• Cindy Benson

Why Can’t I Just Say “No!”??

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

This is eight month old Armani.....notice his soft countenance with the sheep.

Well, you can, of course you can, but doing so comes at a cost to the dog and his relationship with you, even if you do it “nicely”.

The question in the title of this blog comes up VERY often as I talk with prospective buyers of our pups because I ask that they not tell their new pups “no”. Rather, I ask that they interrupt the behavior they don’t appreciate and redirect it to a behavior that they do like. In both cases the dog stops the undesired behavior but how the two methods of training feel to the dog is profoundly different.

I am a continuing student of behavioral science, both through formal education and practical experience with my dogs. Most of my formal education has come from the Karen Pryor Academy.

Karen Pryor is both a scientist and a trainer; she writes:

“What an unpleasant event will do, predictably, is to shift the dog’s emotional state from one of enthusiastic interest to a condition of avoidance and caution.

That state of anxiety vastly slows down the acquisition of new information; the animal is now only interested in getting away from the situation. That is not a suitable emotional state for continuing training.”

When I read that second paragraph a vision of the “independent” LGD popped into my head…

Dogs learn to cope with imperfect training, and imperfect events in life for that matter, but the behaviors they come up with in coping may cause an owner great frustration, such as a dog that learns not to come when called.

Dogs trained with correction based methods – and unfortunately that means most dogs – often worry when training happens, when being given commands, and work to avoid the situation because they know if they fail to give the correct response something unpleasant will happen.

Dogs trained with positive reinforcement methods become excited and happy when given cues because those cues represent an opportunity for reward that wasn’t there a minute ago. This is true because the dog knows he cannot fail; this knowledge is based on his learned training history. If he responds incorrectly to the cue he is redirected, as an emotional re-set, and then is given the opportunity to earn the reward again. There is very little stress for the dog in this situation.

If you use correction based training on a dog (one of mine for sure) raised and trained with positive reinforcement based training you will create a dog who becomes fearful and insecure, possibly in his environment too but certainly insecure around the person who, from his perspective, became untrustworthy. He will become insecure; he may also become aggressive and unpredictable. He is very likely to avoid the person who “corrected” him. These are learned coping skills for a situation that makes no sense to the dog.

Most of the buyers of my pups have correction based training as the methodology they have history with and are most comfortable with. Usually, they have also come to me, in part, because they are looking for an improved training relationship with their dogs. So, they are open to new ideas but change is often uncomfortable, indeed sometimes truly frustrating!

I think of my training skills as being tools in my tool box. When I was learning about positive reinforcement training I felt like some of my tools were being taken away, and I thought boy, you’d better replace them with something else because I still need to be able to ask for compliance from my dogs. In the early days it often felt like a clumsy, and sometimes scary, journey as I transitioned between these two methods of training.

There are soooo many training books out there, and sooo many trainers, and so many opinions about training that it can feel overwhelming to even know where to start. What I would like you to have as a take away from this blog is this: “Go to the science!” Being sure you have that answer can be challenging too but it does narrow the field. Training based on behavioral science, rather than fads or opinions, makes sense to the dog. Most dogs will give you their hearts and really try hard for you if they understand what you are looking for and if they feel safe.

101 views1 comment