Talking to different trainers from different disciplines, different styles and different backgrounds can be exhausting, overwhelming and frustrating if you don't have the knowledge to be able to filter the exchange of words.
I have been fortunate enough to have a strong background on a few different fields of dog training (Protection Training, Scent Work, Service Work and Pet obedience). Really you could say that all of those fields branch off the same fundamental concept that is dog training (Operant and Classical Conditioning, Establishing Operations, Behavioral Analysis)
I know, I know! sounds like a bunch of semantics and useless jargon, but this stuff is important. If you don't have a command of this fundamental principle, it's easy to get frustrated and confused when you hear different dog trainers talk.
When you hear "The only thing 2 dog trainers can agree on is that the 3rd trainer is wrong." really you're just seeing the insecurity and lack of knowledge in this field. You and I should be able to agree on fundamental principles! It's not a matter of opinion or experience, it's a matter of fact and scientific data! If you and I look at tree, we should both see a tree, not our interpretation of the tree, but simply a tree. You might think it's an oak tree and I might think it's a cedar tree, in reality, one of us is dead wrong, or both of us are dead wrong! That tree is a specific tree, not to be changed by interpretation.
I recently had the fortune of participating in an event in which three different protection clubs (mine included) got together and trained together. Overall, there didn't seem to be a major disagreement in how things were to be done. Three different training directors, additional trainers (decoys) and other members who also train dogs, none of us had any major disagreements in how things were to be done. I'm sure if all of those trainers and I sat down and started chatting about dog training, we'd find a thing here and there in which we may not be in total agreement, and that's understandable, but should disagreement arise, if we all understand the fundamental principles of dog training, we should be able to wipe off any difference of opinions quite easily. IF one or more of us didn't have a strong grasp on the fundamentals, we would then find "disagreements".
Here's what you should know about training puppies. You can never start too young. There's this myth that is still making its rounds among dog owners and even dog trainers. "You should wait till the puppy is a little older before you start training it", "Let him be a puppy", "What could he possibly learn?"
These innocent comments lead you to believe that you have time on your side but what people don't realize is that dogs develop very quickly, they grow up fast unlike children. Before you know it, the puppy is 3 to 4 times as big and weighs 3 to 4 times as much, not to mention the learning history that is taking place in puppyhood can make or break its home manners when they get older.
WHY DID THE MYTH START IN THE FIRST PLACE?
As stated in the video above, it's because dog training decades ago, and even in some instances to this day, involve the use of corrections as a primary way of learning. Many prominent trainers decades ago would suggest waiting till the puppy was at least 6 months of age before training started. Naturally, it makes sense that if training is based on Negative Reinforcement and Positive Punishment, you would have to wait till the dog was a little bit older for the sake of its wind pipe. This is not to say that dog trainers who suggested this were cruel people who hated animals, it's just that it was the norm as a general rule. As an industry, we have evolved and it's now common knowledge that we should start training a puppy ASAP.
Below is a list of things you can do with a puppy as young as 7 weeks of age (This is typically the age many puppies get ready to go to their new homes):
*Target Training (Foot and nose target)
*Puppy Manners (polite greeting)
If you're a dog trainer, remember that is is something you can offer prospect clients, unless you don't like puppies that is. Some dog trainers I know even charge more for training puppies because they're actually more work to train, particularly in the potty training and crate training department!
I am genuinely interested in making you a better dog trainer, owner or handler. When I asked which topic you, the audience, were interested in learning more about, I took it as a personal assignment to point you in the right direction. So without further ado, here's the topic that consistently came up: HOW TO INCREASE DRIVE
WHAT IS DRIVE?
First, let's get on the same page. Drive is a strong desire to satisfy a "need". Genetics and breed tendencies play a huge role on "drive". This doesn't necessarily mean all German Shepherds want to be police dogs, all Labrador Retrievers want to retrieve, or all "add breed" want to "add stereotypical activity". It does however mean that the individual itself, many times regardless of breed, may have a specific urge that compels it to engage in a certain activity due to its particular genetic envelope.
Let's say for example that "Fido" loves to chase balls and play with tugs. Now let's think of another dog; let's call him "Sparky", and let's say Sparky has NO interest in chasing balls or playing with tugs. We now have two different dogs with different interests. Maybe Sparky happens to be really social and loves human contact. Fido might also love human contact, but Fido might be the type of dog that will chase a ball off a cliff. We can now say that Fido has a lot of drive, while Sparky has very little or no drive, at least as far as toys are concerned.
Can we increase Sparky's toy drive?
ONLY AS FAR AS HIS GENETICS WILL ALLOW.
If you're Sparky's owner and suddenly realized you wanted him to be police dog, a retriever, or anything that would require some type of prey drive, you may be gravely disappointed. Of course this doesn't mean you can't do some sort of activity with him. Maybe you can elicit enough drive to get him to enjoy chasing the ball a few times, maybe do some agility even, but to expect Sparky to do what comes more natural to Fido, would be unreasonable.
DRIVES PEOPLE NORMALLY WANT TO INCREASE:
When it comes to increasing drive, trainers and dog owners typically are concerned with a few things: Food, Toy, and Human Contact(engagement)
Every time this has come up on my feed, or in a conversation, these are the types of drives dog people are normally interested in increasing.
HOW TO ACTUALLY INCREASE DRIVE!
OK, I wont keep you waiting. Here's the "secret": ESTABLISHING OPERATIONS
These are events that alter the value of a reinforcement. This is how you can increase and decrease drive. Chances are, you're probably more interested in INCREASING drive however. There are two events that hugely alter the value of a reward that many people aren't aware of. Deprivation and Satiation.
Here's how people normally mess this up by accident. They have their dog surrounded by toys all day long, their dog has a toy in the crate, a toy for the bed, a toy for outside and a box of toys in case the dog wants something different. If you have the type of dog that is insanely driven, you probably wont have a problem, but if you have a dog that has a low to moderate level of drive that fluctuates from time to time, this can affect you immensely!
Here's something else people do, their dogs eat 3 meals per day: huge meals, or worse, they are free-fed; so the dog is constantly eating at its own leisure and probably getting treats on top of that. Then the owner/trainer wonders why the dog doesn't want to take treats during training.
Here's yet another example. You might actually be pretty good with the management of treats and toys because, well, you know better! You're not like those people who don't understand dog training! You're much more sophisticated than that and your dog has great genetics and comes from great bloodlines! You are more interested in learning how your dog could be more interested in you. Here's what people accidentally do: They sleep with the dog, they go with the dog everywhere, they watch TV with the dog, they take naps with the dog, they go hiking with the dog, etc. etc. Are you getting the picture?
In all of the examples above, your dog is getting satiated, so the reward isn't as valuable as you'd like it to be. One thing I ask every class I teach is this: How many of you like chocolate cake? A good handful of students will raise their hands. My next question is "Would you still like chocolate cake if you got to eat it every day, 3 times per day?" That's about when I get the look that tells me they're starting to understand.
DEPRIVATION is the key to increasing drive!
"But that is so mean! I don't want to starve my dog"
Starving is not what I'm suggesting. Deprivation, in terms of Establishing Operations simply mean that you back off a little. If there's an area of dog training you want to increase a certain drive for, deprivation simply implies that you withhold a certain reward(activity) enough to make the dog more eager to engage in said reward (activity). This works with people as well.
Don't you notice that when a certain relative, friend or loved one eventually get on your nerves and you even get a bit tired of them when you see them all the time? I'm sure you've heard of the term "Distance makes the heart grow fonder". I'm sure you have; because when these relatives, friends or loved ones are gone for a period of time, you miss them and can't wait to see them! It's the same with a lot of things.
If you've worked with high drive dogs enough, you've probably noticed that when one of these high drive dogs gets injured and they have to rest so they can recover, they come back to the activity with a high level of intensity!
So in conclusion, here's what you wanna do. If you want to increase food drive, feed during training or feed before a meal, not after.
If you want to increase toy drive, limit play time or toys to training sessions primarily.
If you want to increase engagement with you while you train, maybe decrease cuddle time during the day and make your dog earn some of the affection. Crating your dog and letting it spend time by itself can be a huge help as well.
A couple of my friends and I were talking about new age dog trainers sweeping the industry with mass following and strong, compelling messages.
The reason new age dog training is becoming so popular is because they're addressing a common problems with ease, and it's being represented as something that is fairly simple that anyone can quickly learn and do. This is the case with different areas of dog training.
What's happening is, there's a large amount of interest in dog training, and people are getting swept away by the attractive "before and after"s.
THE WEIGHT LOSS PHENOMENON
Do you remember when the fitness industry went through this new age phase? It's not as bad anymore as more people are starting to see that nothing compares to the basics of fitness, hard work and healthy eating.
But in past years, there was always a new ad for the latest pill, the latest colon cleanse, the latest machine, the newest technique!
These marketers knew exactly how to manipulate the masses! PRESENT THE AUDIENCE WITH A COMMON PROBLEM, ASSOCIATE ENOUGH PAIN TO THE EXPERIENCE, AND SHOW THEM A FAIRLY EASY SOLUTION ANYONE CAN DO.
Brilliant!! Magic formula!
Of course the fitness experts knew it was all bullshit, but who wants to hear that there's nothing new about getting fit? Who wants to hear that getting fit and losing weight is not complicated? Just hard, but not magical.
This is exactly what's happening in the dog training industry! These new age dog trainers are advocating "magical", "spiritual" and quick solutions. All you need is this tool, that tool and that technique. It's promoting overthinking, over reading, and many times the complete opposite, over-correcting.
WHAT NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR:
A number of dog trainers with only a fraction of the following and popularity are looking from the sidelines and shaking their heads. Why?
-Because a rolled up towel is just the equivalent of a damn rolled up newspaper.
-Because pressure training is just plain old negative reinforcement.
-Because BAT training is just Reinforcement of Alternative Behaviors.
-Because "energy" is just demeanor and body language.
The list goes on and on.
No one wants to hear that literally everything stems from the basics of operant and classical conditioning, as well as basic principles outlined in the 40's in laboratories. There is nothing magical about dog training, you just have to learn the basics.
If you're a professional dog trainer, meaning, you take people's hard earned money to train their dogs, you owe it to your clients to understand and master these basics! You wouldn't go to a doctor or a mechanic who just kind of understands their field and gets their expertise from youtube or a few seminars. You would want a professional and an avid learner in their field!
THERE IS NOTHING NEW ABOUT DOG TRAINING. That doesn't mean that dog training is easy, but once you master the basic principles, you'll see that everything comes from there.
Master the science behind dog training, master the basic principles, understand the logic and the data. Simply knowing techniques without understanding why and how they work is a huge disservice to your dogs and your clients.
Too many dog trainers are focused on an agenda and less focused on the well being of the dog and client.
Fast Results vs. Soft (Positive) Approach
Fast results addresses the client's needs. Every client that comes to you has some sort of problem they cannot solve on their own. Many times these issues have been progressing over a period of time to a level that is often unbearable.
Being able to address a client's need to solve the issue immediately may seem the best, most logical approach. There are times in which relief is just a matter of changing the routine, the technique or miscommunication. There is however the risk of getting caught up in the "Let's fix it now" mindset. Here's why:
-YOU CAN'T QUICKLY CHANGE A PERCEPTION WITH A LONG LEARNING HISTORY.
[While chewing on a straw or toothpick] "Oh yes I can!".
Look dipshit! We know you can ramp up the level on your e-collar and dominate the dog with a swift helicopter and call it a day. This only gives a temporary relief that will haunt the client later or come back with a vengeance.
A dog is an animal that accumulates perceptions and experience. The risk of confusion is high when trying to undo behaviors with a long learning history in a short period of time.
-YOU MAY BE TEMPTED TO PUT EVERY DOG IN THE SAME CATEGORY.
When you get used to "fixing" everything in a very short period of time, you fall into the trap of looking at dogs like numbers and not like individuals. I know this because I have fallen into that trap before. It's part of being complacent. You quickly "fix" a dog, then the next, and the next and so forth. Then you run into a dog you're not able to "fix" as quickly as the others and so you jam more force into your technique.
It's important that as dog trainers, we look at every dog we work with as individuals. Yes there are a lot of patterns, but ultimately, each dog has a unique temperament with unique set of experiences and perceptions, therefore you can't just "fix" every dog the same way.
The Soft "Positive" approach addresses the comfort and well being of the dog in the learning process. This is where many trainers want to be. It's the category in which Purely Positive dog trainers fit in.
There are several people that advocate, push, and even politically pressure for the sake of this movement.
Though I greatly appreciate the well being of the dogs, and the intelligent approach of dog training, there are also downfalls to this approach:
-DOGS NEED TO LEARN WHAT NOT TO DO. [Drops jaw] "That's why you teach the dog what to do instead you abuser!". Calm down before you spill you pumpkin latte and listen. I'm all about teaching incompatible behaviors to give dogs new skills to replace old bad habits, there are however instances in which you have to use pressure to train dogs. Yes, I said "HAVE TO" because along with knowing what to do instead of, it's imperative that the dog know what not to do. You know to drive the speed limit, you also may have learned through experience that it's a bad idea to test those limits. You more than likely did things your parents or teachers instructed you not to do or were given a consequence that stopped the frequency of a behavior. This doesn't mean you were abused! I don't advocate abuse at all!
-IT LEADS TO LOSS OF PATIENCE. Yes!! Purely Positive trainers lose their patience! I've heard of this and seen it myself! Dog trainers who claim to be force free and pride themselves in using a hands-off approach while simultaneously yanking the shit out of the dog with the "gentle" leader or other head harness. Well, what do you expect when the owner has invested thousands of dollars and all you have to show for is a half ass "sit" with food in your hand or several lures and no discipline!
Advocate for the dog, use pressure once the dog understands what is expected of it and be transparent with your client. A client just wants the problem gone! It's our job to communicate that this process takes a bit of teaching, and based on the dog's individual needs, it may take a bit of time.
Some times you can and even should quickly stop dangerous behaviors, at least temporarily in order to undo, and teach a better way to cope. I have on occasion used hard corrections to at least get the dog to stop engaging on potentially dangerous behavior. This isn't the norm, and it's not the standard operating procedure, but at times necessary. Some examples are violent redirecting, predatory targeting, crittering, snake proofing, garbage raiding, among others.
In general, learning more, reading more and training more will make you a better trainer. Don't just follow blindly, stop and analyse what you're doing and reevaluate yourself constantly!