Notes for Pierce’s Article About Ultrasonic Devices

This is a very good article by Jessica Pierce:

Are Ultrasonic Dog Training Devices Really Safe and Humane?

One point of correction at the end of it: their following statement is incorrect.

“Food treats are good to start with but as training progresses your dog should recognise verbal praise and a pat as a treat.”

There is no inherent reason to stop reinforcing behaviors with things dogs prefer (food) and deliver something they may like but not as much (verbal praise and a pat). Each dog has preferences and may prefer different types of rewards at different times, but in general food-treats tend to be higher value to dogs than things such as praise.

Once a dog is further along in training, behaviors can be rewarded some of the time (intermittent reinforcement), which keeps the behaviors strong over time, and different types of rewards can be used including treats, toys, the chance to meet or play with other dogs, the chance to go on a walk or run off leash, or praise, gentle petting, etc.

But there is no reason to completely stop rewarding with food/treats.

Aversive training methods like ultrasonic devices and techniques designed to notice behavior problems and punish them, do harm dogs and can lead to additional problems. Dogs who are constantly, and often times randomly punished end up more uncomfortable. It’s common for dogs who are punished for barking to bark more, even though that’s not the person’s intended outcome.

Using positive reinforcement methods allows dogs to understand how the training process works (they perform behaviors for rewards), and then they can relax, leading to problems like upset-frustration barking simply vanishing or drastically decreasing.

It’s also important to address the underlying reason for barking. For example, if a dog has separation anxiety – an extreme phobia of being left alone – punishment only makes this worse. It just proves to the dog that being left alone is scary. Not only was there original extreme fear, but with electronic devices causing discomfort or pain, it just adds to dog’s mental suffering and anxiety. Instead we want to help these dogs desensitize to being left alone, to make them more comfortable and free from fear.

By Dan Raymer

Explanation for Purely Positive, R+, and Punishment Training

Note: R+ is a symbol for positive reinforcement.

Sometimes people will try to deter others away from positive reinforcement training by claiming there is no purely positive training, or it does not work.

This is really a non-argument, though. Behaviors can be trained with errorless learning, where the behavior is broken down into enough parts that the animal is reinforced (or rewarded) only for correct behaviors until it is shaped into the final behavior.

So that would be purely positive training that does work, but it’s also not part of the majority of positive reinforcement trainers’ plans.

There’s nothing wrong with withholding or removing rewards for incorrect responses in order to punish (i.e. decrease) behavior, while using it in conjunction with rewards (meaning the dog won’t get frustrated because he’s set up to succeed the majority of the time). It’s not punish, punish, punish, punish, etc., but rather reward-reward-no reward-reward and more along those lines.

It allows dogs to learn when they perform the correct behavior they receive a reward (helping them understand it was correct), and when they do not perform the correct behavior they receive no reward (allowing them to understand it wasn’t correct, and to try something else).

And this is the way most trainers shape behavior, by rewarding the desirable behaviors among those offered by the dog, and ignoring the unwanted ones (meaning we don’t have to set it up in an errorless learning type of situation, because that simply wastes time – dogs can handle experiencing no reward for trying incorrect behaviors).

Clearly, though, there is an blatant difference between removing/withholding rewards for incorrect behavior, and directly punishing dogs with harsh physical corrections (with leash jerks, special sharp collars or ones that cut-off the dog’s airway, or shock them at whatever level). Both of these categories of consequences are intended to decrease unwanted behavior, but they are obviously not equal. The latter group compromises dog’s welfare and should not be used. It’s also not necessary when we have the other easy to implement option available as a training technique.

If you haven’t switched over to positive reinforcement/reward-based training, go ahead and start today. Your dogs will love you for it.

By Dan Raymer

I Tried It, But It Did Not Work

Intro

There’s a common phrase in dog training: “training is simple but it isn’t easy.” When broken down into larger functions, we are rewarding behaviors with treats and toys (sounds pretty simple), but in order to correctly train solid behaviors long-term we need to have a broad knowledge of concepts including topics like biology and psychology and we need to master many fine skills (making it not so easy at all times). Because of this truth, many people are quick to try training (with appropriate reward methods) and then claim it didn’t work, and try to move onto something inefficient or even worse, something detrimental to their dog’s well-being like force/aversive training methods. Here is more information and solutions.

State of the Profession

First, worth noting is not all professional dog trainers are competent. That might sound strange, but the fact is the dog industry does not require certification to practice, there is no oversight to make sure trainers are using best practices based on science, and so it’s possible to hire someone that is uneducated or has very little or no hands-on experience with dogs. This means even hiring trainers that claim to use rewards could land you with someone who does not use rewards, or someone who incompetently trains with rewards.

Also, beware trainers who guarantee behavior results. It’s impossible to guarantee the behavior of another living creature regardless of training methods used and unethical from a professional standpoint. Furthermore, many behaviors have medical-related pathologies, meaning only a veterinarian/veterinary behaviorist can diagnose and treat them, or work in conjunction with a professional dog trainer to solve them.

For example, if a dog has aggression due to a brain tumor, adding pain by shocking a dog is not going to solve the medical problem or the aggressive behavior problem; it is very likely to make it worse as well as compromise the dog’s welfare; and ultimately this is exactly why aversive/force training methods should never be used on any dog at any time.

Good Dog Trainers

When you find a qualified and skilled positive reinforcement trainer, it will relieve you from worrying about the non-easy aspects of the process. You won’t have to worry about trying to know everything all at once, and instead can rely on the trainer for advice and making sure everything is on the right track to success.

How to Solve the Dilemma

If the training seems like it’s not working, check the following:

1. Compliance – it’s worth noting that if the advice of a qualified trainer is not followed or enough repetitions are not completed, the behavior won’t get trained, or won’t be maintained long-term.

2. Execution – this concept is so important and another one to rely on professional help. There’s many minute parts of properly completing the training process – training the steps in the appropriate order, following the right mechanical skills, knowing where and when to deliver rewards, knowing what type of reward to use, understanding when to advance to a more challenging trial or reduce the difficulty for the dog, reading the dog’s body language, and so on.

3. Identification of the problem – this is another area where a professional dog trainer and/or veterinary behaviorist can help identify the problem and triggers or causes of the behavior, and put together a training plan to follow in order to change the dog’s behavior.

As the dog training knowledge and science has grown over time, the industry now has positive reinforcement training methods and solutions that work for all types of pet dog behavior problems. There is no reason to resort to scaring or hurting dogs in order to train them. If the training process seems stalled or before issues arise, work with a competent reward-trainer to assist you with the process.

By Dan Raymer