There’s an old song with words by Johnny Mercer that I always loved as a child… “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative…” This song has been running through my brain recently as I have thought about the words we use in dog training. And it is a perfect theme song for trainers who use the reinforcement quadrants of learning theory as the basis for training methods and training decisions. The good news is that so many trainers have moved in this direction and that pet people are now demanding training that uses kinder methods than the training with which I grew up.
I have realized over the last few months, however, that while our methods may be positive, our words are not. Positive (reinforcement based) dog trainers still use a majority of words to describe what we don’t want instead of what we do want. This is of concern to me because words matter. Words are powerful. Words paint pictures in our brains (and are a reflection of what we “see”). And words then shape expectations and actions.
Let’s look at some of the words and phrases that are commonly used in training dogs (words used both by trainers and pet owners/guardians):
- No jumping
- No pulling
- No dashing through doors
- No barking
- No lunging
- Force Free dog training (the one that really bothers me since it is also used by a company that produces shock collars)
- No pinch collars
- No shock collars
- No pain
- No force
- No fear
All of the above create word pictures of the behaviors and methods we do NOT want to see. (It is easy to see where these originate in a punishment-based culture!) It is time to change our words to more accurately reflect our training methods. We need to accentuate the positive not only in our actions but also in our words.
I have been working to find the alternative words that communicate what I do want instead of what I don’t want. (Old habits die hard!) My hope is that my training colleagues will join me in this effort… the next step in reinforcement based dog training. Choose your own words. This blog was written to encourage our thinking and our creativity, not because I have found the perfect words. Here are a few of my current solutions (which I know will change over time, hopefully with good input from my training colleagues and my clients):
- Feet on the floor
- Walking nicely on leash (loose leash walking)
- Waiting for permission at doorways
- Remaining quiet even in difficult situations
- Learning to deal with scary and/or alarming situations
- Choice based dog training
I look forward to hearing your words…