Understanding Training Models
By CDWA | Sentience | Dogs 101 | November 30, 2020
Training models in use today cover a broad spectrum and it is very important that Owners know how to distinguish the methodologies before hiring. The industry uses public-friendly jargon to sell services, however the costs are transparency and each dog’s behavioural trajectory. The parents of companion animals must have the advantage of choosing services knowledgeably.
The spectrum includes Alpha trainers, Balanced trainers, Positive Reinforcement (R+) trainers and Force-Free trainers. Within the Balanced model, there is an important distinction as well.
CDWA endorses the following models, as they represent the industry’s best practices. This is central to canine well being and our core values.
> LIMA-based Balanced (LIMA: Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive)
> Positive Reinforcement (R+)
> Force/Fear-Free (FF)
In order to become certified, Trainers educate themselves in LIMA/R+/FF at an advanced level. When hiring a Trainer, prefer the Certified credential over any other.
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A Snapshot of Training Models – Philosophies
The simplest way we can explain a very complex discipline: all training involves consequences. The major differences between the training methodologies are each one’s use of corrections and tactics. With predominant use of corrections as a training method, pain is more often used as a consequence. With predominant use of motivation, dogs are steered to good behaviours and rewarded for them—pain is rejected as a tactic. This is a gross over-simplification of how training is applied from dog-to-dog and behaviour-to-behaviour, but for the sake of a reference, it is a reasonable starting point.
Not Endorsed: The Alpha model is corrections-based (negative reinforcement) and trains strict obedience through a dominance-based relationship. It uses aversive pain tools and punishments to attain it. Aversives are force, fear, pain, physical punishment and pain tools. It is based on a theory that humans should dominate dogs. This theory was debunked and redacted by its original author. Within this model, human aggression, aversive (pain) tools and canine punishment and oppression are used, which are inhumane, by definition, and proved to generate undesirable side effects in dogs, like fear, and fear-based aggression toward people and animals. The modern training community views this model as abusive and inappropriate for any animal, much less companion animals. Pain (aversive) punishment, as a training tool, is counter-productive and not required, given that more psychologically-preserving training exists today that generates low/no behavioural side effects. Additionally, animal welfare agencies across Canada, including SPCAs and the Humane Societies, agree that this system is inhumane and does not lead dogs to become good canine citizens.
Not endorsed: Balanced training also pursues obedience. This model is corrections-based (negative), though uses praise to reward good behaviours (positive). It does employ pain punishment and tools to address unwanted behaviours. The punishments vary, as the trainer’s toolkit and personal defaults dictate. There are fewer rules governing ethical tactics. There is more emphasis on seeing behaviours as punishable, rather than as changeable with proper, humanely-based motivation, and this approach lies at the heart of industry contention. When pain and force are used, a dog will learn how to avoid the pain, but he/she will also learn fear. Fearful dogs are reported to have between 2.2-3.8 greater chance for aggression (Casey et al., 2014, 2013, survey of 3,897 dog guardians).
Endorsed: The LIMA-based Balanced Training model is a more attractive variant within the Balanced Training universe because it has humane rules, concerning punishment. It is still corrections-based, however it blends and balances positive reinforcement to stimulate voluntary compliance by rewarding good choices and behaviours, while limiting aversive punishments to Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) options that exist. So while punishment for bad choices is still part of training, the least intrusive and aversive punishments are used, and the psychological side effects of punishment are fewer.
Endorsed: Positive Reinforcement (R+) training takes a radically different view of training, rooting itself in a cooperative, relationship-building dynamic with animals. It does not seek to dominate the animal. R+ has been studied academically, using a multi-disciplinary approach, and demonstrates informed and effective results that are empirically-based. Positive Reinforcement motivates voluntary compliance of good behaviours and choices through a reward system (treats, praise/love, celebration) and does not use aversive tools or pain-punishment to train. Pain and physical force is a last resort in training, in extreme circumstances, and not a default go-to—creating stress or a jeopardized relationship is counter-productive to training goals. This training model is widely accepted and in use as the most humane with the best outcomes. It is the reigning methodology to which Trainers obtain Certification. Positive Reinforcement is successful and negative psychological side effects have not been observed from its use. Positive Reinforcement is broadly recognized as the gold standard.
Endorsed: Force/Fear-Free training pursues voluntary compliance only and involves no pain/pain tools, intimidation, threats, force, luring or coercion. Dogs are trained through a high value reward system (fun, food, toys). This, together with a non-aversive approach to consequences, develops acceptable behaviours. Consequences are delivered in a similar way to R+. Bad choices are assessed/evaluated and not reacted to, or something the dog wants is removed (treat, toy, attention), or the pup is redirected to a better behaviour. Force-free training takes a 360° view of a pup to assess behaviours (health, diet, history, environment, genetics) and upholds a core value to preserve the dignity of the learner, whether human or canine. As a training model, it is difficult to apply wholly, as even a leash is considered aversive. However, as an ideal that can be practiced successfully to a greater degree, it is very successful and also recognized as a gold standard.
♦ Aversive Punishment is a controversial training method. In developing learning theory, punishment has been studied for its use as a training tool. In its simplest form, any teaching tactic or tool must be effective toward the training goal if it is to be considered a practical, useful part of training. If unintended, psychological and potentially dangerous outcomes result from punishment, then it is deemed not useful, academically. Given that humane training is accessible and in practice today, pain and punishment—or inhumane training—is no longer considered training by the training community. On moral grounds, pain and punishment is reprehensible. And legally, unnecessary cruelty to any animal is an offense that results in penalties.
Aversives include pain tools like prong, choke and shock collars, and pain from physical abuse of any type. Likewise, intimidation, threats or using fear as a motivator is deemed aversive. Exposure to increased and sustained or repeated clusters of high stress situations is also considered abusive as it puts dogs past their stress threshold, which produces bio-chemical cascades that are non-therapeutic, counter-productive to learning, and can have longer lasting fear-response repercussions.
Links + Resources
For more information, feel free to access these great source materials.
Review of Dog Training Methods: Welfare, Learning Ability, and Current Standards, Prepared by I.J. Makowska, M.Sc., Ph.D., for the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BCSPCA)
IAABC Position Statement on LIMA training
IAABC Hierarchy of Procedures for Humane and Effective Practice (Humane Heirarchy)
Visit Pet Professional Guild for more information on Force-Free Training and their position statements.