Common (Dog) Sense

My views on Victoria Stilwells latest blog

My views on Victoria Stilwells latest blog

I don't follow Victoria Stilwell, as in my opinion she has done a lot of harm to the dog training fraternity, with a lot of lies and publishing misleading information to push her ideology. A follower of mine (thanks, Sue Wright) sent me Victoria Stilwells latest blog, and I read it with interest. Some of what she says is true, in that there is no such thing as purely positive training. However, I'd like to point out a few facts in her article where I believe she is again misleading people, or not offering the full picture.

Read her article here Why I’m Not (and never have been) a Purely Positive Dog Trainer

She states that there are police forces around the world now training with her methods, and yet to my knowledge, she has yet to name any of these police dog training departments. Nor have I seen one article by a police department confirming her statements. Why does she keep putting out this information and yet cannot provide evidence for her claims? If she has published those police departments that admit to using her methods, or there are police departments out there stating they never use any type of positive punishment in their training, please pass it on to me.

Secondly, her discussion about applying an aversive is misguided. An aversive is administered to condition the dog to 'avoid' a behaviour by pairing it with an unpleasant consequence This is carried out by applying some form of 'discomfort' the dog wants to avoid paired with the unwanted behaviour. Negative punishment does not (nor cannot) condition a dog to avoid something, only positive punishment can do this. VS gives a classic example in her own article, as to why her methods of only using negative punishment cannot train a dog to avoid something. She states that she closes the kitchen door to keep her dog out of the rest of the house to clean the house. The reason she does this obviously, she cannot train her dog to stay out of certain rooms, or stay in the kitchen whilst cleaning her house, so must use management techniques such as barriers like doors. She alludes to the fact that locking her dog in the kitchen could be termed an aversive, well she could be right, as all it does is condition her dog to avoid being locked in the kitchen, if the dog is stressed about being locked in the kitchen. Using a barrier does not condition her dog to avoid leaving the kitchen, as what happens when the barrier (in this case, a door), is removed?

Lifted from her article:

Pain, fear and intimidation

It’s pretty simple, really. Anything that causes pain, fear, or intimidation to a dog is something that a positive trainer will not use. Note that I didn’t include frustration. It is possible for a dog to become frustrated and sometimes a little stressed while being trained by a positive trainer, and while that is something worth trying to minimise, it’s sometimes unavoidable. But positive trainers will never use a tool or method which intentionally intimidates the dog, or causes pain or fear.

I'd like to point out that scientific research has shown that negative punishment, such as withholding a much-anticipated treat can cause a lot more stress than administering a 1 to 3 second aversive. Stress caused by discomfort does not only come with a physical act such as applying a physical correction, but by also denying the dog something that it considers of extremely high value to it (I wonder how stressed her dog is, whilst locked in the kitchen?).

Am I intimidating a dog by holding a treat just out of reach, and dictating if the dog can have it or not, and under what conditions? Of course, I am. Am I intimidating a dog if I apply a quick 1 second aversive, whilst the dog is totally focused on an undesirable behaviour? Maybe, maybe not. When I am withholding food, and my dogs focus is totally on me, yes I am in fact intimidating the dog. When I apply an aversive correctly, whilst the dog's focus is totally on the undesirable behaviour, and NOT on me, am I intimidating the dog, or simply from the dogs perspective, conditioning it to avoid a certain behaviour? If on the other hand the dog is focused on me when I apply an aversive, then I am conditioning the dog to avoid my reaction, and so yes under those conditions and in those situations, and not unlike negative punishment I am utilising some form of intimidation. People like Victoria Stilwell, do not understand the theory behind positive and negative punishment, even though they say they do. She also misleads people about the use of negative punishment, in that it is not intimidation, when in fact in my opinion just like applying an aversive, it certainly is intimidation.

You will not in most cases teach a dog to avoid something if the only tool in your box to teach it not to do something is negative punishment, such as withholding food. The dog needs a reason to avoid a behaviour or situation, and in most cases, this can only be achieved by positive punishment.

We minimise the amount of stress by not prolonging the negative consequence. Locking the dog behind a door that has a strong desire to be with its owner, is putting the dog under prolonged stress. Teaching the dog to avoid leaving the room, allows the dog to make concise decisions, and therefore the amount of stress is extremely limited and short-lived, as we are conditioning the dog to remain in a calm state of mind. I am not suggesting we shouldn't use barriers to help condition a dog to be separated from its owner, however, in many cases this practice does create in the dog a lot of avoidable prolonged stress. The point here is that Victoria Stilwell likes her followers to believe that her methods are less stressful on dogs, whereas in many cases they are more stressful on a dog than the process of giving the dog immediate feedback on right or wrong behaviours. By incorporating positive punishment, we are helping the dog learn more quickly.

Most of Victoria Stilwells training practices are management principles only, such as highlighted in her example of her own dog, locking it in the kitchen. I have yet to even see her actually 'train' a dog to any level of obedience. She even admitted this to me once when she replied to a comment of mine on a post of hers when she claimed she was going to train a fully operational police dog by using only her methods.

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