Positives of Negatives & Negatives of Positives

Clouds early morning

Thanks to all who have commented so far in answer to the questions "Are you a 100 % positive trainer?" and "Would you sign a pledge to only use positive reinforcement and never use punishment?" I appreciate the thoughtful discussion that the questions have generated. I'll jump in now, with the caveat that this topic deserves an all day seminar (at least) and I can't begin to say all I'd like to in one post. I'll start however, by summarizing some of my thoughts on the issue. Let me start by saying that I consider myself to be an overwhelmingly "positive" trainer.  I would imagine that those who have seen me work would agree that I am a kind and gentle trainer, and primarily use positive reinforcement when working with dogs. That said, I'd never sign a pledge saying I'll only "use Read More

Are You “All Positive?”


Recently there have been some debates and discussions about whether it is possible to be a "100% positive" trainer. This has become an issue because some seminar hosts have policies that they will not hire anyone for a seminar unless they only use positive reinforcement and "never use punishment or aversives." Some people are being asked to sign pledges that they will never use punishment as a trainer. I'm curious what you think. Are you a "100% positive trainer?" Do you ever use "punishment?"  Do you use what some people call "aversives"? Ever? If so, what kind and when? I'll weigh in on this debate next week, (as you can guess I have a few opinions about the matter) but I'd love to hear what YOU think. MEANWHILE, back on the farm: The snow is melting! It's been well over freezing Read More

Markers and Secondary Reinforcers

Hope & Sherman

We've been talking about secondary reinforcers and markers, and the good question has come up about the difference between them. On the one hand, we know that a click or a "yes" can be used to communicate to a dog that a specific behavior is what is about to be reinforced. Clicking or saying "yes" at exactly the right moment is incredibly powerful in that it is a precise way of communicating to an animal exactly what it was doing that will elicit the reinforcement (clicks are more precise than words, by the way). However, you could also call a click or "yes" a 2ndary reinforcer, since to be effective it is paired with a primary reinforcer like food, and the animal learns to associate the click/marker with the treat, right? So which is it? Ah, you gotta love the English language: Read More

Chase This, Not That!

sheep toy 2

A dog's love of a good chase is both a blessing and a curse. It makes playing with them extra fun; what a joy it is to play fetch and chase with some dogs! And it's got a dark side too--chasers love to chase cats, cars, joggers and bicyclists, and that doesn't tend to work out so well for all involved. In an earlier post I talked about teaching my new pup Hope not to chase Sushi the cat, and several readers asked how I am doing that. Here's a summary of both a generic plan and how it looks in detail in one home, with one dog, and one cat. Obviously, the details vary tremendously, but the basic plan is relatively universal. 1. MANAGE AND PREVENT: What could be more fun than chasing something if a dog is so inclined? Dogs are, after all, cursorial predators (meaning they run things Read More

The Puppy Chronicles: Chapter 3 — Puppy Tests Revisited

I'm about to take a week's vacation and wallow in puppy breath, flowers, and friends. Jim's surgery next week isn't quite what we planned, but at least we didn't have anything else scheduled besides enjoying spring and being together. I'm going to take a blog/email break and concentrate on my Jim, Will and Pup for the entire week, but I wanted to close out the chapter on the puppy tests, at least for now. As you may know, I do the puppy tests, but am never sure how much to make of them. So far, I am impressed with their predictive value (but it is VERY early in the game, so this question needs to be revisited in 12, 24 and 36 months). The standard tests that I did ask how a pup relates to an unfamiliar person and the environment. Mick was only 1 of 2 pups who followed me, unafraid of loud Read More