There’s “positive” trainers and “negative” trainers… right? (We all know who these people are…)
I prefer not to side with one or the other. The natural road is the one that winds in between these two worlds. This theory goes for all animals (at least the ones I’ve worked with), but I notice it time and time again with dog owners. “I only use treats!” “My dog is so motivated!” Ok, kids love chocolate bars, but I don’t see teachers give them a Twix every time they answer a math problem or say “hello, teacher”.
The main reason that solely working with treats doesn’t work (I’m going to use dogs as an example in this post), is that there is always (ALWAYS) a better reward: other dogs (better), deer (way better), rabbits (awesome), birds (does it get any better??) and the list goes on. We need more relationship and leadership – not more cookies. Even play or generally enthusiastic rewards are more rewarding for a dog – it’s relationship building.
There’s one encounter I had with a dog “trainer” that I will always think of when I think of die-hard positive trainers. I was on a back road with a few of my colleagues (dog trainers) and we were working with a dog on this peaceful road. A man walked past with his dog off the leash feeling very proud: His dog was walking next to him, looking up at him, “ignoring” us. To keep this behavior, the man shoveled cookie after cookie into the dog. He was literally paying the dog for every second of his attention: “Thank you, thank you, thank you for paying attention!”
Our dog walked towards him once and received a simple “Tst” from one of us before relaxing and coming back to us – end of story. The man made it about 5 feet past us before his dog turned to us, saying, “Thanks for the treats, but I’ve had my fill!” and ran towards us full speed. The man called – the dog ignored. He tried to call him for the next 5 minutes or so. The man was frustrated and embarrassed as he came stomping up and grabbed his dog. He pulled her down the road but the dog ran towards us again as soon as he let go of the collar. Repeat.
My point is: sure, use a cookie every now and then as a treat, but don’t drop your leadership or actual relationship! Just using treats and never saying no will not build a solid foundation. Blend the worlds!