What is Positive Reinforcement Training?
One of the most common misconceptions about positive training
is that all we do is throw cookies around and hope for the
behavior to miraculously happen! This couldn't be farther
from the truth. What I am actually doing is manipulating
the consequences for the animal to get the kinds of behaviors
My training applies the same kinds of positive motivation
techniques on dogs that are used for training dolphins,
sea lions, sea otters and killer whales. As you can imagine,
try physical or verbal compulsion on a killer whale ("No,
no! Bad whale!") and you just might end up as lunch!
Behavior is reward driven. Dogs do what works. If lying
on their backs, sneezing and wagging their tails while in
the bathtub got them reinforced, they would do it!
Positive training can be utilized to overcome many fears
or aggression and to help your dog reach his full potential.
I stress building a positive reinforcement history with
your dog, proper management skills (if your dog gets into
the garbage, get one with a locking lid!) and various techniques
to get the kinds of behaviors you want without resorting
to compulsion, coercion or punishment.
Although I have a standard lesson plan, I work with each
individual, based on their specific needs.
What is Clicker
training is one facet of positive training that uses a marker
signal (also called a secondary reinforcer or bridge) to
tell the dog that he did something right.
Training using a secondary reinforcer was invented more
than 70 years ago by B.F. Skinner (1904-1990). Keller Breland
and Marian Breland Baily (a student of Skinners) first
coined the phrase bridging stimulus, which later
changed to just bridge."
Bridges have been used with marine mammals since the 1950s
and although marine mammal trainers use a whistle instead
of a clicker to mark the correct behavior, the principle
is the same. Click what you like, reward it, and ignore
what you don't want. The clicker imparts valuable precise
information from you to the dog, something that is lacking
in traditional types of training. No more punishment, no
more drilling, no more blaming the dog for not doing something
that we didn't take the time to truly teach.
Clicker training is all about a change of mental attitude.
Clicker trainers have learned to use their brains to train
specific behaviors, rather than using pain to elicit those
same behaviors. The result? Happier dogs, happier trainers,
better relationships, less behavioral problems.
I use clicker training for basic obedience through competition
obedience, as well as teaching the behaviors needed in the
breed ring and with aggression issues.
What if I have trained elsewhere – do I have to start in Beginners? Many of you may have trained elsewhere and then want to come into the upper levels of my classes. While I would like to accommodate you, I have found that doing so causes frustration on both sides because not all beginner classes are the same. What you learned in the “other” place may not be up to the same level that we teach here at PMDT. To be honest I have tried it a few times and have seen that the dogs are truly not up to the same standard if you will and owners and dogs are lost. In the upper levels I do NOT repeat what is taught in Beginners. So you are really missing out on some important information. So, please, even if you have trained elsewhere, if you come to me, you will have to start in my beginners class. I promise you will NOT be bored and you and your dog WILL learn new stuff and new ways of looking at things.
My dog already has
some experience with XYZ training. What class should
I enroll in? In my classes, there
is a great deal more happening than the usual
sit-down-stay-come. I talk about learning theory,
redirected aggression, Premack principle, the work
of Turid Rugaas, etc., etc., only in puppy k and
beginners classes. To make the transition from other
training methods as easy as possible (for you and your dog), I
would recommend that you come to a beginners class
before moving on to the more advanced classes. That
way we are all on the same page in terms of positive
training and group knowledge.
What "tools" are
used in positive training? Plain flat
buckle collars or harnesses (see the links page for
Pam's favorite picks), regular leashes, tons of food,
praise, toys, games, petting and of course, YOUR ever
increasing knowledge about how dogs learn and how
punishment can create a whole host of unwanted behaviors
and how to build a positive relationship with your
What "tools" are
not used in positive training? Prong
collars, choke collars, electric shock collars,
head halters, yanking, pulling, helicoptering, yelling
(yes, even yelling "NO" is
not allowed), screaming, hitting, kicking, shake cans with pennies
in them, spray bottles, etc.
Do I offer group instruction? I
offer group, private and semi private instruction. Groups
have no more than 6 dogs.
How many lessons are there
in a course? There are 6 weeks of lessons.
For beginners, the first class is without the dogs
(with the first hour dedicated to a discussion on
how dogs learn, positive principles and the pitfalls
of using punishment) and the remaining 5 weeks are
with the dogs.
How does food training
work? "If I use food to train, won't my dog only work for food?" First
of all, I do not use only food to reward desired behaviors. I use
petting, praise, play and attention in addition to food. I teach you
how to be variable and unpredictable and how to be a slot machine!
Think about it - slot machines are all programmed with variable type
and variable schedule of reinforcements - you don't win every time
and the amounts differ as well, but we all sit there for hours at
a time in hopes of winning the "big one!"
What is taught during
these lessons? See
my complete class list!
How much time per day
do I need to practice? Positive methods are perfect for the person that does not have a
great deal of time. You are shaping and molding your furry friend
every time you interact with him. Whether you are feeding him his
dinner, going for a walk or playing with him, these are all opportunities
for you to train during your normal daily routine.
How old must my dog be? For
Puppy K - 8 to 16 weeks. For beginners - 16 weeks and
up. For some smaller breed puppies, they can be older
for Puppy K, but please don't delay - VALUABLE learning
time is lost if you wait longer.
When do classes meet? See
my monthly calendar for a complete schedule!
Can families participate? Yes!
I encourage all family members to come to class
and to practice at home. The more consistent the training
is, the quicker the dog will learn.
Where do classes meet? Private
and group lessons are held in my new state-of-the-art
facility in Washington, New Jersey.
Do you offer Boarded Training? NO!
It makes more sense for your dog to build a positive relationship
with you, not with someone else.
What is Specialization? Any
dog with any problem. If I can't help you, I have
a large referral base, so we can find someone who can.
Other services available:
- Ring Rentals (students only)
- Building Rentals (heated, air conditioned
and fully matted)
- Match Shows
- Puppy K (when available)
- Puppy Playtime (when available)
- Beginner Freestyle!!! (private and group)
of the Most Common Misconceptions
Regarding Positive & Clicker Training
You are sure to hear these from your friends or other dog
trainers. I have provided my favorite and simple responses.
is a fad or gimmick. Actually, using a conditioned reinforcer (such as a clicker)
is a training method based on sound, scientifically proven psychological
principles. Extensive research has been conducted on the effectiveness
of conditioned reinforcers in training.
principles behind clicker training are too difficult
for the average person to learn and understand. This is absolutely not true. While there is a lot of technical
information, many people have learned to use it in training,
just by following my instructions. If you want to know more
about Operant Conditioning (OC), I can refer you to supplementary
books that I highly recommend.
using positive reinforcement takes much longer
than traditional punishment based training. In
the beginning stages, it may seem to take
longer. However, once you and your dog catch
on, clicker training leads to much faster results.
Dogs very quickly learn to perform the desired
behaviors in order to make you click! In addition,
behaviors learned through operant conditioning
and associative learning tend to stay with the
dog for the rest of his life.
a dog should never be given a choice. Clicker trainers believe that they can set up the situation
so that their dogs make the desired choices. Dogs always have
behavioral choices, even when trained with punishment. To think
they do not is an illusion that many correction based trainers
is too difficult because you must always have
the clicker with you. While most clicker trainers would probably admit to having clickers
stashed everywhere, they are not necessary every time you work
with your dog. Clickers are most important in the learning stages
of training. They can be phased out once the behavior is well
trained dogs won’t work without food. Again, in the beginning stages of training, food is used liberally.
However, a good clicker trainer learns how to go from continuous
to variable schedules of reinforcement and to learn to use other
types of reinforcers (see item #14 above under the homework
taught using the clicker aren’t as reliable
as behaviors taught using force. While the desire to avoid pain is strong, the desire to gain
pleasant consequences is stronger. Think about the last time
you got a speeding ticket – did it stop you from speeding?
Much of your dog’s behavior is based on habit. Once a
dog has learned something (good or bad) it tends to repeat that
behavior over and over. Behaviors learned through force tend
to fall apart when the dog is under stress. Behaviors learned
in pleasant circumstances and positive consequences will be
less likely to fall apart under pressure.
training won’t work for behavior problems
like barking or aggression. Dogs trained using
a clicker can be taught alternate behaviors
to replace the unwanted ones. Trainers using
OC principles often devise very creative ways
to change undesirable behaviors. I have personally
used a clicker to solve a number of serious
behavior and aggression problems.