Treat Training Trinity – Why positive reinforcement did not work for my dog.

About fifteen years ago, when I started apprenticing as a trainer, I used leash corrections and other forms of “discipline”.  I no longer leash correct, and have not for more than a decade.  This is not because I had a moral agenda.  I simply needed an effective training solution.

Kiki, my learning dog pulled like a tugboat.  We tried so many techniques we could have been the poster child for:

“But I tried positive reinforcement and it did not work.”

I chuckled and snickered with other trainers, “Ignore bad behaviour?  So you just LET the dog knock grandma to the ground?”  Teaching with food and then proofing with corrections seemed to make more sense.

We ran the gamut on protocols:

Food luring Collar corrections – flat collar
Collar corrections – nylon slip Head halter use
Head halter to reposition dog Head halter corrections
Chain choke collar correction Special choke collar correction (sits behind the dog’s ears)
Clicker instead of verbal marker Penalty yards
Be a tree Change of direction
Reward dog for releasing leash pressure Reward with approach to distractions
Hiding food rewards/surprise Finger poking the dog


Failure was not from a lack of effort or poor timing.  That special choke collar came from a very large, well-known training facility.  Ironically, they market themselves as being positive.

I have heard people say that positive reinforcement did not work for their pets.  Upon further digging, their chart looks oddly similar to mine. This is not positive reinforcement.  This is a mixed bag of reinforcements and punishments, more aversive than not.  We don’t even know if any of the elements were executed correctly.  In hindsight, I know that in Kiki’s case, they were not.

Kiki was lucky because I am stubborn.  Despite multiple trainers telling me to give up on her, I kept searching for a solution.  Our journey took us to a workshop and some private sessions where some exercises had a profound impact on my way of thinking.  I realized that intending to use positive reinforcement was not the same as using it effectively.

In each of these exercises, we initially fed so quickly it was obscene.  The clicker took on a machine gun staccato.   Feed!  Faster!  Click – TREAT!  Click – TREAT!  Again!  Again!  Faster!  You’re clicking too slowly!

I can’t emphasize how fast we were feeding that dog.  She was right and right and right.

Twitchy toes Kiki, who couldn’t stand still on account of her tail wagging so hard, learned a stand for exam.  On the formal recall, she learned to target a bulldog clip attached to the front of my shirt.  I stepped back 5 cm, asked for the touch – click and treat.  Five centimeters seems absurdly easy!  (That’s two inches for my American friends.)

Wouldn’t you know: it worked.  Not only did it work, we finally moved AWAY from food rewards.  The gasp I heard at her first competition as she charged toward me and sat in a perfect front , I can still hear it.  It’s one of my fondest memories of Kiki.  Within months of measured, planned and well-executed positive reinforcement, Kiki stopped pulling on leash.  Did I mention, she did this on a body harness?

Properly executed, positive reinforcement works.

It all comes down to the Bob Bailey trinity.  Timing – criteria – rate of reinforcement.  While providing feedback at the right moment in time is important, it is equally important to raise expectations in small, measured increments.  Too big of a leap and the dog goes from right to wrong.  We also need to provide fast feedback in the initial stages of training.  Pause too long between reinforcements and the dog checks out, gets bored or would rather be elsewhere.

The greatest irony being that strong technique allows owners to wean away from food treats faster.  A few weeks or a month of good technique may include bursts of obscene machine gun clicking.  The alternative is months or years of slow feeding and searching for the miracle cure that may or may not come.

It doesn’t help when fear of food mongering encourages people to reduce treat use.  Stingy feeding and large leaps in criteria create a weak technical foundation.  That weakness is what creates, “I tried positive reinforcement, but it did not work.”

Technique matters…period.  The tougher the dog, the more important technique becomes.  I see those dogs as the ones that point a paw at me and say, “You have more learning to do….I shall point out your technical weaknesses!”  I cherish those dogs for the lessons.  I truly hope that I never fall into the mindset to think that I know it all.

Re-visit the dog training trinity first when a dog is not responding in the way you want.  We seem to spend so much time, effort and money adding new tools to the toolbox.  It pays to sharpen and hone the essential tools we already have.

It’s like buying a food processor because your dull knife won’t cut a tomato.  Of course the knife isn’t working.  You have not maintained it.  Sharpen it.  Don’t neglect the essential tools of timing, criteria and rate of reinforcement.  They are the ones you need to count on.  Really, it’s not a moral issue.  At the end of the day we want dog training that works.

105 thoughts on “Treat Training Trinity – Why positive reinforcement did not work for my dog.

  1. thank you for this post. I’ve had a 2-year old rescue for about 6 months now and it’s been really tough. he was neglected by his previous owner and kept in the backyard for 2 years with no training whatsoever. after i rescued him, i noticed that he is crazy aggressive outdoors with no self-control nor look to me for leadership/cues, especially with ANY distraction (even sunlight! wth!!!), and he is extremely nervous indoors. possible due to hardwood floors? he walks slow, doesn’t play, just lays down and doesn’t make any contact or tries to play. he does react well when i bring the toy to him though. he will only come if he wants to be let out, but he just seems defeated most of the time. definitely signs of anxiety, and it gets worse when he is left alone – i’ve had to do a ton of repairs in the home and have now resorted to only leaving him with supervision.

    we’ve gone to few different trainers and he does well in the controlled training facilities, but everything changes when we are at home or outside. he is still trained enough to follow commands in isolated environments though (sit/down/stay) but none of that stays with him through distractions.

    i’ve recently come across dr. sophia yin’s site and have been trying very hard to follow the positive reinforcement, and your points regarding RATE of reinforcement hits home. however, he is often unresponsive to foods (unless it’s a very high value treat like meats) so even when he does the right thing, it doesn’t usually give him the proper connections. again, he still refuses to look to me for guidance nor permission, and things that work in isolation doesn’t work with any sort of distraction.

    it seems like he’s just going through the motions to avoid punishment, rather than doing things that will help him (fun, food, play, etc). unfortunately, i did punish him in the past when he got out of hand outdoors by holding him down, thinking he was aggressive rather than him reacting to fear/unknown (i know better now).

    i’m buying a head halter today to help him snap out of distractions outdoors but would really appreciate any advice in getting him to make the proper connections that doing something he should = rewards = good. he doesn’t react consistently, so it’s been hard to be consistent with him. 😦 it would be great if i can at least get that connection going AT HOME and then i can slowly introduce the outside world…although i feel like i am going backwards every day when i have to go out for potty or exercise.

    should i just try to not take him outside for a while until he has his positive reinforcement mindset down? how do i get him if he doesn’t value food? (he doesn’t have food bowl anymore per dr.yin) how do i not take him outside? he refuses to go potty indoors, even with potty pads, fake grass, pee-promoting solutions, not taking him out for a while, everything… so not really sure what to do. he has so many compounding issues, i just feel lost, don’t know what to focus on and feel like i’m just doing everything wrong.

    i am currently out of work so can’t really afford more training with trainers anymore. 😦

    thank you!

    • Hyung – Your question is really important but I don’t think it has anything to do with rate of reinforcement. When working with anxiety, we usually use classical conditioning. We teach the dog to gradually, in small steps, to develop a positive association to things they fear. It’s like a cat learning to like a can opener. Maybe an outdoor cat hears a can opener and it sounds scary. But over time, the cat learns to like the sound of the can opener because it means food.
      Notice there is no behaviour being reinforced. It’s just buzzzzz – cat food.
      The reason you’re probably struggling is because you’re using positive reinforcement on a problem that needs classical conditioning. Once you get a strong association (and we test to make sure that happens), then you can swing into positive reinforcement. An anxious dog won’t be able to focus on you because the perceived threat is going to take priority in your dog’s brain. It would be like me saying “do you want a cupcake?” when you’re scared of an approaching snake. You would be like, “NO! I don’t want a cupcake…SNAKE!” So you have to change the emotion first. Behaviour second.

  2. I agree but some dogs are not food motivated outside…I’ve skipped several meals, used best meat cheese etc… Verbal praise and touch/pet are used but not like a treat would be rapid fire Any suggestions?

    • Get the behaviour stronger without distractions first using the high rate of reinforcement. Then when ready to add distractions, add them “on the side” in small doses. Otherwise it’s like putting a kindergarten kid into high school. They’re going to bomb.
      Split the steps into tiny slivers.
      Generally I rarely use really high value food for obedience stuff. I use “optimal” food. I suppose that what I’m trying to say is there is a time and place to up the food value. I don’t like it when dogs are ravenous either. They don’t think well then. Food value should not go up if the reason the dog is not getting the exercise is that the increases in difficulty are too big. Adjust training first. Up the treat value only if you have to for certain “emergencies.”

  3. This is one of the first things you learn with Karen Pryor and clicker training is the rate of reinforcement and how and when to use it. You have to learn the “mechanics” of how it works. Victoria Stilwell is a wonderful trainer and I use her materials as well as many other good positive trainers. I have found some dogs with heel I do not have to feed as quick as others. But when I have a puller, it is treat treat treat.

  4. Part of the ‘trick’ is determining what the DOG (not you) considers a treat. We automatically think food, but for many dogs it can be ‘chase the ball’ or ‘tug of war’. Clickers are great, once the connection is made between ‘click’ & ‘reward’, because you are not constantly diving into your pocket for food. The dog (or other animal) learns that a reward is coming, even if there is a bit of a delay. And research has shown that semi-random rewards (after the behavior you want is understood by the animal) actually work better than a reward every time. Look on Youtube at some of the training videos of the Budweiser Clydesdales. With dogs, horses (and probably any animal), the very first thing you need to learn is how to think like that animal and not expect the animal to think like a human. (I think this also applies to human teen-agers!)

  5. Reblogged this on #knoxdog and commented:
    There are days when I feel like I’m doing it all wrong and I might as well just go out and buy some quick-fix prong or e-collar. This post reflects how much my technique needs improvement, and how I’m not setting Knox up for success through my lackadaisical criteria setting.
    Most importantly, reexamining the way I provide feedback is critical and this line describes my current training program perfectly: This is not positive reinforcement. This is a mixed bag of reinforcements and punishments, more aversive than not.

    • Nicolb – You can adjust your criteria and make it a habit. So worth the effort. Once it’s a habit, it becomes easy. I’ve been there. Hope you enjoy the results as you progress in criteria setting.

      • We’ve adjusted (and readjust continuously) after reading your blog and have had amazing success with his reactivity on-leash. We went from not being able to be 2 blocks away from seeing a dog to walking beside one 2m away in a month with strong sessions every other day. I’m really glad you wrote this post!

    • The same as I’d work with a younger one. The only difference I find is that sometimes you need to be more careful in orchestrating the environment so it doesn’t support existing bad habits…if they exist.
      Unless there is a medical problem, they learn just the same.

    • Great article – thanks. Re. older dogs my dog is 12, I would say that getting it right with an older dog is even more important than a younger one. I see a lot of people training and many are fasr to parsimonious with their treats

  6. Pingback: What when positive reinforcement does not work - Page 2

  7. This page is amazing and inspiring. I adopted my first dog about three weeks ago in an attempt to bring me back into society a bit. I have a disability that really limits my ability to be outside, make friends or have any sort of fun outside my tiny apartment. Before my dog I had worked with many dogs and was always encouraged in the ways of dominance, since it worked quickly in a daycare setting where we were not allowed to bring treats. Lucky for me (and SoKo) I found out about positive training on youtube from ‘kikopup’ and ‘training positive.’ So I studied it for about a year and then finally I got my own dog to try it on. I came to this page because I got caught up in my poor dogs “failures,” and the sheer anxiety of traversing through the outdoors. Yet reading your post made me realize that my training needs work, but more importantly that my dog is learning and its affecting her overall behavior in great ways, even though its slow. Its easy to miss the changes if your not looking, but SoKo whines less, rarely barks (she used to even bark at the sound of stirring my coffee), and she nuzzles my hands instead of ducking away when I reach to pet her. My goal is to train her to be my own service dog and sometimes my extreme need causes me to try to push her to progress faster than she is comfortable, but we are both still learning and we are both very forgiving. I would be so glad to have a corespondent to chat with through out the training process since I can’t rely on my no-existent friends to help motivate me to stay on the right/positive path. My relationship with SoKo means the world to me and I would be forever grateful to have someone to bounce ideas off of from time to time (since a lot of people/family don’t see why I’m doing this type of training or the benefits it has). Would that at all be a possibility? Either way I’m stubborn as heck and we are not going to give up until the both of us have a better and more full life.

    • Elyse, I am not a professional, but if you ever want to talk to me, please feel free to. Frustrations, mistakes, bragging – anything! Simply send me a pm on Facebook. My name is Wulf Shuyler.

    • Dear Elyse & SoKo, Hang in there and DON’T GIVE UP! Being able to go outside with a dog will help you tremendously. As SoKo’s anxiety lessens, so will yours. Best of luck.

  8. I came across this article after a Google search of “positive reinforcement isn’t working for my dog” and it is making me rethink my decision to give up on positive reinforcement but I don’t think I’m completely sold yet. My 9 month old puppy used to listen with positive reinforcement until I realized he was playing me just to get treats. If I didn’t have any treats on me then he would do whatever he wished and ignore me. I feel like since he turned 9 months old it has gotten worse. He hesitates when I give him the “sit” command and sometimes just ignores me completely like I’m not even there. The worse is when we are out on a walk and he barks at other dogs. It is so embarrassing and honestly quite dangerous because he is now a 55 pound 9 month German Shepherd/Hound mix and strong. I tell him to “leave it” when I see him make eye contact with the other dog but that doesn’t help. Once we get close he goes to barking and lunging at the other dog. Not always but about 75% of the time, which is more than too much. He is starting to pull on the leash again and chase squirrels/birds, and his nipping is out of control too. I’m really contemplating a harsher form of training for him but I REALLY don’t want to. Any help/advice?

    • PuppyMom, I’m not a professional trainer, but three things jumped out at me in your post:

      1. He’s 9 months old. Think “teenage.” It’s entirely possible his brain has been beamed up to another planet and will not reappear for another year or so 😀

      2. He’s part hound. While these guys tend to have stellar temperaments, they also tend to NOT be the dog of choice for obedience competition … because they’re often not very interested in what YOU want.

      3. ” I tell him to “leave it” when I see him make eye contact with the other dog but that doesn’t help. Once we get close he goes to barking and lunging at the other dog.” — If you even THINK he might be about to react, “getting close” is the last thing you want to do: Make a U-turn, give him a cheery “Okay, let’s go!” and have treats ready for even the smallest glance in your direction. If he’s barking/lunging, he’s already way too close.

      If you’re on Facebook, try posting your questions to this wonderful group — it’s full of professional trainers/behaviorists (and just as many “plain old dog owners” who happen to have a wealth of training and behavior knowledge):

      Best of luck to you!

      • But, always take social media group advice with a grain of salt. Especially if you’re already feeling that positive reinforcement failed you. IMO, now is the time to really focus on technique. The risk of being part of a large group of trainers and owners is there are way too many “quick fix” and proprietary things you can buy.
        Some good. Some not so good. One thing that is always good is strong technique. I just don’t want this person to be given “fixes” that are bad form – and have it further convince her that R+ doesn’t work.
        It does. Been there, many years ago. I know how it feels. Trying all the advice out there can be so frustrating.

      • Thank you Eileen! I’ve heard from others as well that the next few months will be tough because he is in his “teenage” stage. I will continue to push through. I will also be mindful about approaching other dogs and turn around even if it’s out of our way. And I’ll check out the Facebook page too. Thanks again!

    • PuppyMom:
      There are many reasons why this might be happening for you. I don’t know which one might be a problem for your dog. So I’ll write out a list and perhaps it can foster some discussion. These are common things that people (including many trainers) do and don’t realize they do. They can create what you describe.
      1 – Owner says sit. Dog fails to respond. Owner reaches into bait bag or moves hand toward it. Dog sits. Dog learns, “Ignoring a command makes owner reach for treats. It pays to ignore commands.”
      2 – Reliance on verbal commands instead of using the environment to give the commands. I want a dog to see a distraction and focus on me first. I do not want the dog to look and have to be told to leave it. Too much micromanaging IMO. Looking at owner for direction should be the default. Seeing a distraction is the command.
      3 – Positive reinforcement is not treat training. It often uses treat to teach a behaviour. But life should support your lessons. “See another dog, look at owner…if you want you can give the dog the ability to go play. Or not.” But you give what the dog wants is safe to do so. Sometimes the dog wants something other than a cookie.
      4 – Failing to transfer value to command. Ever see a dog do a trick that it loves. It’s like it doesn’t need any cookies because the dog has joy in doing the trick? That’s transfer of value. Hearing the command makes the dog happy. Create internal joy over doing what they are supposed to do.
      5 – Criteria. If the dog is messing up more than 20%, it means the dog is struggling. Need to make things easier and build up skill. Otherwise you end up with a dog that is always wrong. They “quit.”
      6 – The bait bag or smell of treats is part of the dog’s expectation. “I’ll only listen if I know you have food.” Dog needs to learn that you actually are more fun and pay better if you have NO sign of food. I mean fun, not hyper. 🙂
      7 – Physical cues. We hold our hand one way if we have a treat. We hold it another way if we have no treat. Dog failed to hear the command all along. Noticed the hand. (Or other body part)
      8 – Speed of reinforcement. Are you reinforcing fast enough to drive the point home. If you end up feeding too slowly while teaching a skill, the dog gets bored and wanders off. If not physically, then mentally. You create yo-yo dog. Leave, come back for a cookie when they feel like it.
      9 – Determining if lunging and barking is fear based or frustration based. We often try so hard to teach the dog “no you may not see that other dog.” That can make dogs frustrated. The more we work at that, the more they want it. The more frustrated they get. Need to be very focused on speed of reinforcement – rewarding an alternate behaviour for the frustrated dog. For fearful dogs, it’s entirely different. Separating these two things, knowing which category your dog fits into is important.
      10 – Clear separation between fun/play/active versus calm/quiet/relax. Too many dogs are pests when they should be lying down doing their own things.

      Those are some ideas to consider. There are many ways where we can make a tiny mistake and not realize it. (Same goes for force training actually…it’s not that R+ is harder.) Devil is in the details.

      • Wow. I think you nailed it, especially number 1. I didn’t realize it until our walk this evening. I tried to be a little more mindful of all of these items and that was the first one I noticed. “Bad owner, bad!” 😦 I guess I will continue with the positive reinforcement and see if I can do a better job on my end instead of putting so much on my puppy. I’ll check in a few weeks on any progress. Thank you!!

        • Oh, but how can I really determine if he is barking out of fear or anxiety? It’s hard to tell the difference. His tail is not always a clear indicator because I’ve seen him wagging his tail while barking aggressively. Or at least it sounded aggressive. I’m a first time owner and so I’m still learning myself.

          • Do you know what he’s like if off leash and allowed to play with other dogs? You don’t have to experiment. Just wondering if you already know.
            The treat thing…very common mistake. Habit that can be challenging to break. I have full confidence that you can do it. 🙂

        • If you have questions, please feel free to ask. Lots of good people here. Feel free to send me a friend request or like my business page. Then ask anything you like. My pages tend to have really nice people who are quite good technically. Owners mixed in there too.

  9. Pingback: P1 People and Puppy training! - 2yrold Pyranees/heeler

  10. This is a very good article! I’m going to work on my techniques (already using R+, but want to improve) and this has given me a good starting point. Thanks!

  11. Pingback: training methods discussion - Page 5

  12. I have yet to see anyone give a protocol for weaning off treats. Consequently I continue to see people who’ve been to classes whose dogs are only responsive when treats are available.

    • Switch to variable reinforcement. Replace some reinforcements with real life rewards. Make the activity intrinsically reinforcing. Create habits. Premack.
      Watch subtle errors. Okay to have food in the hand at first. But really should make a point of “I asked for sit, when you sit THEN I will reach for the treat.”
      Many dogs don’t wean off treats because owners do: “Sit…(dog ignores)…owner reaches for treat pouch..Sit…dog sits.”
      Other mistake people make is that they only train in dog training posture, looking at the dog, treats in sight. Dog learns that it’s only being addressed when the owner looks like they are training. So helps to teach the dog to listen even if you look like you are doing normal, daily things and not looking at the dog.
      The world is full of “treats.” Asking a dog to sit before you open the door is giving the dog a treat. Not an edible one. It still accomplishes the same thing.
      Positive reinforcement isn’t actually “treat” training. It’s just easy to use treats because they give speed of reinforcement in beginning stages of training. If you use the door as a reward, that is positive reinforcement. Suppose it’s treat training. The treat of going outside.

      • exactly and water is a treat to a gundog doing a dry land retrieve, and toys are treats, interactive play times are treats , of course you can wean off, random and then suddenly jackpot for a great distraction recall, tie in your hand signals and whistles. We use a small tub of treats, not in our hands always, so we reach for them.

  13. I have had and train Siberian Huskies (for 30 years) and do pretty well in agility and have an upcoming young hopeful. I feel the ONLY way to train a Siberian is positive. If you punish a Siberian, he will show you that you shouldn’t have done it when he is off leash! That is the main issue with the breed is keeping them with you when they are off leash, so you better make it all fun, fun, fun for the dog!

  14. When a human complains that positive reinforcement didn’t work for their dog, that they need to use punishment as well, they are in fact transferring the responsibility for teaching their dog from themselves and onto the dog which is grossly unfair to the dog.

    • Okay, than here is a question that no one has been able to answer for me in satisfaction. I have a friend who has been told by her trainer to ignore / Turn her back on her 125 pound dog, who jumps up on her and everyone else for that matter. She lives alone and as she turns her back on the dog, he jumps up on her and she has marks all the way down her back and legs due to this dog. She is always bruised. But yet, though she is ignoring the behavior and turns her back to him….he is taking advantage of her and is beating her up. Now explain to me step by step, how she is suppose to reinforce keeping this dog off of her and any other “old” person or child with positive reinforcement? This dog is now going on 7 years old, she has had him since he was 8 weeks old and by now I would of killed him.

        • The dog is only as “”horrible” as it’s owner teaches it to be. If after 7 years this dog hasn’t changed duh what does that tell you? Your not doing it right. If your friend has the attitude about her dog that you do it’s no wonder he is still jumping. Get a clue. It’s not the dogs fault.

      • I’ll assume that they have been told, “Give the dog a treat when he sits.” But he doesn’t sit. So she can’t give him a treat. Or if she does it’s after the dog has already pummeled her. Because the dog is so large, it is so difficult to ignore that that at the very least she’s protecting herself and defending herself by putting her arms out, sometimes removing the dog because otherwise she’s going to get hurt?

        That is a technical mistake and it’s about criteria and speed of reinforcement. I have not seen this dog, so I can’t say exactly how to approach, but I can tell you what I’d be looking at.
        1 – Can this dog sit on command, when asked, the first time. Does this dog know sit cold in a boring environment?
        2 – Can this dog sit on command, when asked, the first time with moderate distractions.
        In both of those I mean sit, without jumping.
        If not, then I’d be saying that the dog doesn’t know sit well enough and drill it.
        3 – Continue drilling, adding distractions but also ask if the sit is important or no jumping.

        Why not look for every opportunity to yes/treat (or click/treat) the dog when 4 paws are on the floor?

        You’re on the floor – yes/treat. Still on the floor? Yes/treat. Still? Yes/treat. You’re running at me? Sit! Before the jump. Yes/treat.

        If the sits are weak, she won’t get it as the dog is charging. If her criteria is too high (sit instead of 4 on the floor), then the dog will launch at her.

        Kip (the dog in my banner), we call him the ex-crotch ripper because he used to go after crotches. He’d bite down on them. He also used to jump up at women’s hair, trying to drag them to the ground. I drilled sits a ridiculous amount BEFORE the crotch ripping (of course). You don’t let a dog misbehave, you get ahead of the problem. I drilled them at easy levels and then moved up to hard ones. I spent time wearing a hula skirt and asking for sits because swishy things drove him nuts. One step – sit – treat. Step – sit – treat. Two steps – sit – treat. Three steps…four steps…ONE fast jogging step – sit – treat.

        Stick him to the ground. Make sure that she is not accidentally giving attention for misbehaviour. Attention is a reward for most dogs, even if it’s negative. “Stop! Ow! Son of a … ” Usually a reward.

        • I think in this lady’s situation I would also use a tether for this big guy so he can learn to greet with a sit without pummeling her. Just a management tool so he can’t beat her up while she TEACHES him that sitting gets him good things.

      • 1) if the dog is excited she needs to EXERCISE it more BEFORE even trying to to work on training – if she gets jumped on when she gets home maybe have dog in a crate so it can’t jump on her the minute she walks in the house and when she lets him/her out put a leash on right away and get the dog out to play and get that pent up energy out before trying working on anything (tired dog is easier to work with) Exercise is so often over looked and yet it is so important.. I myself have the worlds most hyper great dane (who is way bigger than me)!! so I KNOW it can be a challenge to get that energy out at times.. try playing fetch etc or if dog walks good on a leash take her for a run on leash (if this person can do that) sometimes just going for a walk isn’t enough to get that energy out of a excited dog…My dane likes me to play ‘chase” where he takes a toy and I chase him and tickle him around the yard .. we both get pretty worn out hahaha…he hasn’t mastered fetch yet lol….but we are working on it hehe..

        2) put dog on a leash so she has more control. I can’t say this enough

        3) work on teaching dog to sit and/or lay down – you must teach him/her what you WANT them to do INSTEAD …turning your back on them does work with some dogs however just like kids learn differently so do some dogs…and you might need to be creative and try something else…

        4) another option (use later once dog understands sit or down 100% of the time) is work on teaching the dog to stay in his/her place (have a mat area for her to go to when someone rings the doorbell for example…) doorbells rings and eventually she will automatically go to her ‘place’ before anyone is let in the house (and she must stay there)

        I can’t get into the “how to” part of teaching all this in a comment BUT if this person really wants to get into training she might try finding another trainer if this one isn’t able to help her… 7 yrs is a long time to be jumped on for sure!!

        These are just suggestions and they may help if she already knows the basics of training or as I said find a different trainer if needed…and perhaps more one on time with a trainer would be better than a group class setting…

        Hope these suggestions help and give you some ideas to help her..

      • Here ya go–

        It’s often not enough to just wait for the jump to happen and then turn your back. The dog is still practicing the jumping behavior and if it’s been going on for years, I’m sure he still finds it quite effective for getting attention (screaming in pain can be attention from the dog’s perspective).

        It sounds like the dog has simply never been taught how to greet people politely. She just needs to go back to square one and teach him that. I would suggest that she tether her dog on leash and perhaps wrap it around the banister or a sturdy tree outside. Get her clicker and treat bag and approach the dog slowly. If the dog remains seated, continue approaching. If he jumps up, say “oops!” and turn around to try again. When she can approach him up close, approach and wait for a sit. Click! and treat at soon as it happens. The dog is tethered so if it jumps up, it won’t be landing on her.

        In the meantime, you prevent the dog from jumping up on others in the first place through management. Fragile guests coming over? Dog on leash or in the other room with a kong.

    • this is a joke. This world is being overrun by this positive training hippie movement. Every living organism learns through rewards and consequences.

      Now for the record, I’m all for positive training. Train and teach behaviors through positive reinforcement .. absolutely! But I’m heartbroken from reading countless of posts (I belong to a FB reactive dogs group just for kicks) about people who have ‘trained’ their dogs not to react through the CARE protocol. Trigger, treats etc. There are people on that page who have been at this for 8 YEARS who still have reactive dogs. People who have to walk their dogs at 5am and midnight just so they can avoid ‘triggers’. People who have to fit into their dog’s lives and not the other way around. THIS IMO is not humane. At what point do you abandon ship and give another method a chance?

      People who talk about punishment like it’s abuse (sure.. people can use it wrong and cause abuse) have no clue how real life works. Punishment is transferring responsibility from us to the dog?? Listen, I would rather punish (correct) my dog for something than to let nature correct my dog for me. My dog wants to run out into traffic? I’ll correct him before the car does. My dog wants to eat stuff off the ground? I’ll correct him for it before he gets rushed into emergency. NO, punishment is me taking on the burden of showing the dog what not to do after I’ve trained him what to do. Punishment is me taking on the role of someone he looks to so he doesn’t have to make those mistakes and find out the hard way on his own. Ignoring bad behavior is putting the burden of teaching the dog on himself… this is how dogs end up in shelters.

      Remember, reinforcement TEACHES. Punishment stops or suppresses a behavior. Anyone that wants to quote science is just reciting old text and doesn’t actually have any expertise in the field of properly administering punishment and its effectiveness.

      I had an extremely reactive dog before. With guidance and balanced training (aka, praise and rewards for right decisions and consequences for bad choices) I have effectively reduced his reactivity by 95% within a month. He is not shut down, or unhappy. Rather he now doesn’t have to be burdened with an anxious state of mind every time we walk out the door. The burden now falls with his handler (me) to take care of things that come our way. His only job.. to walk with me and to enjoy life.

      Take this excerpt from Gary Wilkes blog. The same Gary Wilkes that created Clicker Training with Karen Pryor. Someone in a thread cited her.

      “This is from Murray Sidman – a lauded doctor of behavior analysis and now, modern dog training.

      “…competence in the application of punishment is not the mark of a qualified behavior analyst. I know of no training program or degree, whether in psychology, psychiatry, education of behavior analysis that qualifies its recipient to use punishment. ” Coercion and Its Fallout

      Murray wrote that in 1990. Nothing has changed since then. There is not a single course, text, instructor, internship, residency, practical examination or certification anywhere in academia that would teach someone how to use punishment. As “science” is the credential they present to speak as experts you are faced with a bit of a problem. Behavior analysts know nothing about practical punishment based on their academic training. They aren’t experts. They aren’t even competent journeymen. They are amateurs who oppose the use of a tool they know nothing about first hand. Once you diffuse their words downward to trainers and other behaviorists who suck up anything that comes from “science” the problem intensifies. These lesser experts cite the more elevated non-experts without scrutiny and pass hearsay as if it was gospel. If anyone questions their statements they display their ignorance of how to use punishment – by using it abusively against anyone who disagrees with them.”

      good luck to everyone… let the haters pounce.

      Also, with regards to dog on dog/human aggression. Please, someone find me 1 video where one of these dogs have been rehabilitated using 100% +R techniques. Just 1 video where the muzzle and leash is off with them being around other humans and other dogs. If +R only training was so effective then there should be a ton of these videos available so that people can learn…. but sadly, I haven’t seen one. Isn’t that strange?

      • I would caution you at jumping to conclusion that because someone belongs to a social media group that they are using the process described in that group, or that they have coaching to ensure that it was done correctly. I, like some other trainers used to use corrections and I can tell you with 100% certainty that adding punishment does not necessarily make things faster. I can point to many, many dogs where people felt their dog was achieving progress with punishment only to have it backfire as time progressed. But that sort of dialogue only turns into a pissing match of “my opinion vs your opinion.” Which is exactly why science is tool of blunt honesty. No text says that punishment doesn’t work. It is, of course, on the contingency table for a reason. What it says is that outside the lab, it is nearly impossible to execute correctly, it has side effects that can be serious, and it can lead to a negative association to things that are present when it happens. In dog training, that usually means the punisher – the owner – you.
        What concerns me the most is this leap to CARE and Reactive Dogs and aggression. Unless a dog is leash reactive, the process is about classical conditioning. This blog is about positive reinforcement.
        I wish you luck with your dog. I hope you’re not one of the people who get blinded by a side effect – those negative associations. Some get away with it. Those that don’t, it sucks to be them, even worse to be their dogs.

        • Thank you for your response. You have some good stuff on your blog. I’ll take a deeper look. You replied in a non-emotional way which is refreshing to see on a hot topic like this.

          My apologies for veering off topic to CARE and Reactive dogs to aggression but to me i was trying to make a bridge on positive reinforcement and how it often fails in those situations. I have a number of friends who are (IMO and others) very good trainers who rehab aggressive dogs on a daily basis. Dogs who have been often recommended by +R trainers to be put down because they can’t help. They always always relay the foundation with a +R approach and once the dog knows what is expected of them do they use +P. E-collars and Prongs help to clarify this message. I know a lot of people thumb their nose down at these tools and for good reason. When I first used a prong, I slapped it on my dog and jerked away when it did something bad. Results weren’t great. What they teach with both prong and ecollar is how a dog can relieve the gentle pressure before getting into corrections. I’m on a tangent here.. but all this is to say… the majority of their work (>90%) is +R. So IMO, there is a time and place for corrections and I think when it does happen the dog SHOULD associate it with you.

          Now on the topic of side effects. A much less talked about side effect of +R is death. Countless dogs are in landfills because of well intentioned +R. Are these dogs being trained with +R properly? Well… obviously not. Timing for +R is just as important as timing for +P.

          Again thanks for your time in replying.. I love learning new stuff and will sift through your blog. What you said makes a lot of sense but this will always be the debate right? Both sides often make great arguments.

          Also, Do you have any guidelines for leash reactive dogs?

          • I certainly hope “R+” trainers are refusing to treat many dogs. Actually anyone who feels a dog is above their skill level should refuse to take that dog on as a client. It would be the ethical thing to do. Although I do not know why this is focused on R+ trainers. I know trainers who use all quadrants who put dogs down that others will work with.
            You wouldn’t use R+ for most aggression. You’d use classical conditioning. Which actually makes my point that every thing you learn reduces your need for a correction. If people can’t distinguish those two things, then dogs are being corrected (or dying) unnecessarily.
            I’m not sure you’re fully understanding the word association as I’m using it. I’m using it technically. Not “owner did the correction.” Rather that the unpleasantness of the correction transfers to the owner. When they look at you, their heart starts to pound. Adrenaline starts to rush. They start to fear YOU. Are you really sure that’s what you want your dog to do?
            The question is, “what can you do or learn to reduce your 10% corrections to less?” You could say there is nothing left for you to learn. Or maybe you might look and find something.
            Leash reactive, that would be in the realm of R+. In simple terms, you need to create great behavioural momentum for an incompatible behaviour. Few people achieve behavioural momentum, and so they end up correcting the dog unnecessarily. Unnecessary because it’s within everyone’s grasp to get it.
            I don’t offer specific advice for a dog without full history. Generally best to set up some sessions.

  15. Well developed content. Bob Bailey showed us how well R+ works on chickens… it’s a priceless tool on animals who can think and respond. The failure is not the tool, but the incorrect use of the tool. I thank Sue Ailsby and Paul Owens in addition to Bob Bailey for converting me to a R+ trainer.

  16. Not at all persuaded.
    I do not use harsh corrections with my two, 3 year old Siberian Huskies. I pay for a lot of training and treats and after $1000s cannot work together on beginner level agility courses. They know the equipment, so no fear, do not shut down when corrected.
    They also, do what they want, refuse obstacles, and ignor recalls.
    I think there should be some form of PUNISHMENT. I have no intentions to do any such thing, but this positive thing, not sold on it either.

    • Why not try training a useless trick you don’t care about – something that stretches you. But work out a training plan – with someone that knows the skill cold. Work it by the book – fast reinforcement, measured (and yes keep notes) criteria, and of course timing (which I do think most people do well.)
      I asked Bob Bailey once about his position and his response was that time was money. All the crazy things they trained, it came down to results. Positive reinforcement, done well, gave them that.
      It’s not a judgement to say, “Can you make that better?”
      I think we all can, and that includes me. I know when I’m training in that sweet spot. It’s pretty amazing. I hope you get the chance to feel it and see the results.

      • What does “with someone that knows the skill cold” mean? And where is this “Work it by the book”?
        Recently read Victoria Stilwell “Train Your Dog Positively” and thought it was a huge disappointment. Did not learn one single technique.
        I love my dogs
        I don’t use harsh training
        I don’t have any success
        But, oh, the dogs do seems happy doing whatever they want while eating lots of treats.

      • And why not trying something, anything on improving relationship with your dogs. It’s not all about clicks and treats. As awesomedogs said, do useless stuff that isn’t demanding. Demanding something over and over from our dogs to achieve OUR goals is draining for dogs, makes them avoid us and “disobey”, with or without treats, positive or not (worse if its aversive). No, there is no need for positive punishment. Be creative and leave what YOU want aside sometimes. Give them what they want.

        • Thank you for the suggestions. Here is a little background.
          I walk them 4-5 miles every day. Fun walks with sniffing and distractions allowed. Minor training of Haw, Gee, On By, Leave it, Wait and Go Hike. Back home, always 20-30 minutes if play, tug, fetch, a little wrestle. Weekends are agility practice at a training center, some confirmation training and our course agility trials and confirmation shows. Them eat good, poop good, get holistic health care, go to a groomer. I think they feel loved, secure and happy.
          I cannot get them to focus in the agility ring as well as I would like.
          I cannot find help, positive method or otherwise.
          I read a lot, so far it’s all blah blah blah positive this or that, but no examples that have lead to any results.
          I will keep trying, cause I live doing things with my dogs.
          Thanks for your effort.

            • Thank you for the suggestion. I like your suggestion and just bought a copy from Clean Run. Should have it in a few days. Hope there is substance and technique, not simply affirmation of positive training as a concept.

              • Mike:
                If you have questions about positive reinforcement, please ask. When people are developing technique, I usually suggest they just pick a silly trick, so they can relax and focus on the technical and understand it.
                Lots of great trainers here and they’d be willing to help you (myself as well).

          • Mike, it sounds like your dogs have a nice life, but you need to shift the balance more to the behaviors YOU want them to do. Dogs do what is reinforcing to them. If they sometimes ignore recalls and refuse obstacles…those haven’t become rewarding enough to them, at least to compete with other potential reinforcments (other dogs, smells, etc.). When you are building value for a behavior, Yvette’s advice in this article is really important. Equally important is controlling the environment – starting with very few distractions. On your “fun walks with sniffing and distractions allowed” your dogs are learning they can get reinforcement from the environment. Ideally you would give them permission to do that, perhaps as a reward for a great recall, and you would also be able to call them back to you at any time. If you can’t, then their training for the behavior you want isn’t up to the level of challenge of that environment.

            Don’t be confused by what is sometimes suggested: “ignore the behavior you don’t like.” If you don’t like the behavior, you need to rearrange the environment and access to reinforcement so the behavior you DO like is more likely.

            Since you do agility, consider taking on online class or getting a DVD of Silvia Trkman – perhaps Foundation Fun, or a tricks video. Like Yvette says, it’s not about whether positive training works, it’s how you apply it.

          • Mike: Just saw this. If you want, tell us what you have done for training agility in very specific terms. We can trouble shoot if you’re open to doing that. Let’s start with looking at what you have done, and exactly how you’ve done it.
            I’ve been there, that place where you just feel like, “Why? Why can’t I get this?” Not always fun to rip apart what you did. But once you find it, it does help.

            • First of all, no aversive training. no hitting , tugging collar or dragging around on a lead. I only raise my voice slightly in extreme frustrating circumstances. Some use of a soft “oopsie” or a slightly more vocal “ach-ach” as verbal corrections.

              I have two dogs.

              Leeloo – 36 months old, UKC agility titles in UAG1 UAG2 and 1/2 way to our UACH title. Dog is usually better than the handler. Not the dog I am asking for help with.

              Vala – 33 months old. AKC Star puppy, UKC Altered Champion; ALCH. She has completed puppy kindergarden, puppy agility and has had 24 months of non stop Agility classes at “For Pets Sake” in Mukwonago, WI. She has trialed in UKC 7 events (28 trial runs) and achieved 1 single qualifying score.

              Vala has learned the UKC equipment and will shows no fear or hesitency. She sits on command, everywhere except the table or box during a trial. We have had some great backyard training session as well as good efforts at the training center and run-thrus at the facilities we trial at.

              When we trial, she might do three or four obstacles, then run off on her own. Sometimes, she gets the zoomies right out of the gate. In some runs, where we actually reach the pause table, she simply will not sit. When she goes out of control. Nothing I do can get her eyes back on me or even acknowledge I am calling her. Most end with me walking to the exit, she joins me there 99% of the time. I pick her up gently not saying a word and gently place her in her crate. Then I sulk!

              I am begining to form a theory; She is stressed at a trial, maybe because of my lack of confidence in her. Zoomies might be a stress response. Not sitting on the table, might be hampered by stress – to do the right thing….maybe

              I need help that I am not getting from the training center or all the well intended people at trials and on blogs.

              How do I get her to stay by my side and complete 13 obstables?

              My Facebook page under Mike Triantafelo has many videos of many runs with Leeloo. But not much with Vala, because they end quickly and poorly.

              • I think you have hit on something here. Stress often manifests as zoomies, etc. If it seems like it happens mostly in trial environments or new environments, then “Look At That” from Controlled Unleashed could really help. Dogs bred to run – like Sibs – generally default to “if in doubt, run”. If you have a history of fixing errors on course, I would also suggest abandoning that with this dog. Some dogs slow down to wait for you to cue clearly and other dogs go zoom zoom.

                • Thank you for your comments. I will read the book. My hope is for direction on techniques to reduce the stress and improve the performance at this lowest level UKC agility course.

              • I think you’re starting to figure it out. Something is “different” between a real trial and a practice run. Having a dog do zoomies in a trial stinks. Have had it happen. You’re just standing there while the dog is running laps. Ick. The attention/eye contact exercises helped Kiki, the dog I had that did it.
                Could be you’re stressed over past experiences and your dog is picking up on it.
                Could be that there is something different from one scenario to the other (ring wise?)
                Maybe you’re concentrating harder on the course and your mind isn’t in the same place (probably not if you’re good at memorizing courses.)
                Maybe overworking her too. I like short sessions so they want nothing more than to come back and do more. (Another thing that helped Kiki focus. I wanted things fixed so badly I worked harder rather than smarter.)
                Would ask the trainers to video you during practice and practice runs. And also during a real meet. Then sit down and compare frame by frame. Ask, “Am I doing something different?” Even little things like body posture.
                If yes, you have at least part of your answer.
                If no, then look at how much you’re working her – work smart, not hard. Build value in paying attention to you for a while rather than obstacles.
                Some focus toward you doesn’t sound bad regardless of what you see in the video.

                For years I had an issue with crooked sits on heel. Asked so many people how to fix it. Was told things like feed for straighter sits. Was given drills. Then at a practice match the judge smirked and said, “If you step into that dog one more time I’m gonna’ slap you.” Finally! Found it. I take a slight step to the left when I stop on heel. Silly mistake. Many deductions.

                • Thank you for your time and the response.
                  I believe I need to review/revise by mental frame of mind in the trial ring. With my challenging dog, I have gone from “let’s go have fun” to “she’s going out of control the minute shes off the leash.” I can work on my mindset and be more positive:for sure!
                  However, I am still searching for the technique(s) that will achieve the working toegether and the sit or down on the pause table or in the pause box.
                  I was able to get vvideos loaded on my Facebook page. Would be great if you could view them and comment. They are at Mike Triantafelo and it’s the Vala and Mike postings.

                • Thank you for the information. I have seen Susan Garrett videos in the past. Just downloaded the book, will have to read it after work hours though.
                  I appreciate your referral.

      • As a dog trainer, I’ve found that the biggest complaint of owners who use punishment is recall. It makes sense though, if you think about it. If the person that feeds also is the hand that corrects, then you’re going to get a lot of hesitation coming when called if they have the choice…they will always be summing you up… “will I get corrected or treated?”. You can use a shock collar if you really want to for recall, but now you just have a animal who does what you ask because they have no choice, which is oddly okay for some people but not what I’m looking for in my relationships with animals, or people!

      • I think this is also a great point. I got a labrador to be a service demo dog and each requirement was a huge chore and we ended up taking each test 2-3 times before passing. She was such a freakishly crazy dog, that it was headache getting her to heel and act calm. Finally, someone suggested dock diving…her first competition, she placed first in her division and made it to finals.. and she’s placed in every competition she’s ever been in, usually first in her division. We also compete in Nose Work now too. So, once I found what she liked, it was SO much easier to find success.

  17. Though this is a very good write-up, please tell me how to do Positive reinforcement with a dog who is allergic to everything except his canned vet wet food and has horrible IBS symptoms? You can’t shove food at him…so now what?

      • Erin, thank you for this link. My dogs Special canned vet food cannot be cooked, but I saw that they said it could also be rolled into tiny balls and frozen in wax paper…so I think I will try that. He is a 8 pound Maltese that I adopted last year at age 9…it has taken all most a year of many vet visits to stabilize him with a food he can eat and keep the blood out of his stools. So as you can see I am very leery of trying anything new with him. This is the first really good lead that I have had to help with his training and keep him healthy at the same time.

          • Seconding the recommendation for treat tubes. You can put the canned wet foot into a refillable squeeze tube (shaped like a toothpaste tube) and squeeze out small amounts for good behavior. This is my dogs’ absolute favorite reward.

    • My Kip is on an elimination diet right now (the dog in the banner at the top of my blog.) It’s certainly more challenging but still can be done. Positive reinforcement means you are adding something the dog likes to increase behaviour. Food is the easiest for most people to manipulate, but there are plenty of other things dogs will work for. For example, my pup loves toys. The awkwardness is that it slows down your speed of reinforcement. You can use real life rewards. “If you sit, I’ll open the door to go into the yard.” Or “If you come when called, I’ll send you back out to play.”
      When you’re inside teaching new behaviours, you can generally use the dog’s food. That does NOT mean I think the dog should go hungry. Most dogs will work for kibble if the distractions are low. Set your criteria a little easier so you can use a lower value food. I also teach a game with my dogs “I’m gonna get you.” I wiggle my fingers and then we play. It’s a reinforcement I have no matter what. It’s also slower on your speed. But if you combine these, you can make it happen. Perhaps start with a list of all the things your dog likes. I’ve even used sniffing as a reward. Teach walking nice at home with kibble. Then start switching (still in a quiet location) a mix of walk nice = kibble and go sniff for 10 seconds.

      Canned food for teaching new at home with no distractions.
      Switch to toys and real life rewards and play.

      This is video of my Karma working for toys.

      Harder to do. Absolutely possible.

    • I don’t blame you for being nervous! Does your vet have him on a limited ingredient diet such as z/d or an easy to digest one such as I/D? Typically, if you look at the ingredients of the food, you can use those things for treats, i.e. Easy to digest can use boiled whitefish or chicken or limited ingredient may be able to use sweet potato for treats. Where are you located? I had a dog with similar symptoms and a few trips to a holistic vet completely changed her life. Sometimes a different perspective can make a world of difference!

  18. EXCELLENT article — shared it with many of my students already! My ‘saying’ / analogy to my students is: a hammer is a really BAD tool to fix your reading glasses…but a great tool to drive a nail. It can be very tiring as an only R+ trainer (who learned the very NOT R+ way) to constantly reiterate that; but it’s the truth. Nicely done!

  19. Love this article! So true. We’ve all heard all these resistances before and this really lays it out there so easily. Thank you! I’ve already heard from 2 people who tell me this article opened their mind!

  20. Pingback: Treat Training Trinity – Why positive reinforcement did not work for my dog. | Learning With Dogs

  21. Great article. I think about this ‘issue’ a lot. I hate when people say positive training didn’t work because they also pass this bad info to others. But what helped me stick to positive training was ultimately having strong morals: to be non-harming to animals. I think tying it to a ‘moral issue’ is imp’t because it’s what fuels our commitment when we get challenged. For example, if someone was to become a vegan they could easily eat only pasta with tomato sauce and argue being vegan made them unhealthy and tell others about their experience. They could also find tons of naysayers, “you won’t get enough protein…blah blah blah”. But once you change your mindset to a moral issue -– against cruelty to animals, suddenly the motivation is there for real change. Suddenly, you are not searching for answers to what is the best diet, but searching for how to be the healthiest vegan. It is totally possible to live a healthy vegan lifestyle, but if don’t have the morals to back you up, why bother with all this work? The morals are what feeds us the desire to search for articles and techniques that help us get past the hard times. Ultimately compassion to animals is a moral issue that should guide our choices, the science, well that’s just a bonus. Even if it worked, I would never inflict pain on a dog.

  22. LOVE THIS! And yes, this is one that I hear a lot, and it’s great to have a well-thought-out response … thank you!

  23. Yes!!! If there’s one thing our profession needs, now that we do have a larger body of trainers who want to train with positive training, it’s competence in the mechanical skill of training.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s