is to give your dog a positive experience throughout the entire training session, so if your dog is struggling with understanding something, you go a step back and help it understand before moving further.
Praising is key in positive training, and knowing which way to praise depending on the exercise is important for the outcome of the exercise as well. Positive reinforcement will support the dog and encourage its understanding of the exercise and of what it did right. Knowing what kind of praise your dog prefers will also encourage faster learning.
Positive training is also force-free, which means that you will do everything in the dog’s own pace.
In force-free dogtraining you will never physically manipulate your dog into doing a certain behaviour. This means, that you will not push the dog’s bun if it doesn’t sit down when you ask it to. You don’t do it in order to teach it to sit either.
Force-free dogtraining is about either luring your dog into doing a certain behaviour or having it choose to do the behaviour itself (this is known as shaping or freestyling).
However, this doesn’t mean that you are not allowed to touch your dog. You can help it, but only with gentle touches, such as tickles.
For example, when teaching your dog “paw” you might struggle with getting the dog to lift its paw. If you cannot lure it or encourage it in any way to lift its paw, you might be able to get closer to the wanted behaviour by gently tickling the paw. But you should never grab the dog’s paw and hold onto it in your hand.
It is perfectly fine to tell your dog “no” – even in positive dog training! If your dog is too stressed because of your behaviour when the scene changes, your training will not be a positive experience anyway.
So do not feel bad if you tell your dog “no” – you might just be the one person who would be able to call your dog off right before an unpleasant encounter with another dog.
-Anna Louise Kjaer,
Dog trainer at 4-Paws Canine Academy