Two Types of Dog Training – Good and Bad

The following information is shared from Steffi Trott’s SpirtDog Training. Steffi practices a Positive Reinforcement based dog training method, and is world reknown for her down to earth, accessible and practical advice on dog training for both companion and competition dogs. She shares her wisdom here in a post addressing the challenge of NOT seeing improvement in your dog’s training progress.

If you’ve been working with your dog for more than 6 months. Not only does your dog NOT improve, but the behavior turns even WORSE than before …This advice is exactly for you.

Every now and then, I get emails from extremely committed dog owners who have shown incredible amounts of patience. They might tell me things like the following …

“I have been taking my dog to a weekly class for the last two years, and he hasn’t improved at all.”

“We have been working with a private trainer on reactivity for ten months, and my dog still gets pushed over his threshold several times in each lesson.”

What we’re seeing here is:

  • They’ve been training for quite some time
  • The behavior of their dogs did not improve

Kudos to the owners for being so committed, even without any kind of reinforcement for themselves. This is a training success!
Secondly, we must ask:

Are we doing the dog and ourselves a disservice by continuing with a method that does not bring about change?

To understand why we need to be a bit impatient with the training method, let’s understand what actually forms behaviors:

The first statement makes sense to everyone. If a dog is rewarded, they are more likely to repeat that behavior. That is the exact definition of “reinforcement.”

At the same time, we must remember the second statement. Behaviors that are repeated are ingrained. That applies to behaviors that are repeated because they were rewarded. But also to behaviors that were not rewarded, and the dog still repeated them. This could mean not being rewarded by you or not being rewarded at all.

If you reward your dog when they sit many times, they will keep repeating and ingraining this behavior.

If you bring your dog too close to an intense trigger, and they cross their threshold repeatedly, this will also become ingrained in the total absence of rewards.

So, two types of learning: Good and bad.

Once more:

Your dog ingrains what they repeat. There is no dog training fairy that turns off your dog’s brain when they’re ingraining something you didn’t want to teach.

They are always ingraining something that gets repeated, good or bad.

Let’s come back to our super-patient students from the beginning.

If they have trained for months or years with no improvement, their dogs didn’t just learn “nothing.” Much worse, their dogs now have months or years of practice rehearsing and ingraining the unwanted behavior.

This is precisely why you must be impatient with the training method and patient with the dog.

If a training method is designed in a way that your dog can fail to show the desired behavior over and over, it is a bad idea to keep doing it.

In such a case, the training that happens is even worse than “no training,” it is actually “reverse training,” in which you have the dog ingrain the exact opposite of what you wanted to teach. The student whose dog is still crossing the threshold several times in each session and has done so for the past ten months with a trainer? That poor dog now has much more ingrained reactivity than before!

But how do you know if a training method is right for your dog?

You can tell within the first couple of sessions.

If they aren’t able to be rewarded for being right and don’t rehearse the correct behavior, then you should not keep on trying this out for another week, month, or even year.

If you work with an in-person trainer, you should stop right then and check in with your instructor, “How can I make this successful for my dog?” Ask them how the method can be adapted to your individual dog.

Bottom Line

Be patient with your dog and consistent with training.

Be impatient with the training method.

If it doesn’t allow your dog to be correct, it’s wrong.

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