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I recently had a conversation with a woman from a seminar.  She’s been in dogs for a long time now; an obedience competitor who dabbles in agility and other dog sports.  She wants to learn; attends a very large number of seminars, and thoughtfully sifts through what she learns to create a workable plan for her dogs.  She’s neither traditional nor primarily positive in her training.  She’s a trainer of both dogs and people; working as an instructor for her local training club.  She’s kind, thoughtful and helpful.

In private, she opened up a conversation about a few comments I made in the seminar – comments about the logic of using compulsion to teach an exercise (specifically the retrieve).  She talked about the dogs she had over the years, and what led her to the decision to use a forced retrieve- convincing the dog that retrieving was not optional.

In our conversation, I heard unsureness or maybe a little  discomfort.  Not based on my responses, but more the conflict in her own mind between wanting to use minimal compulsion and the need to get the job done – to get the exercises taught in a fair, expedient  and reliable manner while retaining joy in the work for both halves of the team.  Tradition -( the dog must perform) vs. motivational training -(make it worth the dog’s while) were in conflict for this trainer.

Having just finished the seminar, I knew that she had some understanding of my opinion – I don’t really have a problem getting the retrieve taught using positive methods and with relatively little effort – and they are surely as “reliable” as the next person’s dog.  But then she made a final comment which really struck me.  She said, “If I teach it your way, there is no one to ask for help when I have problems”

And therein lies a root problem.

I don’t live at the seminar location, and neither do any other competitive, motivational trainers. That leaves her with a choice; start down an unknown path with little help, or continue in a known direction.   I believe she’ll continue with what she knows, and I do not fault her for that.  She loves her dogs and provides them with a good quality of life.  She tries to be fair, positive and consistent, but at the end of the day she also values participating in her sport.  She wants her dogs to enjoy the training process, but isn’t  quite ready to give up control – to throw out 35 years of training, especially when her training is far from cruel or unethical.

I’m not offering new tools in the toolbox; I’m suggesting a whole new toolbox that suggests you throw out many of your old tools.  That’s not very comfortable when your current methods seem fair, even if  those methods are occasionally unpleasant for the dog.

At the same time, what I offer seems attractive.  Reliability, enthusiasm and teamwork with a cooperative teammate.  Hard not to want it but at what cost? What if the dog fails to perform; where is the “have to”?  I tried to demonstrate and explain that issue thoroughly over the course of the seminar weekend, but she wasn’t  quite ready to hear me. Intrigued?  Yes.  Sold…no.

I’m hopeful that as motivational training becomes better understood, kind and thoughtful trainers with a traditional background will find access to the answers and resources that make them more comfortable training their next dog with a different philosophy, but change is hard.

Competition training is in the middle of a shift, and it’s a struggle for many who find themselves in between two worlds – both attractive for different reasons. I truly wish this trainer and her dogs well – regardless of the paths she may choose.

About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

37 responses »

  1. Why can’t the lady use your video teaching if she gets stuck & needs help ?

  2. One of your best posts, Denise.

    I have discovered all those exact things in the last two and a half years working Dino in Obedience and Rally. Having been out of the Obedience sport for over 10 years, I was aghast at all the excepted methods of force and brutality in Obedience that remained, and these were by the “top” in the sport.

    I told myself that if we were to achieve his highest potential, whatever that might be, then Dino had to want to do the exercises all on his own, and it was my job to motivate him to want to do the exercises.

    Now, we are starting, of course, with an athletically fit, highly motivated herding mix, physically capable of doing all the exercises, a natural retriever and an experienced tracking dog. Motivation involved every trick in the book, and a few new tricks, from toys, treats, favorite foods, clickers, physical praise and mixing all those up in every conceivable method I could concoct. The main goal remained: not to participate in the sport, but to train a dog that loves to willingly do the exercises and to show and compete.

    We certainly have hit many brick walls along the way, and continue to hit them in the quest for the UDX, but my goal is always that he must be willing to do the exercises on his own. I say my dog has many options, and my job is to help him choose the best options for that moment, and to make him happy with his choice.

    My life does not revolve around the sport of Obedience or any other sport. My life revolves around my dogs’ happiness and satisfaction. Everything else is secondary. My dog’s job is not to make me happy. It is my job to make my dog happy, and, in turn, that makes me happy.

    That might be the fence this person is sitting on. The participation in the sport with a winning dog, or the thrill of a deeply satisfying relationship with a dog? Maybe they feel they have to choose between one or the other. I truly think that both can be achieved.

  3. Great post Denise!

    Do you know that you -and you alone – taught me the fun and beauty of the motivational retrieve…with Nolita and Harry? I have never forgotten those “ah-hah” moments and taught Nolita to retrieve such a variety of items with enthusiasm, spirit, and reliability. Glad you are a teacher:)).

    Hope you are well.

    All my best, Suzanne

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. While I don’t want to berate this woman for her reluctance to try a new way of training, surely – on some level – she is aware that assistance and help are there if she wants it. Sure, it might not be physically close to her, but what with blogs, videos, email lists, and telephones I’m not even sure that’s a real barrier.

  5. I really appreciate this person’s dilemma, but from a totally different perspective.

    I’ve been competitive in many dog sports with different breeds and canine temperaments. I’m not trying to pass judgement on anyone, but I’ve personally not had a problem switching to a purely motivational retrieve technique and have had good success with it. My last “competitive” obedience dog earned his OTCH without ever experiencing a forced retrieve. In fact, I don’t have a problem teaching any of the obedience or agility exercises in a positive manner. For me, I’ve found that doing lots of trick training with shaping has given me insights on what to do when things go wrong.

    I work with my dogs primarily in herding now. Like retriever field training, which I also have experience with, most herding training involves alot of pressure – pressure and release. The difference with these two activities, compared to obedience, is that herding dogs are usually bred to do this work and have a very high drive for it (as do field bred retrievers for their work). When in high drive, dogs can tolerate more pressure. But after really enjoying the results of positive approaches, I struggle with this. And like the woman at the seminar, I need help because things do go wrong in herding, and everyone who trials uses the pressure/release techniques. I’m struggling, not only with the tactical issues of blending motivation/pressure techniques, but also on a philosophical basis.

    In the long run, I know this struggle will improve me as a trainer, and teamwork and relationship with my dogs need to be at the core of this journey.

    • Sharon Normandin

      I share your issues with herding. Herding clearly is a reinforcement/punishment learning, with the punishment being negative punishment (pressure, blocking the dog, keeping his sheep away from him) and the reinforcement of course being letting him work the sheep, but it seems to me to be too heavily weighted towards P-. I struggle with trying to be sure my dog understands exactly what behaviour it is that is getting reinforced.

  6. Great, great post. Even the “lay people” I teach in dog classes – people who just want to take a couple of classes and have a well-behaved family pet – really struggle with this issue. They frequently ask, “What do I do if the dog doesn’t do what I ask?” or “How do I make the dog do it if he doesn’t want to?” You hit the nail on the head – we’re not just giving these folks another tool for their toolbox, we’re asking them to use a whole different toolbox that is frequently incompatible with their old tools. It’s a tough sell and a lot of work for the dog owners, but I think the results (that glowing, respectful, happy, fun relationship between human and dog) are worth it.

  7. I had an extremely successful Obedience trainer tell me that she will not drive 1000 miles to a dog show,pay a house sitter and spend all that money and have her dog decide he’s not going to pick up the retrieve item. She said he must know,” he has too “. I personally like a motivational retrieve . If i can retrieve it ,i will send Denise one of the hottest motivational retrieves i’ve ever seen by a young German girl . When this girl throws the dumbbell ,the dogs on fire to get it !! fun to watch .

  8. I will not approve comments that either 1) berate this person’s choices, or 2) explain how to teach the retrieve. If you do not see your comment here, then I made a choice not to approve it because I believe you missed the point. I wish for my blog to remain positive and constructive.

  9. When I first started training for competition obedience in 1992 there was NO ONE that I knew of that did it positively. Or even mostly positively. By purposely choosing to avoid/minimize the use of aversives I definitely made it harder for myself. I truly had to stumble through on my own making many mistakes along the way and reinventing the wheel. But would I do it the same way again? In a heartbeat. Because it’s an ethical issue as well as a practical one for me. If it couldn’t be done positively then I didn’t want to do it. But now we have LOTS more resources than we did back in 1992 when I started competition training. I totally see your point that people are afraid of not having anything to fall back on when things go wrong, and of course things go wrong in any type of training. It’s no fun to be at a loss and not have any support or anyone to brainstorm or give useful feedback. GREAT post Denise!

  10. I can totally understand the conflict. Thankfully I didn’t spend much time in the traditional training world before being introduced to clicker, but some of what Denise has introduced recently in seminars is different from what I’ve known. I was taught that when you use a clicker, to be very quiet with body and voice, and certainly it’s sound scientifically, but for one of my beagle mixes it was all wrong relationally. She needs me actively engaged with her. Again, much of what we’ve been taught about tricking the dog into thinking they’ll be getting reinforcement in the ring is different from what Denise taught recently at a seminar. I absolutely LOVE the new approach, and I know I’m on the right track with my dog now, but there’s still a bit of hesitancy to break with what we’ve been taught, even if we think it’s an improvement. Even though I know I’m overly reliant on food, it’s hard to make those changes. (I might need a 12 step program for this.) What’s even worse (and embarrassing) is that even as I see improvements in my dogs as I adjust my training methods, I’m still lured by the security of the old way.

    It seems like rather than dissing a trainer for not immediately switching to a motivational retrieve, we should encourage her to move forward in small steps, so the leap doesn’t seem so big. That’s what we do for our dogs anyway. 🙂

    • Ditto for me. I think it’s the person’s mindset, too, but in a slightly different way. With ‘traditional’ methods, there’s a huge body of work to fall back on when you get stuck – books, trainers, and so on. Creativity isn’t required.

      When I first started out, I wanted answers when I got stuck – what do I do now? What steps should I follow? What’s the formula for a retrieve, drop on recall, fill in the blank? For methods that have been around forever, it’s pretty likely that if the thing you’re doing isn’t working, somebody somewhere has figured out another ‘recipe’ for that exercise.

      But when you’re training motivationally, there aren’t as many proven recipes, if any. And the trainer has to get creative. Now, it’s one of the things I find the most rewarding about this way of training – I love figuring out how to solve a training problem. If something that I’m doing isn’t working, it’s not a problem, but an opportunity to be clever. 🙂

      I’m a creative person by nature, but even I wanted recipes when I was learning. For those that aren’t creatively inclined, or find it challenging, I imagine it can be a scary transition. It really is a whole different way of framing the conversation we’re having with our dogs.

    • Ditto for me. I think it’s the person’s mindset, too, but in a slightly different way. With ‘traditional’ methods, there’s a huge body of work to fall back on when you get stuck – books, trainers, and so on. Creativity isn’t required.

      When I first started out, I wanted answers when I got stuck – what do I do now? What steps should I follow? What’s the formula for a retrieve, drop on recall, fill in the blank? For methods that have been around forever, it’s pretty likely that if the thing you’re doing isn’t working, somebody somewhere has figured out another ‘recipe’ for that exercise.

      But when you’re training motivationally, there aren’t as many proven recipes, if any. And the trainer has to get creative. Now, it’s one of the things I find the most rewarding about this way of training – I love figuring out how to solve a training problem. If something that I’m doing isn’t working, it’s not a problem, but an opportunity to be clever. 🙂

      I’m a creative person by nature, but even I wanted recipes when I was learning. For those that aren’t as creatively inclined, or find it challenging, I imagine it can be a scary transition. It really is a whole different way of framing the conversation we’re having with our dogs.

  11. Oh great topic and actually one dear to my heart. I started training my Novice A lab in 1996 with a wonderful woman that was a cross over trainer. Jazz was not ear pinched, but her first retrieves were horridly boring. I set her up formally, threw the dumbbell and did a front and finish each and every time. One day practicing in a park, I threw the dumbbell and Jazz trotted out to get it, sniffed the grass like it smelled bad near the dumbbell and came back without it. I was aghast, not that she didn’t retrieve, but that there must have been an aversive on the grass that I had subjected her to. I told her it was OK and I got the dumbbell myself and we went home. It never occurred to me that there should never be an option not to get the dumbbell. Jazz never once refused a dumbbell again after that day in the park.

    My next trainer was an amazingly wonderful purely positive trainer that accepted Jazz’s retrieves as they were. One thing she did do was put lots of food in the article pile so that Jazz could munch around the articles and enjoy being in the pile before she went to work getting her article which she always did. In her long career, she never got a wrong article – more on this in a second.

    Our last and most influential trainer, had a balanced approach between the equation of “want to” versus “have to” and she truly taught me to be 1,000 times more clear in my cues to Jazz to increase her precision and knowledge of what I was asking of her. Not once for the rest of her career did I stand formally waiting for her to come back with the dumbbell or article in training. I always ran out of the ring for a chase to negate how boring I was in her early years. We were headed to the Lab National outdoors. The food in the article pile had transformed into eating all the grass in the pile and never looking for the article. My trainer wanted me to ear pinch to correct this. I told her there was no way I was going to do that. Of course, to my competitive spirit, it mattered that Jazz was munching instead of working, but I could never have ear pinched her. Instead, with my urging, she came up with a humane, positive and clear way to teach Jazz to get her article without eating grass. My trainer was happy and my dog was happy.

    I wish the lady you met at the seminar the best of luck. If you really, really look at the dog when you are training them you can see the consequences of your actions in their faces. Often times that is enough to light the way for your training.

    One last thought! Communication is a good thing. Perhaps, this woman could approach traditional trainers in her area to help her without using a forced retrieve and she’ll be helping them expand their own toolboxes.

  12. Being a positive instructor and starting in the world of competition, I find that there is a lot of places, to find information on positive competition training. There are instructional dvd’s available and books, and people who are willing to help. With the shift in focus on happy non compulsion based performances, everyone involved should see more information out there and proof that it can be done. Denise is one of the people who has proven it can be done without force. (Schutzhund I think is probably one of the toughest sports to prove it in). She is one of many, and depending on the sport you can find them if you really look for them. Support is out there too, I am from Canada, and a lot of information and training and in fact my certification is from the US. I find it quite baffling that people can’t find motivational trainers in the US? There are plenty of force free positive trainers! Every year I go to the US to a conference to update myself on the latest techniques and learn more about it. And, there are many motivational ways to train, clickers, food, toys, play, you name it. And of course I know Denise travels too, although I missed her when she came up this way.

    • People who are training at high levels in obedience (OTCH/UDX with high scores) quite naturally and logically prefer to learn from others with a similar level of skill and accomplishment. There are so relatively few motivational, positive trainers in the US *at this level of achievement.* (There are many such trainers who train pet manners and such, but very few at high levels in obedience.) I am very lucky to live near one of the relatively few (Joan Armstrong). The next closest one I would personally want to take lessons from is Denise, and she is 600 miles away. I completely believe that there are large areas with no “coverage” in this sense.

  13. I don’t know why, but I’m suddenly reminded of something I saw on FB the other day of the educational system in the Netherlands (I think, or Sweden) where they said teachers were paid like doctors and lawyers, there was much more than an hour of recess and testing was not mandatory. And they had highly rated educational system. In otherwords, learning certainly seemed much more motivational rather than mandatory and it was the teacher’s responsiblity to motivate the learning process. (jokingly the post said, basically it’s the opposite of US educational system) Not that teachers don’t motivate in the US (I have no experrience in childhood educational system, so I can’t confirm), but certainly the attitude from mandatory learning/testing obviously is emphasized. Change will only come about by individuals willing to try somehting new.

    In terms of “if i’m doing something wrong and I don’t have anyone to tell me how to do it” well, i know how valuable you are to have a trainer watching me, but one thing I picked up from you is to have the dog tell me what i’m doing wrong. I’m still trying to teach “triball” to my two dogs and it’s not easy and i have individual behaviors but nothing chained yet. The thing is, this is probably the hardest trick i ever trained and i keep screwing up in getting it to click in his head that i want him to go around and push toward me. (he has both behaviors separately) the thing is, when he doesn’t do it, i try my hardest to observe what it is that’s not clicking for him. i’m confident i’ll stumble upon it. but in the mean time, we’re having a BLAST working on it as a team and thinking outside the box or ball in this case and trying different things. I’m learning, they’re learning, they’re teaching me how to teach them. those are excellent lessons.

    I can honestly say, nothing makes them happier than to try and they LOVE that open communication. “OMG, THAT’S what you wanted?” They love getting something and they love trying. they love the training game even if there’s a bunch of “not so successful” attempts. And that only builds into staying motivated long term.

  14. I taught my dog to retrieve by transitioning from a squeaky toy dumbbell. It was a blast and doggy loves it, and it’s reliable, so when I find myself in a conversation with someone who believes that the only reliable retrieve is a forced retrieve, i just do not know how to respond. It’s funny the person I was talking to teaches positively in other realms (though she does use food deprivation which is another one I’m less than thrilled about). I’m just trying to figure out if there is even a way to have a conversation about it, other than to show my happy dog.

    If my dog doesn’t want to do something, the reason why is there and it’s up to me to figure it out. (For my dog it’s noise issues.)

    • Well, it’s easier if your dog will retrieve *something* to begin with. 🙂 Some dogs, like mine, aren’t natural retrievers and thing you’re insane for asking them to fetch and carry things. Still, I managed with clicking and working with her natural drive to chase. But I can totally empathize with wanting a reliable method for teaching a fetch, to a dog that thinks it’s beneath them LOL.

  15. A tangential but related issue is how many people in my area (greater Philadelphia region) are turned off by competition obedience because it’s perceived as the dog sport where “people are mean to their dogs.” Agility is very popular, as are Rally Obedience, flyball, nosework, you name it… just about everything EXCEPT traditional AKC obedience. My sports club recently dropped obedience from its list of offered classes because absolutely no one was signing up.

    I’ve heard so many stories about people (not competitors, just new dog owners just wanting to explore what’s out there) going to these events and seeing competitors punish their dogs on the sidelines — and these people never go back, because they see that and they don’t want to be a part of that scene. They’re looking to get into sports because they want to share a joyous, cooperative relationship with their dogs. At the entry level, when people are not yet sold on a particular sport and are still deciding WHICH ribbons and titles they want to pursue, this is (happily!) the main consideration for most of the dog owners I know.

    And that’s great, because that’s why I do dog sports and why I encourage clients and friends to do them. But I think it’s going to kill off traditional obedience. The (inaccurate, but as this post indicates, persistent) perception that you can’t “win” at traditional obedience without relying on punishment-based methods is causing a whole lot of people in my circles to say “well, okay then, that’s a game I not only don’t want to win, I don’t even want to PLAY.”

    Again, this is a select group of people — mostly in their 20s and early 30s, mostly casual owners with pet dogs, typically affluent and well-educated and already sold on positive training methods — but it seems like that’s the young, motivated, enthusiastic audience you’d most want to capture to help your sport thrive. And the lack of good positive trainers doing competition obedience is definitely losing this crowd.

    • Our obedience trials get fewer and fewer entries all the time too, and we rarely see new people, most likely because of the reasons you talk about in your comment. For myself, agility is my main sport, but I find obedience has been the most challenging sport I’ve ever trained. Finding motivational training methods to encourage the dogs to do what I want in the obedience ring, without treats or toys or corrections, is exceptionally difficult. Agility and other sports have a natural energy that the dogs find fun in and of themselves. Obedience does not. So finding ways to make it fun for the dog and get them to like the exercises is challenging and exciting. Unfortunately, obedience does have the reputation of being the sport where people are mean to their dogs… hopefully we can change this image in the future!

      • It does seem like the dogs love doing agility for its own sake, which is just so much fun to watch (and, I think, serves as its own reward for the handlers too. Who doesn’t want to be able to give their dogs that much joy?). 🙂

        Rally is a lot like obedience in that I don’t think the exercises themselves are inherently fun (in fact they’re a lot of the same exercises, just remixed on the course), but our club’s Rally class is always full to capacity. Every term, the instructor has more students wanting to enroll than she can handle. Local competitions often max out their entries.

        It’s true that in APDT Rally you can have food on the course and can reward your dog with praise, which is not allowed in competition obedience, but I really don’t think that accounts for the difference in interest and engagement. People like seeing the Rally dogs being happy to do their work. They like seeing all the good stuff about positive training in action: the light in their dogs’ eyes, the happy cooperation from both parties, the warm encouragement from fellow participants. That’s what people want at the entry level (at least this is true of my client base and the fellow students I see at the sports club). They want to have fun with their dogs, and they’re not seeing that fun at traditional obedience competitions. (Even the NAME sounds like total un-fun. “Traditional obedience competition.” Three words calculated to thrill the young dog owner’s heart right there.)

        From what I’m seeing, it’s the culture of the sport that turns people off, plain and simple. One of the reasons I love this blog so much, and get so much value from Denise Fenzi’s work, is that it’s a counter-example to a lot of the negative images people sometimes have. Dogs CAN love this sport. Competitors CAN be positive and welcoming.

        So yes, hopefully with work the reputation can be changed! 🙂

      • I would like to pose a different viewpoint on why some people like the sport of Obedience and some do not. Frankly, I absolutely LOVE the sport, and I get so excited to get the opportunity to go into a ring and compete with a dog that is having fun. I have participated in agility in the past, but, as this point, I don’t care for it, and don’t compete in it.

        First and foremost, I LOVE Obedience, because it is difficult to train and difficult to perform and difficult to achieve the desired qualifying and OTCH point earning level of performance. That might seem a bit sadomasochistic, and, in a way, Obedience, is sadomasochistic. The exercises can be so difficult to train and then perform in public that an intense level of concentration and focus is needed that a large majority of people are not willing to endure, especially for the long haul, like years, that is needed to achieve a consistently high scoring dog.

        Then, not only do you have to teach the exercises to your dog, and get your dog to perform in public, but you also have to teach yourself a level of performance. Obedience is a “performance” sport, and a level of formality is still desired and, in many places, expected. The judges still dress formally, including suit and tie for the men and pantsuits for the women. I know that I only wear certain “performance” clothes like black pants, black shoes, black jacket, etc., and I know many people who do exactly the same thing. When you and your dog are in an Obedience ring, you are performing, like on a stage, and many people are turned off by that. I LOVE that, and I, inherently, am a very shy, introverted person, but in the ring, I can be something different. The Obedience ring is the ONLY place I even wear makeup, if that emphasizes the point better.

        When I take my dogs lure coursing or racing or other sports, I can wear the grungiest clothes available, and I would be laughed at if I showed up to a lure coursing field in my Obedience clothes. But, in Obedience, a level of formality, appearance and professional attitude is expected. Now, I know of some top handlers who still wear blue jeans in the ring, but those are less common, especially in the upper levels of UDX and OTCH. You may find that in Novice A and Open A classes, and, that is too be expected.

        Having travelled throughout Northern California, Oregon, Washington and Nevada to show, that is what I see. If it is different in other area, I wouldn’t know. And, of course, I believe this to be more common at an AKC show, especially if Conformation is also on the same show grounds. At APDT trials, due to the food in the ring, things seem to be less formal and more “fun,” but I still dress formally and act formally. For me it is the same.

  16. Wonderful post, Denise, & all the best to the lady you spoke with.
    In my area there is a similar problem. There are a number of positive trainers around; there are also a few competition people. There is NO overlap. I do take (wonderful) lessons from a KPA trainer with lots of competition experience, but she’s a long drive away, & only in the area every few weeks. The rest of the time I take classes from more traditional trainers if they are willing to help me do things my way. Even the most helpful among them haven’t learned the principles of shaping & of splitting the behaviors into very small bits, but it is still better than training entirely in a vacuum, & does give my dog the experience of working with other dogs around. .

  17. Definitely one of your best posts. I think this dilemma is common now in the dog training world. It’s interesting to see how things will shake out. I think it’s a good dilemma, in a way, it’s giving people more options. And hopefully the dogs are having a more positive time of training too.

  18. This FB group is helping a lot of pet owners get force free answers.

  19. I was surprised to see that you think that motivational only training is something new and/or not widespread, since it’s all over out here where you live. I see it all the time in dogs that choose not to work either because they aren’t in the mood or because something else is going on that is more attractive. But these folks just don’t want to be what they perceive as “mean” by giving any sort of correction, so their progress is slow, if at all. This was really brought home to me last weekend when I attended two Rally trials and watched person after person beg their dogs thru easy courses.

    While I and most everyone I know and train with teach in a motivational way, eventually there needs to be some compulsion somewhere so the dog understands that we are not just asking it to do X. And compulsion doesn’t equal “brutal” or “force” or any of the other scarey words I see above; it can be as simple as taking a dog by the collar and putting him back where he was supposed to be or pushing a dog back into a sit. Corrections at a level to suit the temperament of each individual dog.

    Motivational training is great and used by many, but by itself it cannot create a truly reliable obedience dog. I don’t mean just in the ring tho that is a big part of it, but outside the ring as well. A reliable obedience dog can do stays outside of a lineup in the ring, comes every time it is called. etc. I am amazed at the number of people with advanced obedience titles who cannot let their dog out of a crate unless they put a leash on it, because it won’t stay in the area once out otherwise. Inside the ring motivational only also breaks down if you show a lot, since eventually the dog just isn’t going to feel like it and then what do you have? If the dog understands its a job – a fun one but a job just the same – then they can have a nice long career without going sour or unresponsive. You also don’t need to find a specific sort of dog to succeed – balanced training tailored to the dog will work on all temperaments and personalities.

    • Note to readers of comments: I will NOT post responses to Kathy’s opinion above. She has stated her opinion here, and there will be no war back and forth on my blog. This is one more point of view to which you may agree or disagree – leave it at that.

  20. Hi from Germany,
    I am a bit irritated by your post, because it gives me the impression, that motivational training is rare in Canada.
    And this thought is very strange for me, as I personally never came into contact with everything else.
    This may be because I started with dogtraining only 6 years ago, but in all this time I went to many competitions, mainly obedience, and the people I met there, were all training on a motivational basis.
    An especially the trainers, that give obedience-seminars are all working with clicker or markerwords.
    It is only the Schutzhundpeople, that have problems to adapt modern training methods, but also there are many people, who change their way und use clicler and positive reward to reach their goals.
    So I would like to know, how you define the “traditional” way of training, because it’s so hard to imagine that there are so big differences between here and canada.
    By the way, your blog is great, I love it and I got so mucb inspiration ! Thanks!


    • OK. Since nobody else has replied to your post, I thought I would give it a shot to answer your question.

      The word “traditional” gets tossed around a bit, and used in at least a couple of different ways. Let me see if I can explain the two most common definitions I am aware of.

      Prior to the advent of Rally Obedience, the word Obedience was used to describe the sport of Obedience which consists of Novice, Open and Utility exercises. Once Rally Obedience was invented, the word “Traditional” got attached to the sport of Obedience to separate it from Rally Obedience. So, when the term Traditional Obedience is used it describes the long-time sport of Obedience consisting of Novice, Open and Utility exercises.

      Now, here comes the confusion. The word “traditional” obedience training also describes the type of training that was used prior to the use of clickers, which led to the term motivational and positive training. A lot people still use “traditional” training for both pet dog training and competition training. As a child, reading every training book I could get from the library, traditional training is what I first learned as the way to train dogs. I graduated from high school in 1982 in San Francisco, and I first saw clicker training when I moved to Santa Rosa in 1992. I have Linda Hause with County-Wide DTC to thank for that! I never turned back.

      Traditional training describes the use of a collar, whether chain, pinch or electronic, to apply a “correction” or “pressure” or “shock” to teach the dog what to avoid. This type of training is a full reverse to motivational training. Pure motivational training teaches a dog how to achieve the various rewards by doing the exercise correctly without the use of a collar. Pure traditional training teaches the dog how to avoid getting the “correction” or “pressure” from the collar to receive the various rewards. In my opinion, the use or non-use of a collar is the difference between the two. Clicker training came out of the training of marine mammals where the use of a collar was not an option.

      I hope that helps.

    • It probably doesn’t matter much, since things are very similar in Canada and the United States (I’m in Canada), but Denise is in the US, not Canada. Unfortunately, many people say they use motivational methods, but it’s not common to find someone who *only* uses that. I’ve noticed a lot of people who say they only use these methods, but once you watch them, it’s not the case. But everyone’s ideas of what this entails is different. For me, part of it is not blaming the dog, but instead blaming yourself for your inability to train something well enough. Based on the folks I watched while trialing my current dog for her novice title, there aren’t too many people out there who don’t get mad/irritated with their dog (and take it out on them) when something goes wrong.

  21. Pingback: +R Competition Obedience | No Kids - Just Dogs

  22. So… Denise… when can we count on a Fenzi Academy motivational retrieve course??? 😀 I’m working on shaping a retrieve with a tricky dog and would love a course like that… and then we can have a place to point people for help. I know it might be covered in Skill Building but I’d love for you to teach a 6 week class on getting that perfect retrieve. Pretty please?!

  23. Sharon Normandin

    Back when I was doing competitive obedience, I trained four dogs to retrieve. The first two were trained using compulsion/corrections. No ear pinches, but it was a “you must do this” approach, which was the most common approach at the time. My next two dogs were trained using totally motivational methods. They had very fast, happy retrieves. The first two dogs? They also had fast, happy retrieves. Watching the four dogs, you wouldn’t be able to guess what methods were used to train them. Which method did I enjoy the most? I don’t think I have to answer that. As one of my mentors has said, there is a better way, find it, and I did.

    It’s too bad that this person is so concerned that she might have problems with no one to go to for help. I think that once she understands and buys into the tool, she might have the confidence to believe that she can work through any problems she might encounter. Hopefully continued exposure to motivational seminar speakers, watching DVDs, reading, etc.will create that understanding and confidence.

    One other option as to who to go to for help is to seek out agility trainers in her area. That’s where I got my motivation to “cross over”, and many agility trainers who teach a foundation class have a good background in shaping behaviours, and could help her with the basics and any problems she might encounter.


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