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I am sure this has been covered a number of times before, but we got a new puppy three months ago after loosing one of our dogs at the end of last year, and as it had been 10 years since we had brought up and trained a puppy, we decided it would be worthwhile enrolling in puppy classes again. But in 10 years things seem to have changed, and not for the better. It all seems to be about 'positive reinforcement' now, and for us, that leaves out some pretty essential aspects of dog training.

Firstly it is important to say that I not an expert dog trainer, or K9 behaviourist, just an ordinary person who has lived with dogs all of my life. Our dogs are an integral parts of our lives, and we have always raised them to be a part of our family, loved them, cared for them, and have a mutually rewarding relationship. But my recent experience with puppy classes has left me cold, and worried.

We have always used rewards as part of training (whether with food, play or simply attention), and I agree it is an essential in training a dog. Barney (our newest addition, a German Shepherd / Lab cross) has been house trained in 5 weeks using mostly reward based training. But, as with all of our previous (well adjusted, happy dogs), we also use similar methods based on dominance theory to correct unwanted behaviour. When training our last dog we both found Caesar Milan's methods very effective, and his books inspirational, but the dog training community seems to have largely attempted to debunk his theories and methods. My (our) experience is that raising a dog using his methods results in a wonderful, trusting, happy companion, as is demonstrated by our little Clara.

I have now read hundreds of articles on the internet to try and work out what has changed; why there seems to have been such a change in dog training in the last 10 years, and have concluded that I don't personally agree with many of the conclusions that have been drawn, particularly the apparently accepted belief that dogs are not pack animals with a dominance based hierarchy, as this flies in that face of everything I have experienced with dogs all of my life. It appears that 'dominance' has been made synonymous with violence or aggression, rather than with respect, trust and proportional correction. Following Caesars methods, we NEVER hit our dogs, or act aggressively towards them, but we do correct them imitating the same methods as their mother would where verbal prompts have been ineffective, and to great effect. All our dogs have very quickly, and without upset of fear, got the message. I think the key that many people who oppose Caesars' methods are missing is that you never correct a dog while you are angry or frustrated. You have to be confident, calm, and matter of fact, and maintaining that calm, let you dog know that you don't accept certain behaviour. Then, when your dog shows that they get it, and start to self correct (very evident in Barney, our puppy), you praise him, and reinforce the good behaviour. It simply works, with every dog I have ever had. I have also managed to help friends with 'problematic' behaviour in their own dogs using the same methods. So, I am confused. Why oh why has the dog training community rejected these methods so wholeheartedly??

Dogs are dogs, and in my opinion and experience they are a pack animal, similar to their wolf ancestors. The one article that I have read that makes the most sense to me is the following:

https://www.dogtraining.world/dominance-in-dog-training-debunked-or-is-it/

Am I completely wrong?
 

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Well what's your definition of pack? Because if it's like their wolf ancestors, it would be a mother and father raising their pups together. Dogs don't mate for life, a male will mate with a female in heat and move on. The mother raises the pups on her own and then they typically disperse after they're weaned.

The "wolf pack" "alpha wolf" model was based off of research done on captive wolves (an unnatural environment and social structure) in 1948 by a researcher named Rudolph Schenkel. Since then this oversimplified, romanticized view of wolf behavior kind of blew up. But since then biologists have found that in natural environments wolves live in family groups actually similar to humans, and don't really fight to be alpha. They just become parents.

Do dogs view human owners as parents/family too? Or do they think they need to fight us to be dominant? I would think that as dogs developed as a species, aggressive, dominant animals would have been culled by humans. Our ancestors would have wanted dogs that worked with them to hunt and guard and herd, not against them.

Dog training is now viewed through the lens of "learning theory" which includes operant conditioning. Operant conditioning has four quadrants, which is where positive reinforcement comes from. Essentially, with operant conditioning, the animal performs a behavior, and then there is a consequence for that behavior which reinforces (makes the behavior stronger) or punishes (makes the behavior weaker). Positive reinforcement is a consequence that makes the behavior stronger by giving something pleasant to the dog- praise, treats, play, etc. Negative reinforcement strengthens a behavior by taking away something unpleasant- letting a dog off leash for good behavior, stopping an e collar stim. Positive punishment weakens a behavior by giving the dog something unpleasant- typically verbal or physical corrections. Negative punishment weakens a behavior by taking away something pleasant like withholding an expected reward, removing your attention if the dog acts inappropriately (for example turning your back if the dog jumps on you when you're petting him).

There is no such thing as "purely positive" training. I believe all trainers and owners will inevitably use all of the quadrants in the dogs life whether they mean to or not. What defines a trainer for me is which quadrants they emphasize and try to stay in. Positive trainers mainly use positive reinforcement and negative punishment. Balanced trainers use all four quadrants. But even the balanced trainers I know think dominance theory is an inaccurate and unhelpful way to view dogs.

As far as I've seen, both philosophies "work." And if they both work, why not use the kinder, more humane approach?

Both my dogs have been trained with positive dog training methods. My last dog was always perfect and well behaved and was SO easy to train. She knew so many tricks, was friendly to everyone, and listened amazingly when she was off leash.

My current dog is an anxious, fearful little rescue. Very reactive, especially at first. I have learned so much about dog training and behavior through working with her through her fears. And at first I had my doubts too, because progress is very slow and hard to see. I wondered if I was doing the right thing, that maybe the balanced trainers were right and I could solve her problems with a good correction. But I felt with her very sensitive, fearful temperament, if that was the wrong thing to do, it could do more damage than good. For example, she is fearful of people. If I corrected her while she was reacting to people:

1) She would likely associate the correction with what she is scared of (the people) rather than her behavior- that's classical or Pavlovian conditioning, another piece of learning theory. She could even associate the correction with me instead of her behavior. Pavlovian conditioning is when an organism associates the consequence with the stimulus rather than with their behavior- think of Pavlov's dogs associating the food with the sound of a bell, rather than the behavior they were engaging in at the time.

The risk of using punishment is that the dog could associate the punishment with a stimulus in their environment and create a negative association with that stimulus, rather than actually correcting the behavior. An older member on this forum once said something like "Pavlov's always on your shoulder" which was a saying I liked. I can't quite remember who- it could have been Grabby, who I haven't seen here in a while. It related to what I learned in my learning and behavior classes in college that operant and Pavlovian conditioning are always working in conjunction with each other.

2) At that point when she is over her threshold and reacting to something "scary," she's not going to be in any state of mind to actually learn from a correction.

But I took classes from two amazing agility trainers, I had a private consult with a trainer that specialized in anxiety, and I'm taking a Reactive Rover class right now with another positive trainer. And when I look back, we have achieved so much. I can bring Delilah on walks downtown without her barking at all of the people around us. We can have guests over at the house without her snarling and lunging at them the entire time (she would carry on for hours- even when we put her in a separate room)- the last time we had a (male!) friend over she barked a couple of times but then was able to concentrate on other things, like a puzzle toy and obedience exercises. Her off leash skills are improving too, but her being a terrier, I don't fully trust her enough to let her off leash. Although we went hiking yesterday and in the middle of chasing a bird, she stopped and ran back to me, which was very impressive. All of this was achieved with positive training methods. They do work if you put in the time and effort!

Lastly, talking about Cesar Millan on any dog forum or site is going to start an argument, just a heads up. But if you know anything about dog body language- the dogs he works with are not usually "calm and submissive" after, they are usually shut down and fearful. I wonder if the training sticks after Cesar leaves and the cameras stop rolling. I guess you never know because he has the owners sign non disclosure agreements.
 

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Dog packs are actually kind of a myth. Left to themselves, dogs coyotes and wolves don't form packs, they organize as family groups. Packs are something that happens when we group a bunch of unrelated dogs together - they'll organize themselves in a way that makes sense to them. This is what happens with Cesar Milan's dogs. If we have dogs in our families, they don't want us to be a pack leader, they want us to be a senior family member - a parent. Temple Grandin discusses this detail in her book "Dogs Make Us Human".
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B003K16PGE/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

You can drop dominance theory. The dominance hierarchy doesn't exist in the kind of environment that you want to have with your dogs. You are absolutely correct in imitating the behavior of dog parents who are trying to shape the behavior of their offspring. Avoid any kind of correction for the first couple of months, and after that use only short, sharp vocalizations to stop unwanted behavior. Then you can use praise and rewards (reinforced by a click, if you want) to shape their behavior.
 

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Thank you so much for your reply...and for the warning about how emotive mentioning Caesar can be on these forums. I wasn't really inspired by the television series because it's obviously sensationalized to meet an ever growing public appetite for thrills and quick fixes. I was however impressed by his books like 'How to Raise the Perfect Dog' which sensibly takes into account breed characteristics and energy levels. I read that book again before getting Barney, to put me in the right frame of mind to raise a new puppy. He is doing great by the way, a happy, inquisitive, playful and respectful 6 month old, but despite my experience with dogs, I was getting worried that I might be doing something wrong.

I am trying to pick my way through this subject, which is much more complicated than I ever imagined, and find myself in agreement with you on most points. Those points that I struggle with comes down more to interpretation of terms rather than anything fundamental. I have no idea whether dogs see us as dogs, or as something completely different, and frankly, to me, it doesn't really matter; we bond with our dogs, and that's real. The term 'dominance' is a word that obviously has bad connotations to some people, invoking images of conflict and aggression. For me, it doesn't mean that at all. I see it more as taking control / responsibility for a situation, in other words, taking leadership. If you want a dog to follow, you need them to respect and have confidence in you, and you will become dominant without the negative connotations. For me, even where negative reinforcement becomes necessary, anger or aggression plays no part in it, and I'm sorry, but especially when bringing up a puppy, imitating the way the mother disciplines her pups works wonders. I even keep my voice calm when disciplining, and it works for me.

I have taken the time to look at Dr. Mech's research, which he partially retracted, on dominance behaviour in grey wolves. I understand that wild wolf packs are now known to be family units, with the mother and father 'leading' their offspring, but Dr. Mech still maintains that in an unnatural pack, where wolves are not a family unit, such as in captivity, then the concept of an Alpha male / female is still evident, with tussles for dominance. Probably over simplified, but I see a closer analogue with wolves in captivity and our family pets, than with wild wolves.

Reading your post for the third time, I am realizing that we really are not at odds with each other. The way we train our dogs is not punitive, and we always pick up the positive reinforcement tool first. For example, when house training Barney we did the following:

1. Got used to his habits, so we knew when he is more likely to want to go to the toilet (after feeding, after play etc.). That then enabled us to take him outside at the right time, and praise him when he goes outside (with treats). We also started associating the phrase 'be clean' at this point as he was doing it.
2. After a period of a couple of weeks doing this, and only once we we were sure he understood the concept we started telling him off if he peed or pooped in the house, and took him straight outside. This obviously only works if you catch him in the act, and never retrospectively. If we don't witness it, then we just clean it up, and say nothing.

This way, he was house trained in 5 weeks. Barney does not fear us, but he does respect us, and the rules we lay down.

We have trained him for recall, and the other basic commands in the same way, and although not completely consistent yet (he's only 6 months old), he is very good.

May I request some more specific advice please? There is one behaviour which Barney exhibits which we have had little or no success correcting in a positive way, and have resorted to negative enforcement. Our other dog is a 7 year old Sprocker. She loves her ball, and could be interpreted as obsessive about it, although it has never posed us a problem; she is good with other dogs, and responds to command without issue. The problem is with Barney. He seems to see her obsession as a sign of weakness, and will stalk her constantly, chase her and bite her on the neck when she is playing fetch with us. He doesn't appear aggressive at all, more playful, but Clara is so committed when running for the ball that his playing has resulted in scratches on her neck from his teeth. We cannot allow this to continue. Barney is almost as single minded as Clara is with her ball when he does this, ignoring any distraction we try with him. The only solution I have found to date is to put him on lead, and watch for the intense 'locked in' expression on his face when he starts to obsess about Clara, and correct it by leading him away while verbally telling him know. He is now improving using this method, and will about half of the time now run with her, and not bite her, but still requires correction on every walk.
My Question: Is there a better way of dealing with this, or similar behaviour in a more positive way? I don't want to get to the stage where walking or playing ball in the garden is a chore because we are continuously having to correct Barney.
 

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The way I'd handle this is to involve a trainer, the biting on the back of the neck is a bad sign.

I would expect an R+ fix would include counter conditioning clara getting the ball by making sure there was plenty of distance between the dogs and rapid fire treating Barney every time Clara touches the ball. Thus Clara getting the ball = food from you. Once he starts looking for the treats you can add marking attention to you and giving a reward thus Clara getting the ball cues looking at you.
 

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The way I'd handle this is to involve a trainer, the biting on the back of the neck is a bad sign.

I would expect an R+ fix would include counter conditioning clara getting the ball by making sure there was plenty of distance between the dogs and rapid fire treating Barney every time Clara touches the ball. Thus Clara getting the ball = food from you. Once he starts looking for the treats you can add marking attention to you and giving a reward thus Clara getting the ball cues looking at you.
I agree, it is a bad sign, and we won't accept it. Whether is conforms to the current way of thinking or not, it is dominant behaviour, between pack members (for want of a better phrase).Your suggestion seems like simply distraction, when what I want to impart to Barney is that that is never acceptable behaviour with ANY dog, no matter what. I'm just not as effective as I'd like to be in getting that point across.
 

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My suggestion was to get a trainer.

The training techniques I mentioned are not distractions they are based on changing the emotional response and then behavioral response. Put simply he eventually finds that when Clara has the ball it is beneficial to be concentrating on you.

This is not a place where you will find advice on how to correct your dog effectively because the forum specifically forbids them.
 

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I honestly do not have the time and patience to read all of this nonsense, but I do know that this forum is a Positive Reinforcement Forum as stated in our rules http://www.dogforum.com/dogforum-community-rules/dogforum-com-rules-1606/ Number 13. If that is not the method you choose to train in that's ok, but that methodology is not welcome here. Threads like this tend to cause arguments that escalate. I am closing this thread.
 
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