"Ask the Dog Guy" with John Wade

"Ask the Dog Guy" with John Wade

Puppy and Obedience Training Without Food or Fear

Purely Positive Dog Training

– Posted in: Aggression, Behavior Problems, Columns
Hi John.
I have a 6 year old Labradoodle, probably the alpha male. He was quite difficult to train at doggie school, wanting his own way even when a pup. He recently became more protective of our front door and backyard gate, to the point of snapping at friends, workmen or kids. When someone approaches the gate or door, I direct him, and he does sit and lay down and I give him a reward. This is working well, but I feel like I cannot trust him again after snapping at a couple of arms. I really have to be in charge of him all day, or else he slips back into the leader mode, which I have to get him out of quite often. This may be his personality now, and will the positive treats and rewards be enough to control his aggression at the 2 doors? Any pointers will help very much.
Joanne A.
Hi Joanne,
Probably the only people that should be tossing him cookies are the people that come through the door. I take it you’ve been misled into embracing the Purely Positive (PP) “treats and rewards” utopia world of dog training. In my experience, the PP mindset is succeeding in actually isolating and even killing dogs rather then helping them.  There aren’t just strays in the local shelter. Too few make it past the treat stage and you can forget it if there’s any real behaviour problem and for enough it’s the shelter or the needle. Look at your case, you say it’s working well but instead of a dog that exerts self control and knows something well enough that it doesn’t have to be tossed a biscuit over and over you have a middle-aged dog you still have to isolate, is still described as “Alpha” and has shown every sign of a willingness to bite which will have a less then PP ending for him.
The PP mantra goes like this; ignore bad behavior and reward good behaviour and “poof” bad behaviour goes away. Also, any discipline/negative as in even a stern look on up makes bad behaviour worse.  That’s the same as saying if you let someone down that you really care for and there is a negative consequence for that behaviour you won’t be able to wait to do it again.
Mindless confrontation can make things worse, but not measured consequence for inappropriate behaviour balanced with positive reinforcement for good behaviour. If that little formulae sounds familiar it’s because it forms the basis for every natural relationship on the planet for the parent/child relationship of dogs, wolves, apes or humans. Any one that has raised a child knows it would literally only be sheer luck for a child to survive to adulthood if their parents were fettered by PP parenting. Hershey’s own mother wouldn’t think that her response to her youngster’s inappropriate aggression should be, “Use your indoor voice dear and I’ll give you a cookie.”
As far as I’m concerned, PP is to dog training what the Jim Jones People’s Temple was to religion so don’t drink the Kool-aid. You need to find a balanced trainer. That doesn’t mean someone that is into mindless confrontation anymore then it means someone interested in dancing in the daisies with the unicorns. He or she is going to be interested in why this is a recent development and I’ll bet interested as well in if Hershey is spending time looking out the windows which is a common thread in territorial aggression. The factors that influence diagnosis and prognosis are breed, bloodlines, socialization period, environment, physical condition, nutrition, prior training methodology, handling ability and life style. Some you can tweak, some you cannot. You’ve  been lucky so far so hit the yellow pages and start off with, “Are you a balanced trainer?” and go from there.
John Wade
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