Positive Only Dog Training: There's Too Much Punishment

Too much of what is purported to be positive only dog training is anything but. I’ve seen adherents of positive only dog training talk about how horrible shock collars are, then proceed to yank a dog around to get it to come, sit or stay.

The latest example of positive only dog training which uses punishment comes from this article I just read. The article describes a long process which addresses leash-reactivity. Let me start by saying that I know nothing about leash reactivity. Leash reactivity is (apparently) when a dog goes a bit crazy on the leash. I had to look it up. Apparently, lots of growling, lunging, and attempted attacks.

Speaking of things I don’t know: I know next to nothing about having a dog walk nicely on leash. My dog has energy to spare, so I encourage him to drag me around the neighborhood. We both get a good workout. He knows how to  “heel”, but he is only good at this for a short distance.

There is nothing wrong with this article. I’m not going to tell you that it won’t work, or that it harms the dog in some way. What I do want to point out is how this is far from “positive only dog training”.

A Definition

Positive reinforcement means adding something (positive) to the dog which makes a behavior more likely to occur (reinforcement). When we give our dogs treats for coming when called, we are doing positive reinforcement. We added a treat to make coming when called more likely to happen again. It is vital to understand this as we continue to analyze the article.

Positive punishment is the addition of something (positive) in order to make a behavior less likely to occur again (punishment). When a dog jumps up on people and we scold or tug on the leash, we are adding a yell or a yank in order to try to make jumping up not happen again.

Positive only dog training purports to use only positive reinforcement and will forgo any positive punishment.

Some quotes from the article

It should be noted that throughout the entire training process, only positive reinforcement types of training techniques should be used.

…tools that owners will need when training their dogs against reactive behaviors are positive reinforcers and instruments for maintaining physical control (e.g. an appropriate leash, a head halter).

Devices that cause discomfort—such as pinch collars, shock collars, and choke collars—should be avoided

Leash corrections or leash pops are not appropriate.

If more control is needed, the dog should be trained to wear a head halter.

It is clear from this article that the author is attempting to present himself as a positive only trainer. However, he recommends the use of a head halter.

Head Halters Are Punishment

Head Halter

Head Halter

For those of you unclear as to what a head halter is, let me explain its usage. There is a loop of material that goes over the dog’s muzzle. The leash attaches to this loop. As a result, when the dog pulls against the leash, the loop tightens and pulls the dog’s head downward and backwards. The harder the dog pulls, the tighter the muzzle loop gets. The tendency is for the dog to pull himself 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

Does this sound uncomfortable? It is. The dog does not like this and so he pulls with a lot less force.

The use of the head halter causes an uncomfortable situation which makes it less likely that the dog will pull again in the future while wearing the halter. In short, the head halter is the perfect example of positive punishment. It is effectively the same as pinch collars, leash corrections and leash pops. Calling the halter “control” instead of correction does not change what it is: punishment.

We see too many “positive only” trainers who advocate against any sort of punishment. They guilt the dog owning masses into thinking any sort of punishment as cruel, all the while applying the same punishment they claim to despise. If punishment is OK in certain circumstances for them, why is it not OK for you and for me? Where are we to draw the line? Why are head halters OK, but prong collars wrong.

If you are paying or paying extra for positive only dog training, please watch the techniques closely that are used. If your positive-only trainer is using the above technique, you are getting that which you explicitly paid to not see: punishment.

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