The many problems of treat training and positive reinforcement – Part 2

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The motivation level found within food treats is always SUBJECTIVE.  Meaning each individual dog (the subject) determines whether they are motivated by the food or not motivated by it.  This is a huge problem in the dog training industry and amongst trainers and behaviorists and for any dog owners that cling to this fragile form of external motivation!

 

Example:  Let’s look at 3 dogs and let’s say we only use food just positive reinforcement as it’s taught by a vast majority of professionals today to motivate them – The first dog is highly motivated by food (he gets very excited and will perform obedience in a hasty manner- many behaviorists and trainers adore these types of dogs because any layman with even rudimentary skill can easily make them perform tricks).  The second dog is only somewhat motivated by food (she will only perform obedience if you offer what trainers call “high value” or incredibly smelly dog treats or human food).  And the third dog is totally unmotivated by food (usually because this 3rd dog is living at a level of fear, anxiety, or aggression wherein he is NOT smelling and tasting the world the way he, and all healthy, socially normal dogs, naturally should be…instead this dog lives his life through his secondary senses – vision and hearing.  Vision and hearing, when overused, always lead to behavioral problems.  Too much vision and hearing lead to fight or flight behaviors and not to eating.  (If you have ever been in a physical altercation or fight you know that eating is the farthest thing from your mind and body at that moment)

So what does the unskilled trainer or behaviorist that only clings to one rigid method of training do for the second and third dogs in our example?  First, when normal treats fail, they come up with excuses and explain to the dog owner how they must find a “higher value” food motivator for their pet.  Then the shoddy pro trainer will typically talk about adding more and more motivation/excitement to the dog (which is really insane when the ultimate goal of the caring dog owner is to have a wonderfully adept, socially normal dog that is fit for the modern world in which we live – which is incidentally a world that is much calmer in many cities and towns than it used to be throughout ancient times and even a couple hundred years ago when dogs were actively employed as our workers.  All dog owners want trust but the way the majority of trainers and dog owners go about getting that trust doesn’t work well for them because they assume adding food and tricks means you can trust the animal).  The trainer who espouses the extremely rigid “positive only” method typically doesn’t know much about parenting in the human family or among the canine family group.  This is why they often have incredibly over emotionalized responses (just read the internet for proof) to anything and everything excepting their one rigid method.

(I will also note here that I’ve observed locally that a majority of these professional “treat-only” trainers are single people or are people without their own human children.  These folks don’t have kids.  (I have four terrific kids – fyi – and I don’t build my relationship with them based on paying them or treating them non-stop) I think that is interesting to consider because everyone knows it would be extremely poor parenting to shove candy down an already bratty child’s throat in place of the proper time, energy, conversation, exercise, discipline, socialization, and loving affection that goes into raising a socially healthy child.  It is a cliche when we think of the dead beat father or mother who tries to make up for a lacking relationship with their own children by way of extra “high value” presents given to the kids at Christmas and birthdays.  Tragically, this is what passes as “scientific” and “modern” dog training today and has over the past several decades.

(I don’t know how these trainers managed to persuade people into thinking these techniques are “scientific” or even “modern” because all external motivation, be it positive or punitive, was proven by teams of scientists in the 1970s (not modern) and then by different teams again in the 1980s (not modern) to be shallow external motivation with results that fade in the long term!  Please re-read.  I mean to say that if you rely on external positive reinforcement (food) or on external aversive/punitive reinforcement (pain) the subject/dog may alter their behavior in the short term (dogs 1 and 2 from our example) but the dog will quickly go back into their old ways in the long term which then elicits the unyielding and overemotional dog trainer or unwitting dog owner to have to consistently give their dog a “raise,” and go to a higher value food treat or, on the opposite end go with a rougher more painful technique as time keeps passing!

And this endless poor parenting (and poor training) procedure has been neatly packaged and sold to the masses, to you and I, by giant conglomerates that just so happen to sell a buttload of treats and bad training!  Isn’t that wild?  Follow the money, people.  I guess we have our answer as to how it became common vernacular to say that dropping a ton of treats on the floor to stop a dog from jumping up on a person is somehow “scientific” and “modern” instead of simply telling the truth and saying it’s “ridiculous” and “wasteful” (those are words I’d use for that specific training technique).  These massive conglomerates spent billions to get those key words (modern and science) into their fragile and unnatural system of failing/fading motivation (because business-wise their system is NOT failing for the massive companies bottom line financially…just like all drug dealers know…once a potential client gets a taste of their stuff it becomes difficult to detox the patient – many dogs, after being treated with tasty food excessively, will soon attempt to totally ignore their owners and not do anything unless you have a treat!  In many cases the dog owner devalues the natural relationship and ends up bribing the dog and they are completely void of trust and respect and instead have a fake relationship they assume is normal because it is status quo.

And we still have not addressed the third dog from our example…the dog that is too aggressive for treats, too fearful for food, too anxious to switch from hyper staring and hyper listening into relaxed smelling and tasting.  This is the dog only some owners and trainers interact with, meaning it is possible for a person to live a long and healthy life and to raise and adopt a few different dogs over their lifespan and still never experience what it’s like to live with or handle and train a dog that is like the third dog.  These folks may never understand unless and until they end up getting a dog like the third dog, a dog that in many instances food treats will simply be ignored because the adrenals functioning within this animal tell it to continually fight or flight and not relax and eat in the presence of their triggering stimuli.  Examine ANY creature on the planet and you’ll discover in the midst of high energy fight/flight excitement the last thing on the creature’s mind is eating!  This third dog is the shoddy dog trainer’s worst nightmare.  This is the unknowledgeable behaviorist’s greatest dilemma.  For all their rhetoric on science and modernity, for all their extreme emotions openly and often violently displayed ad nauseam on the internet towards other types of trainers, they have zero answers for their clients when it comes to helping the third dog because the dog is blatantly ignoring high value food treats!  Unethical, money-grubbing behaviorists may just tell their clients “Oh, your dog is over-threshold and we need to back up further away from the dog’s triggering stimuli (another dog, person, etc) until your dog is relaxed enough to actually take and eat the food treats in order to make a positive association with the trigger.”  Or they may take you into their facility and behind a partition or have your dog-aggressive dog work with a stuffed animal instead of a real dog (the methods get truly ridiculous the more we examine them).  I mentioned unethical and money-grubbing because this technique of theirs may take you, the paying client, a year or three for any sort of decent results to kick in!  (Special note: it is extremely common for us to hear from our clients that what we were able to do in our very first session with their dog and our calming, natural methods, they were NOT able to accomplish in 10 or 15 or 20 sessions with another company that was using this alleged modern positive approach!)

In Part 3 will we turn the corner and go over real world answers towards genuinely helping not only the third dog but greatly aid the human-dog bond with all three dogs in our example.  I’m hoping to end the series in Part 4.

Then, after I am finished with this series I will do one on The Many Problems of harsh dog handling and Punitive/Aversive reinforcement…………Stay tuned all you rabid dog lovers!

 

For more info simply read my Hot-Listed book on dog and human behavior, Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to Bite You! and grab a copy of my super practical and hands-on, second book, So Long Separation Anxiety to help you achieve the finest of relationships possible with your dog or pup.

-G

 

 

Is your dog Flexible or Fragile?

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Is your dog psychologically flexible or fragile?  Is your method of dog or puppy training and dog handling unbending and, therefore, rigid and fragile?  Is the daily routine you keep with your pet, perhaps, too rigid and too regimented or is it pliable and relaxed?

These questions, I think, are worth EVERYONE’S consideration.  Whether you have a dog or not, the subject matter we will go over today is the real stuff that often makes or breaks one’s quality of life.  It can Make you or, as the fragile tree, the poorly heat-treated sword, the overly-emotional person, or many dogs often experience, it can Break you!

So many dog owners lack flexibility.  Thus, their dogs lack flexibility too.  This is due, in large part, to so many professional dog behaviorists and dog trainers and vets clinging to their unyielding philosophy and close-minded dog training methodology.  If you follow this fine blog you know I’ve been extremely honest about the mainstream dog training industry (much to some trainers’, behaviorists’, and vets’ chagrin and much to many others joy, education, and puppy prosperity) You, Dear Reader, and your dog or pup bear the brunt of this unyielding philosophy and extreme dogmatism that mainstream trainers hold so dear and continuously propagate on an unwitting society.

Real World Example:  Some dog trainers proudly exclaim “We are a “positive only” training company.”  (They even think it’s modern!  That shows even less research on their parts) I hope everyone understands that those that confess and practice this singular and rigid method of dog bribery are immediately eliminating one entire half of possible external motivation for the dog they are working with!  And what’s worse is that they are also starting off the human-dog bond with a bizarre and unnatural set of limitations.  I’ll also mention that good human parents and certainly good dog parents would seldom if ever load up their children, or pups, with gobs of sweets or consistent bribes in exchange for decent behavior.  That builds a relationship devoid of respect and trust.  My question is, When the “positive” approach doesn’t work (which is quite often) because they never calmly address any misbehavior and because they are Not Free to calmly disagree with the dog, are they flexible enough to learn from nature and take a page out of every older dog’s playbook and spatially address the situation to enhance calmness and peacefulness???  OR do they remain stubborn, rigidly clinging to their food bribes, and thus blindly continuing on the fragile and foolish path all the while collecting money from their customers in exchange for weak results?

(Now if you know even the smallest thing about us and our award-winning company or if you’ve read my two books you would know we do NOT cling to or preach either “positive” or “punitive” reinforcement because they are BOTH just shallow External motivators and lack long-term relational staying power – especially when compared with the relatively untapped yet naturally stronger Internal, relational motivation found within ALL dogs and pups on the earth!  Please re-read that sentence.  The ways of the mother and father dog will always trump the ways of the human scientist in the lab or the one-sided, strangely dogmatic behaviorist, vet, or dog trainer!  If we are going to be dogmatic, friends, it should be dogmatically for excellent and humane results for the dogs we work with and dogmatically for daily improvement (a concept the Japanese Samurai called “kaizen”).  We could be dogmatically for doing things the dog way: cultivating techniques that echo and reflect Mother Nature’s way.  Now let’s continue with the other side of the fragile and inflexible example seen readily in most dog training and behavior mod…)

Several other kinds of dog training companies (these sorts often attract GSD owners or Belgian Mal owners) will hyper focus on negative reinforcement and rely on the classic yet foolhardy “rolling” of the dog, hanging, zapping, or choking it, or other too-harsh tactics employed carelessly in order to show the dog “who is boss” or “who is the Alpha” (FYI, when and if a dog rolls over and exposes its belly – this gesture does NOT usually indicate a submissive gesture when it is presented towards humans – even though everyone on the planet has been conditioned by the dog training industry to believe that it is a submissive gesture!  That, My Friends, is a myth!  For more on this clarification of dog language and behavior – much more – read my hot-listed book, Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to BITE You!  You’ll get alooooooooooooot out of it if you have an open mind!)

The point of the examples is that Both sides, Both of these unflinching methods generally lack flexibility and cannot truly help bring the relationship between you and your dog into MATURITY because of it!  

The great news is that YOU don’t have to join or cling to either restrictive side!  You can free yourself from the classic dog training debates and seek out, what we have discovered is a third more natural, beneficial, method of training and modification that doesn’t desperately rely on shoddy external motivation and foolish excitement but is based, instead, on internal motivation, the natural world, and specifically how the human body moves with the dog body, how touch is happening between owner and dog, and how peaceful postures enhance relationship in every dog on the planet.  The Garrett Stevens Method utilizes touch, space, energy influence, proper postures, and actual dog language in order to guide dogs into better behavior and relaxed freedom within the relationship.  It far surpasses what counts as dog training and canine behavior modification.  Our dogs are looking for leadership that guides them into maturity.   We should stop being impressed with stupid tricks and often frivolous obedience.  It’s 2019 for crying out loud – YOUR DOG IS SEMI-RETIRED and Does NOT always need a job to do (which would require higher levels of energy to accomplish) because that often just adds more tricks to his/her repertoire and does NOT remove problematic behavior in a natural way familiar to all canines.  Can I get an amen?

Real life example for you:  Ron takes his dog Winston (a French Bulldog) out for a walk.  Winston always gets over-excited when putting the leash on, and Ron always asks him to perform an excitable “wait” command at the door because that’s what Ron has taught him to do from puppyhood.  That’s dog training.  Ron is doing that because that’s his limited concept of training and he’s supposed to do that to gain respect from his dog.  Ron never considered that when we have a dog perform a “stay” or “wait” command at the door when the dog is already presenting escalated energy it can, and usually does, make matters worse internally.  Meaning Winston’s energy goes up because he is now frozen and many predators freeze just before exploding after prey.  So Ron’s little “wait” routine, his training is actually creating more of a problem than he had at the get go!!!

When a dog is locked into a routine – it is NOT flexible.  This is because dogs are intelligent and they know what is going to happen next and thus, often try to speed us up.  They jump the gun.  The truth of the matter is that Winston has learned to wait or stay physically all while ramping up unnecessary energy psychologically!  And, like almost any command performed in typical dog training and “modern” behavioral modification style…the dog remains excited mentally or, even worse, escalates his energy more!  So even when or if the “wait” or “stay” is accomplished… as soon as the release term comes at Winston he is exploding forward again out of the doorway and pulling and straining on the leash.  So little to nothing was actually gained by asking him to “wait” in the first place!  Inadvertently Ron’s “dog training” has made the situation worse!

Friends, the mother and father dog would probably never keep their pups in a frozen position if they knew that the pup’s energy was skyrocketing.  Escalated levels of energy often lead to fight or flight behavior and, in the very least, lead to the rude and manipulative habits in our dogs.  (please ponder that FACT)

Ron, in his search to train and raise his bulldog properly, has inadvertently squashed Winston’s natural autonomy and freedom near the doorway.  Everyday is the same in Winston and Ron’s life.  Every time they go for a walk it is the same.  The direction and route they take on their walk is usually the same.  And Ron is setting Winston, his French bulldog, up for failure if any subtle difference, any slight chaos ever happens to occur in their life or routine.  He’s training his dog to be fragile!  And if there’s one rule that is truly constant in our lives it is that successful folks embrace change while the unsuccessful fear it.

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Every single dog-lover I know that has been interested in training their dogs has over-trained and over-conditioned them at the doorway or, and this example occurs in almost every home I’ve ever been in (at the time of writing in 14 years as a pro behaviorist), before their feeding ritual each morning/evening with this mind-dulling “stay” or “wait” command.  Now, please understand me, I am 100% for teaching a puppy this initially.  My caveat comes into play when it is continuously used and the energy of the animal is seldom if ever considered.  We must consider the ENERGY if we want a wonderful house dog.  End of story.  Tricks and even OBEDIENCE are SECONDARY to cultivating great RELATIONSHIP and HEALTHY ENERGY LEVELS!  Please quote me on that! Tell everyone you know because they need it.  Believe me, I see this played out daily in our successful behavior modification processes while I continuously ad nauseum here over and again real life stories of miserable and rigid failings on the dog training industries part.  Inflexible dog training methods are a genuine nightmare on very well-intentioned dog owners and their families and their neighbors.

One of my heroes, Bruce Lee, has a quote that I love.  I’ll share it with you now.  “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.”  That is what I try to do every day when I work with people and dogs.  It is a winning philosophy because it takes in all sides of a story, and then gets rid of the crap, and finally, it encourages creative solutions and actions on our part.  I hope in the future more dog trainers and behaviorists and more vets and dog owners will be open to thinking like Bruce Lee did.  The palm tree survives the hurricane because it bends in the wind.

For flexibility…mix things up.  Shake things up.  Do something novel or different.  If your dog always pees on a certain tree or hydrant during your walk – skip it next time and form a new neural pathway in the moldy, dusty, old mind.  If your dog always performs a “sit – stay” or “wait” for his food in the morning, next time skip that incredibly boring routine and let him simply have the stinking food, or use that minute to train a different and fresh command – for instance – work the “come/here” command or the “catch.”  If your dog always barks at a certain guest put the leash on him and stop him from doing it.

Let’s refresh and renew ourselves and our dogs as we add new experiences into our lives.  Let’s look beyond the shoddy external motivation (positive or punitive reinforcement) and all the fragility that’s continuously shoved upon us all from all the “dog people” in the industry.  Let’s shake up our daily routines.  Routine can truly destroy the mind when it is overdone.

Think Flexibility and your dog or pup will not be psychologically Fragile!  As always, socialize for success.

For more info of this nature read my books, Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to Bite You! and So Long Separation Anxiety  

The books are available almost everywhere.  Thank you so much to those who have left me thoughtful reviews on Amazon or Apple iBooks.  It means quite a lot to me.  And thank you so much to those clients who read and re-read the books on their quest for greater relationship and better behavior with and among their dogs.  I am humbled that you would re-read again and again Dog Myths in order to grasp the principles of dog language.

-G