The many problems of treat training and “positive reinforcement”

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“When the tiger bit at Horn’s sleeve, Lawrence made a move to intervene, tempting him with raw meat.  The trainer grabbed Mantecore’s leash and the tiger managed to knock both men down.”  USA TODAY

“A grizzly bear that appeared in a recent Will Ferrell film killed a 39-year old trainer with a bite to his neck…Randy Miller has 25 years experience training animals and his facility has had a perfect safety record, according to the website.”  INDEPENDENT  

“Swedish wolves kill zookeeper who raised them…Even after discovering the zookeeper’s body officials had trouble removing her remains.”  TIME

“Tilikum grabbed Brancheau by the ponytail and pulled her into the pool, then began violently swinging her around…died from a combination of blunt force trauma to the head, neck, and torso, plus drowning.  The attack happened during a performance.  It wasn’t the first time Tilikum killed someone either.  In 1991 he was one of the three whales responsible for the death of trainer Keltie Lee Byrne.”  GRUNGE

“Tyke entered the ring…kicking around what looked to audience members like a dummy. ‘We thought it was part of the show,’ one witness told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.  They soon realized the supposed dummy was a severely injured (elephant) groomer.  Panicked, audience members fled for the exits.  Tyke went on to fatally crush her trainer – who was trying to intervene – before fleeing the arena herself….Honolulu police eventually shot her 87 times before she succumbed to nerve damage and brain hemorrhages.”  HUFFPOST

“Utterback’s girlfriend heard something fall, police said.  She got up to see what the noise was and found Utterback on the floor with the dog biting his neck…by the time EMS arrived Utterback was dead.  Utterback’s girlfriend told officers the dog was their pet for a decade and was Utterback’s ‘best friend.'”  DOGSBITE

“Ashton McGhee, 1 year old, was mauled to death by a family pitbull-mix.  The child had ‘deep abrasions to the head, chest, and neck.’  The child’s grandmother and great grandmother suffered injuries while trying to pull the dog off the toddler.  The baby had been playing with a ball on the floor when the dog came in from the outdoors.  The dog attacked the baby, causing deep lacerations to the head and chest and a broken jaw.”  WHOP

“66-year-old dog trainer found dead in her backyard with multiple dog bites on her face and arms.  Elaine Richman was discovered dead with multiple dog bites…Richman had not been seen at her dog training classes for two days.  Police found Richman dead in her backyard with dog bites on her face, arms, and hands.  Two doberman pinschers were located inside the home.  The victims brother…said she had trained and showed dobermans for decades.”  MEAWW and DOGSBITE

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Friends, when you or any other person – be they “professional” or not – reinforce a dog (or a wild animal) with FOOD in order to get them to perform obedience or tricks we must all realize that this in NO way means that genuine RESPECT is present in the relationship!  

Friends, if you lack real Respect then you must NOT give TRUST to the animal no matter how fancy the obedience, behavior modification, tricks, or alleged “training!”  

What everyone in the world labels as “dog obedience,” and “dog training,” “work,” and “canine behavior modification” in truth often has little or nothing to do with canine social skills and dog language!   

If people truly grasped dog language and The Four Pillars (and they clearly do not) horrific tragedies like some of those listed above would be preventable.

This is part one in a series I’m going to do for you.  In the second installment we will get to the heart of the issue.  Stay tuned!

(Also, don’t fret because I’ll do one on the many problems of correcting a dog and harsh handling)

-G

 

There is nothing Zen about bribing a dog with food!

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There is nothing “Zen” or unique, or special, or beneficial, or even remotely interesting about bribing a dog with food.  Any FOOL can make a dog or pup perform a “watch me” command by sticking a food treat near a dog’s nose and then holding it up to their own eye.  This then causes the pup to look up at the person’s face.  This is the most basic and almost unmentionable start of typical training across the land.  This is exactly the method used by big chain store (but usually low-quality) trainers!

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Trainers that talk about “balance” and “zen” and things of this nature cannot be taken seriously if their main methods are based in excitably stuffing food treats down the pup’s throat!

 

Does this mean you should never use food treats?  No, of course not.  You can use food treats to the advantage of your relationship with your dog occasionally.  But we should NEVER start the foundation of obedience and training and behavior modification with food!!!!!!!   Those that do are treating our domesticated dogs just like a wild animal!  

When the mother and father dog build a relationship based on respect and trust and communication with their pups are they using food treats?  Is the pup’s misbehavior ignored or addressed by the parent dogs or is it constantly “redirected” with food or toys like many bad trainers and bad behaviorists would teach you to do with your pup?  Does the mother dog use a clicker and come equipped with treats and high-pitched praise?

When raising my own pups into adult doghood I used treats.  Shocking to some of you, I know.  Let me clarify…I used treats properly.  As TREATS not as CONSTANTS or NONSTOPS and it was only as an OCCASIONAL Supplement and Seldom if ever based upon the behavior.  

Save using treats for behavior for when you want to bribe a wild squirrel at the park to come into your spatial bubble or focus on you.  You can extend your arm and hold out a peanut.  The squirrel will then slowly come over within arm’s reach and take the treat from you.  Congrats!  (Not really – I’m being sarcastic) You just earned a little bit of ill-balanced trust from a wild creature.  I say “ill-balanced” because that is exactly what it is.

Does that squirrel respect you?  Do you really respect and know the language and social cues of the squirrel?  Have you taken the easy way out and just bribed the furry thing to come to you.  Will the squirrel come to you in an emergency?  Will the squirrel only come if there’s food?  Does the squirrel have thousands and thousands and thousands of years of domestication and close partnership living in our homes and working for and with humans?

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Food is a very poor replacement for actual trust and respect and communication!!!!

 

Are you starting to understand why food treats used with dogs and pups can be largely unnecessary except as an occasional supplement  to motivation?

Food treats are an external motivator and have Nothing to do with the internal motivation and intrinsic relationship between you and your dog or pup!  Also if we want calmness and more relaxation in our housedog why are we constantly adding more excitement through treats?!

Beware the over-simplified and extremely dogmatic viewpoint of training and behavior mod. from proponents of “positive only” of “force free” folks…talk about short-sighted imbalanced and unnatural methods that contribute to the terrible rise in dog fear, hyperactivity, and aggression!  (And equally Beware overly harsh, punitive mostly trainers too!)  Wooooohoooooo

We differ from all those status quo trainer and behaviorists because, unlike them, we know our dogs are socially brilliant and unlike them, we know as we go into the future together we don’t actually want to constantly have to be our dog’s focus point and the answer to every question our dog has.  THIS out-dated concept: where the owner is the constant answer to every problem in the dog’s life leads to excessive bribery with treats  in training methods and the unnatural over-focus on the owner in order for the dog to ignore every natural and social thing that happens to occur in the environment.  This is unnatural and tends to backfire often!  Personally I don’t want to be the answer to everything in my dog’s life…it’s too much work!  The mother dog doesn’t want to be the answer for everything either!  That should be a TEMPORARY position we have until the pup reaches maturity and has more self-control.  Our dogs should look to us for many answers…but not all of them.  They need to learn calmness and self-control so we don’t have to forever be “training” them.  They need to be respectful of our shared society and they need to be TRUSTWORTHY.

Believe us, we know, because we are constantly re-training after so many Tacoma and Seattle dog training companies focus on the frivolous tricks and obedience while sacrificing the more important internal issues at hand.

When I teach the Garrett Stevens Method we strive to be balanced with nature and to uphold what the parent dogs would do – we always ask – IS THIS CALMING AND BENEFICIAL TO THE RELATIONSHIP? and this is what yields the tremendous, real results our clients rave about.  

The house dog, the companion dog, of the future should be calm enough to NOT have to perform “watch me” or a “focus” command every two seconds and should be trustworthy enough to be left almost unattended, or at least partially ignored and not have to perform a “down stay” or some other frivolous form of obedience training with us perpetually keeping a sharp eye on them!!!  We must STOP training our puppies as if they all will become professional working dogs!!!  THAT IS SO OUTDATED IT’S RIDICULOUS AND…IT’S NOT CALMING IN THE LEAST!!!

Cultivate a real relationship based on respect and trust and calmness and clear canine communication and you’ll never regret it!   

-G

Questions?  We love comments and questions.  For more info please read my books, Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to Bite You!  or the brand spanking new, So Long Separation Anxiety  These books will alter your entire perspective on dogs, their language, their behavior, and how we interact with them.  If you’ve done other training or behavior mod. you’re gonna Adore these babies!