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Thread: So many different methods of training - the two major competing theories

  1. #1
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    Default So many different methods of training - the two major competing theories

    So since I got my rescue dog I've been reading, watching, learning and generally just living "dog".

    And, as a new dog owner, I have to say; what the hell?! There are SO MANY different, conflicting opinions out there. And they are all from "experts".

    Ian Dunbar - famous dog trainer and so on. He and his wife started up the idea of positive reinforcement yes?

    Yet I've seen on his website him telling dog owners to use a very aggressive (hard and sharp tug on the leash) "Sit-stay" to overcome dog aggression towards other dogs.

    Other experts such as kikopup and tab289 (both on youtube) say that this type of leash pulling is completely unneccessary and in fact counter productive. They also say that any idea of dominance is also a myth and harmful to our relationship with our dogs.

    This confuses me because they both say they use the positive reinforcement model. Yet so does Ian Dunbar, who very obviously uses a type of dominance understanding. I've just started working with a dog trainer of 30 odd years. She insists that I always have to go through doorways first, eat first and so on to ensure Peppa knows I'm her boss. Is this all a load of hogwash?

    It could just be the constant 5am cold nose to the ear wake up calls coupled with late nights. But this is really starting to confuse me. :/

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    I don't really know much about Ian Dunbar, but clearly that's not only positive reinforcement. But it doesn't mean it's dominance theory either. It's positive punishment, I believe. Which can be effective if you combine it with positive reinforcement, though personally I'd be careful using it on a truly reactive dog.

    But I have learnt from this forum that different training methods can work on different dogs and that it's good to keep an open mind. It's still all conditioning. Have a read on the 4 quadrants on operant conditioning, I keep forgetting what they're called.

    Dominance theory however... Totally different kettle of fish. I firmly believe it's total nonsense and belongs in a different era. And it distracts from the more important task of actual conditioning your dog to teach them the behaviours you want them to show.

    Dogs are not that stupid that they would live their lives waiting to rip out your throat so they can become top dog. They are perfectly happy being second or third or 20th in charge. As long as their basic needs are fulfilled and they trust that their leader will give them guidance. They are opportunists.

    It is confusing though... And it kinda comes down to a bit of trial and error.

    I have been recommending the book 'Chill out Fido' since I read it recently. It talks a lot about stress in dogs and is basically aimed at teaching them how to relax. I did lots of the same research as you did and still really enjoyed reading it. And it has some very detailed instructions on teaching certain behaviours.

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ceowulf View Post
    This confuses me because they both say they use the positive reinforcement model. Yet so does Ian Dunbar, who very obviously uses a type of dominance understanding. I've just started working with a dog trainer of 30 odd years. She insists that I always have to go through doorways first, eat first and so on to ensure Peppa knows I'm her boss. Is this all a load of hogwash?
    First of all no it is not hogwash. Yes you do have to be dominant towards your dog and should expect the same kind of respect for your dog that a child shows its parent (or the respect a pack of dogs show their leader). Dominance doesn't mean physical bullying or intimidation, it is more about a state of mind in which one animal is prepared to listen to and obey another.

    There are lots of different dog training methods and most of them work in different ways, just like there is no single "right" method of teaching people. Each method has attributes and limitations, and works better with some breeds more than others.

    "positive reenforcement" means that it is more effective to train a dog through reward than reprimand. I agree with this, dogs' minds are geared towards remembering how things benefit them and associating certain behaviours with reward or no reward. However this does not mean that you should not disagree with a dog's antisocial behaviour. If a dog is aggressive towards other dogs, it should be corrected through a tug on the leash or a stern-sounding word.

    Sometimes people forget that dogs are animals with primitive minds, and as such they need to be communicated to in the same way as they communicate with each other. You think of your world as a safe place, but to a dog an urban environment is just a different type of wilderness. They need to know with no confusion that you are the boss and you will handle anything that happens, otherwise they start getting ideas that they should be in charge to ensure their own survival. Since they don't understand how the urban environment works, this is very bad for them and causes an unbalanced mind.

    Dogs are instinctively geared towards obedience to a strong leader. They enjoy being subordinates because it makes them feel safe, secure, and stable.

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    I often find by telling people to go thru door ways first, eat first etc etc that it get's the person in the "right mindset" for training.

    Do I do that myself - no.

    Some people don't do much formal training or ask much of the dog so those simple things set boundaries for the dog.

    The one thing I firmly don't believe in is treating aggression with aggressive techniques. Some very very good trainers do it well, but for us average people I think the timing is wrong, or understanding the underlying reason for the aggression is misunderstood.

    Take the word dominant and replace it with leadership and you are on the right track. Dogs like leaders, or bosses might also be a better word. I'd rather work for a fair, clear and concise boss, than one that yells, smacks me around or confuses me, so do dogs. The boss is in control, sets the boundaries, tells me what to do, what my job is and rewards me with a pay packet. Positive training is like a pay packet, the clicker or marker word is the money going in the bank, the treat is spending that money.

    The other thing I firmly believe in is not to expect instant results from ANY method. Training takes time. Settling in a new dog takes time. Training a dog takes short training sessions several times a day to get results, skip from one thing to the next and you get nowhere.
    Last edited by MAC; 12-05-2012 at 09:10 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mosh View Post
    Sometimes people forget that dogs are animals with primitive minds, and as such they need to be communicated to in the same way as they communicate with each other.
    And this is what the biggest disagreement is about in the dog training world. Because the way the old "dominance theory" supporters think dogs communicate in the wild was based on an interpretation of observations of a pack of wolves in captivity. It has long been established that wolves living in family packs in the wild behave very differently. And we now also have the benefit of observations of packs of wild dogs and village dogs that tell a very different story. The biggest revelation being that they do not tend to challenge the authority of the pack leader and very rarely behave aggressively towards eachother. They are way better team players than initially thought.

    ETA: You are not using one of the dog training companies like BB are you?
    Last edited by Beloz; 12-05-2012 at 09:17 AM.

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    I don't know about not challenging the leader. Most households don't get to see the structure of a pack. Having several dogs I do get to see the different structures and family packs. I have a mother, father and daughter here and you could say they operate as a sub-pack within my pack.

    I also then have the Whippets who despite there being a family unit within they then have a sub-pack of their own breed. My other two different breeds are then on the outside of this pack.

    And then when it comes to defending their territory they are a whole pack.

    I have one bitch who constantly comes into season. There is nothing physically wrong with her, she is elevating her position by being the bitch ready to mate.

    The interactions between them and their pack structure is not fighting, it's much more subtle and more body posturing and nudging, neck arching & up on toes.
    Last edited by MAC; 12-05-2012 at 09:27 AM.

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    I meant more as in "they are not constantly waiting for an opportunity to take over the leadership position". Other than that, they are probably like most living creatures: opportunists who will try to get away with doing what they want if they see a chance.

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    Ah yes. Totally agree.

    I think people just need to decide what suits them. It doesn't suit me to feed my dogs after me. But I'm not a push over for their wants either.

    My skids grandparents dog used to growl at the skids when they tried to get into bed of a night, this was when they were about 6 or 7. They are now much older and the dog has much more respect for them and sees them in a whole new light, even likes them now.

    They really don't do anything different when they are at their grandparents now as back then. But the dog knows they are no longer little kids to be pushed around. This is not uncommon with kids and dogs. And it's not as though they have suddenly started to feed or train the dog, it's just the aura and physical bearing of the kids is more grown up and the dog recognises this.

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    I guess you're right. And I do enforce respect from my dog in that regard, but I do it almost unconsciously. Any new pet in my house learns very quickly to not come anywhere near my plate of food ever. I will growl and threaten if they do and I apparently make such a big impression that they never try again. Same with stealing my spot in bed! Other than for those two things, I don't use these tactics for anything else. Because I don't think I could pull it off if it was premeditated.

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    Ian Dunbar - famous dog trainer and so on. He and his wife started up the idea of positive reinforcement yes?

    - no - much older than him. Skinner and Pavlov started it. Or first documented it.
    but getting paid with something you value for your work is the same thing.

    I'd agree with Kikopup (and Susan Garrett) and Paul McGreevy (Australian Vet behaviourist academic), that using aversives (things the dog doesn't like) can be counter productive. Has been for me - so I avoid as much as possible, dishing them out. For my evil hound - being ignored or not getting a treat or being told "try again" is enough of a "correction" for her.

    The alpha dog - dominance rolls and basing dog training on what wolves do - that original study has largely been debunked - including by the guy that originally wrote it - but trainers like Cesar Milan still use that (bad) information to explain why they do what they do. Sometimes their fix is good but their reason is all crap and something else is going on. Old Cesar Milan stuff make me cringe because the dogs end up terrifed of him (not submissive).

    Ian Dunbar uses rewards and aversives depending on context. Again - his older stuff - is probably not as valid. But what is valid - is stopping your dog from doing what you don't want, or letting it make all the decisions in the house for you. That's like letting a 2yo toddler make the decisions. Do you think there would be any food but lollies? Nope. They're quite happy to make the decisions but they have no idea what's in their best long term interest.

    So I'm not completely rigid - what's ok with me, might not be with someone else and what's not ok etc. But as long as the dog is not calling all the shots (eg she's in my bed and I'm on the floor - that would be bad and anyway she's rather we were both in the same bed but there isn't room and I wriggle too much...). With some dogs, it's really important to establish your ground rules early and be totally consistent. Especially the big ones. But a small yapping demanding biting dog calling all the shots is pretty bad too, just not as scary.

    Here's some stuff that updates the current wolf pack structures. Domestic dogs don't follow the same system - ie left to their own devices - they're only in a pack when there is enough food around to support that - otherwise they go solo.

    CanineSquad - Shaun Ellis

    and an interview with Jodi Picault who wrote a book based on wolf pack structure and for her research - spent time with Shaun Ellis. Download the podcast - the wolf stuff is at the beginning after the intros. Jodi Picoult - ABC Conversations with Richard Fidler - Australian Broadcasting Corporation

    And if you want to get really confused about training methods, read up on "operant conditioning". And "Positive Reinforcement". There is a hell of a lot of confusion with the scientific terms that have specific meaning and well meaning dog trainers - who confuse positive with "good" and negative with "bad" when the science is referring to "positive" as "adding something" which might be good or bad from the dog's Point of view (POV), and "negative" as subtracting or removing something that might be "good" or "bad".

    For now - for your OCD dog, I'd focus on methods I'd like to try and ones that mean you give your dog lots of things she likes for doing what you want. And I'd avoid the methods that require you to do things your dog finds physically painful or uncomfortable.

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