When I say I work with dogs, people often say to me 'oh a dog whisperer - like that overseas guy on the telly?' Well....I say....I do things a little bit differently. I'm a rewards based trainer. Depending on who I'm talking to, there is usually an audible pause waiting for me to fill the gap and explain further.
I am a rewards based trainer and that means my focus is on positive reinforcement to facilitate learning. What is positive reinforcement you say? Positive reinforcement by definition is 'the process of encouraging or establishing a pattern of behaviour by offering a reward when the behaviour is exhibited' - Oxford Dictionary. It is about rewarding the behaviour you do want rather than punishing for the behaviour you don't want. Subtle difference in sematics but one encourages, the other suppresses.
Using positive reinforcement as a means to teach increases the trust and strengthens the bond between dog and owner. In contrast aversive methods of training cause great stress for the dog and it is well known that when dogs (and humans too for that matter!) are under stress they are constrained in their ability to learn.
To maximise the ability to learn one has to be relaxed and in a state of calm. As a certified practitioner I often use components of the Tellington Touch method to achieve this. This includes a form of body work and exercises where there is no attachment to outcome. By providing new and successful experiences for the dog, the dog begins to relax and grow in confidence.
If a dog has a concern about something in his environment, whether it is other dogs, people, thunder whatever, his response is likely to be one of anxiety or fear and that will provoke a particular response. Whether that is to try and flee or to bark, lunge or other similar action to make that 'thing' go away. In such a situation a rewards based trainer will work to change the dog's emotional response rather than trying to stop the behaviour per se.
To this end I will work to identify not only the trigger that initiates a response (like barking, lunging, fleeing etc) but also what the underlying reinforcer is for the dog that maintains or increases that response. In changing the dog's emotional response I will often employ methods such as counterconditioning, desensitisation and the teaching of alternative behaviours to facilitate change. These are all particular techniques in the rewards based trainer's tool box - the foundations of which sit within the parameters of Applied Behaviour Science.
There is no force, no restraint, no coercion, no once size fits all approach. The dog is treated as the unique individual he is. He always has a choice. Patience, an open and enquiring mind and willingness to try new ideas as well as celebrate achievement are the hallmarks of a rewards based trainer.
Eyes On - treats may be a coming!