By Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA
Some 30 years ago, Karen Pryor wrote a small volume intended to be a self-help book for humans. That book turned the dog training world upside down. Don’t Shoot the Dog introduced the general public to the principles of operant conditioning and emphasized the benefits of positive reinforcement over punishment, with the goal of improving humans’ relationships with each other: husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees, etc. The book didn’t make much of a splash in the self-help world. But the fortuitous inclusion of the word “dog” in the title captured the attention of dog trainers, who, led by early positive training notables such as Dr. Ian Dunbar and Jean Donaldson, launched a positive reinforcement revolution in the world of dog training.
Thanks to the pioneers in the development of effective, force-free dog training techniques, there are now thousands of trainers (including me) who use, teach, and promote force-free training. In the past few decades, we’ve learned the value of creating relationships with dogs based on voluntary cooperation, built on a foundation of mutual trust and respect.
We learned about the “four quadrants of operant conditioning,” and realized that the tools many of us had successfully used in the past, such as choke chains and prong collars, and verbal and physical punishment, worked because they suppressed behavior. They taught the dog that if he did the wrong thing, we would hurt or intimidate him.