How do you define force free dog training?

Appropriate use of a long line

How do you define force free dog training? Is it lack of physical corrections, not using aversive training tools (prong collars, shock collars), or physical molding (such as pushing your dog’s rear end onto the ground to train it to sit)? Do you consider rattle cans and spray bottles a use of force. Is shouting at your dog or constant repetition of cues using force? Do you stare your dog down when she does something you don’t like. These are all things I wouldn’t use in training or behaviour modification either for my own dogs or working with clients.

Now, what about turning around and physically moving your dog when he lunges, either aggressively or playfully, at a person walking past you and your dog when he is on leash? Do you use a long line to train recall or closer proximity to you so you can prevent him from moving towards a distraction? Would you take your dog by the collar and physically move him from the counter if he was jumping up to get the left over roast chicken and you forgot to close the kitchen door? Do you use a crate or put you dog in another room when visitors come in? Do you body block your dog from coming into rooms or use the door to stop him running out the house? If your dog breaks a sit/stay, would you give another cue to ask him to sit again? Would you consider tethering a dog in place for short periods? I do, or would consider using these methods.

Now, the point of this is that all of these influence the dog’s behaviour, and most of them use some physical means to do so. I attended a BAT seminar recently with Grisha Stewart. Grisha talks of “putting on the breaks” using a long line when working with reactive dogs. What this means is that you use a the long line to slow the dog down from moving forward when the dog would normally run forward and this gives him time to think. We physically stop the dog from moving forward, but slowly and gently.

If I use the analogy of a military base. The military don’t want you entering in the interests of both you and themselves. For them, security and secrecy are the motivators. For you, they don’t want you coming in because they might be dangerous and there may be the risk of exposure to live ammunition etc. The fence is first line of physical control. After that, there might be security patrols where they could stop you by their presence or resort to more physical or might detain you.

In the above example, you might not know that you weren’t supposed to be in a certain area. Say the fences were in a poor state of repair. There might not be any signs or you might not understand what they say. As this applies to dog training, your dog might not know what the rules are, but you have a responsibility to keep him safe. You might not have reached that level of training yet and the environment throws you something you can’t manage in that instant. If that’s the case, you need to get physical with your dog.

There’s an expression among force free dog people – “Positive doesn’t mean permissive”. Some circumstances will dictate we need to physically move or restrain our dogs. Sometimes we need to get physical in preventing them from doing stuff we don’t want them to do. As long as we’re keeping the physical aversion to an absolute minimum, work to try to eliminate it and train our dogs so physical management to a minimum, we are on a more enlightened path.  For example, teaching your dog to lie down with a stuffed Kong when visitors come in will reduce or eliminate the need to put them in another room or crate them if they are prone to mugging your guests.

We have big brains compared to dogs. Dogs are faster than we are, have better weapons that we do, but we are generally smarter. There will always be times when we may need to physically intervene, but we can train and teach to reduce those times. No force, no fear, no pain or intimidation.

15 thoughts on “How do you define force free dog training?

  1. By me there is a big difference between training and intervention. Training is about communicating with the dog, making clear to him what behaviours are wanted and unwanted and I wouldn’t use force for this.
    The circumstances that you describe are management interventions, either planned, like the use of a crate and longline or unplanned like grabbing the dog to stop him running out of the accidentally left open door. While I wouldn’t say that force is completely acceptable in these circumstances, it may be understandable and the least bad decision. The other issue with force is the trainer’s attitude. Grabbing the dog with a big cuddle and saying “oh no you don’t go out there to get run over” is different from hanging the dog up by his collar and yelling crossly about what a bad dog he is to try to run away…..

    1. Yes, I would agree they are management tools but every interaction with our dogs is an opportunity to train, and if we’re not consciously being the trainer we are very often being the trainee. There’s also the example that you can classically condition your dog to a collar grab or collar pull in a positive way using food, so this would be a use of force which is not aversive.

  2. well I am not sure that every interaction with our dogs results on one of us training the other…sometimes the interactions are just neutral. When I walk my dogs back to the car after their walk, we walk straight back to a huge rabbit warren in the car park. beyond it is a busy main road. I have a slightly dodgy knee and one good pull would stop dog walks for several days. My boys are hpr (GSP x wei) and one of them CANNOT focus on anything but bunny towers. I walk him back to the car on a headcollar. Its not training, its management. I know that I am not teaching him llw and he isn’t training me so far as i can see, but we are both kept safe.

  3. Environmental management is key to not setting the dog up to fail but it’s impossible to control everything in the environment and I’m always open to an opportunity to teach my dog. And myself! Two of the most effective things I’ve taught my dog are a ‘watch me’ cue and an emergency 180 turn, gradually building up the distractions. However, if small game appears and she is over threshold then I’ve no option but to grab and pull. However, classically conditioning my dog to this has helped enormously and was one of the first things recommended to me to do by a dog trainer (APDT) I consulted. Even if I can’t get to the food straight away, she knows it is coming. My only regret is not knowing about the power of classical conditioning a lot sooner…….better late than never!

  4. To give another example. If I go to do a consultation, and a dog uses it’s teeth on me (usually by jumoing and nipping in a poor manners way rather than aggression) I’ll take the dog by the collar and put him out the room for a few seconds to use negative punishment. Now, I know a less aversive way would be to teach him a “leave” but if I’m just in the door, I’m not there to get by skin or clothes punctured.

    This example would be an absolutely minimally aversive use of force, I’m physically moving the dog out the room but the collar, he learns what he’s been put out for because I have good timing and time outs of proper duration, he learns now to do it again so he has been trained. This would be training rather than management, would you agree?

    Now I’m not disputing there are less aversive ways, such as teaching behaviour incompatible with mouthing/nipping/biting, but under those circumstances I’ve found it the most effective, quickest way with least among of force used.

    1. I’d call that management rather than training in that circumstance because you don’t know that dog, you are just through the door. The dog may have associations with being put out of the room that you aren’t aware of, so you can’t be sure of what you are telling him by putting him out.

      1. Which is why good time asnd communication (with us of no reward markers) is essential so the dog makes the link between behaviour and consequence (The ABC of learning, antecedent, behaviour, consequence)

  5. One thing to remember is, that there is a difference between training and “real life management”. There are things I will do if absolutely necessary in a real-life situation, that I would never dream of doing in a training situation. Yes, I will physically grab my dog to restrain her from running out in the street when car is coming (yes, and I’m an idiot for allowing something like that happening – part and parcel of being honest).

    Personally I see “Force Free” to be, like “Clicker Training” a philosophy more than a set of rules. Force free training means for me training for a sense of wanting-co-operation between my dog and I. I want my dog to WANT to co-perate with me, just as much as I want to co-operate with her. So it’s not a one-way street. there are times we do what I want and times we do what she wants. I’m sure she doesn’t want to sit every time I want her to. but then I don’t want to stop every time she wants to sniff a bush. So if I want her to sit, I ask her to. And she does. Sometimes she doesn’t and then I ask myself “why not”? And usually there is a good reason. Like a piece of glass where her bum should touch down – or maybe a particularly scary dog across the street she feels she needs to keep an eye on.

    Moreover, in it’s practical application, Force Free means not using tools or methods which rely upon pain, fear, coercion to achieve their training goal. But we need to be absolutely clear here – a leash can be used to “force” a dog to not go where we don’t want her to be. It SHOULD NOT however be used to train this, but rather as a management tool. And when it’s needed as a management tool, we should also be honest enough to say “well, gotta work on that” in a Force Free, co-operative training manner. So when I do occasionally need to use a leash to enforce (yes, the root is “force”) a directional or distance limitation in my dog, I take this to me a warning that I need to work on vocal and/or bodily cues that would make a lesh in a similar situation no longer necessary. At that point, that cue cold still be (and probably will) be considered using force, but it causes neither pain nor fear when used, neither in a management nor training situation.

    Just my $ .02 worth. 😉

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