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Would be very interested to hear opinions on whether you genuinely believe that every behaviour can be trained using positive-only techniques.

For example, teaching a ‘leave’ or recall command with treats/play. How can my treat (fresh chicken or liver) ever always be as good as another dog or squirrel running past?

Surely the success of this is more down to the dog’s personality (more eager to please)? Does anyone have examples of really difficult puppies who got this eventually?

I get that in the early days you’d prevent the dog from running off (ideally) so that it never fails or practices bad behaviours, but at what point does it really get tested and engrained? I just CANNOT imagine my dog ever being reliable (he’s 8 months and will clearly hear a command and just give it a few seconds before thinking ‘nope’).
 

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Hello! Excellent question. I moved your thread to "Training" where it should get more focused attention.
 

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I believe that for your "average" dog every important behavior can be trained either with positive training or non-aversive, but I don't think your average dog owner knows how to do this effectively. To get truly rock solid responses in every case you need to be extremely proficient with timing, management, and understand how to keep the dog successful at each stage.

For the example above -- the idea about using only positive training for leave it/recall in the face of distraction isn't that the dog makes a balanced decision about a food/toy reward over the squirrel. Instead, through many repetitions, they have been taught how in the face of progressively advanced distractions it is always most profitable to come to you instead. It becomes a reflexive action, not a decision. If your dog has not been fully trained to handle these distractions and you put a piece of chicken in front of them when they are trying to chase another dog/squirrel, the food will be inconsequential.

My own preference is to start 100% positive with puppies, training essential commands like leave it, recall, stay etc with food rewards. But as they get older I will use corrections for not following commands, as long as I can see that they understood what was expected and learned from the experience. My dog walks off leash with me without interacting with other dogs because I have given her a foundation by rewarding her for staying close, and then later introducing corrections if she tried to visit with the other dog without permission.
 

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Would be very interested to hear opinions on whether you genuinely believe that every behaviour can be trained using positive-only techniques.

For example, teaching a ‘leave’ or recall command with treats/play. How can my treat (fresh chicken or liver) ever always be as good as another dog or squirrel running past?

Surely the success of this is more down to the dog’s personality (more eager to please)? Does anyone have examples of really difficult puppies who got this eventually?

I get that in the early days you’d prevent the dog from running off (ideally) so that it never fails or practices bad behaviours, but at what point does it really get tested and engrained? I just CANNOT imagine my dog ever being reliable (he’s 8 months and will clearly hear a command and just give it a few seconds before thinking ‘nope’).
How much training have you done with your dog?

It's not hard to train (or condition) a dog to obey 100% of the time using positive methods, but you have to be very consistent, and you have to practise, practise, practise and progress incrementally, so the dog doesn't learn that non-compliance is a possibility. As soon as the dog learns that he doesn't need to obey (e.g. you let him off leash, then ask him to "come" and you have no way of enforcing the command), you have a problem. It only takes one time.

It has nothing to do with the dog's personality and everything to do with you as a trainer and the effort you're willing to put in. I will tell you a story I've told on this forum before, about a friend of mine who started to do agility with his dog. One of his first trials was at a facility normally used by horses. During his first run, the dog stayed with him for a few obstacles, then ran off to a corner of the ring to sniff all the wonderful horsey smells. My friend was philosophical when he came out of the ring. Well, he said, at least I know what I have to do now. I have to make myself more interesting than horse poo. That, to me, kind of sums up the whole human-dog relationship. And that particular dog-human team have since gone on to win many titles and competitions.

If you want a command that's bomb-proof, you never, ever give it in circumstances where the dog could decide not to obey. For example, the recall: in your yard or in your home, have the dog wear a long line. Give the recall command, and if the dog shows signs of not obeying, pick up the line and reel him in. Training a command is not an instant thing. It takes many thousands of repetitions to condition the dog to obey as a reflex action. I have a highly driven dog from performance lines, but the instant I call him to me, he will come, regardless of what he is doing: playing with another dog, chasing a squirrel, whatever. I have no idea how many hours of training this took - it was a lot - but it was worth it and may save his life one day (a good friend's dog was killed earlier this week chasing a squirrel - she ran out of the front yard and was hit by a truck). I'm not sure at what point it becomes ingrained, but it does.

If your dog is ignoring your commands, it's because he hasn't been trained to obey them. I'd suggest starting over from scratch with a new command for the behaviour you want to train, and training it so that he doesn't get a chance to learn that non-compliance is a possibility. That includes never giving that command in situations where he could choose not to obey. Reward generously, be interesting and upbeat, be energetic and imaginative, make training into a game. Your dog should love his training sessions. I keep a special bag full of treats just for training, and when I first got my pup, it took him only a few days to realize that the bag meant fun and treats. Four years later, he still comes running full speed if I get that bag out of the fridge.

Best of luck.
 

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A solid recall takes a lot of time and a lot of repetition. If you google, there's a lot of really fun recall games you can play that strengthens your dog's recall. I highly recommend them because those games keep a recall fun and exciting. A recall follows the same progression as any other behavior you teach your dog - start with minimal distractions and work your way up. With a recall specifically, I use a long line when I move to higher distractions. That way if "something" happens, I can reel the dog in before they have the opportunity to blow me off. FWIW, my dog was pretty much always on a long leash in unfenced properties when he was 8 months. I was not convinced he had a good recall at the time, but I wanted him to have the experience of being far away from me in a controlled manner.

I taught my dog a solid recall very successfully using entirely R+ methods. He is almost 5, but recall is something I've practiced with him since the week he came home. I keep it fun and exciting, I played those recall games I mentioned earlier and have even taken a couple classes specifically geared towards working on recall around (organized) distractions. Knock on wood, Kaizer has never blown off my recall, and I've had to recall him off of deer, cyclists, walkers, ducks, and bodies of water. Even now, I still do some recall games for fun, just to keep the behavior sharp. No recall is ever 100% solid, I've just been lucky that my current track record with Kaizer is 100%. There's always room for error lol.

I use R+ methods most of the time and have had good luck with it. I would also have not described Kaizer as being "easy to please" as a puppy. He's almost 5, and I would now.
 

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My girl is 8 months old and it is imperative that she responds to my recall as she will be spending her summers in the Montana mountains. I began her recall using a dog whistle and rewarded her with her most favorite treat, mozzarella cheese. Her mouth quivers for this treat and the recall is the ONLY time she gets it. I worked with her a week in the house while she was engaged in her favorite in home joys, i.e., meeting guests at the door, chewing a dog bone, etc and everytime she stopped IMNEDIATELY what she was doing and ran to me for her favorite treat. I did this gradually so to set her up to succeed. I took her to a friends 50 acre property for her first off leash experience and she passed with flying colors. I now work with her daily out side off leash using the whistle. Her next true test will be how she responds when she sees a bird or deer within a distance that she may engage. I will continue with training her daily to succeed so that when that time comes it will be natural for her to respond to the recall. Hope to ge back to MT in a month or so will let you know how it goes.
 

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The non-answer is, it depends. It depends on the dog, your training experience, and the degree of cooperation you need.
I think for the average pet owner, you can train most desired behaviors positively.
However, for high level hunting and field dogs, I think no.
Getting a dog to stop and look at you out walking around the neighborhood is one thing, getting a dog to stop after he has just hunted for 20 minutes, found a pheasant and flushed it is a whole different skill set.
It also depends on the safety of the situation. In an obedience ring, or an agility ring, or at the end of a tracking leash, the dog is quite safe even if they decide to ignore your command. Out in a field, 300 yards away, they aren't necessarily safe and compliance has to be 100% with no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
 

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Kate
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How you train should be adapted based on the dog you are training. Some dogs may not require corrections in the truest sense.

Many people own very sensitive and neurotic breeds, or dogs who are being rehabilitated from abuse situations. Those are people who are the current "televangelist trainers" in the dog world. They basically operate on the concept that positive only is the safest way of training that prevents abuse and aggression. On basis that aggression is all reaction to cruelty.

This concept has failed though.

While people are not beating their dogs with rolled up newspaper for making a mess in the house, they have a highly increased rate of owning dogs with bad resource guarding problems. Surprisingly, dogs who have never had rough handling may still develop resource guarding and fear aggression - and this is despite very submissive and rewarding behavior on the part of the owner.

The belief that aggression is reaction to cruelty - is based on the faulty premise that all corrections are cruel to dogs. Including the word "no". There is a denial and disbelief in the concept that corrections can be positive corrections, based on the delivery of the correction and attached positive motivation.

As well it's faulty if people are purchasing dogs who are by nature dog aggressive, stranger aggressive, and dominant. Positive only training types have essentially encouraged people to get any dog breed they want on the basis that aggression is always reactive to cruelty, that positive only handling will create adult dogs who are sound and happy enough not to be aggressive.Which is faulty reasoning. Dogs are dogs. Natural instincts are closer to the surface with some breeds vs others.

With goldens most of us skip certain breeders and lines to avoid bad temperaments... personally speaking, I don't want either a dominant dog or one that is fearful. A golden retriever should live his entire life without growling at any person. No growling (at owners, etc) should ever be acceptable in a dog that is going to be bred. And many people hide stuff under the rug - especially in our day and age when breeders are using studs they've never met and puppy buyers are purchasing puppies from other states.

Back to the question on positive only training -

Personally speaking, I do not use prongs, zap collars, or other tools of that sort. This is because I own soft dogs who do not require much by way of correction. Many obedience lines are the same or more so.

Most golden retrievers are very soft and easily handled with mild corrections. I would not equate them with some other breeds that I've watched in obedience. Labs and GSP's are your pretty typical field quality dogs - and watching them train off leash sometimes, I can understand where the need for zap collars comes from. These are dogs that I strongly believe would run for the hills and never stop if off leash.

Mild corrections could simply be a "no" verbal correction. It could also be reaching down and gently grabbing your dog by the scruff and holding him still while you look him in the eye and tell him "NO, settle". Mild is not necessarily the correction itself - mild is how you deliver that correction.

If you scream at your dog - that is a verbal correction and really scary for a soft dog.

If you grab your dog by the scruff and twist and yank to hurt - that is also very scary for a soft dog.

Anyway.

Your question regarding recalls and leave it - YES, there are ways to train both without ever using a correction, but it also depends on owning a dog who is very sweet, very biddable, and eager to please. I normally just call my dogs names and they come running. This training starts from the time they are puppies and are always off leash and learning to stay close or come directly when you call their names. My guys if they are outside - I can usually get them to come just by making eye contact and smiling. They know to come running to check on me or get a kiss and I will normally send them off to go play again. A huge part of that is their temperament, a lot of it is conditioning and training right from the time they come home as puppies.

Personally speaking, I'm not positive only. I am a balance trainer. I do use corrections. But I strongly believe with our breed that you want to use as minimal correction as you can. A friend of mine called it 99.9999999% positive training. And many people are like that.

The reason why positive only takes off with so many pet people is because the positive only group tells them all kinds of horror stories about corrections and what it does to the dogs. And it's all how these people define actions or tools.

A gentle leader or leg binding harness are terrible tools which many in the positive only group use regularly with their dogs. The gentle leader works because it inflicts pressure on the dog nose which has ten million nerves and super sensitive. The leg binding harnesses work because they inflict pressure on the dogs shoulders and make it painful for a dog to pull.

Heck, I've even seen some people who freak out about field people using shock collars. But they have invisible fencing at home.
 

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My own obedience trainer calls me a crossover trainer. I do like training operantly, I have operant dogs. I like to teach positively when I can. Without being very specific I will say that you undo all your training when you give a command that you are unwilling or unable to enforce. The dog learns quickly what he can get away with.
I am training Riley and because he was abused I feel that I must make sure teaching is R+. I will add that the following has made it a bit easier for me:
1. I am a retired teacher.
2. I am patient.
3. I am used to designing a lesson plan with a clear objective.
4. I keep notes on my training.
5. I have an analytical mind which has helped a lot.
6. I have a pretty firm grasp on learning theory.

To quote a conversation that I had with Connie Cleveland "Be married to your goal, not your method".
 

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To quote a conversation that I had with Connie Cleveland "Be married to your goal, not your method".
Interesting comment, one I agree with.

Not every method is going to result in the goal or objective you want to achieve, sometimes you have to change your methods in order to do just that.
 

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To quote a conversation that I had with Connie Cleveland "Be married to your goal, not your method".
Good advice IMO and It rules out the blanket approach of "Positive Only Training". An approach of "Negative Only training" would be equally foolish.
Another phrase I have heard is "train for a response not a reaction" meaning use just enough praise, reward, correction, reprimand to achieve the desired response. Too much dilutes the meaning and effect.
 

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To quote a conversation that I had with Connie Cleveland "Be married to your goal, not your method".
I will add my agreement with this comment. Every dog is different and needs a different approach. There's no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to training a dog, however experienced you may be.

Case in point, I've had two golden retrievers as my agility partners in the last ten years. The first was a brash, confident, drivey, go-get-'em-and-never-mind-the-consequences personality. Nothing stopped her, she was absolutely fearless. As a trainer I learned how to channel her energy, protect her from her own brashness, be fast and efficient in negotiating the obstacles. In other words, channel the speed and the results will come. My main challenge was to make her understand that the obstacles had to be done in a certain order! If I was too slow at giving a command, she would make her own choices. We had an amazing career. She was the dog I always wanted and never thought I would have. And then she died, at age 8, of cancer. We were the reigning national champions in our class at the time of her death.

Fast-forward through a year of grief and soul-searching, and my new partner came home, a lovely male puppy from impeccable working lines, smart, drivey - and thoughtful. A very different prospect indeed, when it came to training. I'm ashamed to say it took me a while to catch on. My old methods - channel the drive, train for efficiency - didn't work. My new partner became wary of some of the obstacles, and while capable of great speed, never showed that speed in any of our agility activities. It was a puzzle. In the end, with frustration building, I decided the best way to proceed would be to hand over the training to my daughter and observe them, to see where I was going wrong. It quickly became obvious that this dog needed to understand and feel comfortable with what he was being asked to do. He needed familiarity. He wasn't a no-questions-asked dog - he was a thinker. And so we came up with a new training routine. Back to basics, lots of drills, careful training of verbal cues, and perhaps most importantly: make it fun. Train for confidence and the speed will come. And it did. He flourished, and we flourished as a team. He has become a dream agility partner, a second chance that I never thought I would have. Last year, at the tender age of 3, he also won his class at the national agility championships.

Lesson learned for me. Train the dog you have now, not the one you used to have before.

This is why dog training is such a rewarding activity. There are endless ways to proceed, endless things to achieve - and endless lessons in humility for the human member of the equation.
 

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I think that to start, methods should be positive, but if that is not working, then definitely add in corrections. The recall is one of the MOST important commands a dog could learn. It could save your dog’s life one day. My boy took a little longer to learn it. He would play the keep away game—SO frustrating!—and didn’t grow out of it until I really worked on the recall consistently and until recently (he is a year and a half now) I started by always rewarding him when he came, petting him all over, telling him what a good boy he was, giving him an extra special treat...etc. The recall should be the most exciting thing in the world to him. Another thing I did (because he is OBSESSED with tennis balls) is when I called him and he started running towards me, I threw the ball behind me and he got to chase after it and fetch it. Within a short time, him was whipping around abruptly when I called him. I also used a lot of treats—GOOD treats like hamburger, hotdog, cheese, etc. When training stuff with food, the dog’s enthusiasm will only be as high as the value of the food.
Since your dog is older, I can’t suggest anything to do like what you would do with a very young puppy (have them off leash from the get go so they’re used to it) . Instead, try having him on a long line so he’s “free” but you can still correct him if need be. Do NOT be afraid to be firm. At his age he needs to learn NOW. He must knowthat coming is good, and disobeying is not fun at all. At his age, he is old enough for some sort of corrective collar to make sure the message gets across. Don’t worry, you are definitely not the only one with a dog that’s being stubborn about the recall or leave it. My boy was exactly the same, and is only now starting to really improve. Keep in mind that 6-9 months or so is that dreaded adolescence stage. Stay focused and consistent and you will do it!
Positive only training is fine for puppies but not in the long run. Think of it this way: where would we be if we did “positive only” with humans or our kids? :LOL:
 

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Thank you for everyone’s comments and thoughts on this, very interesting and I agree with a lot of it.

I’m probably quite down on myself a lot of the time too, as I started this dog training journey thinking if I put the hours and effort in, I’d reap the rewards - except I don’t really see much progress as weeks go by and think that either a) I’m not doing it right (and the effort has gone to waste) or b) my pup is particularly challenging and he may never be the obedient dog I dreamed about.

Sorry that sounds so negative - I guess I didn’t expect it to be this difficult, and I have probably previously judged other dog owners whose dogs were misbehaving and think, ‘well they just didn’t put the effort in!’.

Today he ran off (after recalling successfully initially) towards a massive lawn machine sprayer, and I almost slipped over while grabbing his long line, which then ended up tangling around another gate, in front of bemused passers by :)
 

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I didn't read every reply to this thread, but here's my two cents on training recalls:

There are some things that are "want to" tasks meaning that you positively reinforce the dog so that they always want to do the task. Then there are "have to" tasks. These of course are rewarded positively for correct performance, but are corrected for incorrect performance or refusal. I personally think recalls fall into the "have to" category. The dog should always always always come when called, as this is for its own safety. The long line can help you with the "have to" part. And it's ok to correct more than once for continued refusal, and then once the dog does come to you, reward the heck out of that correct recall - throw a great big party with whatever reward the dog likes best, a really high value one. Like @Tagrenine said, you can throw the ball through your legs if that's what your pup likes. Food can also be tossed behind you if he's more food motivated. The corrections I'm talking about here are pops on the long line. You're not dragging the dog toward you, you're just giving a quick pop on a tensioned line with no slack paired with a verbal correction ("no" or "uh uh") to the send the dog the message that he didn't do it right and obedience is compulsory.

I also like to play a sort of game in the beginning of recall training: once the pup starts moving toward me I walk/job backwards and make them chase me and then reward. It makes it fun and they learn that coming to you is both fun AND you have food (or ball). I do this more in the house or during a dedicated training session, not just hanging out.

Other "have to" things in my household include things like never going through a door without permission. I live in a very old neighborhood and my house is fairly close to the street. My dogs should NEVER ever ever exit through the front door especially without permission, but even if they exit the back door into the yard without permission, they must come back and do it again with permission - assuming they will come when called. This takes patience and consistency on your part, but is a truly priceless skill for them to have.
 

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Thank you for everyone’s comments and thoughts on this, very interesting and I agree with a lot of it.

I’m probably quite down on myself a lot of the time too, as I started this dog training journey thinking if I put the hours and effort in, I’d reap the rewards - except I don’t really see much progress as weeks go by and think that either a) I’m not doing it right (and the effort has gone to waste) or b) my pup is particularly challenging and he may never be the obedient dog I dreamed about.

Sorry that sounds so negative - I guess I didn’t expect it to be this difficult, and I have probably previously judged other dog owners whose dogs were misbehaving and think, ‘well they just didn’t put the effort in!’.

Today he ran off (after recalling successfully initially) towards a massive lawn machine sprayer, and I almost slipped over while grabbing his long line, which then ended up tangling around another gate, in front of bemused passers by :)
The troubles of owning a rambunctious puppy 🙂 I hear you for sure. Here I am, with a dog who I promise you DOES have a good recall, down in a snowy ditch, looking at me out of the corner of his eye while I yell at him to get over here 😆 Just keep your head up, and I promise he’ll improve. For a while there, I thought my boy could never be off leash, but he has (most of the time) greatly improved. When I let him off at a public park? Not yet. At home? Yeah, he’s ok. Having an obedient dog is an ongoing process. That’s why there are so many “disobedient” dogs—there aren’t enough people like you who never stop trying, because results don’t come overnight.
 

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I didn't read every reply to this thread, but here's my two cents on training recalls:

There are some things that are "want to" tasks meaning that you positively reinforce the dog so that they always want to do the task. Then there are "have to" tasks. These of course are rewarded positively for correct performance, but are corrected for incorrect performance or refusal. I personally think recalls fall into the "have to" category. The dog should always always always come when called, as this is for its own safety. The long line can help you with the "have to" part. And it's ok to correct more than once for continued refusal, and then once the dog does come to you, reward the heck out of that correct recall - throw a great big party with whatever reward the dog likes best, a really high value one. Like @Tagrenine said, you can throw the ball through your legs if that's what your pup likes. Food can also be tossed behind you if he's more food motivated. The corrections I'm talking about here are pops on the long line. You're not dragging the dog toward you, you're just giving a quick pop on a tensioned line with no slack paired with a verbal correction ("no" or "uh uh") to the send the dog the message that he didn't do it right and obedience is compulsory.

I also like to play a sort of game in the beginning of recall training: once the pup starts moving toward me I walk/job backwards and make them chase me and then reward. It makes it fun and they learn that coming to you is both fun AND you have food (or ball). I do this more in the house or during a dedicated training session, not just hanging out.

Other "have to" things in my household include things like never going through a door without permission. I live in a very old neighborhood and my house is fairly close to the street. My dogs should NEVER ever ever exit through the front door especially without permission, but even if they exit the back door into the yard without permission, they must come back and do it again with permission - assuming they will come when called. This takes patience and consistency on your part, but is a truly priceless skill for them to have.
I totally agree with you—those are some excellent tips! 👍
 

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I couldn’t read all the replies. My opinion is there’s no such thing as purely positive training. If the dog doesn’t do as it’s told and you withhold the reward, that’s negative reinforcement. Of course, whenever they are learning something new there’s no “corrections” but there’s also no reward if there’s no performance of the command. It doesn’t matter where they are in training. I have one learning utility. He is never corrected for not doing something during the learning phase. If he doesn’t do it, I know he doesn’t understand and I make it easier. I have seen trainers say that they are 100% positive. It’s just not possible.

Another thing, if there are no consequences for bad behavior how do they know it’s wrong? I have a dog who I dubbed “the world’s oldest puppy”. She never misbehaved. I never had to correct her. The problem was that she never learned about consequences for misbehaving. She was so confused when I told her no and made to stop the first time she acted up. She’s 8 years old and knows boundaries now. It took so much longer than my other dogs.
 
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