Treat the cause, not just the symptom

When working with any pet with a behaviour problem, it is important to look not just at what the problem is (e.g. barking, biting, scratching) but why the problem is occurring.

Traditional training relies largely on waiting for the animal to display the problem behaviour, and then reacting to this with some kind of aversive (or punishment). You might pop the dogs leash, flick the birds beak, or squirt the cat with water. Often this results in the animal stopping what it was doing…temporarily. By focusing only on the problem itself, without addressing the underlying cause, the animal will resume the problem behaviour.

Modern, force-free training looks at when the behaviour occurs, what triggers it, and how we can go about changing things so that the behaviour is less likely to occur in future. We also think about what we would rather our pet be doing, so that we can teach it how to behave correctly (using positive reinforcement) and by providing plenty of motivation when it gets it right! The combination of changing the environment to make the problem behaviour harder, and increasing the motivation to offer good behaviour, results in a pet that is eager to spend its time practising the good stuff!

dog training

If the animal is behaving a certain way because it is uncomfortable, or even frightened, by something, then we can gradually change its association with this trigger (using desensitization and counter-conditioning) so that it begins to feel good instead of frightened when the trigger is presented. At all times the animals behaviour is observed and respected. Believe it or not, the fastest way forward is to move at the animals pace rather than pushing it!

Next time your pet does something you don’t like, instead of being reactive try looking at the whole picture. What could be causing your pet to behave like that, and how can you help your pet to behave in ways that you like? By teaching your pet what to do, rather that what not to do, you are giving him the tools to be successful in a human world!

Train smart, not tough!

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Why train with positive reinforcement?

We live in a society that has traditionally relied on using punishment based training methods for decades. With such a long history doing things one way, it is only logical that some people resist trying something new. Here are some reasons why you should consider positive reinforcement.

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Goblin the princess parrot learns that touching this chopstick with his beak results in him earning a treat

1. Positive reinforcement teaches your pet what to do. Traditional training methods depend on our pet doing the wrong thing so that we can then punish it to teach it not to do that again. The problem with this is that punishing a behaviour merely suppresses it without changing the underlying factors that led to the wrong-doing in the first place. By using positive reinforcement you can stay one step ahead of your pet by teaching it what you actually want it to do, keeping both your pet and yourself happy.

2. Positive reinforcement increases the human-animal bond. Traditional training methods require your pet to experience negative stimuli to work (e.g. pain, fear) which often leads to a state of mind called “learned helplessness” where your pet simply ceases to try new things for fear of being punished. Positive reinforcement teaches your pet that its behaviour can lead to good things coming from you. Not only does this create a pet that is keen to try new things, but it creates a strong association between you and good things happening. Now that’s what you want for your pet!

3. Positive reinforcement applies to all animals. Traditional training was limited to animals that we were able to physically intimidate or control. For animals that easily become frightened or aggressive these methods were not practical (which is why cats have a reputation for being hard to train). Positive reinforcement can be used easily on all animals, you just have to figure out what motivates them.

4. Positive reinforcement is great fun. Nobody wants their pet to see them as the bad guy! Training with positive reinforcement is fun for both the trainer and the trainee. Nothing beats the moment when you shape your pet to do something cute like a wave or high five. The scope of things you can teach with positive reinforcement is endless, limited only by your imagination and patience.

Whether you own a dog or a cat, a fish or a bird, i encourage you to give positive reinforcement training a go. If you are unsure about how to get started, or are having trouble finding out what motivates your pet, then don’t hesitate to contact Treat. Play. Love. for more information.