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Proactive VS Reactive Training - How to Train Your Dog to Make Good Choices

There is an expression in Dog Training about a Dog being "Under a Thumb". A dog who is "under the thumb," refers a dog who is only well behaved when he has no other option. One who only makes good choices due to the threat of a correction. This is a dog who has been trained using a reactive approach. This dog, while under the control of his handler, usually appears obedient and well trained. Watch this same dog when the thumb is lifted, and he's likely to make very different choices.

Reactive Dog Training

Dogs are not vindictive. They don't sit around plotting choices. They don't lay in wait hoping they'll have the opportunity to be bad. Dogs do what is rewarding!

They rely on a history of reinforcement to make choices. When there are grey areas or no clear value established by us, they will revert to the things that have proven to be self-rewarding in the past. Let's take the example of jumping on guests.

Today we look at our Dolce. Dolce is a Happy forever ambassador here in Southernwind who loves to greet people and jump on them for attention. . She loves people and is always eager to greet them. As soon as she sees a person, new to him or not, she jumps on them in an eager attempt to greet and make friends. Dolce is not a bad dog, she's just not clear on the rules.

So we decide on going to train Dolce out of the bad habit of jumping up. Naty place a leash and every time Dolce jumps on someone, she uses correction to teach her not to jump

She learns quickly that jumping up on someone is unpleasant. She is a smart dog and it only takes a couple of repetitions for Dolce to make better choices while on a leash.

Naty pats herself on the back and moves on with the daily chores. The next day, a friend named Yvonne comes over. Dolce is excited and jumps up on Yvonne. Naty gets her leash, puts it on and corrects Dolce again. This time, she only has to correct once and Dolce remembers that it is not fun to jump up. Great - Naty feels accomplished again thinking how proud she is that her correction plan is working. then Dolce starts to make better choices when she is on leash and "under the thumb."

When Naty is out walking Dolce, she rarely jumps on anyone anymore, but the problem is when she's off-leash when the thumb is lifted. After more than 2 weeks of the same formula: Dolce jumps up, Naty corrects, Dolce stops jumping - Naty is starting to wonder why she's not making more progress. Dolce has learned that she shouldn't jump up while she's on a leash, but when she's off-leash, she's still a jumping menace. Worse, she's now becoming hard to catch when Naty tries to put on the leash to correct Dolce. She's become leash-wise. Dolce knows when the threat of correction is real and when she can let go of any self-control and let the self-rewarding behavior of jumping up take over.

This scenario is very real. We hear these stories all of the time. Can you guess what is missing in the equation? Dolce has been taught that when she is on the leash, it' unpleasant to jump up... but that's all she's learned!

Proactive Dog Training

Now for another approach. Meet Frank and Jet. Jet is also a happy Dog. He loves people and is always eager to greet them. As soon as he sees a person, new to him or not, he jumps on them in an eager attempt to greet and make friends. Jet is not a bad dog, he's just not clear on the rules. His handler, Frank, decides that he's going to train Jet out of the bad habit of jumping up.

German Shepherds in Florida
Southernwind German Shepherds

As you see, Frank has the same problem as Naty, but he fixes it differently. He puts on a leash so he can keep control of Jet and he works hard on teaching Jet to sit in the face of distractions. He uses a variety of rewards to build value for Jet holding a sit. When Jet meets new people, Frank tells them that he's in training and learning good manners and requests that they only interact with Barker when he's sitting. He uses his well-taught sit skill to make sure Jet is doing something that is contrary to jumping up. It's not always easy for Jet as he's trying to fight with the self-reward of jumping up, but Frank is patient and builds distance as he needs to. Once jet is sitting, he gets to greet the stranger and he gets lots of his favorite treats for holding the sit. After a few days, Frank notices that as Jet sees people approach, he starts to sit in anticipation of all the great rewards he's now associated with sitting. He knows that in order to get the reward of greeting, he has to sit first. Frank gives himself a pat on the back and begins to vary his feeding schedule to wean away from the food rewards. So, what is the big difference between Dolce and Jet? Jet has been taught to make a choice. If he makes the right choice, he gets reinforced in multiple ways. He is not given the opportunity to continue rehearsing the wrong way. Good dog training can't ever be about correction alone.

Being reactive to a problem won't solve that problem. There has to be concrete information on both sides of the coin. There is a consequence for Dolce of a leash correction when she jumps up. There is also a consequence for Jet when he makes the wrong choice - he doesn't get the very thing he wants - he doesn't get to greet his new friend. In addition, if he's allowed a chance to make a choice based on a history of reinforcement, rather than just a set up to fail, he quickly starts to make the right one. Because Jet has been taught what he SHOULD do, rather than just what he shouldn't, he's not reliant on being under thumb. Dolce, on the other hand, will always have to be under thumb to make the right choice. She's only learned what NOT to do within the limited context of being on leash. She's never been given the opportunity to make a good choice on her own.

When you are approaching a training problem, consider the whole picture. Yes, we want our dogs to know what they can't do, but we need to take the time to make sure they understand what they CAN do. With good planning and concrete expectations, we can retire the expression "under thumb" and let our dogs do their own thinking. Dogs are honest creatures - they will make good choices if we set them up to do so.

This Article was written by MCANN Dogs, great explanation in detail to be understood!

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