Training classes and Behaviour Counsults
using Positive (Force Free) Training
What does "force free training" or "positive training" mean, and why should we use it?
I am very clear about the training methods I use as Woofers on this website, and on social media. I don't use vague language or generalisations or "trainer speak", because I have nothing to hide and I am happy to explain my training methods to anyone who asks.
There are dozens of scientific research papers and articles written by acknowledged animal behaviour experts including veterinary bodies and various animal centred organisations which are available online. All this research shows that using punishment to train dogs is damaging to a dog’s physical and mental wellbeing and the relationship between dog and owner. It also shows that using force free training is the most humane and effective way to train animals. Please click here for a list of links to scientific articles about why punishment should not be used in dog training.
I call myself a “force free trainer” which is someone who uses positive training methods. Some trainers might call themselves "purely positive". I prefer the term "force free". The reason for that is with positive training there always comes what is referred to as "negative punishment". However, I must stress that the word "punishment" in this context does not mean hurting the dog mentally or physically! Negative punishment in scientific terms simply means "removing something the dog likes" For example, you ask your dog for a known behaviour such as "sit" or "down" and your dog does not comply. Because he didn't comply, he doesn't get rewarded, and therefore loses the opportunity of earning a treat. That is negative punishment. Your dog will be asked again to give him the opportunity to get it right and earn his treat. Unlike training that is based on punitive methods, your dog will not experience any physical or mental trauma because he did not comply. He will not be jerked on the leash, or be wearing a prong collar or shock collar. He won't be yelled at or intimidated either, because he didn't get it right. Research shows that if a dog is constantly punished for not getting it right, then the dog may cease to try, shut down and lose confidence. Using positive training is about setting the dog up for success, and giving the dog every opportunity to get it right, which increases the dog's confidence. When a dog doesn't get it right with positive training, we assume it is the trainer who has got it wrong, not the dog because we have not sufficiently helped the dog to understand what we want or there are circumstances in that moment which are the reasons the dog does not comply. In punishment based training it is usually assumed that the dog is purposely being "wilful", "stubborn" or "disobedient" and he is punished for it.
Positive training is based in science. Your dog will not be "bribed" with treats. "Bribed" is a myth that some non-positive trainers like to put out there and it shows that they have absolutely no idea what positive, science based training is about. The reason we use food in force free/positive training is that food is often the strongest reinforcement your dog will decide upon, but some dogs may find access to toys, or mere praise instead is sufficiently reinforcing for them. It is the dog who decides what the reinforcement is, not us.
Once we are sure that a dog has learned the behaviour we are teaching, we aim to phase out the food reward as soon as we can.
Zoo keepers can train dangerous predators in their care to cooperate with them for medical checks, procedures and for enrichment purposes using positive training. Science tells us that every species learns in the same way, be it dog, human or any species you care to mention (and surprisingly, this includes fish!). Therefore, because we are using science in dog training, there is no dog that needs "tougher methods" in order to train it. A modern, educated trainer NEVER needs to use physical punishment of any kind because science has demonstrated to us that there simply is no need and those of us educated in dog behaviour and who use science to train understand this.
In dog training, there's a saying that "punishment begins where knowledge ends". We find sadly, this is true.
This is a biologist called Soham Mukherjee who specialises in reptiles. He trains crocodiles using positive training only. All he has is a large chunk of meat as a reward, and a target stick. He doesn't need a shock collar or a prong collar to train a predator that could kill him easily. He's so relaxed, he's not even wearing shoes! Click on the photo for a short video of him training crocodiles.