Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Limits of Positive Reinforcement

Some bad behavior in dogs is so strongly self-reinforcing that external positive reinforcement is unlikely to end it. The admonition to "just ignore it" is a guide to failure.


Rebekah Ward said...

I have a dog that I adopted at 1.5 years old. He had so many bad habits, and is frankly an asshole. I spent over $1000 with three different R+ trainers, and not one of them was able to even control him on a leash.

He still has many undesirable behaviors four years out, but I can at least control him on a leash, thanks to a prong collar. But it is almost "unsafe" to even mention it in many dog circles.

I would love to meet someone who could control him with just a flat collar. Seriously.

PBurns said...

A competent balanced trainer can train your dog -- and you can too. But Job One is being willing to put a lot of time and consistency into it. As I have noted in the past, despite all the wizards at Hogwarts, the only person training animals was the fellow without a wand -- Hagrid -- and most of what he did was pure positive but took a lot of time.

That said, an adult dog comes with behaviors in him that may have been rewarded for a long time. Ending those behaviors may require a lot of daily exercise, a leash, a food bag, and yes an e-collar set at low stim to remind the dog of what he knows after he has learned it.

Can a dog be trained on a flat collar and slip collar alone? Of course! 4,000 years of that. But a big adult dog with bad habits may require a big man to do it, and it's slower and more stressful to the dog than a properly used e-collar used in combination with a leash and treat bag. Timing, consistency, repetition.