Compulsion based dog training revolves mainly around using corrections to get a dog to comply. It is very common to hear compulsion based trainers telling their students that their dogs must learn that obedience is not an option i.e. their dogs must learn to obey at all times. To achieve this, dogs are consistently corrected for each wrong behaviour till they eventually comply. The use of choke chains, pinch collars etc are common with such methods of dog training. Others may even resort to using the electronic collar. Food or treats on the other hand are less often used because some compulsion based trainers believe that dogs trained with food or treats tend to be unreliable i.e. they obey only if you have food or treats on hand. Take away the food or treat and everything they learn starts to fall apart.
Do Food or Treats Have a Place in Dog Training?
In our opinion, absolutely yes! But they must be administered in the right way. If you show a dog a treat, ask it to come to you and then reward it with the treat, you have just effectively made the treat a bribe. Without the treat, there is every chance your dog will ignore you and go about doing whatever it wishes especially if there are distractions around.
Rewards based trainers are therefore very careful in using food and treats as rewards for right behaviours rather than as bribes. As a rule (other then when luring), food is never presented as a means to get the dog’s attention before requesting a behaviour. Instead food is often out of sight initially and presented only after the requested behaviour is performed, as a reward. This way, the dog is not reliant on the bribe to perform. Instead over time, it learns that even if food is out of sight, it just might be rewarded, if it performs as asked consistently.
Can Rewards Based Training Produce Reliable Results?
Definitely. In fact, many of today’s top obedience dogs around the world are clicker trained. And clicker training in its purest form uses 100% rewards based methods. The use of force or corrections has no place in clicker training. That these top obedience dogs can perform reliably in obedience rings all around the world is proof that clicker training works and that the use of force in dog training is totally not necessary.
Is Clicker Training Superior to Compulsion based Training?
It is our opinion that in the hands of the right trainer, both methods are effective and can produce excellent obedience dogs. However when it comes to administering corrections, some trainers can go overboard, using increasingly higher levels of corrections to train their dogs. For example, they may progress from a buckle collar to a choke chain, pinch collar and eventually even an electronic collar. Some may even resort to using throw chains to speed up their dog’s performance. While such methods do work, they tend to produce dogs that perform not because they love to but rather because it is compulsory. Reliable as they are, such dogs tend to look rather mechanical in the ring. Problems can also arise if compulsion trained dogs are entered into competitions too early. In the ring, handlers are not permitted to correct their dogs. If these dogs are not yet ready for the ring, they will invariably make mistakes in the ring and realise that in the ring, their mistake are not corrected. The end result – a ringwise dog i.e. a dog that performs wonderfully well outside the ring but once in the ring, everything falls apart.
Given the above, our preferred choice is clicker training. Our dog, Rufus CDX, the 2009 Singapore Kennel Club Reserve Obedience Dog of the Year is clicker trained. Clicker training in our opinion produces dogs that perform because they choose to and not because they have to. As a result, they are very enthusiastic and it will show in their performance in the ring. Clicker training is also more humane and most importantly, your dog will love it.