Purely Positive Training Is An Illusion

As wonderful as it would be to say, „I only train with positive reinforcement and it works!“, it’s impossible.

Before you get too worked up about that, let me explain. I train my dogs with a clicker (only the guide dogs and advanced trick training, the foundation is not based on treats or clicks). I don’t use prong collars or anything that would be unfair on a dog (or any animal).

I read an article that got me thinking about „positive“ philosophies. The truth is, something negative (even if only from the dog’s point of view) is always present. Even in clicker training; instead of saying „No“ to your dog, you withhold a treat/click. That, for the dog, is a negative thing. So even the most positive of all training methods regularly has negative aspects.

You can’t only say „Yes“ to your dog or horse. Then they would do everything and anything they want, which is the complete opposite of natural. People don’t want to harm their animals, and that’s completely understandable. I never do anything to hurt them.

I set boundaries. I live with an actual pack of dogs (at least 4 at a time) and because I train guide dogs there are new ones coming and going very often. If I don’t want complete chaos, all of my dogs have to follow the same rules. That’s how animals are amongst themselves, too. That is natural.

It’s interesting to think about the fact that you could definitely say that training without anything positive is possible, but that training without anything „negative“ is impossible. What are your thoughts on the subject?

photo: Andrew Branch

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