Don’t Fool Yourself

Why is compulsion necessary with all the wonderful results you can get from motivational methods? Where do you see compulsion fitting in to your training program and where does motivation fit in?

Dog training isn’t something to “believe in.” it isn’t religion, it is an eclectic set of methods learned from both canine learning theory and experience applied to living creatures that are at their core all very similar, but in their earthly manifestations, are all somewhat different. To believe that one approach, one technology, is the answer is in my opinion self-delusional. But people like to be “right” and “morally superior” and all that, so we have built quasi-religious sects in dog training, You have the e-collar religion, and the purely positive religion, and then you have people who take a more eclectic approach. I love motivational training.

On some dogs it is amazing what a skilled positive trainer can achieve. I’d rather train with motivation. In most of what we do, where the competing motivations to the task are relatively low because we have selected dogs that are extreme in their retrieve and hunting drives, we can rely on motivational training to carry us all the way to the end of the training task for the most part – such as in detection training and tracking But I also know, with any organism with a free will – and a dog has free will to make decisions in his interest based on his temperament and the drives he needs to satisfy – limits have to be set and enforced. Wild animals learn from both motivation and compulsion. When the young Bear cub messes with the porcupine, he does it only once. Unpleasant consequences teach important lessons.

Having had Malinois all my life, I am so used to dealing with strong willed dogs that often defy the motivational plan because they see some prey or something in their environment that calls up a defensive reaction, I see the utility in thoughtful compulsion to achieve an understanding of boundaries. I see the need for both. Dog training is not the place to get your religion, although so many are true believers. I don’t participate in these doctrinal disputes. I look at results.

In economics ( I spent 13 years as an economics undergrad, master’s student, and Ph.D. student to make this one reference) there is a theorem which says that resources flow to their most highly valued use. So, if we look at why most of the top competitors in almost every canine endeavor, such as field trials or Schutzhund or PSA, they all use highly driven dogs to take advantage of the motivational aspect of learning, but they almost to a person also use e-collars. If purely motivational methods alone could earn top scores over an eclectic approach, any competitor who wants to win would be doing that exclusively, because people who want to win do not get married to one method, they do what wins. So, if pure motivation would produce a better overall performance, all else equal, all top competitors would do it, because all that is important to a competitor is to place 1st. That resource (technology) would be adopted immediately. It hasn’t happened. Eclectic approaches win. I’ll stay open minded, but eclectic.