Sunday, November 17, 2013

Steve White Seminar: Get To or Got To?

 As a crossover trainer, Steve naturally had some interesting things to say about the comparison between primarily reinforcement-based training and mostly punishment-based training. The cool thing is that he’s not dogmatic about it. As a current K9 cop, he really can’t be. If he gets preachy or holier-than-thou, he’s not going to be able to reach anyone.

He even showed us a few hard-to-watch videos of “training.” He always warned us before he did so (there’s no shame in not wanting to watch someone abusing an animal), but felt it was important that we understand the reality of the world out there.

Despite his willingness to watch and discuss punishment-based methods, he believes that it is not suitable as a teaching tool. People and dogs alike do not learn what to do through punishment; by its very definition, it’s suppressive. Because of that, punishment should only be used as an emergency brake. (It’s not clear to me how much or how often he uses punishment, nor under what circumstances.)

For him, using primarily positive methods comes down to a very simple fact: he wants to work with dogs who believe they get to do things instead of dogs who think they’ve got to. In his opinion (and he stressed that there is no science behind this, just anecdotes), with positive training, you have to put a lot of effort in up front, but down the road things get much easier. In contrast, traditional training starts out fairly easy, but over time, the “got to” component makes it so that the trainer has to work harder and harder. In his estimation, “get to” dogs require about 80% less training over the course of their lifetimes than “got to” dogs.

Interestingly, Steve sees training as a continuum of force. At one end, the traditional end, there is a lot of coercion. The dog has to do things, or else. The trainer uses pain to get compliance. At the other end of that continuum, we have the so-called positive training methods. But even this, Steve said, is inherently manipulative. Think about it: we trainers control access to resources, forcing our dogs to earn things they want. This isn’t necessarily bad, but we do need to acknowledge that our actions are not all sunshine and rainbows.

Despite this, I think it’s so much better to create a dog that gets to work in order to earn what he wants than a dog who’s got to work in order to avoid unpleasant things. The former tends to create dogs who are willing, while the latter can create dogs who perform grudgingly. Steve himself experienced that- he crossed over because he was tired of constantly fighting with his canine partners.

I love my “get to” dog. I may be manipulative, but it’s benevolent manipulation, and I somehow doubt that Maisy experiences it as force. But what do you think?

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