"When I ask behavior professionals, 'What are your eyes for?' they enthusiastically reply, 'To see!' But when I ask, 'What is your behavior for?' conference rooms fall silent."
Dr. Susan Friedman, Ph.D
Behavioral science has taught us that all animal behavior (whether it is a pet chihuahua or a large bull elephant) serves a purpose. This simple fact opened up a new door in the animal training world many years ago. First embraced by marine mammal trainers (who needed to find a hands-off method to teach large potentially dangerous animals how to offer precise behaviors at a particular moment), the concept of applying science to animal training is now finally being brought into the life of everyday pet owners.
Decades ago the dog training world was defined by misunderstood captive wolf behavior and resulted in years of domesticated dog owners being told they must acheive and maintain the "alpha" position within their home. Terms like "dominant" became used to describe a dog's personality (see this article HERE or this one HERE for more info about why that is not an accurate use of that term) and being a good pet owner meant always ensuring your dog knew who was the boss. Complete submissive obedience and compliance (often acheived through punishment or the threat of pain) was the indicator that you had a "good" dog.
Today, modern dog training is different. We have expanded our understanding of how dog behavior works and have developed techniques and methods which allow us to change animal behavior without engaging in a power struggle (physically or relationally). Generally speaking these methods involve reinforcing behaviors which we like (Positive Reinforcement) and redirecting/removing reinforcement for those behaviors which we don't like. The American Veteinary Society of Animal Behavior, along with many rescue groups, veterinarians, and humane societies are now recommending owners find trainers who use positive reinforcement methods rather than the traditional punishment based methods. Unfortunately, every trainer utilizes positive reinforcement differently (some of which still combine it with punishment) so we understand how difficult it can be to choose which trainer and method will be both humane and effective.
Below you will find a chart created by Dr. Susan Friedman which can be used to determine how effective and/or stressful many common training methods may be for your dog. In an effort to never use excessive force, she recommends always starting with training methods at the bottom and only cautiously moving up the "road" when absolutely necessary and under the direct care of a highly qualified individual. At Right on Cue Dog Training we primarily use the red, green, purple, and blue methods. We never utilize positive punishment as we feel that possible efficacy does not justify the very serious physical, behavioral and ethical risks assciated with it. See our FAQ page for more information about how our choice in training methods may relate to your dog's training.
For more information about the specific techniques you can expect to use while working with Right On Cue Dog Training, read below!
Right On Cue Dog Training is always working to improve our training methods and expand our understanding of animal behavior, so we often incorporate techniques and theories from various training methods. We've listed here three of the training techniques we frequently use, along with a brief description of each.
Clicker training utilizes an audible (or sometimes visual) marker, such as a mechanical click, to communicate to our dogs the exact behavior which will result in reinforcement. The marker is always followed by something which the dog enjoys, like a treat. The marker very clearly communicates which behavior we liked and the treat makes it more likely that that behavior will happen again. Clicker training adds a level of precision to training which can greatly improve the speed and precision at which dogs learn new behaviors. Furthermore, studies have shown that the sound of the click will be processed by the emotional center of the brain even before the logic center, so it can be a useful tool in conditioning a positive emotional response in situations which previously caused the dog fear or stress.
We love clicker training and recommend it for most of our clients. If you would like more information, check out this website: www.clickertraining.com
Desensitization and Counter Conditioning
Dogs who over-react (out of excitement, fear, or anger) towards particular triggers, often act that way because they were not exposed to that trigger frequently during their primary development period, had a bad experience with the trigger which formed a negative assocation with it, or they may simply have spent years repeating the same chain of behaviors which engrained a patterned (emotional) response. In many of these situations we use a combination of desensitization and counter conditioning to help the dogs create new positive associations and behavioral patterns with the triggers. Desensitization refers to exposing an animal (or person) to the trigger at such a low intensity there is no negative reaction, and then increasing the intensity so slowly you ideally will never get a reaction. An example of this would be playing a soundtrack of scary noises on a volume so quiet the noise-phobic dog would not even appear to notice it was playing. Over the course of hours or days the volume may be gradually increased allowing the association to change from negative to neutral.
Counter Conditioning refers to changing an assocation from negative to positive by exclusively pairing something the dog loves (ideally a primary reinforcer such as food) to the trigger. An example would be standing at a distance from the trigger where the dog felt comfortable then as the trigger moved slightly closer, quickly feeding the dog his all-time favorite treat. This teaches the dog that only time he gets that great thing is when the trigger approaches- which gradually changes his negative feelings towards the trigger to positive ones.
For more information on the use of these techniques with over-reactive dogs, visit http://careforreactivedogs.com/
Behavioral Adjustment Training was developed by trainer Grisha Stewart and is one of the least intrusive yet still effective methods available today, particularly for dogs dealing with fear, frustration, or aggression issues. The goal of this training is to manipulate (or create) particular siuations which give us the opportunity to naturally desensitize our dogs to stressful triggers without manipulating their emotions with either food or punishment. We use natural reinforcers such as the dog's desire for distance (a common goal for dogs demonstrating aggressive behavior) to reinforce their socially appropriate choices such as turning away from a stressor.
This method shares many similar techniques to those in clicker training, however it contains a few unique leash handling skills and an overall emphasis on the benefits associated with empowering an animal to choose appropriate behaviors independently, so we often incorporate aspects of it into much of our dog training. For more information, check out this website: http://grishastewart.com/bat-overview/