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“Have to” vs “Want to?”

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One of the most pervasive myths is the world of competition obedience is that at some point in your training, corrections will be required to convince your dog that performing is not optional.  Corrections are added to give…reliability.

How’s that working for us?  Let’s consider it.

The logic goes as such:

“There are no cookies in the ring.  If the dog dog only wants to work when there are cookies to motivate him then he can simply opt out.  You must add corrections so that the dog understands he has no choice about working, even in competition where there are no cookies.

I’ve been competing for about 35 years in AKC obedience.  I started well before anyone used cookies; the only training method on the table was corrections – from start to finish.  It wasn’t pretty.

The “pass” rate in Utility B – the highest competition level for seasoned dogs, was roughly 50% at that time.

35 years ago – no cookies and all corrections in the highest level class for dogs that had demonstrated competence with all of the exercises.  Yet, half of the dogs in that class – the well trained “good” ones – had figured out that they did indeed have a choice.  Sometimes they performed, and some times they didn’t.

How about nowadays?

Most competition trainers use cookies and toys, and the quantity and severity of the corrections has decreased.


The failure rate is STILL about half of the dogs in Utility B.

So we have a logic problem here.  Our pass rates should have plummeted if compulsion gave compliance in competition, or our pass rates should have skyrocketed if it’s the combination of cookies and corrections that’s the real ticket.  We still have to try and explain that pesky 50% failure rate.

We all fail.  Regardless of method.  Without exception.

The fact is, dogs trained with “have to” fail on a very regular basis.  Maybe the dog lost attention, got stressed, or just decided that they weren’t going to do it on that day.  How is this possible if that dog was trained that it would be corrected for…losing attention, stress was no reason not to work, and that opting out is not an option?

It’s possible because there is no “have to” in competition.  What happens, happens.  Now go home and train better.

If you’re looking for a guarantee, it should be obvious that neither corrections (have to!) vs. cookies (want to!) is going to get you there.

The solution is excellent training.  The best trained dogs have the highest pass rates.  Not the ones who got the most cookies or the hardest corrections – the ones that are well trained, regardless of the handler’s choice of method.

And the best trained dogs are often of breeds that, by temperament, do very well under the stress of competition.  They are not stupid. Seasoned dogs know perfectly well that there are no corrections or cookies in the ring, yet they do it anyway.  They like to work or they perform out of habit.

And the best trained dogs with the best temperaments are often owned by…the most experienced or determined trainers!  Who, regardless of their choice of methods, have worked hard enough that they have figured out how to get dogs trained – or at least dogs of the temperament that they tend to select for.

I choose to train with positive reinforcement.  I do this because I want my dogs to work for me because they want to, and it is obvious to me that the “have to” method is just as risky as the “want to” method.  There are no guarantees.  Instead of worrying about that, I’ll put my energy into becoming the best possible trainer I can.

It’s a myth that adding corrections to your training will make your dogs more reliable in competition.  Pay attention to what actually happens on trial day and this will become clear to you.

I know the “have to” idea sounds good in theory but in practice?  It’s not holding up.



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.

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  2. Well written and makes perfectly good sense!

  3. Your logic fails because, as far as I’ve been able to tell and believe me I’ve looked, no one has been able to get a dog reliably trained using no corrections at all. By reliably, I mean being able to trust that the dog will obey at any time in any situation. Some of the “totally positive” trainers have been able to get titles by managing their dogs and the environment, but that isn’t a trained dog, it’s just one doing tricks.

    I show a lot and my dogs do it both because they want to and because they have been taught to be responsible for obeying, the “have to”. You are right that consistent obedience comes from good training, but even the best trainers cannot get that with a “totally positive” method, especially if they are working with a dog/breed that isn’t naturally compliant. But even with the best Golden, no matter how well you train there is going to come a time when a dog isn’t going to want to, and the more you show the more often it will happen. It’s no myth that if the dog understands his responsibilities in the ring, they are far less likely to just decide they don’t feel like doing it than one who has always known he can do it if he “wants to”. There is a reason why all of the top obedience trainers introduce corrections after the dog has been taught how to do something.

    Also, corrections are allowed in the ring and I use them when needed.

    • Are you saying that your dog’s show 100% reliability in and out of the ring because you have effectively taught them that they have no choice? If so, then that is impressive. But if your dog cannot show that 100% reliability and perfection in the ring then I have reason to question why your dogs would be 100% out of the ring.

      I find my dogs to be perfectly well behaved in real life, when I teach something that I care about. But – as with competition – they are not perfect. Not 100%. And, based on the number of exhibitors who cannot walk through a dog show environment without a tight leash and a hidden prong collar, I think that my +r dogs are not alone in their “not perfect” reliability both in and out of the ring.

      I do not understand why you would need to correct your dogs in the ring, since you have stated that you have 100% obedience. Or possibly it only happens once – and from that day forwards the dog never makes another error in the ring, since they now ‘know’ that you can correct them?

      I also reward in the ring – liberally and to the fullest extent that it is allowed. It’s all about even. Just depends how you choose to spend your time training your dog in the ring – focused on what you want, or otherwise.

      • No, I said that I trust that my dogs will obey in all situations, which isn’t the same thing as 100% – no being is perfect. And these are things that have commands attached to them and not things like is a front absolutely perfect.

        Must be a lot of people walking around obedience trials in N Cal with dogs on prong collars – down here we see it almost always around the conformation ring. Not that it means anything – any dog that must be walked on a prong is obviously not trained.

        I didn’t say I have 100% obedience, that is why the occasional correction is required. They are also needed should the dog be obedient but not perfect score-wise. I don’t know where you got this 100% idea, but even tho I am working on my fifth OTCh, on NOBs, not only have I personally not had a perfect dog, I’ve never seen one anywhere on the west coast, or in my occasional forays into the midwest and east, or at the five or so NOIs I have competed in.

        I also reward in the ring – I’m not sure what the rest of that paragraph meant? I don’t care how you choose to spend time, I am merely pointing out that training without corrections is probably impossible, and reliability without it *is* impossible.

      • Yes. And that is one of the joys of “positive” training. Once you stop relying on “food treats” as reinforcement. You can pat, caress and talk to or dog between exercises –all good reinforcements for cooperative behaviour. 🙂

    • I don’t think that observing performance is the ultimate indicator of how a dog is trained, “no corrections at all” is very, very broad. If dogs that are trained using corrections make mistakes, and have off days, are they also not reliably trained? I’m quite sure you have seen examples of correction trained dogs that were poor….
      What’s the difference between tricks and obedience? Isn’t it how much we care? How does a +R trainer manage the environment during a trial? Or dog? I also do not see how it’s at all different, a dog performing because they want to, and find it reinforcing, and a dog that does that but also gets corrections for failure…it is what we focus on, truly. What we want vs. don’t want

    • I have had the opposite experience from Kathy. I have never had a dog say that they don’t want to in the ring. I have had my share of disasters but all of them were caused by the dog doing what it thought I wanted, but guessing wrong. I have had recall to heel when I wanted it to front (wrong thing but the dog tried) I have had a dog retrieve the sendaway marker (wrong thing but the dog tried) I have had jumping in heelwork (wrong thing but the dog was trying too hard) I have had shedloads of anticipation (right things but the dog tried too early) Doing the wrong thing with enthusiasm is a reflection on my slack training and my vague stress fuelled signals – It is also a sign of confidence, willingness and connection. I have been competing for 20 years in multiple activities with 5 different beagles and they have always wanted to but have never had to. Maybe it’s just their natural compliance?

      • Same here,fair few oops moments but,I’d much Rather have a happy dog try to do what they think you want than a sad looking bullied into it dog.

      • But, I have had a dog who simply did NOT want to be in that ring 😦 Poor Thing. All she wanted was a quiet life at home and to know that she was loved. So I simply stopped trialling with her 🙂
        IF it is not fun for the dog, why are you doing it? If you have to jerk the lead, use aversive equipment, or be angry with the dog it is no fun for either of you. IF it means so much to you that titles and winning in the ring are so important pass the poor dog on to someone who loves it and can give it the life it deserves.
        Get another DIFFERENT dog or change to a sport/activity were you are relying only on yourself or an inanimate machine/equipment.

      • Love this perspective! Thank you, Alex.

  4. The point about a multitude of other, or at least additional factors than reinforcements or punishment influencing “pass rates” is well taken. Another interpretation in addition to the one you’ve made of if “corrections” were necessary pass rates should have plummeted because trainers were using them less often – is that if positive reinforcement is so much better than one would have expected to see pass rates jump higher, because more R+ is being used. That didn’t happen either. So there is probably not a causal relationship between the two, and the outcome is influenced by a multitude of factors, as you state.

    • An argument could be made that the dog’s attitudes and demeanors have improved quite a bit as a result of more +r – but not reliability.

      Regardless, my point was simply that adding corrections to create “have to” does not create “have to”. Sometimes dogs do the work and sometimes they don’t.

    • To effectively compare R+ training we would need results from shows with dogs with only R+ training, minimal to no corrections.

      100% water won’t hurt you if you stick your finger in it. Diluting to 50% with acid may hurt a little but won’t damage you. Make that 100% acid and you’ll lose your skin.

  5. What a superb article Denise and perfect common sense!!

  6. “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” – Vince Lombardi

    Of course, no one is perfect. No dog is perfect. Perhaps a 50% qualifying rate is just the way it is. 🙂

  7. Interesting. I wonder if there is a correlation between the number of competitions a dog has entered at different levels and the success rate at UD. Or what about the effect of time training or frequency or length of sessions training. Wonder how other aspects of dog training have evolved over the years that apparently haven’t impacted the results. I’m pretty new at this, but 50% – hmmm. That surprised me.

    • Yes! What I would like to see though is a assessment of each dog. Does the dog “fail” 50%, or do some dog fail much more than 50% and other dogs pass nearly always??

      I remember entering trail after trail after trial to get my first qualification in Obedience. 😦 I probably helped to skew the overall pass rate down a great deal.
      Now that I only train for fun, and enter far fewer trials my present dogs have a MUCH higher ‘pass’ rate 🙂 AND we all enjoy ourselves whether we ‘pass’ not 🙂

      • Or in other words, I had high ‘failure rate’ with my Check-chain trained dog, and a far better qualification rate with my reward-trained dogs. I DO feel though that that is probably skewed by my experience, as well as the fact that I am far more relaxed in the ring now Qualifications don’t seem so important to me.

  8. Years ago I was training and competing with my own dogs in obedience, tracking, and herding. A very accomplished trainer with a winning record and his Irish Setter on the cover of a prestigious magazine, told me that I could get perfect obedience scores like he did if I was pickier about my dog’s sit. She sat slightly crooked, but always scored in the upper 90s. Audiences loved to watch her work because she was so happy. On the other hand, this trainer’s beautiful dog scored perfectly, but was sad to watch. He performed every exercise with his head and tail lowered and looked miserable. He had been “nitpicked” to death and it showed.

  9. Excellent article!!!
    Although I would suspect that the 50% failure rate is more likely due to entering dogs who are still somewhat unreliable! 🙂 Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. Sometime we DO need to enter our dogs so we can know just where we need to do extra work 🙂

    • Utility B is the highest competition level – the entry level (Utility A) has a pass rate of less than 10%.

      I agree – the reason for the low qualifying scores are a function of training. Adding more “have to” does nothing to improve it.

      • The more I read this, the more I realize that you don’t understand “have to”. It isn’t something that is just “in the moment”, it’s an overall attitude that the dog has towards it’s work, a sense of responsibility to do the work and do it well. It isn’t just “this is a fun thing we do” but also “this is my job and I need to do it”. And “have to” certainly is not taught so the dog doesn’t make a mistake! Dogs are not robots, mistakes happen. No, “have to” is just that – dog, you don’t decide you aren’t in the mood and don’t feel like it today, you don’t stop and sniff in the middle of the heeling pattern or wander away from the articles.

        But, even with that shit happens. A dog may be upset by something going on in the environment, or physically not feeling well. When Raika messed up the articles at the NOI, it was most likely because she wasn’t ready for that sort of multiple ring set up – in the video it almost looks like she thought you called her. I think it’s very unfair for you to say that she chose not to do the articles, because it’s fairly obvious from the video that there was something going on there other than her just not being in the mood. She went right back out on the second command, did a nice search and came up with the right article, there was no indication of “I don’t wanna”.

        Yes, better training is the answer, and for those who are winning HITs and finishing multiple titles and OTChs, better training includes not teaching the dog that it has a choice. Which is vastly different from “the dog has to understand that they have no choice…” We don’t train by having the dog choose to do the things that bring a reward, and we don’t just withhold rewards/start over/wait it out when the dog chooses to not do what we want. It just isn’t a case of somehow making the work more interesting than other things the dog could be doing, or waiting until he feels like working. Those are the things we are talking about when we are saying the dog isn’t given a choice.

  10. Less than 10%? That’s crazy. Seems like too much corrections for handlers. Us handlers like positive RF too! Maybe people would be less harsh correcting their dogs if the judges were less harsh on them.

    Re Data: It would be interesting to do an analysis of the data.
    1. Have judges become more strict over the years?
    2. . What is the correlation between pass rate and level of corrections used?
    How do mild correctors compare in scoring rates to harsh correctors?
    What is the correlation between pass rate and how much trainer plays with dog?

    Anyone up interviewing handlers at a show?

    • Janet I agree with you. ere we introduced a CCD (Community Companion Dog) title which is all on lead and very simple. It is excellent — not hard to pass, and helps get handlers used to competing in the ring.
      We also got RallyO included as a RASKC sport, but the Competitive Nazis decided that the novice level was too easy and have made it more difficult 😦
      As far as I am concerned I feel that since we don’t start out kids on Matriculation Maths, . or our kids on National sporting competition levels.
      Maybe Kindy Obedience is best left at the Club level, but the first ‘competition’ level should be at about the Secondary School Entrance level.

    • They call it “futility” for a reason. That level is basically for the obsessed, I don’t think Q rate even registers with most Utility A people. I’ve put exactly 1 UD on a dog, and I didn’t even count attempts until the title was done. I just celebrated what was good in every run.

      • Obsessed? I dunno, maybe. It takes experience to get good at Utility, because it has so many moving parts. Until you’ve done it you don’t realize that this class is all about confidence…..the dog needs to have the confidence to work thru the puzzles and make a choice. Almost all of the exercises are a variation of multiple choice.

        As to the 50% qualifying rate….I think some teams qualify most of the time and some have a very low qualifying rate, with most teams falling in the middle. My current dog has a very high q rate in Utility, over 90%. I attribute that to a combination of a mentally and physically healthy dog + my own experience with the class + very thorough proofing where she has learned to work thru difficult puzzles in a variety of environments. We did the leg work and it paid off.

  11. What is a prong collar? It sound like some fearful Medieval instruments of torture? If so, I shouldn’t want one on my dog.

    • The are 😦 Just Google “prong collar” and go to ‘images’. 😦

      • oh please. they are not ‘torture’. saying so just shows you have no idea how one is used. they are like any collar, used correctly and they are fine, used incorrectly or by a heavy handed person, they are unpleasant to say the least. i have seen people abuse their dogs on buckle collars far more than on prongs.

      • NOTE: I will not let any more comments on this topic go through – regardless of my opinion it has nothing to do with the blog in question.

  12. Upon reflection, and reading the comments that have been posted thus far, I think you have hit upon a critically important fact that really needs some attention.

    As a committed and long-time +R trainer, I have felt a great deal of pressure to “be perfect” because if I’m not, some who choose to use corrections in their training are going to blame the method for any lack of “perfection”.

    But, you know – it occurs to me now that this has been ridiculous on my part.

    Of course the dogs who are trained with corrections included in their training are not 100% reliable, and are making mistakes both in and out of the ring. Just as my own do, and always will.

    Perhaps in discussion of the effectiveness and reliability of a +R approach (which those of us who train under a +R philosophy and methodology know is a rich, diverse, and highly effective training discipline that consists of much, much, much more than the mere omission of corrections in training), more of a focus on what we actually can achieve, and not “perfection” is a far more appropriate consideration.

    I think that as a +R trainer, I have heard so much, “you can’t, you can’t, you can’t”, in discussions with those who choose to incorporate correction into their training, that somehow I have gotten it in my head that somehow 100% perfection is needed to be able to say that I can.

    But that’s nowhere near true. Nobody in any performance sport, regardless of training philosophy or methodology, is getting 100% perfect results all the time.

    Very interesting – and enlightening!!

    This goes a bit beyond the topic at hand, but I do believe it fits in.

    • There was a ‘meme’ with photo going around on facebook, with the word “My dog is nor perfect but she is happy”.

    • Margaret McLaughlin

      Yes, yes. I am the only R+ trainer in my regular group of training buddies, & one of the few in my club, & I always feel that my methods & the philosophy that shapes them, not my skill in using them, is what’s on trial, & very frustrating it is, too. All four of my dogs have heeled wide–I have a deformed left hip that makes me walk like a duck–because they’ve all been kicked/stepped on repeatedly if they’re close. When I was training my first dog, with a choke collar & leash pops he heeled wide. My current dog heels wide, but it’s because “you can’ t get precision heeling with a clicker”. I can’t get precision heeling without one, either. I can get better heeling as my skills in timing, raising criteria appropriately, & improving my reinforcement rate improve, but I’m never going to get the wrapped-around-the-left-leg-staring-at-my-face 199+ kind of heeling from any dog who’s smart enough to stay out from under my feet, nor would I get it if I used a prong collar & gave my dog a choice between the devil of being stepped on & the deep blue sea of collar corrections.

    • ksammie3, you took the words right out of my mouth (fingers?)!

    • I dunno about this. I feel an enormous load lifted from me to no longer feel that my dogs’ lack of perfection matters. Life is happier, other trainers are friendlier.
      life is for living not achieving perfect scores. Either for you, your dogs or your children.

  13. Really???
    Point 1: We all have some “have to” in our lives. A little “Have to” is not a bad thing – I am so tired of purely positives pulling this garbage. Point blank: look at the trainers at the top of just about every dog sport, I’m not going to name names, but they are ALL balanced trainers whose dogs love to work but ALSO have a small dose of “have to”. There is not a single purely positive on this list. And if anyone is having trouble wrapping their mind around this then chew on this: I LOVE my job, sincerely LOVE it. However there are days that I am exhausted or distracted and would prefer not to work. What keeps me working on those days is the “Have to” of paying the bills. So again, I ask, why is “Have to” a bad thing?
    Point 2: You are comparing apples to oranges. A. Good training is good training B. Because there is still poor training out there (i.e. Pass rates are no better) this means that “have to” is not valid or does not make for better reliability. C. If you really want to be fair then: 1. take the top 5 purely positives and the top 5 balanced trainers and let’s compare their records. Better yet let’s have them compete in a masters-type tournament and see what happens.

    • I never said a positive trainer is going to do better – never compared them at all, so you’re addressing a blog that isn’t even written. As a matter of fact I said that adding more cookies wouldn’t work either. I wasn’t comparing training methods – not sure where you got that from, but not the blog post. I’m simply addressing the idea that trainers can put “have to” into their training.

      Not obviously.

      I never said that having “have to” is a bad thing. Might make good sense if it worked. But – it doesn’t appear to be working. All of those dogs with “have to” are not “having to” when they have a choice.

      I said that dogs opt out all the time in competition – even the dogs at the top fail – MOST dogs at the NOI fail at least one exercise over the course of the day. They do not do it. They didn’t have to, and they did not. Unless you’re saying that most of the dogs at the NOI just need more “have to” in their training?

      So…. you go to your job even when you don’t want to. You “have” to so you go because your boss can do something about it if you do not go. But dogs at dog shows? Nope. Nothing you can do about it in the ring. So if you want to compare it to your job, it would be more like your boss’s friend noticing that you didn’t go to work – and watching helplessly. Of course, your friend can just tell your boss, who can then explain to you why you are being fired. How do you suggest that a person communicate to the dog that their failure in the ring is going to result in consequences after you leave the ring?

      Personally, I’d just focus on good training – whatever that means to you. The ring is your testing ground – see what needs work. But there is no “have to.” They don’t have to at all and stating that adding corrections “creates” reliability is unsubstantiated.

      • “MOST dogs at the NOI fail at least one exercise over the course of the day. They do not do it. They didn’t have to, and they did not.”

        This makes it sound like the dog chose not to do an exercise, rather than just the dog (or handler) made a mistake…..that’s really not the same thing at all.

      • The reason people add ‘have to’ to their training is so that the dog will not make a mistake. My OTCH dogs made so few mistakes in training (that would fail them) that it’s not worth mentioning. Almost never happened – in training.

        In the ring? I saw failure. No more than most others at that level but…I saw failure.

        Dogs don’t fail at the NOI because they make a mistake – the exercises are not hard – they are the same thing over and over. The dogs that failed didn’t forget what the down signal was, or how to do the moving stand, or what the correct article smells like or how to heel with extreme accuracy and attention. They have done those things thousands of times correctly – and I doubt very much that they make errors in routine training. They failed because their training did not hold up. They got stressed. They got distracted. Whatever. But the “have to?” They didn’t have to.

        When I attended the NOI, my dog failed an exercise. She went out, circled the article pile, and came back with nothing. So I cued her again and she went back, found the correct article and returned. Did she make a mistake? No – she knew what she was supposed to do. She chose not to do it. I chose to cue her again and she did it the second time. If you wish, you can see it here:

        What might an observer say? Some would say that my dog failed because she thought she had a choice. That I let her get away with it in training. If I had taught her that she had no choice, that she ‘has to’ then that would not have happened.

        But that would be completely incorrect. I failed because I did not adequately prepare my dog for the competition, and because under stress my dog has a hard time with scent discrimination. Adding “have to” is irrelevant. Better training is the answer.

        Which was the point of the blog. The better your training, the better it will hold up. Train how you wish – but the phrase “the dog has to understand that they have no choice…” that phrase makes no sense. They are beings who have a choice. The fear overwhelms them? I hear people say “Make them more afraid of you than of everything else”. The distractions overwhelm them? I hear “Make sure they know that getting distracted isn’t an option”

        And all of that is meaningless. When you get in the ring, either your training holds up or it does not. At that point, your dog has a choice. Their emotions matter.

        For people who read this blog with care, there really is no controversy. There are no guarantees – even with all the ‘have to’ that trainers apply. So we should stop using that phrase, because training in the name of “have to” seems to lead to some very unfortunate training decisions. Why not just say, “train better?”

        The reason people are upset is because they are extremely attached to that phrase. “The dog must know that they have no choice” And letting that go? Admitting that at the end of the day, that a dog’s emotions and alternative interests might actually win over all of that ‘have to?” That gets to the heart of our need to control. And when our need for control drives our training decisions rather than good training, then we’re setting ourselves up for some thought patterns that probably need to go.

        Apparently that’s not too popular in the world of competition obedience right now.

        If you’re interested, here is her last run of the day at that event. She knows there is no reinforcement for her, yet she does it anyway. Out of habit and out of training. This dog has no concept that if she did it wrong that something bad would happen because I did not choose to train her that way. But she is also not performing out of “want to” or expectation of a cookie. She’s working out of habit and because she wants to cooperate – it’s her genetic package and I did my best with training to nurture that. And that can hold up just as well, or just as poorly, as any training that attempts to incorporate “have to” :

      • “They failed because their training did not hold up. They got stressed. They got distracted.”

        I agree that dogs fail because their training did not hold up. I just think calling that a choice is a stretch.

        “At that point, your dog has a choice. Their emotions matter. ”

        They don’t choose to have the emotions, any more than you do. That isn’t a choice. That would be like saying you have a choice to not have stage fright, for example.

        I guess I look at it differently….your dog came back without an article. You say that was not a mistake, I say it was. I doubt she went out there and thought “Hmmm….I really don’t feel up to looking for the right article, and she can’t make me.” Guess this again shows the limitations of words.

        Last year at the NOI, my dog failed one exercise….a broad jump. We were in a middle ring in a grid of 6, and the jump was along the inside edge of the ring next to where another dog was working. She got distracted/stressed and stepped on the first board of the jump. Did she make a mistake? YES! Did she do it because she chose to be distracted? Heck no! Did *I* make a mistake on the set up? Well, quite possibly if I had handled it differently we would have had a better result. Live and learn!

        ” The better your training, the better it will hold up. ” Well YES. But I don’t think choice really enters into it.

        “There are no guarantees – even with all the ‘have to’ that trainers apply. So we should stop using that phrase, because training in the name of “have to” seems to lead to some very unfortunate training decisions. Why not just say, “train better?” ”

        This is starting to remind me of a long-ago class and a discussion on Syntax versus Semantics……

        When I say “have to” in training, for me it just means that you don’t get to quit, we have to work this thru until it is some level of correct. That doesn’t mean I think that once everything is working, it will be perfect forever. Training is not a recipe where, just because you followed directions you’ll get perfect results. That’s not reality. Again, the issue seems to be more about the words used, and less about concepts.

        Just thinking out loud here….and there’s no anger, at least not from this corner. People should be able to disagree without anger being involved.

    • Of course we all have some “Have to”s in our lives. But should that be a part of a dog’s life for what is a recreational hobby for the human?
      I was a ‘check chain’ trainer and very derogatory about ‘touchy-feely’ dog training. I struggled and struggles with several dogs and was exhausted and stressed after training session.
      but I was lucky enough to have the advice and help of two wonderful people (Peta Clarke, and Karin Bridge) who introduced me the ‘play-training ad Patricia Gail Burnham’s book “Playtraining Your Dog”. I didn’t want to compromise my ‘training’, so decided to ‘try’ these methods by teaching tricks. We had such a ball, that I went over to using it the whole time. Now we train for fun and relaxation. Trialling and qualification seem less important — and because of this I am more relaxed in the ring, my dog is more relaxed and we achieve better scores. Failing to qualify is not a disaster, so I don’t stress either myself of my dog about it.
      And yes, there are NO “have to”s any more in ‘obedience’ (or agility) training. We keep the have tos for important things — like ‘go into your crate’ (when that is necessary) or “come get your nails clipped”, “STOP eating out of the cat’s litter box” and “do NOT take food off the kitchen bench” and, because it is the law, “come get your lead on” and such like.

      • HI — I would argue that we (as adult humans) have NO “Have To’s” in our lives. We can do what ever we want; however, the potential consequences of our behavior maybe unpalatable — but we always have a choice! We choose to go into work when we don’t feel like it because we like our pay-cheque. We choose to obey laws because if we don’t we might end up finned or imprisoned. However many people choose to do the opposite – rewards or consequences be darned. It behooves us to remember that our dogs have choice as well.

      • It might also be worth mentioning that people also figure out when the laws are not likely or able to be enforced, and if we don’t see a reason for the law, then we are certainly more likely to disregard under those circumstances. Depends on our temperaments of course.

  14. Kind of disappointing how many people equate “correction” with “harsh treatment”.

    It is entirely possible to tell your dog that their behavior was incorrect (ie, provide a correction) without beating them up physically or emotionally…. “just say NO”.

    • Exactly. No matter how many times it’s said, there are always those that think corrections = abuse. There are an awful lot of people making statements about things they haven’t done as well.

    • Of course corrections don’t need to be harsh. If “correction,” means a consequence for failing to do something correctly, positive trainers use “corrections,” as well. But if you’ve spent any time in the sport you know that “corrections,” can be painful, can be high shock and prongs and slapping of faces for failing to retrieve. Go to an obedience club practice session and just watch. You’ll be amazed what’s done to dogs in the name of “have to” for what is supposed to be a “fun” sport. To say that “not all” are harsh is still failing to see that quite a lot of it is still very harsh.

      • Happy to say that where I train and trial and go to match shows, I don’t see all this harsh stuff I keep hearing about. and I’ve been in the sport for a very VERY long time, and travel a fair amount.

      • The things that you are talking about are not corrections, they are (real world) punishment. And I cannot remember how long it has been since I saw something like that, and even then it would have been in the field and not obedience training. It’s been years since classes have been taught with anything other than whatever “positive” method is currently popular.

      • unfortunately I really don’t know what you’re talking about and I’m pretty sure you don’t know what I’m talking about either. At which point – it’s really better just to move on.

  15. Pingback: I Use Punishments | Next Level Dogs

  16. I’d like to hear Denise’s views on corrections as a continuum. I noticed of late that Denise has been minimizing corrections more and more. Earlier, dog lost attention, she would down the dog and play with imaginary Fred. Certainly this is a correction. Isn’t it? Then she suggested that if the dog does not follow the signal, and thus you are not going to treat, still praise dog, “good try.”
    Again still a correction. My dog perceives it as a correction because even with praise and pats, he still whines. he knows he didn’t get a treat or a new cue to go to the next behavior and thus he didn’t get it right and so then I help him.

    So maybe we could talk about
    a. a continuum of corrections from mildest to harsh and
    b. evaluate the responses of each dog from my softest dog to some others who may view a correction as a useful piece of information (depending on its nature of course).
    c. And i think dogs also take corrections differently in different contexts. So if my dog is trying to learn, he’s really trying and I correct him, he’s sensitive about it. But in the woods if I yell, “Yuck, leave it<" He bounds back to me happily unaffected by the yelling.

    I wonder if we talked about it as a continuum it would be less contentious and judgmental.
    A ear pinch is very different than a "go in your crate and think about that for 3 minites.

    Its not easy is it?

    I would agree with the comments above that the biggest goal is a happy dog, by my side, thinking he's in heaven, just as I do when we gaze into each other's eyes and barely notice a judge. Of course I do freestyle and the qualifying rates are much much higher. But despite that I've walked out of the ring when my dog was dragging. No fun. Not worth it even if we qualified by a hair.

    • So here’s the challenge.

      In this blog post I never even mentioned training methods – I simply pointed out that there is no “have to” in competition. There is only good training. I didn’t define good training and I happen to believe that its irrelevant if your good training includes compulsion or not when it comes to increasing reliability. (It may be relevant for other reasons such as ethics or the picture, but that has nothing to do with reliability) Yet – those who responded negatively to this article never read it carefully enough to see that. Those posters saw what they wanted to see – regardless of what I actually wrote.

      So with that in mind, how could I ever write about the topics that you are discussing, which involve significant shades of grey, where my opinions are constantly evolving, and where most of those topics are extremely specific to the dog in question?

      That’s why I teach online classes. In that format people can ask questions and read lectures that help them understand the subtleties. And because they have to pay money, one assumes that they are interested in learning the information and truly understanding as opposed to arguing over things that were never said nor implied in order to defend some long held believes that are not open to scrutiny.

      • Denise- I just saw my post got tagged on here. Wanted to chime in.
        – I Liked your article. And…. I totally understand your point!!! You weren’t doing a comparing styles thing. You were saying that the “have to” in the studio doesn’t always transfer to “having to” in the ring. I agree. Good training causes reliability. Bad training doesn’t. It’s the quality of the training that matters not the “style”. Like you said, that isn’t taking ethics, or picture into account, just reliability. Awesome points. Missed by many. But still….. Awesome.
        – My blog was NOT supposed to be a rebuttal to it. Like nanny nanny boo boo I use punishments. I referenced your article because it was the place that the snowball began rolling. (and it was good). It was a literal rant about the semantics. I get flack from “both” sides. I use punishments and so I get flack from anti punishment people. But, I am heavily reward based, and uber LIMA, so I get flack from the compulsive crowd. My topic was the semantic discussion of the word punishment and it’s implied meaning. NOT to “counter” your piece.
        I like your work! Don’t want be “positioned” incorrectly in this discussion.

      • Of course you mentioned training methods – right there in your first paragraph in the original post you talk about corrections. Then you stated some things that aren’t true, such as 35 years ago no one used cookies in training and that Utility B is that old. I’ve been competing in AKC obedience for 48 years and used rewards almost from the beginning, and the official split into A & B Utility was 20 some years ago. Clubs could split the class before that, but generally only the big obedience clubs did that. Based on these incorrect things, you went on to make a faulty comparison. After that, you take more swipes at methods that include corrections again.

        I’m not really sure you understand the subtleties of competition obedience training from the things you say. Not even of your current chosen method, since you haven’t taken it into competition yet. But you definitely don’t understand many methods outside your current one, or tools that you don’t use yet you continue to claim that using these things brings up ethical problems or would negatively affect the picture?

        Here’s the challenge. Write about the way you prefer to train without comparing it to any other method. This is what balanced trainers do, (except when they are responding to digs from non-balanced trainers) you can see the different in any balanced trainer list or FB group vs “positive” ones.

        I’m sure you won’t approve this comment, but think about taking on the challenge anyway.

  17. PS- Don’t stop blogging. If you didn’t have blog posts I never would have been exposed to your classes. Or books. Blowback is irritating. But….. Your voice is a good one. Price of your gift. 😉 Keep writing.
    One of my favorite quotes:
    “Freedom finds man the moment he loses concern over the impression he is, or is about to be, making” – Bruce Lee.

    • I like writing! I don’t mind debate either – but I really do appreciate calm, logical, on point discussion.

      I am going to write another book. I will address the common myths in training – those things that the younger generation are fed when they want to get involved in competition obedience. And while I’m at it, I’ll write it with the pet market in mind too. Part 1 and part 2 :).

      I don’t think people are being stupid when they believe the “have to” argument – on its surface it looks good and logical! I can think of another 10 or 20 or more arguments that are identical to that one. Stuff like: why we have to add stress to dog’s lives in order to teach them to adapt, dogs need to fear us to respond when we don’t have a cookie available, dogs trained with positive methods are aggressive (??!!), dogs trained with force free methods are running a muck, force free dogs are the reason for all of the problems at dog shows these days, etc.

      Honestly, it’s so easy for me to defend against these statements that it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s time to take that on, so that rational and thinking people will have some facts before they believe what the last person tells them. I have no interest in trying to reach people who are content with where they are now – I’m interested in those people who want information before they make up their minds about how they wish to proceed with their dogs.

  18. Great article and perfect common sense.

  19. Pingback: Happy New Year! | Crate and Kennel

  20. The fact is … From your post there appears to be a lot of crappy dogs and crappy training. Results don’t lie. Maybe positive only is good for that. Maybe adding corrections can’t fix crappy dogs or crappy training. The people I see at the top have better dogs and better access to better trainers and mentors. I think you said that too. And they practice. Watching crufts 2015 ch obed videos I learned a lot. Some spiffy heeling dogs then it came time to sit or do exercises from a distance and the reaction was slow. Some perfection type with tails down. The winners … That takes skill with good dogs.

  21. Great blog, Denise. With you all the way! 🙂

  22. Pingback: Only positive reinforcement? Maybe not? - Poodle Forum - Standard Poodle, Toy Poodle, Miniature Poodle Forum ALL Poodle owners too!

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