So you’re thinking about getting some training for your dog…

Whether you have thought about it or not, pets are generally captive animals. If they stay in your home that means that without opposable thumbs they are at your mercy and must wait for you to provide everything they need for their physical and mental wellbeing. They need to learn to safely navigate the world you have brought them into and they need to understand how to communicate with you. This is where training comes in.

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Like you, animals are sentient beings. They can feel pain, fear, and emotional distress. And while the science of learning in animals and humans has progressed over the last century, some dog training professionals and human educators have not. There’s an Edutopia article on human learning entitled “Brain-Based Learning – Bringing the Science of Learning Into Classrooms” that echoes what similar science-based research says about learning in animals. Whether applied to human or animals the science of learning is the same. The important thing to remember is that when an organism is in “fight or flight” mode from adversity at home or when reacting to the methods used to teach them, then as the article above says… “Over time, the brain’s circuitry rewires, favoring aggressive or anxious tendencies at the cost of cognition, reasoning, and memory.” Learning is limited and the brain may actually re-wire itself learning unintended aggression responses that serve to protect the organism from stress. Traditional dog training and the compulsive methods brought from traditional dog training into what is now referred to by the misnomer “balanced training” can cause some of the same fallout in training dogs.

The best way to teach is to make learning easy – without fear, stress. or intimidation (compulsion). The student is more amenable to learning. The student will even REMEMBER more of what they’ve learned. Make learning scary with compulsion based traditional teaching methods on the other hand, and the student will be less likely to want to pay attention, remember, or even engage.

Positive reinforcement (“R+) trainers have a goal to make learning fun. Fear Free® and Low Stress Handling® Professionals go the extra mile by studying animal body language and listening to the animal when training or performing cooperative care procedures so the animal remains at a low stress level. To keep the interactions as stress-free as possible we do NOT use aversive training tools like prong, choke, or shock collars that can potentially put the animal in a state of “fight or flight” in order to protect itself from the punishment these tools cause. We also minimize restraints when working with animals in a veterinary setting. In the end, the animals are more cooperative, learn tasks easier, and the chances of the humans being bitten are reduced.

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Like humans, not all animals have the same ability to learn or perform certain tasks . The variables of age and brain development, natural learning style, previous skill sets, physical ability to move in certain ways, personality, temperament, motivation, and prior experience are all taken into consideration when a good professional sets up a training plan. (Think elementary school, middle school, high school, and college.) You wouldn’t send a 5 year old to college without first starting in elementary school and building on the skills from previous lessons. While the training plan may be different for each dog, the science based methodology force-free professionals adhere to stays the same for all and follows the recommendations of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. Per the AVSAB recommendations, and the Code of Ethics we agreed to in various professional organizations that support these recommendations, we use only reward based methods in teaching the dogs in front of us.

Secondary reinforcer

At Respectful Communications, our training isn’t “unique” or “innovative.” We use the science of behaviorism to train each individual student with the same respect and compassion that we would use to teach you or your human children. As positive reinforcement professionals we don’t focus our training on the whack-a mole methods of “correcting” (another word for punishing) your pet. Correcting doesn’t “teach” the student what you want them to do instead of what they are currently doing that you don’t like. Instead, as professionals educated in the science of evidence-based learning we use food, toys, and life rewards to positively reinforce (R+) good behaviors while removing the rewards that cause bad behaviors to repeat. We also use management of the home environment to modify unacceptable behaviors and then we train new behaviors more fitting to your lifestyle. We are NOT the same as “balanced-trainers.” R+ training uses no choke, no prong, no e-collars, or any other aversive tools that could harm your pet.

You will also notice there is no “pack leader” mentality in positive reinforcement training. That is because the alpha wolf theories have long since been debunked, you can not be a pack leader of a difference species, and dogs are not out to dominate the world. There is simply a communications disconnect between the dog and the human, no different than if you went to a different country and didn’t understand the language. Without learning the new language it would be hard to understand what people are saying.. R+ trainers bridge that gap by teaching the pet and the guardian how to communicate.

We don’t force your animal to “obey.” Instead we develop respectful dialogue with your animal using verbal cues, visual cues (hand signals) and / or olfactory cues (especially helpful if you have a blind or deaf dog). If you watch as we teach you will see that it is not that different from the simple one word cues in a play (think “action” or “cut”) or hand signals in a baseball game between the umpire and the catcher. The communication is back and forth, not forced, and nothing is demanded of the other in the exchange. Our goal is to build a happy, confident partnership where you and your pet learn to speak the same language and enjoy each other’s company without the components of fear, force, or intimidation (aggression). We all know that smiles are contagious. They make organisms that smile want to engage, and that engagement is what facilitates learning!