Compulsion-based dog training revolves mostly around using corrections to get a dog to comply. It is very common to hear coercion based trainers tell their students that their dogs must learn that obedience is not an option, ie their dogs must learn to obey at all times. To achieve this, dogs are consistently corrected for every wrong behavior until they finally comply. The use of choke chains, clamp collars, etc. is common in such dog training methods. Others can even resort to the electronic collar. Food or treats, on the other hand, are used less often because some coercion-based trainers believe that dogs trained with food or treats are more likely to be unreliable, meaning they will only obey if you have food or treats on hand. Take away the food or treats and everything they learn starts to fall apart.
Do food or treats have a place in dog training?
In our opinion, absolutely yes! But they must be administered correctly. When you show a dog a treat, ask him to come to you, and then reward him with the treat, you have effectively turned the treat into a bribe. Without the treat, chances are your dog will ignore you and do as he pleases, especially when distractions are around.
As such, reward-based trainers are very cautious about using food and treats as rewards for correct behavior rather than as a bribe. As a general rule (except for luring) food is never presented as a means of getting the dog’s attention before behavior is requested. Instead, food is often initially out of sight and presented as a reward only after the requested behavior has been performed. That way the dog doesn’t have to rely on the bribe to perform. Instead, over time, it learns that even when food is out of sight, if it consistently works as intended, it may be rewarded.
Can reward-based training provide reliable results?
Definitive. In fact, many of today’s top obedience dogs around the world are clicker trained. And clicker training at its purest uses 100% reward-based methods. The use of force or corrections has no place in clicker training. That these top obedience dogs perform reliably in obedience rings around the world is proof that clicker training works and that the use of force is absolutely not necessary in dog training.
Is Clicker Training Superior to Force-Based Training?
We believe that both methods are effective in the hands of the right trainer and can produce excellent obedience dogs. However, when it comes to making corrections, some trainers can go overboard and use higher and higher corrections to train their dogs. For example, they can go from a buckle collar to a choke chain, a clamp collar, and eventually even an electronic collar. Some may even resort to throwing chains to speed up their dog’s performance. While such methods work, they tend to produce dogs that perform not for the enjoyment of it, but because it is mandatory. Reliable as they are, such dogs tend to come across as rather mechanical in the ring. Problems can also arise when forced-trained dogs compete too early. In the ring, handlers are not allowed to correct their dogs. If these dogs are not ready for the ring, they will inevitably make mistakes in the ring and find that their mistakes are not corrected in the ring. The end result – a ring-wise dog, ie a dog who behaves beautifully outside the ring, but once in the ring everything falls apart.
With that in mind, our favorite choice is clicker training. Our dog, Rufus CDX, the 2009 Singapore Kennel Club Reserve Obedience Dog of the Year is clicker trained. We believe clicker training produces dogs that perform because they want to, not because they have to. This makes them very enthusiastic and it will show in their performance in the ring. Clicker training is also more humane and most importantly, your dog will love it.
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