Force Free Training – What Is It?
Force free training is the latest buzzword in the dog training field now. Ask someone if they use positive methods and they’ll say yes whether they really do or not. They know dog owners are looking for positive training techniques, so they simply say they use them.
Force free training is teaching an animal without pain, intimidation, threats, force, or coercion. It’s done without corrections, without collars (including those “vibrating” collars used to “get your dog’s attention), and without pain.
If you’re going to talk the talk, you’ve got to be able to walk the walk.
The animal trainers at Busch Gardens are truly force free trainers. We were given a behind-the-scenes trainer’s tour as part of our Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior faculty meeting. We got a first hand look at the keepers, the animals, and watched training sessions in progress.
If a trainer says they’re force free, ask them to take all the equipment off the dog (except a leash on a flat-buckle collar, for safety) and ask the dog to work with them. Does the dog work? Does he look happy? Does the dog leave?
That’s the true test — allow the dog the choice of working and then see what choice the animal makes. Trust the dog!
Here’s a Hornbill we had the pleasure of working with at Busch Gardens. Look at this guy, he’s impressive!
Not only is he massive and neat to look at, but look at how well he works with us (total strangers)! He’s eager, relaxed, and always has the choice of refusing to work.
He can actually fly away if he chooses. He can graze the bushes if he wants. He definitely doesn’t have to do anything his trainer asks.
He chooses to do it.
Look at how long he works with us, flying from arm to arm (I’m in the tank top, the third person he flies to), all for just one tiny bit of a reinforcer!
If we can teach birds (who can fly away if they choose) to work cooperatively with us, we certainly don’t need corrections, special collars or tactics to work with our dogs.
Don’t trust that a trainer is force free. Ensure that they are force free.
Ask questions about what kind of equipment you’ll be required to use (walk away if there’s a specific collar you must use such as a slip lead, prong collar, e-collar, etc.). Find out what happens if your dog doesn’t want to work — what will the trainer do to get your dog to listen (walk away if the trainer says “that won’t happen,” “we’ll teach him that he needs to pay attention, etc.).
Your dog can’t choose his trainer, but you can.
Make sure you do your homework, interview your trainer, be ready to ask lots of questions and, above all, be ready to walk away whenever you think your dog isn’t enjoying the training.