ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Reliability: Traditional vs. OC

ClickerSolutions note: This article was originally posted to APDT_L. It is reprinted here with the permission of the author.

"And from what I've seen with the +R trained retrieve, you don't even have to lose the ribbons! You may actually win even more."

"Well, if this is really the case, then why aren't any of the top field trainers or protection trainers or more obedience trainers using only the positive reinforcement methods?

From what I've been told, none of the top competitors in field or protection use 'positives only' - meaning they use corrections or aversives of some sort, often by e-collar. They have not been able to get the reliability they need using the positive only methods. I'm relying on other people's word for that, but I have no reason to believe that they're intentionally misleading me."

They may not have been intentionally misleading you, but they are not necessarily correct either. I won't address all the disciplines you note, but in the protection field, there are a number of positive methods that have been PROVEN to work in getting the necessary reliability. The third place finisher in last years Mondial Championship, (probably one of the two hardest ring sports) did not use coercion, but relied almost exclusively on Premack and other principles. I have stated this before, but the D.O.D. has gone over to a positive method of teaching protection work, and D.O.D. dogs consistently place in numerous national and international events. Although not all D.O.D. handlers continue the positive training, many do.

I was the only American selected to represent the United States in an R.A.F. Police Dog championships in the early 90's, I had a positively trained RAF dog, I placed in the top three in preliminaries, but an injury kept us out of the finals. 227 dogs, 1 positively trained, 1 in the top three.

So why don't MOST of the big players in the protection sports use positive methods? TIME.

It's not that they don't or won't work; the people don't think it is worth the time needed to develop the fluency. Many Europeans (most of the big finishers in Belgian, Mondial, International Ring, KNPV) use these placements to move dogs. It is a business. Most buyers don't look at how the dog was trained, but view the placements and proof of the dog's genetic capability to produce protection results. Since it's a business, these people use the fastest methods.

One high finisher in a European ring sport had me show him how to use positive techniques to teach a reliable release. He took it home, taught his dog using the technique in his private training area, placed him in a trial in another country, and the dog didn't place. He called me and told me the technique didn't work under stress. I asked him how many times he practiced in stressful environments, NONE. I explained to him how to generalize the behavior and desensitize the dog and his words...."I don't have time for that, this takes wayyy to long, I'll just zap him a few times and that will be that." or something to that effect, I don't remember the exact words. He was right! As poor as dogs are at generalizing behaviors, they usually generalize aversives pretty well. But don't confuse that with statements that the techniques don't work. The work, they just don't work efficiently enough for some people.

Read the article the Bailey's wrote on desensitization and fluency at:

I'm sure they could get any behavior necessary at whatever fluency needed in any field. So if they can, and we can't, isn't that a trainer problem, not a flaw in the training methodology itself?

But again, having said that, there are placers and top finishers out there that are using object exchange procedures, Premack, adversarial learning, etc. and are getting results in the protection field and in the real world patrol work. Look at Steve White's dogs, watch them work, they are so amazing it's SCARY. Over in the obedience side, aren't Morgan Spector's dogs doing pretty well? That's an honest question, I had heard that, but haven't been following.

They are out there, people just aren't looking for them. It's easier to say nobody is using it, so it won't work, when in reality there's just nobody using it in the small circle they are in or it's a proportional issue.

There are people out there that are very respected in the protection community that believe wholeheartedly that you can't CONSISTENTLY get results with different dogs over a long period of time without using aversive techniques, that shock collars have "raised the bar" if you will. I haven't seen that.

What I have seen is that the results are proportionate to the number of people using the different techniques. If there are a 1000 competitors using aversives in the different ring sports and 5 using positive techniques, the instances of the 1000 scoring high are going to be more than the instances of the 5 scoring high, that's simple mathematics, not the effectiveness of a training technique.

IMO, this whole issue is not whether or not one training technique is more effective, the work of the Baileys have made this a moot point. This is an ethical, moral issue. It should be framed as this: "At what point is it proper to introduce aversives to either achieve a goal in training an animal, or to achieve that goal in a lesser amount of time?"

It is the ethical and moral views of each individual that make the answer difficult and different for each person. Like all ethical and moral views, most times the lines are drawn in the sand and regardless of the efficacy of a technique, people will polarize based on moral and ethical beliefs.

Doug Johnson
copyright 1999 Doug Johnson


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