Pressure and Stress in Training
Lets talk about pressure and stress in training.For the purposes of this thread I am going to define stressors as anything ranging from physical pain, environmental pressure (slippy floor, pool of water, loud noises), to handler corrections.
The fad in dog training these days is compulsion free training. You commonly hear statements like "I train without force, fear or pain" insert satisfied expression and a back pat.
Moving beyond the emotional nature (obviously intentional) of that statement, lets drill down on the truth.
I ask is this truly a viable or realistic outlook on training? What do pain and fear really mean? It could be different things to different dogs. Are we really doing our dogs a favour by not exposing them to these stimuli?
Pain and fear can be ellicited in just about every species of animal including humans by stimuli that trigger chemical processes creating the physical and mental stimulation we identify as "pain and fear".
Why do humans and animals have these reactions? Obviously to facilitate learning that contributes to an individuals chances of survival and success.
A mother dog will physically discipline her pups elliciting pain for socially unacceptable behavior. The pups feels the pain, ceases the behavior and is less likely to do it again as it fears the consequence of pain for the negative behaviors.
Thus the pups are more likely to avoid the socially unnaceptable behavior and are more likely to be successful in a pack environment thus increasing their chances of survival.
Lets take it further:
Human mother sees her child playing in the road, she grabs the child, scolds her and sends her to her room. The child who can make a clear connection between her actions and the punishment she recieved for them (scolding and timeout). She is less likely to repeat the behavior as she FEARs the loss of her freedom. In addition she fears another scolding from her mother as it causes her emotional distress.
Lets translate this to training.
Every trainer has different goals, reliable pet obedience, sport competition, LEO work, PPD type training etc.
The importance of reliable and accurate task completion varies from life or death to losing a point for a crooked sit.
Im going to assume everyone on here knows and has an opinion about how effective or non effective punishers are to the training process be it in the learning or proofing process.
What I am going to put out there is an opinion that is held by certain trainers that stress and pressure in training administered fairly and clearly not only create a more reliable dog but an overall stronger dog.
-The dog is more confident in his work as he fully understands the task and expectations surrounding its completion.
-The dog has encountered stress in the training process ranging in intensity. The dog has learned to overcome the stress (whatever it may be) and complete the desired task thus removing the stressor and achieving the reward.
-The dog is better able to handle the stressors it encounters in daily life and continue to function effectively even if they are dissimilar to stress the dog was exposed to in the training process. This is because he is somewhat desensitized to the chemical processes that stress induces. The added effect being stimuli that used to create stress such as low intensity pain or loud harsh noises no longer have any meaningful effect on the dog or his work.
-The dog is more forgiving of handler error or induced stress and will be able to function effectively through it.
-In the context of real work greater levels of stress will weed out lackluster candidates and improve the gene pool and end product (see KNPV)
-The bond between handler and dog is strengthened through the learning process and trust is developed through overcoming barriers be they physical or mental.
Ill use another analogy. When we train for competitive sports (hockey, football, MMA) we expose ourselves to stress, pain and often as a byproduct fear to varying degrees.
When soldiers or LEOs are trained there is mental, physical and emotional stress throughout the training process.
In both groups despite radically different end goals overcoming stress creates mental and physical toughness and derives a stronger sense of self confidence. As individuals they become effective in the completion of their target tasks.
In relation to working or sport dogs, we want our dogs to be king kong, save lives, protect your home, fight the man, overcome environmental pressure etc. How do you square not exposing the dog to stress during training and development while maintaining the above expectations?
Obviously how much pressure or stress a dog is exposed to during training will depend on the dog itself, the desired outcome of the training and the handlers skill as a trainer.
I am not saying that all stress and pressure is GOOD nor is it all BAD but to ignore its value to the teaching and development process ignores evolution and what is inherrent in all intelligent creatures.
You make some really good and interesting points.
I'd love to know more about your personal experience with training dogs.
How long have you been training dogs, what sort of training do you prefer or find the most successful, are you a trainer yourself?
Suffice to say I have been payed to train dogs, I have worked dogs in real life application, I have recently become involved in sport over the last 1.5 years.
I know less then many and more then some.
If you want more info you can PM me.
I think pressure and stress in training are necessary in direct proportion to the stress that the dog will undergo in the work that it will be doing. I also think that environmental stress in training is very important for every dog, as you never know what type of distractions the dog will face.
I think there is a big difference between outside stress placed on the dog and conflict with the handler induced by confusing or undue harsh corrections. A good understanding between the handler and dog can relieve stress on the dog, even in stressful situations.
This is an interesting topic with many different angles to pursue, as stress can come from a multitude of sources, and different dogs will perceive different stimuli in a unique manner. Training the right type of dog using compulsion is hardly stressful, while training another dog in the same manner will create much conflict with the handler.
I also believe that adding pressure and stress(when done correctly) will give the dog more confidence after they've worked thru it. It can build the level of trust and respect with the handler and strengthen the bond....when done correctly.
Perhaps its too broad in scope. What I had in mind when it comes to environmental is along the lines of challenging the common notion that if a dog is afraid of something you should just manage and avoid the stressor or spend months or even years tip toeing around the edges of the scary thing be it stairs or gun fire.
You commonly hear a variety of excuses like "he shuts down" as an excuse for why the dog is not being helped to overcome the stress.
In KNPV the dogs are taught to bite in a process that places pressure on them from the get go. Dogs are taught with pressure obedience, good biting behavior etc. The dogs learn to push through the pressure to achieve the bite and win the fight.
Obviously there are hopeless cases but I think in many cases the dogs are not given enough credit and are made weaker instead of built up by the training process.
Lets talk about some stress's. Are gun shots? Is obedience with multiple decoys on the field a stresser? Making the dog bite through a tunnel or into a dark room, slick floors? Is this what you're going after? Or are you talking more about correction type stressers? Like you will sit or I will make you sit.
stress is stress. the effects are the same. So having to sit in an open crate while he watches the other dogs eat might be stressful the same as a gun shot to another dog. Or watching his handler walk away on a motion exercise. Stress is physical and mental and its effects are the same. What's the dogs perception? Is it stressful when he can't figure out how to get your hand to open up and give him that yummy treat?
I think the obvious answer is all dogs have to respond and learn to deal with stress. it's an important part of growth and development for all animals. Now does that mean I'd use that as a reason to be extra hard on my dog? I think that mentality is for the **** swingers out there. I can stress my dog by making them work under high distractions, obstacle courses where they have to figure out how to do things. I can train them under stress and have it be beneficial, or I can say dogs need stress and create it by kicking his ass everytime he doesn't respond well and add stress that way.
In the end I find one way to be very beneficial and the other to be almost completely useless other than to stroke and ego about how big and bad the dog is because he can take my beatings
Life is about pressure. Hungry? Pressure to eat. Need to potty? Pressure to be released. Dont pay your taxes? Pressure of jail time or heavy fines. Go into a bar and hit on the big tattoed looking guys girlfriend in front of him? Pressure applied to your forehead with his fist and extra points for style if he headbutts you.
As long as the message is clear and concise and delivered with proper timing and intensity i dont see a problem. Teach gently but firmly proof sternly but fairly but always always be clear with the dog. Some dogs take more pressure than others. Some need little more than a stern look. Finding the sweet spot is something you need to do with each individual dog. If you teach properly punishments should be a fairly rare thing.
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