Positive vs. Conventional

First a quick story, I was shopping for furniture one day with my daughter, we had looked around and were planning a return trip with my husband so I gave the sales lady who wanted my number one of my business cards. She thought it was cool that I was a dog photographer and told me about her young female labrador. She said she was in the throws of finding a trainer and that she had attended a private class with one trainer already and wasn't sure she wanted to return. She told me about the trainer yanking on her dogs collar and becoming so aggressive with her young labrador that she squatted and urinated during the class.

She asked me if this was normal and I know she noticed me cringing as she finished her question. By the look on her face she knew my answer before I opened my mouth. My heart truly hurts when I hear stories like this, imagine the poor little lab in the hands of this brut? Another client of mine was told that she and her husband were going to ruin their dog which was a beautiful and gentle Golden retriever puppy. They were talked into leaving the dog for training and were not allowed to visit. When they did come to pick up their dog they found and underweight, emotionless shell of what they use to know as their bouncy and happy go lucky golden puppy, that's when I got the call.

I've been a dog trainer for a longtime. I was training dogs at the age of 13, but way, way back then there was only conventional training. When I say conventional I mean the type with a choke collar, if the dog does not do what you ask you give them a quick yank on the leash to smarten them up. And the longer the disobedience goes on the harsher the yanks get which brews anger in the "trainer."

Amazingly enough to me there are still conventional trainers out there. With all the information written in magazines, newspapers and the internet about Positive inforcement training there are still the old collar yanking ones not willing to change their ways. I was introduced to positive reinforcement training way back over 15 years ago. When I found out about it I felt like "why didin't I know about this sooner?" For the longest time I felt so guilty about the things I had done in the past but I finally had to let it go.

The years of conventional training I now look back on give me a better understanding of why I hate it and why I train the way I do. I am not a person who only knows one way, no I have been there and understand the difference big time. I think the biggest difference in conventional and positive is the emotion it creates. I remember being in the old classes where anyone who's dog was not performing properly slowly became angry at their dog. I watch people who rely on collar yanking now and see the anger in their reaction to non compliance.

Positive reinforcement is a whole different ball game, it takes more patience and definitely a whole lot more thinking. I had a trainer friend of mine who was just learning about positive reinforcement tell me that she loved the way I thought things through when we were discussing a behavior issue. No two dogs are exactly alike and many times I would get a strange and new reaction behavior from a clients dog. I would then say "hold on, I need to figure this out." Why was this dog acting this way to a common behavior that I used on a regular basis, what was the difference here?

Dogs can do strange things and if you watch long enough and hear the guardian's explanation of background behavior it can almost always be explained. Not that the explanation always helps, sometimes you just need to move on from the cause to the solution. Often a behavior can be quickly solved by one tiny step from a guardian. I love dog behavior, I could honestly watch canines interact with other canines or with people for hours. I love the new guardians who have opted for using positive reinforcement, it has created a whole new breed of caregivers. And that is great news for all dogs.

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