There is a new marketing movement in dog training that promises results (did I say what kind?) and many times the time and effort to get them. Do a search for Dog Trainers and 90% of copy you will read will have to have the word “Positive” in it, and some will even take the really high road claiming exclusively “Positive Only” Dog Training. And who wouldn’t want that?
“Positive Only” has become the new buzz word for Dog Trainers who are marketing their services to the uninformed public, and it sounds absolutely wonderful.
The Freakanomics of this Positive Only scam is as natural a win/win for the dog trainer/behaviorists as fully leaded Coca-Cola and Captain Crunch cereal is for the dental profession.
I am predicting that this will get the phones ringing for dog trainers everywhere. If you are a Dog Behaviorist, or working raising funds for your local dog shelter, you should be thanking the zealots and True Believers who are pushing this myopic view of training. It guarantees plenty of paying clients with dog problems to solve, and naturally more dogs ending up in shelters as a result. But for those of us who don’t make a living off of the ignorance of the public, and especially if YOU are the public I am talking about, then it is highly misleading, and chances are you won’t be walking your positive-only Trained dog off lead on a public street or park any time soon.
This whole emotional approach reminds me of the pork-barrel political legislation that comes up for a vote whenever a self-serving politician needs a bill passed to throw tax money at his home district, and so he titles the bill something like “Save the Children-puppies-elderly-unborn, etc.” What kind of person would vote against saving puppies and children? Those opposed have to go on record as voting NOT to “Save the Children!” Never mind whats in the bill, that will never make it to the 5 second sound byte.
It is this kind of legislated reality that has not saved anyone, especially our children. As a matter of fact, if my calculations are anywhere near correct, our kids are totally screwed.
Back to misleading and emotionally targeted marketing campaigns.
“Positive Only” Training is at least 70-80% of a rational approach in my opinion, so I would probably drop the “Only.” I talk a lot about training for what I like to call the Real World. That world (the only one I have ever known) means that in order to live very long in it, there has to be some kind of realization that there are more than just positive consequences out there. I love my dogs, and the last thing I want is reality teaching my dog about negative consequences.
My dog ignoring me and my treats to run across the freeway after a squirrel –that is the real world– and being told by my trainer to “try it again and use better treats, or that he is “undertrained” and needs more repetition” is not going to do either one of us a lot of good. Maybe on the next dog…
If I need to interrupt a pattern like this with a correction so that the dog experiences the “softer” version of reality and experiencing consequences that he can learn and remember to avoid, I am more than ready to provide a learning experience that is sufficiently negative. It is my duty as a responsible and loving parent to provide this kind of feedback for him to survive this minefield that is our world. This is called leadership. Can it sometimes be Is it “aversive?” You bet, Sunshine.
Basically Here is the 800 lb Gorilla that no one is naming: The “Positive Only” is a code used by an extreme group of wack- jobs against people who are deathly afraid to stand up to them lest they be be labeled abusive. It is a guilt-trip that would make a catholic blush.
This whole mess is an overreaction carried over from a time decades ago when training methods employed by most professionals were sometimes seen as highly physical and punitive in their application. The majority of the trainers loved dogs just like you or I, but the methods were still being developed and were in a dynamic state of change to more positive methods that vastly improved the effectiveness of the training. Most of the old school trainers who clung to a static method that didn’t move into more positive are now known as “Yank and Crank” trainers, because they physically force the dog, or “correct” the dog into the actions they desire.
This is the equivalent of the extremes of how we educate our kids. The pendulum started at “Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child.” I can remember being the recipient of three “Swats” after I made a sarcastic remark to a Fifth grade substitute teacher–an old battle-ax we nicknamed “Iron Arm Anderson” (she had 50 silver bracelets on her left arm). No parental permission, just bend over and grab your knees and get your ass clubbed with a paddle the size of a Fender Telecaster. The next decade saw the pendulum swing out of the “sit down and shut up” mode of my pre-teens to the “Self Esteem movement” in the 80’s. This “Positive Only” approach was highly touted as the new educational breakthrough and swung to opposite extreme, turning our kids into science and math illiterates compared to almost every other developing nation, but we retained the top ranking when it came to believing they were good at Math.
There is a hard reality lesson to be learned here as well–that is why you might have already started teaching your kids Chinese.
Good and talented trainers, who didn’t drink the Positive-Only Kool Aide, have been lumped into the “aversive” pile by these crazies. It is sad that the only way these people can compete with a real-results of balanced approach is to imply that ANY training that attaches consequences to bad choices or includes ANY corrections is somehow “Punishment Based.”
Most of the truly effective “Positive Only” trainers I know are comprised of people who for lack of balls, or for pure profit motive, are just giving the term mere lip service so the public will hire them–at least the ones I’ve seen that can actually get results. They use it as the buzz word that it is and continue doing what they’ve always done that works. After all, no one wants to be the one who votes against “Save the Children,” right?
There is as much BS and misinformation about the brutality of these methods as there is at the other extreme with the Positive Only Crowd. In future posts I will be sharing my experiences with both extremes and how they are actually two sides of counterfeit coin, and you should watch out for anyone who claims to be on the extreme end of either.
I have said before, Dog Trainers are a strange breed–they usually don’t agree about much of anything. Get two of them together, and the only thing they’ll usually agree on is how wrong a third one is. (Who isn’t there.)
While they argue, I’m taking my dogs (without leashes) down to a nice sidewalk cafe on the Plaza for coffee. I seldom run into these people and their trained dogs out in the real world.