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Force Free Dog Training: How does it work?

15/11/2018 - Latest News

Force Free dog training is sometimes called reward based training. It’s the most effective form of training there is because it works with nature not against her. That means it’s easier for the dog to learn and easier for him to remember.

Force Free Dog Training – based on science

Since I was a child, there have been huge advancements in behavioural science. These have affected the human AND animal world.

Scientists have studied learning behaviour in other creatures such as dolphins, orcas and apes. They’ve worked out what is happening in the brain as those creatures learn how to interact with humans and through those studies we now understand a lot more about how dogs learn.  That knowledge is used in modern day dog training to:-

  1. Build trust between the dog and his handler
  2. Help the dog to live happily in a world he doesn’t necessarily  understand
  3. Create a confident, well balanced dog who is comfortable (and safe) in any situation
  4. Train dogs faster and better
  5. Develop habits and behaviours that are automatic (eg settling nicely, coming when called, greeting people politely)
Training a dog is like teaching him a new language
Imagine moving to a new country where the spoken word, body language and every form of communication is completely different. Somewhere where you don’t know what behaviour is acceptable and what is not OK. And because you don’t have the language to ask anyone, the only way to learn how to fit in is try things out and see what happens.

That’s what it’s like for your new dog or puppy when he joins your family.

Dogs don’t use words and canine body language is very different to ours. For example, we smile – or bare our teeth to express happiness. Dogs bare their teeth as a warning.

Thinking again about you moving to that new country. What would most help you to learn how to fit in? Punishment and force? Or patience, kindness and positive feedback? I know which I’d prefer and that’s why I only use force free training methods for the puppies and dogs who come to Premier Dog Training classes.

How dogs learn

Over a century ago, the scientist Pavlov realised that dogs could associate sounds, gestures or signals with seemingly unconnected objects or actions.

Pavlov proved that by repeating a simple series of events several times, a dog learns to associate one with the other (provided they happen close together in time). So the very first time a dog hears the fridge opening, he’ll take no notice. It means nothing to him. IF however whenever he hears that sound it is promptly followed by a slice of ham He’ll learn that fridge = food. (Timing is everything.  If the fridge door opens 5 minutes before the food appears then the dog won’t associate the two.)
A friend of mine has a Labrador who gets excited when she hears the Hollyoaks theme tune because in their house, the dog is fed when the program finishes.
Force Free Training uses what Pavlov and other scientists have learned to teach dogs that when a certain cue is be followed by certain behaviours from the dog, something good will happen. Eg,  dog hears the word “sit”, bum goes down, dog gets a treat.

Two ways to learn – which do you think is best?
Here are two versions of the same scenario. I’ve put it into human terms so that you can relate to what a dog experiences.~

Imagine you have made the move to a new country and somebody comes up to you and says the word “suwaru”. You’ve never heard that word before and there are no other clues to what it might mean.  You’d be pretty confused and probably wouldn’t react.

What about if that person said “suwaru” and pointed to a chair? If you tried sitting on that chair and were rewarded with a smile or applause, you might think there was a link between that word, sitting on a chair and being rewarded.

After a few repeats –you would be certain that the word is a cue for you to sit down and receive a reward.

When a human is rewarded for doing the right thing, his or her brain releases dopamine – a natural hormone that makes you feel good. That feeling gives you an incentive to repeat the behaviour. The chemical reaction in a dog’s brain is just the same. So positive rewards encourage him to learn and repeat behaviours.

Here’s a different version of the same scenario 
Same situation.  You are in a different culture and somebody says the word “suwaru” to you. You don’t understand and so you don’t react. Your new acquaintance tries repeating the word, maybe speaking slower and louder. When you still don’t react you get pushed onto the chair. You might be a surprised or even worried. So there’s no dopamine hit this time around, instead, your brain will release stress hormones.  

If that scenario is repeated often enough you will come to understand that when you hear “suwaru” you need to sit down before you are shoved again. But it won’t ever become a positive experience for you. Instead, your reaction is the way to avoid a negative experience.  You have learned through fear.

Force Free Training reduces stress and builds confidence
Stress is always unhelpful – whatever species you may be. Which is why good dog trainers use force free or reward based training. The dopamine hit it creates, is addictive and it’s why behaviours learned through this type of training become ingrained.

Provided a dog is reasonably relaxed and happy he will react fairly predictably to certain stimuli. For example he’ll happily interact with something he already understands and likes – maybe an edible treat or his favourite toy. We can harness those natural reactions in force free dog training classes. We take something the dog likes and make it even better.

A simple force free training exercise to try with your dog
One of the first things people like to teach their new dog is “sit”. This is how the force-free approach works.
  • Get your dog’s attention and hold a treat (or toy) near to the end of his nose.
  • Move your hand away from your body and towards the top of his head.
  • As his nose comes up to follow the treat, his backside goes down. Bingo! You’ve put him in the “sit” position without any force whatsoever.
  • Give him the reward the instant he sits down and BEFORE he moves again (he must be in the sit position when he is rewarded)
  • Now walk him forward (so that he’s out of the sit position) and repeat the exercise.
  • This time, give a clear cue (either a hand signal or a word) before using the treat to put him in the sit position.
  • Once his backside is on the floor, mark the behaviour with a single word (I use “good”) and give him the treat immediately.

From your dog’s perspective, he’s been rewarded for doing what comes naturally. It was easy! He feels fantastic and can’t wait to do it again. All you need to do is keep practising with him for a few minutes every day (but don’t let him get bored with it). In a very short time, he will automatically offer that behaviour every time he hears (or sees) that cue.

Using your local IMDT dog trainer as a mentor
Dog training can be frustrating at times – I won’t pretend its all plain sailing all of the time. But, yelling at your dog (or worse) will make him anxious. If he’s not understanding what you are asking of him it might be that he’s a bit distracted or maybe he’s tired. Be patient and try again later. 

Dog training classes are the ideal place to learn about force free dog training and how it works.

Why go to an IMDT trainer? Because they are all signed up to a strict code of conduct and will only ever use force free training techniques.

If you can’t make it to classes, why not ask for some 1-2-1 training with a qualified dog trainer? You’ll pick up lots of hints and tips and discover ways to avoid and overcome problems. You’ll also have someone on hand who knows your dog and genuinely wants to help you mould him into a confident and lovable companion.
More about Pavlov’s experiments   https://www.simplypsychology.org/pavlov.html  please open link in a new window
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