Here’s a newsflash, force-free training has been used with great success for DECADES. In the world of animal training there are always “fads” that come and go with popular culture. People jump on the bandwagon and ride it till it crashes. But not force-free training.
Force-free training refers to the scientifically-based training principles of applied behaviour analysis, changing behaviour through classical and operant conditioning. Force-free training particularly focuses on changing behaviour through the method that is least invasive, and minimally aversive (meaning least unpleasant to the animal). This could mean managing the environment in a way that makes the problem less likely to occur, medical management, conditioning a new response to a negative stimulus, or training new behaviours through positive reinforcement. Force-free trainers understand how to apply other methods, but with all the kinder options available feel that it is not in the interest of the animals welfare to use them routinely.
Force-free training using operant conditioning was explored by the Brelands in the 1950s, and shortly after it became popular with marine mammal trainers in zoos. They would train dolphins to perform spectacular behaviours by using a training tool called a “bridge” (a clicker or whistle) to mark behaviours they liked and then rewarding the dolphins with fish. Once a behaviour has been caught, it can be shaped into the final goal.
Through the 70s, 80s, and beyond, and woman named Karen Pryor began to apply the principles she learned as a dolphin trainer to dogs and horses. And so it all began! Karen Pryor puts my thoughts into words perfectly in the following statement:
“We have been training animals for thousands of years, and we almost never ask them to DO something! To bring their own abilities to the table. To think. If you’ll excuse the expression.”
Gone are the days where we need to rely on punishment-based training methods to stop our pets behaving in certain ways. We know better now, and the information on how to start is freely available online. No excuses, let’s start teaching!