Training a working dog with positive methods? - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 88 (permalink) Old 06-03-2009, 10:33 PM Thread Starter
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Training a working dog with positive methods?

This was brought up on another board I frequent and I was just sort of curious as to the opinions of working/SchH GSD owners. It seems a handful of the people there are under the impression that working line (Czech, DDR, etc.) dogs, police K-9s, and top-SchH dogs cannot be successfully trained using positive reinforcement methods alone. (I do not believe 100% positive training exists but for lack of a better qualifier, I will use positive reinforcement training.)

Firstly, I want to state that I am not looking to start a debate about the various training methods one can use. We don't need another clicker/prong/whatever debate. I'm just curious as to whether or not you feel aversives are a necessary part of proofing a dog for SchH, police work, or other working jobs. That these dogs require a different approach than the average pet dog when it comes to training.

I'll be the first to admit I do not know a lot about Schutzhund. I am fairly certain one could train a dog for a BH and the OB portions of Schutzhund with just a clicker and treats. I assume that one could also do the same for the tracking portion. However I am not as well-versed in the protection phase so I'm not sure I can make a judgement there.

I know there are some K-9 trainers and SchH enthusiasts who do train with positive reinforcement methods, though they are in the minority. I don't see why it can't be done. But I also do not own a GSD so perhaps I am missing something.

Thoughts?

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post #2 of 88 (permalink) Old 06-03-2009, 10:57 PM
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Re: Training a working dog with positive methods?

For me, same tools, same basic methods working or pet. Some type of compulsion/adversives at some point yes. What, when, and how much depends on the dog.
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post #3 of 88 (permalink) Old 06-03-2009, 10:58 PM
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Re: Training a working dog with positive methods?

I am a newbie in SchH, but I believe the pups foundation should be positive training for confidence building, then maybe go w/ some compulsion depending on the dog. It all depends on the dog, IMO.

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post #4 of 88 (permalink) Old 06-03-2009, 11:08 PM
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Re: Training a working dog with positive methods?

There are people out there training to a very high level of competition using primarily positive reinforcement. It CAN be done. Most people don't do it, however, and I think in part it's because they don't really have the knowledge to work through the difficult parts and they don't want to take the time to learn it - it's easier just to go with the corrections that they already have had success with.

There's a guy training police dogs who has switched to primarily positive methods and he's had great success with them. And there have been a couple of people who have trained dogs (one was a Tervuren) to obedience trial championships using +R. But unfortunately, going by a competition obedience email list I'm on, most still use a high level of corrections.

I think nearly all "positive" trainers use some corrections - even a verbal "no" is a correction. But those who have chosen to go the positive route try to avoid corrections as much as possible. My Service Dog hasn't had much in the way of correction, and she's wonderful.

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post #5 of 88 (permalink) Old 06-03-2009, 11:10 PM
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Re: Training a working dog with positive methods?

I've never trained a dog in Schutzhund but have worked with dogs from the same lines. I don't see why you couldn't train at least all the obed and tracking with positive reinforcement. Clicker training and e-collar training work on pretty much the same (if inverse application) principles after all. I think people invoke aversives a lot sooner than they need to claiming "it's a tough dog" but actually because they don't understand how to use positives correctly and effectively (or typically do a good job with aversives either).

You didn't mention SAR. I don't have a lot of experience there but I did almost all positive training when we were working on that as did most of the other handlers. I did have to go to aversives to deal with crittering however.


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post #6 of 88 (permalink) Old 06-03-2009, 11:38 PM
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Re: Training a working dog with positive methods?

I think one needs to first determine what constitutes "positive methods". Does that mean primarily positive or all positive with no corrections, verbal or physical ever being given? Big difference between primarily and all.

Also, one needs to look very closely beyond the surface, because frankly some of the things I've seen done in the name of "purely positive/no correction" training for competition churn my stomach... like starving a dog for 2-3 DAYS to make sure he's hungry enough to do anything for food. Cruel, IMO. But it's considered all positive! And proponents of it will brag that they've titled X number of dogs in Y number of venues without ever needing a collar or so much as a verbal "no".

Likewise, one needs to determine what constitutes non-positive training. If you have on the one hand a verbal "no" and on the other a pinch collar pop, most would say the first is "positive" training and the second is "compulsion" or "force training". But to really know which is which, you need to look at the dog. I've seen softer dogs completely shut down by a simple "no". And lots of harder, higher drive dogs getting pinch collar pops with absolutely no loss of drive, enthusiasm or attitude whatsoever. So before passing judgment on any training method, tool, or anything else, look beyond the surface and see what else is there. And most importantly, look at the dog. He'll tell you through his attitude and performance quite honestly what he thinks of the training in terms of it's "positiveness" or "negativeness".

Can SchH and just about any other form of training be done using primarily positive reinforcement? Absolutely. And in fact most SchH people do use primarily positive methods. There are a few old school types out there, sure, just as there are in any training venue. But the vast majority of training is positive utilizing food and prey drive.

But can SchH, or anything else, be done *reliably* with all positive methods and without any corrections? No, I don't think so. There may be the odd case here or there that is the exception, but in general no. Well, maybe with things like the starvation method, but I don't consider that positive. I don't think my dogs would either. Bet they'd rather here the occasional "no" or get the occasional collar pop than be forced to skip meals for days on end. But at some point there is going to come a time when a competing, higher motivator is present and the cookie, clicker, praise, toy or whatever else the handler offers is not going to be enough. This is when correction is necessary. Admittedly, this sort of scenario is more likely to happen in some training venues than in others (or in every day pet life) which can lead to the perception that some venues are more compulsion oriented than others.





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post #7 of 88 (permalink) Old 06-04-2009, 04:03 AM
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Re: Training a working dog with positive methods?

We don't get to choose what our dogs need. So, my mind has been forced open by my first workingline dog.

It really depends on the dog. How would you feel if you met a dog, began "charging the clicker," and as you were doing this, he was cataloging your secondary weaknesses, because he had already mapped out your primary weaknesses? Some dogs have towering dominance agendas. Many workingline dogs are not dominant. Many are very dominant. It depends on the dog. Even without the dominance agenda, drivey dogs have drive.. "gotta do, gotta get, gotta have!".. compulsions that help the dog love working with and for us, make the dance one of mutual cooperation and shared joy. But, compulsions that must be seen as such. Sometimes a "high value" treat can't compete with such a compulsion in some situations where that drive is being brought out, tweaked.

What about relaxing? We want our dogs to relax. I have a dog who can only relax when he is given firm boundaries, and some corrections are a part of that. "Oh, like, kewl! Yer the boss, Ma! I'll just chill out and enjoy the sunshine, then!"

The person who taught me positive methods was the president of a Schutzhund club, a police officer. ALL the dogs in the club were trained with positive motivation since puppyhood, if possible, AND corrections when needed. The dogs were balanced dogs who were so eager to work (cookies and toys are involved!! YEA!) in the sport, and yet stable and calm (corrections when needed.. guess the boss is looking out for me!) under loving, strong leadership. The clicker and treats speeded up responses, amde the dogs eager to work, and the use of food or ball without the clicker LURED the dogs into the positions the trainers wanted. Cool!

There are also situations in which NOTHING that you have for a "high value" reward will EVER compete with what a strong-minded, drivey, CONFIDENT dog wants to do. This may be more common in dogs with strong drive, in a setting that can be highly charged, such as on a training field (or in a neighborhood!).

Nothing beats going to the training field and seeing people using treats, or the ball or tuggy to lure the puppies into positions for sits, downs, heelwork. The dogs grow into dogs eager to enjoy and participate in this sport. But I think dogs with strong minds, high drives, (intense urges/compulsions) may need corrections to be able to learn boundaries that they otherwise would ignore -- because ignoring a cookie in favor of a powerful, nearly irresistable stimulus that tweaks drives, can happen more easily for strong, drivey dogs.

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post #8 of 88 (permalink) Old 06-04-2009, 06:54 AM
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Re: Training a working dog with positive methods?

I don't believe you can train ANY dog "successfully" or "reliably" without corrections/compulsion..

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post #9 of 88 (permalink) Old 06-04-2009, 08:43 AM
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Re: Training a working dog with positive methods?

My "working line" dog is soft and will work based on her pack drive and earning food. No major corrections needed and they will in fact shut her down. My "show line" dog is much drivier and because of that, he is definitely obsessed with certain objects like balls and tugs. It's not just that he has drive, but he has drive to work FOR that special object. To me that's really what I want from a dog's drive. I don't care if a dog is "drivey" if he is just going to be bullheaded and never actually want to work for anything. At Nikon's age and his level in training, some corrections are becoming necessary. How appropriate they are depend on what you are trying to achieve and how they effect the dog. For example, if Nikon does not out his ball you can lift him off his front feet by the prong collar and he still won't let go (not how he is being taught), but if I lifted Kenya off the ground by a prong collar she would probably scream, run away, and never look at me again.
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post #10 of 88 (permalink) Old 06-04-2009, 08:43 AM
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Re: Training a working dog with positive methods?

The people at my schutzhund club advocate the method of following up a correction (for example, a sharp pop on the prong) with click/treats/big praises if the puppy rights himself from the correction.

Is that positive or negative?
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