How do you train? Do you use treats, toys, praise, all three or neither. Many trainers have multiple opinions on the right methods of reinforcement.
Purely positive reinforcement (PP):
This is the sole use of treats for training. Treats are great in training because they are the primary reinforcement for dogs (R1). Treat training is very effective, quick and of course positive. However using only treats can become a problem because you will have to use treats to get behaviors and people don’t always have treats on them and it can be expensive.
No treat training:
You will hear some trainers talking about no treat training. The theory behind this training technique is using praise like a clicker or the word “good” and that is enough of reinforcement for your dog. No treats just behaviors based on trust and a strong bond. But there is a down side. Training behaviors can take much longer and the duration of the trains will be shorter. Also it requires more work and patience. Not everyone has that time!
Variable positive reinforcement training:
Variable training is the use of multiple primary and secondary reinforcements (R2) between treats, praise , toys, or positive behaviors to train. The benefits of this is one uses treats in the beginning to get the behaviors quickly and once your dog has the an understanding of the behavior you start reinforcing them variably fading the treats. One time with a toy play , next time with love and praise and tactile and the next time with a behavior they enjoy like going for a walk. For example if you want to maintain the sit behavior but you don’t want to use treats every time and you have used toys already. Ask your dog to sit before the walk. Your dog sits and then they get rewarded with a walk. No treats needed and your dog will be able to maintain the behavior. The con is that some people argue that fading treats is a waste of time.
Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT):
This is a whole other form of training where the reinforcement comes from removing a negative feeling. This is used for fear or aggression issues not for sits and downs. For example your dog is afraid of other dogs. So you have a dog come down a street, your dog notices the dog and then the fear kicks in. You ask the helper dog to back up until your dog is comfortable and that is the reinforcement. The removal of the fear. Every time you do this you bring your dog closer and closer and if the improve they get rewarded by the removal of the negative stimulus. This method is helpful to stop undesired behaviors.
No matter how you train your dog, stand by your method. Understand why you reinforce the way you do and know all the different methods of reinforcement. You might realize , like I have, that all these methods have their pros and cons. This is why I use all of these methods in my training. I train with treats, toys, praise the use of a bridge (the word “good”), tactile , bat and redirection training. All to provide the dog and the client with a well rounded training experience.
So next time you have a trainer ask them what method of training they use and why. It is always interesting to hear peoples different opinions on training.