​The Bad Dog Ideology of Our Time

Dog Training & Behaviour Methodologies: A Professional Perspective

As a seasoned professional in the field of dog training and behaviour, I feel compelled to address certain misconceptions surrounding dog training methodologies that have led to conflicts within the industry. It is imperative to uphold the principles of science /operant conditioning, skills and experience in our approach to training, rather than succumbing to ideological biases of ideologues.

Reward-based training has rightfully gained prominence in recent years, and it is a methodology that I have long championed. By focusing on reward reinforcement, we not only enhance the welfare of dogs but also foster a stronger social connection between humans and their canine companions.

It is important to recognise that reward-based training is not a novel concept; it has been practised for centuries. Even in the 1880s, training methods often relied on rewards rather than punitive measures, despite the prevailing harsh treatment of humans in British society at that time.

One exemplary form of training that underscores the efficacy of reward-based methods is olfactory-led training, commonly known as scent work. This training approach capitalises on a dog’s natural olfactory abilities and cannot be coerced but must be induced through reward reinforcement, often accompanied by an enthusiastic voice tone and a rewarding endgame. This method, employed by trainers for generations, continues to yield successful results in various disciplines, including competitive obedience, working trials, and police dog operations long before the word positive was coined, in other words thousands of dogs were trained from previous decades by reward -its not a new idea.

When dogs receive rewards for their actions, their sense-associated endorphin levels increase, leading to heightened interest and well-being. This reward reinforcement not only strengthens the bond between dog and trainer but also contributes to the dog’s overall confidence and stimulation.

It is important that we incorporate scientific principles into dog training if proffered for our canine companions. By emphasising reward-based reinforcement and comprehending the intricacies of canine behaviour, we can cultivate harmonious relationships between dogs and their owners, thereby attaining desirable training results. It is pertinent to acknowledge that the vast majority of contemporary methods for canine behaviour modification and rehabilitation have been devised by dog trainers, both historical and contemporary, in Britain, rather than by academics or animal behaviourists affiliated with universities despite the endless misuse of the word science at every turn.

Navigating the complexities of dog training and behaviour requires a nuanced understanding of reward-based methodologies and the diverse landscape of trainers within the industry. Drawing from over four decades of hands-on experience and extensive science observation, it is evident that dogs, much like humans, are inclined to repeat behaviours that yield rewards while avoiding those that do not.

Positive and Negative Reinforcement and Punishment brief

ReinforcementPunishment
PositiveSomething is added to increase the likelihood of a behaviour.Something is added to decrease the likelihood of a behaviour.
NegativeSomething is removed to increase the likelihood of a behaviour.Something is removed to decrease the likelihood of a behaviour.

Reward-based training stands as the obvious preferred approach, leveraging reward based reinforcement to shape desired behaviours effectively. With a track record of training thousands of dogs, predominantly in one-on-one settings within urban environments, I recognise the necessity of employing adaptable techniques to address the unique challenges presented by each dog and situation with its owner. Moreover, adherence to criminal and civil law considerations, particularly concerning the dangerous dogs act 1991 , dogs act 1871 dog law, underscores the need for a balanced and informed approach to training and behaviour modification.

In the realm of professional dog training, a clear distinction must be drawn between seasoned professional practitioners and hobbyists/lay people. While hobbyist trainers may demonstrate proficiency in basic training tasks, they often lack the comprehensive expertise and full-time dedication characteristic of industry professionals. The proliferation of amateur trainers, particularly within the realm of “positive-only” methodologies, underscores the need for discernment among pet owners seeking effective guidance for their canine companions.

Amidst this landscape, it is crucial to prioritise qualifications, practical experience, and a commitment to ongoing learning when selecting a trainer. While hobbyist trainers play a valuable role in beginner classes and basic training, they may not possess the depth of knowledge or professionalism necessary to address complex behaviour issues. Professional trainers, on the other hand, demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of canine behaviour and training methodologies, eschewing the pitfalls of online sensationalism in favour of a measured and evidence-based approach to their craft through experience and skill.

The pursuit of excellence in dog training and behaviour modification demands a discerning, annuitised approach, one that prioritises professionalism, expertise, and a commitment to ethical practice. By aligning with experienced and qualified professionals, pet owners can navigate the complexities of canine behaviour with confidence and achieve lasting success in their training endeavours.

Last but not least is the operating in the real landscape of dogs in urban and county areas were you do not have control over other dogs behaviour you are confronted with. That is the real world not ideologue land.

The Pitfalls of extreme”Positive Only” Dog Training

The people who promote the algorithmic “positive only” ideologue spend much time using discursive construction of truth, ideology and thereafter the emergence of post-truth narratives in contemporary dog behavioural training psychology. It’s a form of canine Marxism, except most of the adherents would not understand the politics of that destructive ideology; their primary academic reading is social media. They seem ideologically possessed and can be predicted easily, in fact, everything that they are going to say is an algorithmic substructure of their “positive only” dogma, which is usually predicated on several repetitive axioms and which automatically generates speech content on what they are about to say. This alleviates any responsibility for thinking on what they are about to say, but allows them to believe that they have full control and knowledge about the entire positive training dictum without a moment’s thinking. That is an ideologue and the reason why they are a danger to dogs and owners alike; they don’t think they are separated from dog training problems in the real complex world, their way is the only way and everybody, however skilled who does not believe in such ideological junk, is bad. They are the Mecca of one-style-fits-all dog training often served in a self-satisfying style. They ooze social media narcissism.

In the realm of dog training, the proliferation of “positive only” trainers has given rise to what can be described as “bad idea pathogens,” detrimental to both common sense and rational debate within the field. Many of these trainers exhibit a fervent commitment to their methodology, often at the expense of efficacy and practicality. Their presence on social media platforms often exceeds their actual time spent training dogs, leading to the dissemination of ineffective training claims lacking empirical support or would not stand up court-level evidence scrutiny.

These trainers can be classified using a red traffic light code I designed:

Green: Trainers who claim to adhere to a “positive only” approach but may resort to correction and negative reinforcement when deemed necessary, albeit infrequently. Their use of the term “positive” may be flexible, often for marketing purposes.

Amber: Trainers who are ideologically driven and unrealistic in their claims of success, particularly with challenging dog cases. Despite encountering failure, they persist in promoting a “positive only” mantra, often to the detriment of sound judgment.

Red: Fanatical trainers who represent the most extreme end of the spectrum and often with least qualifications if any. These individuals are intolerant of opposing viewpoints, dismissive of reality, and ineffective beyond basic commands. Their dogmatic adherence to a “positive only” ideology poses significant risks, both to dog owners and their pets.

These are the social media virtual signallers narcissistic in behaviour. There interests is themselves not dogs welfare and most active on line, many are only on line.

It is imperative to recognise the limitations of “positive only” training and to approach dog training with a nuanced evidence-based perspective. By prioritising efficacy over ideology and fostering an environment conducive to open dialogue and critical thinking, we can mitigate the influence of bad idea pathogens and promote more effective and humane training practices within the industry. When a positive /reward does not work in some situations what do you do next?

As mentioned all canine behavioural modification programmes or techniques have exclusively emanated from the expertise of dog trainers specialising in behaviours, rather than from scientists or universities, is a noteworthy observation. Over the span of four decades, comprehensive examination reveals that all discernible techniques can be traced back to dog trainers who developed the techniques from life experience. Despite attempts to cloak these methodologies with scientific language or engage in semantic arguments, the fundamental origin remains rooted in the expertise and innovation of dog trainers over the aforementioned period. This empirical reality underscores the predominant influence wielded by dog training practitioners within the field of dog training, challenging any notion of external influence or academic primacy in the development of behavioural modification techniques. Science may have confirmed the methods to be useful and that’s its limit. But that was already known via vocational learning.

Dog Education Organisations

Are dog organisations generally good and well-intentioned? Yes. However, belonging to an organisation does not guarantee expertise as a dog trainer for the public, and even less so in terms of professional knowledge levels. Nonetheless, organisations like The Guild of Dog Trainers (www.godt.uk) have established minimum standards to attain the status of Master Trainer and Companion Pet Dog Trainer.

The Guild of Dog Trainers offers in-house education courses designed to equip learners with a variety of skills essential for those aspiring to become professional dog trainers. Additionally, there is an opportunity to achieve the highest academic and vocational training provided by the Cambridge Institute of Dog Behaviour and Training (CIDBT) (www.cidbt.org.uk). This represents a unique higher educational partnership in the UK. Both organisations receive support from The Pet Education, Training and Behaviour Council, which was the first of its kind in Britain to establish minimum standards in dog training and behaviour. Further information can be found at www.petbc.uk.

Furthermore, there are numerous professional dog trainers who are not members of any organisation yet possess high levels of skill; I refer to these as independent trainers. The successful ones rely on recommendations and, like all good dog trainers, produce satisfactory results, which is why they are successful.

The Professional Standards for Dog Trainers and Behaviourists in the UK

In most professions, individuals who are not professionally trained cannot control or influence a professional body’s aims and standards—consider veterinarians, electricians, engineers, etc. Those who establish standards for these professions are not part-timers who practice their trade at home for a few hours a week and subsequently attend and influence professional meetings/committees on standards. Such a scenario is simply not tolerated. However, I have observed over 35 years and attended various national meetings where hobbyists in dog behaviour training, lacking professional expertise, voice their opinions without reservation, despite being out of their depth in knowledge.

While opinions are valid, not all are equal as the mantra goes. Animal behaviour academics have also attended such meetings and are often wholly unqualified to sit at the table, yet they do so at the insistence of their peers, often as inexperienced as their cohorts. Animal Behaviour is not a specific qualification in dog behaviour, its generic and often has no canine part thereof.

Today in the realm of dog training and behaviour often bears resemblance to the untamed frontiers of the Wild West, contributing to the bewilderment experienced by many pet dog owners. This observation has been noted by me during the Companion Animal Welfare Council (CAWC) gatherings, wherein individuals with a hobbyist approach to dog training, often found deficient in their ability to effectively train or manage their own dogs, congregate alongside academics holding doctorates in irrelevant animal species—excluding dogs. Notably, three of the most vociferous and opinionated attendees at CAWC meetings possessed doctorates in the fields of Snakes, Blackbirds, and Rabbits, yet demonstrated no hesitancy in expressing their viewpoints on dog training, dog behaviour and client centred standards despite lacking any professional experience/skills in all the aforementioned.

These academics attempt to formulate dog training and behaviour protocols for professionals like myself, an endeavour I find absolutely unacceptable but academia breeds arrogance in quantity. Academia also has these unqualified individuals attempting to monopolise control of the dog industry for their own self-interest, particularly in the dog behaviour discipline. This power struggle is often about control, as academics tend to relish power. However, as Yogi Berra wrote: “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.”

It is not surprising that the public struggles to find qualified dog trainers amid this morass of misinformation and disinformation.

Addressing the Complexities of Dog Behaviour and Training Challenges

In the realm of dog behaviour and training, one often encounters difficult cases that demand swift resolution within the time-frame set by the owners. This reality, though acknowledged by professionals, is often overlooked by ineffective idealogical trainers. These trainers, staunch proponents of “positive-only” methods, often admonish dog owners about the necessity of patience and commitment. However, such admonitions hold little weight with pet owners who grapple with the harsh realities of their situations or when faced with a criminal law conviction. By the time professional trainers or behaviourists are consulted, these pet owners have typically endured numerous failed attempts at training due to the limitations of the one-size-fits-all positive-only ideology. When positive reinforcement fails to induce change, these ideologues offer no alternative solutions and often leave a dog with even greater embedded behaviour problems and an owner mentally fatigued by endless hectoring..

Regrettably, there have been instances where euthanasia has been suggested for dogs, not because they were beyond assistance, but due to the ineffective ideologies perpetuated by certain trainers. Rather than acknowledging their substantial knowledge gaps, these trainers persist in promoting their flawed methods. As Albert Einstein aptly remarked, “Genius has its limitations, unlike stupidity.”

Difficult canine behaviour cases presented to experienced professionals are not always ideal, but they are an unavoidable aspect of the dog behaviour and training landscape. Some dog owners may lack the flexibility required for comprehensive behavioural interventions, yet this is the reality that professionals must navigate. Another concerning trend among “positive-only” trainers is the tendency to feign affection for dogs while overlooking the gravity of persistent behavioural issues.

While the notion of empathising with the dog’s perspective may sound appealing, it proves futile when canine behaviours remain unchanged, particularly in cases involving violations of criminal law, familial disruptions, and imminent or possible euthanasia especially were canine aggression is concerned.

In addressing such challenges, professionals may occasionally employ specialised equipment to manage difficult behaviours effectively. This pragmatic approach acknowledges the complexities of real-world situations and prioritises the well-being of both the dog and its human companions. While reward-based methods remain integral to professional practice, they may not always suffice in complex cases alone, especially in challenging environmental contexts.

Drawing from personal experience, my approach to dog training emphasises a multifaceted strategy that incorporates rewards, voice modulation, toys, and tactile interaction. By fostering a strong bond with the dog and consistently reinforcing desired behaviours, I strive to elicit positive responses in various situations. Early conditioning during puppyhood is crucial in laying the foundation for successful training outcomes.

In conclusion, navigating the complexities of dog behaviour and training requires a nuanced understanding of individual cases and a willingness to adapt strategies accordingly. By prioritizing the welfare of the dog and employing evidence-based techniques, professionals can effectively address even the most challenging behavioural issues. If you continue to tell owners to repeat what does not work and you in person in real situations can not demonstrate it works the issue in trainer not the client.

Early Dog/Puppy Training Development

In the initial stages of training my puppies, it is imperative to create a conducive and friendly environment, typically within the confines of the house and garden. This environment allows for focused training sessions free from most distractions. Subsequently, daily training is gradually extended to areas with higher levels of stimuli, replicating the real-life experiences the dogs will encounter post vaccinations. This progression ensures that training occurs within the social parameters defined by society and dog law and the dynamics of interactions with peer canines.

The ultimate goal of puppy training is to cultivate a well-behaved dog capable of responding appropriately in various situations without relying solely on constant food rewards. It is observed that many amateur trainers tend to over-rely on food rewards, a phenomenon I refer to as the “three FFFs: Frenetic Food Feeders.” However, improper or excessive use of rewards can lead to dogs becoming overly reliant on them and or bored thereby hindering their ability to adapt to new behaviours in the absence of rewards.

As a dog trainer, I am committed to investing considerable time and effort to ensure the best possible training outcomes for puppies and dogs under my care. However, it is essential to recognise that pet dog owners may not possess the same level of dedication and time commitment as professional dog trainers. Balancing the demands of dog training with other family and daily responsibilities is a reality that must inform professional advice and recommendations.

While reward-based training methods are widely acknowledged as superior to negative training styles, it is essential to acknowledge the limitations of a “positive-only” approach, particularly in addressing entrenched and severe behavioural issues.

Ideological proponents of positive-only methods often struggle to provide effective solutions for complex behavioural problems such as deer chasing, dog aggression, dog on human aggression, recall issues, and car chasing. In contrast, a holistic approach incorporating various tools and techniques, including long lines, face collars, and voice commands, proves instrumental in addressing such challenges effectively and in a time frame.

The rise of algorithmic “positive-only” ideologues poses a significant challenge within the dog training community. These individuals espouse a dogmatic adherence to positive-only methods, often at the expense of critical thinking and adaptability. Their reliance on repetitive axioms and the uncritical acceptance of positive-only dogma undermine their ability to address the complexities of real-world behavioural issues. This rigid adherence to ideology, coupled with a penchant for social media grandstanding, jeopardizes the welfare of dogs and their owners.

As a practitioner, my approach to dog training prioritises education and understanding. By imparting knowledge about canine behaviour and instincts, I empower dog owners and students to employ efficient and compassionate training methods. I advocate for the use of operant conditioning, grounded in scientific principles, which encompasses both positive and negative reinforcement, reflecting the diverse learning mechanisms of humans and mammals alike.

Dogs must understand that reinforcement is based on pre-actions, not just the immediate response to a behaviour. This critical psychological aspect is often overlooked in training. Essentially, when a dog is inclined to follow its instinct, such as chasing a squirrel or another dog, the reward offered must outweigh its innate drive to engage in that behaviour, which is typical dog behaviour. If this balance cannot be achieved, rewards alone will not be effective, and alternative methods must be considered, particularly if one wishes to avoid criminal and civil law proceedings in public or private spaces.

English Criminal Dog Law supersedes all dog training methodologies.

Our society is governed by criminal and civil laws, and these laws take precedence over any training methods employed by dog owners. Failure to adhere to these laws can lead to prosecution. A significant number of dog owners reside in urban areas, often lacking access to open fields or training spaces. Consequently, they resort to ineffective “positive-only” methods, which may not address the complexities of their dog’s behaviour. These owners face daily challenges navigating urban environments, where encounters with other dogs and people are common. They require practical advice that addresses their specific situations, not patronizing lectures on positivity.
Several critical factors influence the choice of training and behaviour methods:

  • The perceived seriousness of the dog’s behaviour problem by the owner
  • Time constraints dictated by the circumstances and severity of the behaviour
  • Legal consequences for the dog and its owner
  • Safety considerations for the public and family members
  • The owner’s commitment to short or long-term training programs
  • The dog’s living environment and household dynamics
  • Daily interactions and experiences in the outside environment
  • Any ongoing or potential legal actions
  • Desired short and long-term outcomes

Many clients have shared similar negative experiences with positive-only trainers, characterised by repetitive ideological preambles emphasising kindness and positivity. These trainers often prioritise their mantra over practical solutions, offering ineffective methodologies and demanding payment regardless of results. Disillusioned pet owners eventually seek out competent trainers after exhausting these avenues. Unfortunately, some dogs are deemed beyond help due to the failures of ideologically-driven trainers.

This pattern is evident in records maintained by CFBA members and other reputable dog trainers. Several case examples highlight the challenges faced by both owners and trainers in addressing problematic dog behaviour effectively.

Their modus operandi

“I am kind and absolutely positive. I love dogs. I use methods that are gentle – anybody who disagrees is bad. This may take some time to alter your dog’s behaviour (which is a euphemism for forever). I need to explain your dog’s needs (ignoring the owners needs or circumstances). You have to follow all these rules (meaning put your kids and life on hold). Nothing negative must happen (ignoring the massive negative that the dog may lose its home).
They go on and on in this ideological hectoring lecture until the dog leaves the room out of boredom. When it comes to methodologies, they are applied whether workable or not. When they don’t work, press repeat and keep up the ideological non-working algorithm because there is no more to offer through this vacuous simplicity. They have no genuine empathy for the dog’s owner, only their own agenda: It’s not about dogs; it’s about them, self-delusion and belonging to the ‘woke brigade of intolerance.’
When no dog training change takes place, it’s either the owner’s fault or let’s charge you again for another programmed, patronising lecture, which is equally ineffective until the owner loses patience and realizes this person is faking it.

An example of a bad Animal Behaviourist

My colleague was called to a house where a dog was barking at every noise from inside the home and at people passing outside the home in front of the house day and night on a residential street. The owner had received many complaints and advised that under Section 82 of the Environment Protection Act, 1990 a Noise Abatement Notice could be issued.  All this was upsetting her family situation, notwithstanding the barking was driving her family mad too. It was obvious to any canine behaviourist that the dog was of a mildly fearful/anxious disposition. It had also learned that barking over hundreds of occasions alerted the owner who came running and spoke (shouted) to the dog – a great reinforcement, but in essence, it didn’t need reinforcement, it was barking as a base temperament defect. That’s the quick version.

The owner, via a vet, was recommended an animal behaviourist from an organization well known in the UK. The behaviourist told the owner that she was “positive only” in approach and the normal half-hour of how she was nice, understood dogs, and wrote a long rambling report that said nothing other than endless possibilities, theorised waffle, and maybe another consultation.

The behaviourist’s main recommendation was for the owner to blank out all her windows facing the street for a few weeks so the dog had no eye stimulation to bark. The owner did this, placing her house in semi-darkness with lots of greaseproof paper and gaffer tape!

The husband came home and was not pleased with what seemed intolerable advice. However, because the behaviourist had a Clinical Animal Behaviour Degree, he relented. ( Clinical is a meaningless term) It was true she had a degree in animals not dogs, but little qualitative skills or experience just an academic theory degree. I will cut to the chase, after one week the dog still barked at exactly the same rate throughout the day and at similar levels, if not more; its barking was now intolerable and with the neighbour complaints, the owner was fearing impending criminal law action. After the owner sent repeated emails and calls stating that nothing had changed, the behaviourist suggested another £350.00 chat as the pet insurance had run out. The husband took all the window coverings off and said the dog had to go.

My colleague from The Canine & Feline Behaviour Association subsequently arrived via a recommendation to the owner who was frantic to keep her dog. He assessed all the triggers and what could be achieved realistically not theoretically, in that time frame. He placed a number of behavioural redirection programs in place and used Dog Training Discs to distract the dog with the word “No.” Lo and behold the dog on that first day ceased barking within a few one-minute lessons, timing and noise association being crucial. He also pointed out what was blindingly obvious, the dog’s extraordinary hearing skill was the main trigger of outside pedestrian noise, not sight. The previous animal expert missed the obvious, which demonstrated why skill and experience cannot be replaced by theory.

My colleague introduced a few redirected games as follow-ups to the discs and Kong food release programs to alleviate boredom too. And after a few days, the owner stated that the average of 30 or more barking sessions had reduced to a few, which were instantly interrupted via the disc noise and command “NO.” It was solved. The husband was relieved, and the dog stayed and all worked out. Do note that there were other programs introduced to work on the dogs’ temperament, but the first dramatic change was that the dog no longer spent most of the day stressed with its owner’s anger when it barked. Peace reigned, and most of all the owner reported a much more calm dog and their relationship was now positive, the dog became more relaxed and so did the owners. The psychological behaviour and atmosphere of the owners being angry at their dog dissipated, inducing the dog to a calmer state.

Negative interactions with dogs that “positive trainers” execute but are ignorant of:

Taking a puppy from its mother (mild to critical separation anxiety stress): Negative Stopping dogs getting to other dogs, a natural drive: Negative Leaving a dog in a car and walking away – dogs are pack animals and get stressed initially: Negative Placing a dog on lead and collar/harness restricts a dog’s freedom: Negative action Stopping a dog chasing animals, a natural instinctive behaviour: Negative Keeping a dog in a house with no free access 24/7 causes stress re defecation: Negative Head collars and muzzles can be useful and are used by most dog trainers behaviourists and many positive only trainers, but very few dogs do not react negatively to such attachments to their head/face however introduced and many positive only trainers seem oblivious to the psychological harm they impose on a dog day after day. All muzzles face collars are not positive from a dog’s mindset – they are negative and alien. They may be necessary and overtime a dog may become conditioned to accept them but that does not negate the initial negativity and often permanent fear and or rejection of the face coverings – for many dogs the experience is traumatic and even years later they still dislike the muzzles/face collars. Proffering a treat does not negate what I have described. These facts taken from our CFBA records of 5000 dogs monitored.

Long lines may be essential, but without equivocation, they impose restrictions, tightening at the end of the line, and causing a sudden stop on the neck or harness. Harnesses can also evoke a negative reaction from a dog, hence why dogs initially attempt to remove them with their teeth, roll, and rub against objects to rid themselves of the constricting device. The dog experiences the harness as a negative and unnatural imposition. While all the aforementioned training equipment may be necessary in some cases, deluding oneself that they are entirely positive is simply a lack of reality and more aligned with blind dogma, as previously described.

Laws and social rules necessitate the utilisation of the aforementioned tools, but this does not imply that the actions are positive; indeed, they all impose negative effects on a dog’s free spirit. Pretending to adhere strictly to a “positive only” approach is not a truism.

Social Media Negativity

Unfortunately, contemporary discourse within dog-oriented social media platforms has descended into a realm where commentators exhibit vindictiveness and scurrilous behaviour to the point of being vile. Too often, individuals lay claim to qualifications or expertise without substantiation, expressing odious opinions. It is imperative to recognize that not all opinions or qualifications hold equal weight, and critiques should be grounded in full-time training and professional experience, rather than mere ephemeral Tweets or Facebook comments.

These individuals, driven by narcissism, seem to vie for the moral high ground, yet their aspirations are as shallow as their sociopathic tendencies.

Having spent my life working with dogs and people, I approach with scepticism the use of terms like “new” and “modern” in training methodologies, as they often connote mere semantics and wordplay, lacking evidence of efficacy. I am discerning in my associations, engaging only with professional, skilled individuals who yield results and possess a substantial body of exemplary work, eschewing anonymity.

While I remain receptive to new ideas, they must prove effective and practicable for pet owners. Empty claims amount to little more than hot air. For instance, one trainer purports the ability to resolve any dog’s aberrant behaviour through games—an assertion that, while ostensibly positive, lacks substantiation. Contrary to this claim, I have employed motivational games in my training for over 45 years, even in the context of training police dogs, yet the notion that all behavioural issues can be resolved solely through games is patently false. Such claims, however, appeal to the naïve and particularly to adherents of the “positive only” ideology. Despite the allure of miraculous results, these claims remain unsubstantiated.

Dog Aggression: A Reality Check

Another fallacy asserts that incessant use of food will mitigate a dog’s aggression and resolve the issue. However, while mildly aggressive dogs, particularly those driven by fear, may be influenced by food, serious cases of aggression cannot be remedied through treats alone. Such claims are, de facto, untrue—treats at best serve as momentary distractions, but do not effect substantive behavioural change. Instead, following such nonsensical advice exacerbates negative behaviours over time, as repetitive aggressive displays can become further ingrained. Unfortunately, proponents of the “positive only” doctrine often evade accountability when their methods fail, withdrawing from communication and leaving pet owners to grapple with exacerbated issues.

The term “positive only” encompasses a wide spectrum of interpretations among trainers. Some ostensibly adhere to a strictly positive approach yet incorporate elements of negative reinforcement, causing confusion. Others proclaim adherence to “positive only” principles yet utilise leads or long lines for recall, which, despite serving a check action, contradict the ideological tenets of “positive only” training. Thus, it is essential to elucidate each trainer’s methodology to avoid misunderstanding.

While my holistic, reward-based approach holds merit, it must be grounded in reality and tailored to practical situations rather than regurgitated ideology propagated on social media platforms.

The Cambridge Institute of Dog Behaviour & Training has maintained a philosophical stance for nearly two decades, inviting individuals who believe they possess more effective or humane training methods to demonstrate their efficacy at the Institute on film. Despite countless claims made on social media, no trainer in Britain has accepted this challenge, underscoring the importance of distinguishing between unfounded assertions and substantiated expertise.

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 versus Irresponsible Positive Only Ideologues

A hobbyist trainer, driven by surreal dogmatic fervour, may advise exclusively using positive treats to quell a dog’s aggression, disregarding the physical realities of restraining a large, aggressive dog propelled forward with vocalised aggression and potentially with intent to bite. Attempting to control such a dog while holding food in one hand amidst traffic noise and barking presents a clear impracticality. Furthermore, recommendations of using a harness may exacerbate issues, as the handler struggles to maintain balance against the dog’s considerable increased body strength.

In cases where a dog exhibits aggression in public, such actions may contravene the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. A handler may find themselves liable for owning a dangerously out-of-control dog, irrespective of their perception of the dog’s temperament by the same owner. In such instances, legal ramifications may ensue, necessitating potential criminal action by the Police against negligent trainers and/or handlers. My extensive experience within the criminal court circuit, coupled with Home Office training in criminal and dog law, underscores the gravity of these matters. As such, trainers must acknowledge their limitations and pursue continued education to better serve pet owners and their canine companions.

The Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991 does not sanction the owner of the aggressor dog, nor the accompanying “positive only” trainer, to attempt dissuasion of the dog in the midst of aggressive action using treats. The law mandates control of the dog, signifying an immediate cessation of the aggressive behaviour, such as pulling back or halting the dog mid-leap, and cessation of growling. These actions constitute negative interventions under operant conditioning, akin to what numerous dog owners undertake daily in Britain to manage such dogs in public or private settings. Moreover, in a noisy urban environment where commands are often inaudible amidst the dog’s barking or growling, the practicality of such interventions is severely limited. It is imperative to acknowledge this reality. While many of these dogs may not intend to bite, and some may be muzzled, the law does not account for potential outcomes beyond the initial perceived aggressive action by the target person, as described in my earlier accounts. Technically speaking, the law is transgressed in such scenarios.

Pet Dog Owners’ Rights

Any pet dog owner indoctrinated with the rhetoric espousing the virtues of “positive only” trainers—emphasising their kindness and aversion to the use of force in controlling dogs—should demand the following: Require the “positive only” trainer to execute a legally binding agreement accepting full legal responsibility, inclusive of fines, costs associated with the dog’s incarceration if seized, as well as court prosecution and defence expenses. This constitutes the initial expectation for the dog owner. Strangely, when presented with such a request, ideologue trainers evade compliance, citing various excuses. If the “positive only” methodology is indeed effective in all situations as claimed, one wonders why reluctance persists. These trainers are merely skimming the surface of dog behaviour expertise, which renders them not only dangerous but also unkind to both dogs and pet owners. They bear significant responsibility for exacerbating mild aggressive behaviours into uncontrollable ones through inadequate advice over time.

Certainly, a trainer who applies necessary force to curb aggressive behaviour does not subject the pet owner to such precarious circumstances, complies with the law, and is not obliged to sign any document.

In my courtroom experience, presenting oneself as a “positive only” trainer attempting to dissuade aggressive behaviour through kindness and treats would likely be viewed as negligent and irresponsible by a judge. Consequently, one would face severe legal repercussions, potentially resulting in a criminal record if found culpable in civil or criminal cases. “Positive only” trainers ought to heed this warning, as the law extends to all dog training settings, including private residences and gardens.
Human beings, with their comparatively large brains, theoretically comprehend consequences and should ostensibly require no negative reinforcement. However, as a humorous analogy, I often liken this to traffic laws: drivers are fined for running red lights—a negative consequence—while no reward is bestowed for adhering to green lights. If humans were rewarded for driving through green lights, some would still disregard red lights, as the reward does not consistently motivate good behaviour.

We are subject to numerous dog laws, all of which carry negative consequences for transgression. Negative reinforcement is indeed effective. Dogs, lacking the cognitive capacity to foresee consequences beyond immediate experience, akin to young children, require clear-cut boundaries that align with their cognitive limitations at the time of action. If one is a fair, kind, and proficient dog trainer who predominantly employs rewards but acknowledges the necessity of consequences for unwanted behaviour, the dog will respond accordingly.

Do I mostly absolve dog owners of their errors in judgment regarding dog ownership? No, I am acutely aware that they may err in selecting an inappropriate breed or neglect proper research before acquiring a dog. With over 20,000 client cases behaviours under my belt, I am mindful of this reality. Nonetheless, as humans are prone to errors driven by natural inclinations, our role as professionals is not to castigate but to demonstrate skill, compassion, and, most importantly, impart actionable skills that effect swift behavioural change in both owner and dog. That, indeed, constitutes professional canine education.


Colin Christopher Tennant
MA Canine behaviour & Psychology FCFBA

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