Let's talk about the process of learning first.
Negative and positive reinforcement
These terms are often used when talking about training. They both aim for teaching the dog a certain habit, a certain way to act. Negative reinforcement uses punishment of some sort to show the dog what it does is wrong. It creates something nasty or unpleasant or frustrating that teaches the dog it must avoid certain way of behaving in order to prevent the nasty thing from happening. Positive reinforcing will praise the dog when it does right and teach the dog doing something or stopping from doing something gains it a prize.
Both these types of reinforcing work, but positive reinforcement is proven to be more effecting when teaching a new way to behave, whilst negative reinforcement works mostly when the dog must stop a certain learned habit. Using negative reinforcement can cause apathy, and a dog that does not work and try in order to see what it's expected to do can't learn. Fear blocks learning. That is why a dog should never be afraid of punishment, surroundings or anything around when trained. It must be comfortable and calm enough to concentrate.
Negative reinforcement is something to be used with caution and never by inexperienced handler who doesn't know what to do. Then again, no dog can go through it's life without facing negative reinforcement. When the pup tugs in a leash and hurts it's neck, it learns by negative reinforcement that one should not speed around when leashed (or then it doesn't, and continues doing it for the delight of the desperate owner). When the handler must hold the dog in place to calm it down, it learns by negative reinforcement acting like crazy will cause holding it down. By avoiding too rough play it gains freedom.
No matter negative reinforcement has it's place and time, for the reasons listed above it's something to be very cautios about when teaching the dog something. Negative reinforcement trusts in the dog. It is based solemnly in the process of trial and error, learning what is wrong, but it does not TEACH. Learning can happen without teaching, but you can't teach the dog by punishing it from something it does. In order to teach you must use positive reinforcement. Teaching is taking the pupil towards the target by giving it cues and tips and praising it from it's efforts. Teaching is telling ”now you are doing right. Do it again”.
tools to avoid
When trying to raise a dog to behave like a modern dog citizen should, one often stumbless across different training tools. Some of these tools, however, have nothing to do with actual training. They are tools that are supposed to punish the dog from doing something, and they trust in the dog understanding to avoid certain habits it gets punished from.
E-collar is a tool that gives the dog an electric shock when it does something not desired. It may be used to shock the dog when it leaves the area or it may be used when the dog barks. The collar will first make a beeping sound and then shock if the dog continues doing undesired things. This does in some cases cause results, but those results are not based on training the dog. They are based on letting the dog get hurt by the collar until it either learns what to avoid or will learn to stay completely still and silent because it is afraid of another shock. E-collars cause pain, they can cause fear and anxiety and their use is forbidden in many countries by the law. Dogs that have been wearing E-collars also suffer from apathy more than often. Apathy is a state where the dog does nothing, because doing nothing for certainty doesn't hurt it. After all, dogs usually don't connect the pain to for example a bark. They may connect the pain to entering a certain room, or moving, or panting. Whatever the dog sees, smells or hears during the shock may be connecter to the shock rather than the actual reason, for example leaving the yard.
Spray collars are much like E-collars, but they stray scent or air when the dog performs unwanted tasks. No matter they don't hurt the dog, softer dogs can become skittish because of them. There is also a risk for the dog connecting the spray to something completely different than it was meant to. If it happens to bark to the neighbor and gets sprayed, it may as well connect the neighbor to the spray and start to dislike the sight of the neighbor. Spray collars are sometimes used as last resorts to dogs that keep barking indoors, but the results they provide wary from success to an even worse problem.
Prong collar is a collar of metal, usually, that has blunt edge spokes in it. Whenever the dog oulls, the spikes press against it's skin, causing discomfort and it some cases where the dog launches in the leash for one reason or another, even serious injuries. Just like E-collars and spray collars, prong collars do not teach the dog to walk nicely. They teach the dog pulling hurts. That may give results, but one must think how the results were obtained. Dogs also tend to connect hurting with the collar and once the collar is removed, the dog walking nicely beside the owner may be all over the place all of a sudden. It was taught nothing. It still doesn't know how to walk properly in the leash. It just knows not to pull when the prong collar is on. Just like shock collars, prong collars are also forbidden in many countries.
Many anti-pulling harnesses or muzzle collars make the pulling uncomfortable for the dog. They don't hurt, but they feel odd and the dog finds it easier to move, and more pleasant to move, when it doesnät pull. These tools used alone without any kind of training often produce the same result as the prong collar – the dog keeps pulling as soon as the harness is gone.
To avoid this, tools like this require the dog also being praised from good behavior. This way it does not only learn not to pull when the harness is on but that it is expected to walk nicely with a loose leash.
Tools like these are tools that are supposed to help with controlling the dog while teaching it to behave properly. If the dog is large and it may cause problems with pulling during the training, it is better to use good anti-pull harnesses than risk the owner getting seriously injured when his 78kg mastiff decided it wants to go full speed over the street to greet a yorkie.
Treats and toys.
Seriously. Find what motivated your dog, or any animal for that matter, and use that in teaching. Praise good behavior and coach the dog towards something you want it to do. Praise it when it does right. Treat it with food or a moment of play. Positive reinforcement in the fastes and also most long lasting of teaching methods. Dogs are selfish things that do whatever benefits them and causes them pleasure. It is faster and more effocoent to praise good behavior than just plain punishing from wrong.
A properly timed punishment or command is also a good tool. One must of course remember the dog should never be hurt, but in most cases things don't go as they go in books. You can turn your back to a bouncing chihuahua, but I don't recommend it with a pyrenean. You must make the dog stop it's harmful behavior and if it doesn't respond to a high sound, for example, and you can't leave it on it's own, you must gain control. In many cases this means physically touching the dog, holding it in place, preventing it from acting idiotic and scolding it.
Dogs do need discipline. There are dogs you don't ever need to punish or scold, and dogs that need it all the time specially when they are young. See what your dog can handle and never cross the line. Discipline should not hurt. Pain or fear caused by the owner results in losing trust. With dominant, hard dogs it can also be potentially dangerous as they may answer to pain with force and what started as a play will turn into a fight. Never fight with your dog. You are a human being, and the dog knows it. We do not need our teeth to gain authority. You can't win a dane in fight if the dane decides to fight you. So don't make it. Control it, be an authority, but don't become an enemy. Pain creates an enemy.
Those who leave omelas
Dogs are in many ways like us people when it comes to learning. They do things that benefit them and avoid things that don't or that cause them harm. They are usually curious and they may do things that are perfectly normal to a dog yet highly disliked by us people. In moments like that teaching the dog a new way to behave requires knowing the dog you work with, knowing what motivates it and knowing why it does what it does. Dogging a hole in the garden is fun for the dog, it gets rewarded by it's own mind when it digs a hole. To make it stop one must not only make digging the hole more unpleasant than pleasant (scolding) but also offer something else to do. That way it doesn't only get told digging a hole is wrong but that doing something else is actually more beneficial.
In the end there are many tools in the dog world that work, but one must ask oneself with what cost do they work and if they actually teach the dog anything. There is no fastlane to a perfectly trained dog, unfortunately. It may feel tempting to use some tool that promises fast results, but ask yourself at what cost does it provide those results and if there is a possibility it actually makes the problem worse or even creates a new problem.
We expect pretty much from our dogs. Just remember, when you were 12 months old, you could hardly form words and communicate with your parents and you still pooped your pants. No matter the dog develops faster, there is only so much you can learn in a short period of time.
Give time. Give opportunities. Raise your dog so it wants to try new things and please you rather than lay down afraid of another shock of pain.
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