Training Philosophy & Methods

Training Philosophy & Methods

In bringing a dog into your home, you are making a commitment to teach them how to live in our strange human world. Most behaviors that humans dislike are very normal, natural behaviors for dogs so it’s on us to teach dogs that those behaviors aren’t always appropriate to engage in. There are many ways to teach dogs to do the things we like, and to not do the things we don’t like. The Mannerly Mutt focuses on teaching appropriate, desired, and calm behaviors through the use of positive reinforcement. Dogs are given a reward or access to something they naturally crave after completing a task. Unwanted behaviors are prevented or changed by teaching alternate behaviors, for example to sit when greeting instead of jumping up, or by providing appropriate and constructive outlets for natural behaviors such as providing a digging pit for dogs who love to dig. The Mannerly Mutt does not support the use of pain, fear, force, intimidation, or physical means to try to stop unwanted behaviors. While the dog may stop an unwanted behavior, the fallout is tremendous and damages your relationship with your dog. Punitive tools and methods cause unintended associations to the corrections, and can often cause or exacerbate aggressive behaviors. Dogs are not learning what they should be doing instead of the unwanted behavior. Methods and techniques used by The Mannerly Mutt are “least intrusive, minimally aversive.” Learn more about LIMA. We want dogs to be happily engaged with you, learning, communicating, and choosing to participate instead of merely complying to avoid being punished. Your dog is your best friend and deserves to be treated as such!

What is Positive Reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement means the dog is given something it likes when it demonstrates a certain behavior. By rewarding at the right time the dog learns what is worth performing again, and what isn’t. The most common reward is a food treat but others may include: petting, a toy, a walk, or access to something the dog finds rewarding.

Example: You push a yellow button and are given a piece of candy. Pushing the button is fun! Soon you keep pushing the button even if you don’t get a piece of candy every time- like a slot machine at a casino, you keep playing even though you don’t need to win every time.

Why is it Better?

Traditional methods of dog training are based on teaching to dog to perform behaviors in order to avoid pain and aversives. This can be psychologically damaging to a dog and harms your relationship. Intimidation, fear, and pain do not build a relationship as strong as one obtained by positive methods and often create a dog that is shut down and hesitant to try anything new for fear of being punished. Training is stressful for the dog, and not very fun for the owner either. By using positive reinforcement the dog wants to do things and doesn’t merely comply to avoid aversives. Training and learning is really fun!

Example: With traditional training you are asked to press the yellow button. If you don’t, you are shocked, choked, yelled at, and maybe even hit. If you push any other button, you are also punished. The only reason you choose to push the button is to avoid being hurt.

What Happens When My Dog Doesn’t Listen?

Consequences and corrections are still part of a positive reinforcement based training method, however neither are given when the dog is still learning a new behavior. Consequences and corrections can halt the learning process and cause the dog to give up. “Negative punishment” is implemented whereby the reward is simply withheld from the dog until it does the right thing. This naturally encourages the dog to happily keep trying instead of giving up. Remember that positive does not mean permissive! If the dog is not listening to a cue, we will problem solve to determine why the dog chose not to listen. Usually, the dog did not understand the cue in the given context and needs further instruction to understand. It is unfair to give your dog a cue without first taking the time to teach your dog what their response should be. If your dog does engage in an unwanted behavior while still learning what it should be doing instead, you can learn to interrupt and redirect your dog without the use of scaring or startling, hurting, or intimidating.

Example: When learning that the yellow button gives candy when asked to press it, you decide to press the green button, or maybe you get distracted by something shiny and don’t press yellow. Nothing happens, you are not punished, but you don’t get any candy either. You are asked to press the yellow button again and get a piece of candy and told how amazing you are. You’re not likely to keep trying the other buttons if they never give you any candy. If you have no idea what the yellow button even does, we’ll take a few minutes to show you how rewarding it is. If you keep pressing the green button just because you love the color green, even though you don’t get candy, you can be interrupted and shown that the yellow button is actually really cool too- and maybe as a reward for pressing yellow a few times, we’ll ask you to press green because we know you like to.

Will I Always Need Treats?

No! Also yes, if your dog loves treats. Part of the learning process for basic cues and behaviors involves fading out treats. When learning a new behavior, it’s a treat party with rapid treat delivery like a Pez dispenser to show your dog that this new thing we’re doing is absolutely incredible and worth the time, effort, and attention we’re asking for. Eventually, as your dog understands the certain cue or game, and with practice and consistent rewards, your dog will respond to known cues without needing heavy reinforcement or even a treat. But remember your dog is working for you and deserves a pay check! By offering treats or other rewards randomly for a known behavior, the dog will continue to offer correct responses much like a gambler playing the slot machine. Even though the dog doesn’t “win” the best reward every time, it wins sometimes and wins different things. The dog never knows when a reward will be given, or what it will be, and that makes them addicted to the game. Is the reward a treat? What kind? How many? To get scratches behind the ears? To chase a ball? To get up on the couch? To go for a walk?

Example: You now know that the yellow button is awesome. It makes you happy to push it, you get different kinds of candy, and even if it doesn’t always give you candy you still push it because pushing it is fun and associated with good things. You never know what kind you’ll get, how many, or when you’ll get it!