Positive-only trainers aim to avoid all aversives in dog training.
So, no punishment at all, no matter how mild, in fact no coercion of any kind.
Very few working gundog trainers are truly ‘positive-only’ trainers.
And that includes those that use some clicker training techniques.
To find out why this is, check out ‘some challenges for clicker gundog trainers’.
Some clicker trainers feel that those who use aversives at any time, are not ‘true’ clicker trainers. A full explanation of the scientific principles on which clicker training is based can be read in ‘how dogs learn’ and in ‘operant conditioning in a nutshell for gundog trainers.
A different meaning of punishment
[wp_ad_camp_1]The word ‘punishment’ used in the context of clicker training is not used in the sense that most of us would use the word in normal conversation.
But is the scientific definition of punishment.
The breadth of it’s scope may surprise some readers.
You can find out why in ‘what does punishment mean to a clicker dog trainer’.
The challenge of gundog training
Many clicker trainers strive to use no form of restraint or coercion whatsoever on their dogs at any time, whether during training sessions or during any other interactions with their dogs. Training a gundog using positive only methods can be very challenging
To find out why, you might like to read ‘some challenges for gundog clicker training‘
If you enjoy my articles, you might like my new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook – a definitive guide to early puppy care and training.
Stan Rawlinson says
I am a leasing Dog Behaviourist and Trainer in the UK.
I am fascinated to hear you are a Positive Only Trainer. I also find the term Positive Only Dog Trainer and Oxymoron a contradiction in terms.
I see myself as a gentle and careful behaviourist and trainer. However I understand the Skinner Quadrant.
I have to say that I am afraid you do not.
BTW I started many years ago as a gundog trainer before moving onto domestic dogs then 16 years ago through a friend called John Fisher onto the behavioural path.
Are you aware that the act o attaching a lead to a dog is negative punishment?
What Constitutes a Good or Bad Trainer?
Most good behaviourists and trainers would tend only to use positive reinforcement and negative punishment, except in certain circumstances.
In my opinion most bad trainers and behaviourists would either use just one or all four on a very regular basis.
It may seem strange for me to say positive reinforcement can be bad, however many trainers and some so called behaviourists think that using just positive reinforcement in isolation is the only ethical way to change behaviour.
If they really understood what behavioural and training methods were all about, then they would not take 1*Skinners work and remove two thirds of it.
According to Skinner, who created the behavioural quadrant, the term positive means that something is being presented soon after the response is made,
As a result of that presentation, the response increases in frequency. The positive in positive reinforcement has nothing to do with good or bad, or with what is beneficial or detrimental.
Nor is it necessarily connected in any way to what anyone does or does not want.
In fact, by definition, positive reinforcement could include what we would conceive as punishment .
For instance if a dogs was to snarl and threaten you, and your response was to kick and abuse the dog, then that abuse could serve as a positive reinforcer.
The dog intensifies its aggression towards the owner because of the abuse, with the result that it would increase the level of aggression.
Therefore your abuse will have functioned as a positive reinforcer. The same as praising and treating a dog can reinforce bad behaviour I it is done at the wrong time, just as surely as punishing him in the wrong way.
Understanding operant conditioning and behaviour is far more complex than the simplistic belief that punishment is bad and reinforcement is good.
The above is taken from an article I wrote about Killing with Kindness which is on my website.
Have a nice day. BTW I am also the Author of The Commandments For Dogs. Look it up sometime
I am not sure what the purpose of your comment is?
Whether it is (1) to object to the use of the term ‘positive-only’, or (2) to try and show that I don’t know my subject, or (3) to object to positive reinforcement training in general? So I should probably address all three issues
(1) The term ‘positive-only’
You said: I also find the term Positive Only Dog Trainer and Oxymoron a contradiction in terms.
Positive-only is certainly not a very accurate term. This article was written several years ago when the term positive-only was becoming a bit of a buzzword, and people in the gundog community were beginning to discuss what was meant by it, and whether or not it was an attainable aim.
Of course many people don’t or didn’t understand that ‘positive’ in behavioural terms meant adding something, and ‘negative’ meant subtracting something. So many people did indeed think positive-only mean ‘just being nice and not punishing your dog’. And yes, negative punishment is a part and parcel of positive reinforcement training, though not a part I feel that people need to get overly concerned about. It is however addressed in the links within the article.
What is written above was intended to be an introduction to the concept of positive-only, or what most people saw as ‘force-free’ gundog training. It is simply a starting point for all the other articles on this topic, and the links in the article above lead to much more information.
(2) My understanding of operant conditioning
You said: You do not understand the Skinner quadrant
If you read my article on operant conditioning you will see that I understand it very well. As always, in my articles, I try and represent these concepts in a way that the layman will understand.
Nowadays I tend to avoid the quadrant and talk about the three consequences, people seem to find this more helpful, and I find it is a better way of helping people understand how learning theory relates to their own dog’s behaviour. Much of my more recent work on this is on my dog training blog, because it is relevant to all dogs, not just gundogs
Your comments about abuse I find rather bizarre. I don’t know of anyone that uses positive-reinforcement for this purpose, even if your use of the term in this sense is correct, which is debatable.
(3) Does positive-reinforcement training actually work
This is not a suitable topic for a comments box, but I have written extensively on this subject. Readers are certainly entitled to know that a training method works before investing time and effort into following it. It is important that we don’t resort just to anecdote here, or get caught up in following the latest craze. This article: explores the Evidence for Positive Reinforcement training
I think it is important, when placing information online, especially information intended to educate others, that we have a clear aim and are objective and honest in what we write.
I aim to help people enjoy their dogs, and to train them using fewer aversives.
On a personal level I am fascinated by training without force and personally enjoy the benefits and challenges (yes there are challenges too) in doing so.
When it comes to positive reinforcement training, I think it is important to be honest about these challenges, and you will find plenty of reference to them on this and my other blogs.
On the other hand, I don’t think it really matters if people use somewhat inaccurate terms like ‘positive-only’ though you hear this term less often now. Nor do I think we need to be upset if people don’t fully understand ‘the quadrant’. What matters is that people understand how dogs learn and how to change their dog’s behaviour using a minimum of force.
If this is your aim too, then we are essentially on the same side.
A couple of other points:
You said: It is fascinating to hear you are a positive-only trainer
I don’t know where you heard this, but I am not a positive-only trainer. I train predominantly through positive reinforcement and aim to use a minimum of aversives.
I glanced at the article you reference above and you state:
Owning a dog without setting boundaries and control puts our dogs and their owners at risk of prosecution
Indeed. Failing to train a dog is a grave mistake. But you are making the very common error of confusing positive with permissive. I recommend that people train and proof their dog’s behaviour effectively and have written hundreds of articles helping them to do just that. There is a lot of information on modern positive reinforcement training on my Totally Dog Training website which should address your concerns in this respect. I hope you find it helpful.
Mark Owen says
Hi Pippa, after reading your book Total Recall,I have been searching for a method to contact you,. I am just in the process of attempting to train my 2 year old Newfoundland the basics of recall. I had purchased a whistle as you recommended in your book but I had also purchased a clicker. I do not want the Newfi to be a gundog and was going to train using the 3 pip method. However, I was not sure if I am best use a clicker or whistle? The other minor problem I have is that I have a 12 year old German Sheppard and I assume it would be better to train the Newfi separately, (I was not planning on training the GS). If you get chance to give me a steer I would be very grateful as I plan to invest a great deal of time and effort to get it right and do not want to train to the whistle if I should train to a clicker…many thanks for your help and advice in the book…kind regards…Mark
Hi Mark, the whistle and the clicker are not alternative ways of achieving the same thing. They have completely different roles.
A whistle is used as a cue or signal to tell to dog he must carry out a specific action.
A clicker is used to let the dog know that he did something you liked. So you can use both whistles and clickers to train your dog.
To find out more check out these articles: What are clickers for and What are whistles for.
And yes, you do need to train your puppy separately from the other dog. At least to begin with. Hope that helps. Pippa
Mark Owen says
Thanks for the prompt reply, much appreciated. I have read the articles you suggested and they are very helpful. Would you recommend that I first proceed with the whistle only and work through the total recall book and then use the clicker to re-enforce other positive behaviour ? I am just at a point of moving dinners and treats with the 2 year old Newfi so I have someway to go….once again many thanks…Mark