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Controversial topic: Positive Training or Negative Training?

“I have never met more negative people than extremely positive people”. That was a quote I heard from a behaviorist, trainer, and respected canine training professional a few years ago.

We live in a complicated world nowadays where everyone is constantly posting their lives on social media. No problem with that. However, we are constantly judging and being judged.

I have been working with dogs for many years and today I will touch on a sensitive subject. I will give my personal and professional opinion on a topic that always causes a stir on social media.

Rewards are important. We should use it. It helps us to achieve amazing results when we talk about canine behavior and obedience training. The things we can do today in dog training using positive techniques are unbelievable. A dog can be trained to do almost anything these days. From a simple SIT to identifying diseases and saving lives in disasters.

However, corrections are also important. The problem is that nowadays when we mention the word “CORRECTION”, people who believe in what is called “100% positive training” freak out. They judge and offend us.

I'm going to say something very important that I don't want anybody to forget. CORRECTING A DOG DOESN'T MEAN BEATING A DOG! CORRECTING A DOG DOESN'T MEAN YOU WILL TRAUMATIZE THE DOG. Correcting a dog only means that in a positive way (YES, IN A POSITIVE WAY), you will prevent your dog from repeating wrong behaviors that will consequently be rewarded and repeated.

A very basic example. Your dog approaches a plate of food that is on the table. He raises his front paws ready to steal the precious target. What do you do? Would you not stop him? A simple NO, a touch on his flank, a strong clap of your hands so he stops the behavior, and consequently doesn’t reach for that food is enough to stop the act. Reaching for that food will be fun and rewarding, and the dog for sure will repeat that act again. After all, stealing the food worked, didn't it?

Dogs learn by a system we call trial and error. With a human child, you can talk and explain things. Teaching what is right or wrong, acceptable, or not acceptable. With a dog, this kind of communication is impossible. Your dog will try, and if it works, he'll try again. If it doesn't work, he'll try something different.

So, if the dog reaches for the food and runs away with it, there is learned behavior there. Surely, he will repeat it. However, if someone stops this behavior with a correction (and again, correction doesn't mean spanking the dog. Just to clarify because for some people it's still hard to understand), that dog will redirect. That is, stealing did not work.

On the other hand, if he sits down and looks at that plate of food, I can give him a treat, reinforcing a different behavior. Instead of stealing the food, the learned behavior now is to sit and wait for someone to hand him a piece.

So, what does it mean to be 100% positive as some trainers boast about, shouting to the winds on social media? Being positive means that when you need to use a correction to stop the wrong behavior, you do it without traumatizing the dog, and of course without causing physical or psychological damage to the animal.

Marco Magiolo is a bestselling author, trainer, and speaker. Connect with Marco on social media and subscribe to future newsletters and updates.

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