What Training is Your Primitive Dog Really Experiencing?!?

You’ve been urged by your friends, neighbors, television networks, and social media feeds that you should “TRAIN YOUR DOG” but you own a primitive dog… they’re different… they’re untrainable… right? WRONG! But… there is a caveat. The style and methods you use to train your primitive dog will have a huge impact on their (and your) success. But trying to navigate all the hype, lingo, jargon, copy, and branding is enough to make anyone just close their eyes and pick a random program. But you don’t have to feel lost anymore. We’re going to give you a cheat sheet to understanding what is really going on with the training you’re being offered so you can make an informed decision for you and your dog.

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On just about every training website you are going to see words like “positive”, “food-based”, “non-food-based”, “force-free”, “fear-free”, “effective”, “relationship-based”, “balanced”, “remote”, “natural”, “reward-based”, “humane”, “science-based”, “LIMA”, “progressive”, “pressure”, “corrections”, “praise”, “disobedience”, “willful”, “motivation”, I could go on all day…from every “expert” under the sun including academics, consultants, behaviorists, trainers, veterinarians, vet techs, K9 trainers, police dog trainers, service dog trainers, AKC trainers (not a thing btw but I’ve seen it on websites), ANYONE can call themselves a professional dog trainer and charge you money to do things to your dog. It’s up to you to know what is being done to your dog and what your dog is actually experiencing minus the jargon, sales talk, smoke and mirrors.

Training falls into the school of psychology called “Learning Theory”. This is one of the foundations of Behaviorism. We use this school of science because it allows us to understand the learning and experiences of the learner without them telling us how they feel. This is highly effective in understanding and teaching humans and all non-human animals.

Learning Theory at its simplest is broken down into 4 areas of learning, called quadrants. Just about every experience a learner has falls into one of these 4 areas. We also have to decide as a owner/teacher, how we are willing to have our dogs trained and what we are willing to expose them to.

There are two directions of learning. Reinforcement and punishment. Punishment is not inherently a bad thing even though we use it in common language to mean that. In training language it simply means the reduction of a behavior. Meanwhile reinforcement is always thought of an inherently a good thing, it’s not and we’ll get to that in a moment but for now, reinforcement is simply the increase of a behavior. All learning is based on consequences. The learner seeks out reinforcement either through the addition of something like, or avoiding an aversive (read uncomfortable, stressful, or painful) consequence.

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Here are the 4 areas (quadrants), what their names mean, and what training using that quadrant looks like:

Positive Reinforcement: the increase of a behavior due to the addition of something the learner likes (ie food, toy, touch, attention). Food is a powerful reinforcement because it is required to live. It's hard wired. A dog that doesn't eat is dead. “But my dog doesn’t like food”, then click this link for more information…

Positive Reinforcement Looks Like:

  • Your dog does a behavior we like (sit, down, come), we mark the behavior (say yes, praise or use a clicker) and give the dog a food reward.

  • Your dog follows a treat into a specific position and we give them the treat.

  • Your dog responds to their name and we lavishly fawn on them with thunderous praise and affection.

  • Your dog walks on a loose leash and you continue on the direction the dog wishes to go.

  • Your dog sits and you place their food dish on the ground in front of them and tell them they can eat.

  • Your dog sits patiently to have their collar and leash put on and then you head out the door for a walk.

  • Your dog lies still until you release them to chase a squirrel up a tree.

Unintended Positive Reinforcement:

  • Your dog jumps on you and you touch them to push them off (touch can be reinforcing the jumping up).

  • Your dog barks and you tell them to stop (attention can be reinforcing the barking).

Positive Punishment: the reduction of a behavior due to the addition of an aversive stimulus (something the dog doesn't like). Most training collars are used for positive punishment. This includes slip/choke collars, prong collars, and e-collars (shock collars). This is usually the experience that occurs when a dog is “given a correction”.

Positive Punishment Looks Like:

  • A jerk on the collar/leash for pulling.

  • Kneeing a dog in the chest for jumping up.

  • Spraying a dog in the face with a water sprayer for barking.

  • Throwing a penny can, throw chain, or beanbag at a dog for an incorrect behavior.

  • Yelling at a dog for barking or getting into something.

  • Smacking a dog on the face for mouthing.

  • Jerking the dog’s leash/collar for slow or incorrect response to a command (aka leash correction).

Unintended Positive Punishment:

  • Yelling your dog’s name when they do something wrong (teaches the dog not to respond to their name).

  • Stepping on or tripping over your dog.

  • Dropping something on your dog.

  • Getting part of your dog stuck in a door.

  • Hitting your dog out of anger, frustration, or not knowing what else to do.

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Negative Punishment: the removal of something the dog likes (ie food, your presence, etc) to reduce a behavior. This means taking something of value away from the dog. When they lose the thing they care about they learn not to do the behavior that caused it.

Negative Punishment Looks Like:

  • Walking out of a room when your dog jumps on you.

  • Leaving a room where your dog is barking.

  • Getting off the couch when your dog starts licking you.

  • Going in the opposite direction in which your dog is pulling.

  • Withholding treats for mouthing and overexcited behavior.

  • Crating your dog for bad behaviors (time outs).

Unintended Negative Punishment:

  • Taking food rewards away too quickly.

  • Teasing a dog with something they like.

Negative Reinforcement: the removal of something the dog doesn't like to increase a behavior. In training negative reinforcement is usually (but not always) performed with a collar and/or leash. Pressure, physical molding, pinching, a shock, or a noise is applied for a duration until the dog performs the wanted behavior. This requires some form of discomfort to work. Even environmental discomfort can cause negative reinforcement.

Negative Reinforcement Looks Like:

  • Your dog speeds up their pee/poop to run inside and get out of the rain.

  • An invisible fence stops shocking once the dog moves away from the boundary.

  • Grabbing your dog’s face for mouthing and not letting go untll they let go.

  • “Alpha Rolling” a dog till the “submit” (go limp and/or look away).

  • Pinching your dog’s ear until they pick up an object they are meant to retrieve (how many dogs are taught to retrieve).

  • Pushing your dog’s body into a sit or down position.

  • Shocking/stim your dog on an e-collar (shock collar) until they get to you.

  • Putting pressure (pulling) on your dog’s leash while they are wearing a prong or choke collar until they stop pulling back. (This can also be done on a normal collar.)

Unintended Negative Reinforcement

  • Holding your dog down for grooming, vet care, husbandry.

  • Grabbing your dog by the collar and dragging them somewhere.

  • Pulling back on the leash to show your dog down or attempt to stop pulling.

  • Equipment (collar, halter, harness, muzzle etc) that while not meant to be aversive, make the dog uncomfortable and therefore causes negative reinforcement to make the discomfort go away.

  • Barking and lunging at a strange dog makes (you) the owner increase the distance from that other dog.

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As you can see, different methods/techniques fall into different area/quadrants. Some are more stressful or even painful depending on what is being done. It is also important to remember that

what we intend of the learner to learn is not always what they perceive… as seen by the “unintended” examples. Many times different quadrants occur one right after the next. You can correct a dog for a slow sit (positive punishment) and then follow up the finished sit with a treat (positive reinforcement). You can reward a dog with a treat for lying down (positive reinforcement) and then withhold the next treat if they get up (negative punishment). You can push a dog down to force them into a sit (negative reinforcement) and then leash correct them if they get up (positive punishment). You get the idea. While all are happening in some form all the time, when we are doing the teaching (or hiring someone) we can choose which we use.

Primitive dogs are no dummy. They know when an aversive is being used on them and they do not take this well. They look at the source with disdain and usually will not listen in the future. Further use of applied aversives can lead to damage to the human to dog relationship, including vocalizing, avoidance, shaking, anxiety, growling, flashing of teeth, lunging and biting. They are defending themselves. So be choosy in the methods you use and the professionals you hire. It will have a lasting effect on your dog and your relationship.