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Positive Training is NOT Permissive

Frequently people have misconceptions about Positive Reinforcement being permissive and allowing the dogs to run rampant. In fact, positive reinforcement is all about EARNING rewards. Those rewards can be food, toys, playtime, outside access, walks, playing with another dog pretty much ANYTHING YOUR DOG WANTS and can safely have access to.

We had a great example tonight in class and I wanted to share it with you!

Here is the scenario:

The dog is brilliant and has learned lots of behaviours, but he still struggles with loose leash walking, especially when they go for a walk around the neighbourhood. Mom gets frustrated but still takes him for a walk. She came to class and said, sometimes I just want to go home.

And you SHOULD! If your dog can not focus, walk politely, or work with you, go back and try again. You may spend a few minutes walking back and forth between your front door and the end of the driveway. If your dog is not able to focus and work with you, then your dog has NOT EARNED THE REWARD (in this case the reward is to go further on your walk). This means you will not go further on your walk, and you may return home.

If your dog walks nicely back to the house you can reward it with some treats tossed in the door. You can unclip the leash and settle down as though you are finished and go about your business for a few minutes and come back and try again, or you can do another training session at a later time.

In fact, all of your walks will stay within those first 30 feet until your dog is able to walk nicely and focus. You will reward the good choices and once the skill is reliable in those first 30 feet you will expand your walk by 10 feet more. This may mean you don't go very far for a week. Once you have some good behaviours you can reward them by adding new areas to explore! If you see a resurgence of bad behaviours, start back at step 1 and just limit the distance to 30 feet until they are EARNING access to more walking areas.

Another thing to remember is that dogs are NOT GOOD AT GENERALIZING. This means they may be able to produce the skill in one environment (like at home) but it falls apart completely when you go somewhere else. That is why you need to work first in low distraction environments and then build the skill in different areas. For example, start in your living room, then the kitchen, basement, back yard, front yard, street by the house etc. Until the skill becomes versatile and you can use it anywhere. The more often you work at generalizing a variety of skills, the better your dog becomes at generalizing all skills.

Keep in mind too that your dog DOES NOT HAVE TO GO FOR A LEASH WALK. There are many other things you can do to provide mental and physical stimulation. The only people that truly need to go for a leash walk are those that have no yard and need to potty the dog outside. But even then they only need to walk to an appropriate potty area and then back in the house. If this is the case make sure you separate training for loose leash walking from potty time so as not to cause distress to your dog when they need to potty.

Being permissive means allowing your dog to rehearse unwanted, unsafe and unruly behaviours and then allowing them access to rewards following those poor choices. Remember, we create behaviours through the reinforcers a dog receives. So if we continue to reinforce poor choices with the best things in life (even inadvertently), those behaviours will remain persistent indeed!

Set yourself and your dog up to train first and then reward for good choices. We are not permissive, your dog must still earn access to its walk, playtime, treats, toys etc. These are a privilege, not a necessity. Plus the added bonus of mental stimulation and relationship building that is greatly enhanced by LEARNING TO EARN. If needed, we can use other activities for mental and physical exercise until the leash walking skill falls into place.

Do you need some extra pointers? Set up a lesson to get the BEST results. Or use the skills you have already learned and redouble your efforts to put this skill in place. With consistency, you would be amazed at the progress you and your dog can make together in just a week or two.

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