I remember, before I switched over to positive reinforcement-focused training, laughing when I thought about not ever correcting a dog or telling them “No.” I couldn’t understand how on Earth that would work. While I was debating the thought of “positive only” training, a friend shared with me an example from a seminar attended by Suzanne Clothier. The presenter was discussing positive reinforcement-based training and Suzanne agreed to “play the dog” with this trainer. As the trainer began to work with Suzanne, Suzanne got up and left the room. When the trainer got upset and questioned Suzanne about leaving, she replied “You didn’t tell me not to.”
At the time, I read this as justification for using corrections when training dogs. After all, the dog does need to know the boundaries and rules you expect. The dog does need to comply with your wishes to a point. So corrections and “No” are necessary in dog training.
Then I “drank the Kool-Aid” and switched over to a very different style of training and set of beliefs. 🙂 In doing so, I see what Suzanne did in a very different light. Yes, you do need to be clear to your dog what the rules of the house (or training game) are. But that doesn’t justify the use of corrections. Simply that you must give the dog more information.
For example, if you see your toddler putting a fork into the electrical outlet, you can scream “NO!” which doesn’t really tell him anything. “No” what? As I’ve written before, “No” is a very abstract concept. It’s much easier (for dogs and humans) to be clear. “Honey, keep the fork away from the electrical outlet. It’s dangerous.” While it’s true that the toddler might not understand the implications of what you’ve said 100%, you’ve given him more information about WHY he shouldn’t do what he was doing. You might even suggest he play with another toy rather than the fork.
I think it’s important to do the same with dogs. Rather than simply telling them not to do something, tell them what you’d like them to do instead. Using Suzanne’s example of leaving the training session, if your dog starts to leave you could tell them to “come!” You’re giving them information. Something to do instead. And something you can reward. (Of course, if your dog is continually leaving your training sessions, you might want to re-evaluate what you’re doing!) No need to punish here!
It’s amazing how the same thing can be interpreted two different ways depending on your point of view at the time. 🙂