Proponents of the use of pain and avoidance in training like to place themselves in the middle ground, using words like “balanced” to describe themselves and “extremist” to describe trainers who get the job done without hurting dogs. The most cursory examination of this framing, however, reveals that the underlying assumption – the reasonable, middle position is to employ pain and fear along with rewards – is faulty.
It’s basically a rhetorical trick. For instance, the force free could claim the middle ground by saying, “I’m a balanced trainer because I use a judicious blend of prompting, shaping via approximation, capturing and reward removal. I used to be more of an extremist, using and defending the use of motivators such as pain, startle and fear, but started migrating in the 1980’s toward this more reasonable approach.”
This 2009 piece is from a now-defunct previous blog.
When I first got into dog training, the mantra was “dogs are pack animals.” It was never questioned: dogs were strong bonding animals and fit into human families so well, sometimes to the point of developing bona fide disorders like separation anxiety. And a lot of behavior was deconstructed with social hierarchies in mind. Nobody examined what dogs do when they are not inserted into human families, i.e. are free-ranging. So a while ago I took a look at what is known about feral or semi-feral populations of dogs around the world. It turns out there are many such populations.