Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hands Off Dog Training Or Why We Should Not Use Physical Manipulation

When we use luring, capturing, or shaping ( all hands off), followed by a treat to teach behaviors, we are using positive reinforcement - much more pleasurable for the dog - and scientifically it's a better method.

In his "Handbook of Applied Behavior" Steven Lindsay writes that when we use physical manipulation to get a dog to sit, the dog is sitting to avoid being pushed on (negative reinforcement --or positive punishment?) - less pleasurable for the dog.
In his book, "Before and After Getting Your New Puppy, Ian Dunbar suggests that all training be "hands off". Hands should only be used for petting.
In her book "Reaching the Animal Mind," Karen Pryor writes about a study where volunteers used very gentle physical manipulation but they couldn't complete the study because the volunteers felt so bad for the dogs. The volunteers noticed a lot of calming signals from the dogs.


In her book, Scardey Dog, author Ali Brown writes “The more you help your dog, the stupider you teach him to be. That means let him figure it out.” The dog learns better when he/she has to figure out what you want.

According to one of my training instructors, studies have shown that behaviors learned through physical manipulation will deteriorate over time.
Another instructor  told me that if you start using your hands, the dog will be dependent on that and you will have a hard time asking your dog to do anything from a distance.

Furthermore
1. If the training is positive (like with lures and treats) the dog will maintain those positive associations. Which comes in handy when you ask your dog to perform around other dogs. If your dog gets tense around other dogs, you might ask your dog for a sit. If sit was taught using aversive means, the dog might associate aversion with the other dog and get more tense rather than less tense. If sit was taught using positive means, asking your dog for a sit might distract your dog and easily diffuse a tense situation.

2. Pushing or pulling on a dog invokes the dog’s opposition reflex. It’s natural for the dog to push against any force that is pushing on him/her. So as the dog resists, the human has to push and/or pull harder and harder.

3. A dog could be injured when physical manipulation is used. Pushing or tugging on a dog could cause knee, hip or spinal injury in a normal dog. Not to mention a dog who might already have some physical issues.
a. If a dog won’t sit or lay down for you, it might be because it is painful or difficult for him/her. Or it might be because is nervous and feeling vulnerable.

4. Pushing, pulling on a nervous dog or a dog in pain might cause the dog to bite.

Are you having trouble teaching a behavior without using physical manipulation? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

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