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By Published On: November 12th, 2009

For those of us who use positive reinforcement training to work with dogs, as opposed to techniques grounded in punishing inappropriate behaviors, it is easy to forget that though in practice it’s not difficult to do, it can be challenging to explain. Here’s one way to think about it.

If someone calls you, they have a jar and threaded lid, and need to know how to put the jar on the lid, you might say, “It’s easy, just put the lid on the top of the jar and screw it on.” They follow your advice, put the lid on the jar and turn the lid counter clockwise and darn it, it’s just not working! During their next call to report that they’ve tried what you’ve suggested and it’s ‘just not working’, you clarify yourself and explain, “Put the lid on and turn it clockwise.” On this attempt they put the lid on and give it a quarter turn clockwise and with a small amount of jostling the lid falls off. You can sense the disillusionment in their voice when they call yet again, your method must be wrong because, it’s ‘still not working’.

There happens to be a fellow in town who is known for getting lids to stay on jars, he employs the use of hammer and by banging on the lid is able to get it on securely. On occasion he breaks a jar or two, but the owners of these jars are not on his reference list, and he asserts that a defect in the jar caused the shattering, not his technique. The jars that explode because the hammered on lid allows pressure to build are also not his responsibility, or so he attests. His job is getting lids on. There are, he claims, lots of jars out there with lids on that owners have him to thank for.

It’s easy to lose owners to the lure of the quick fix, whether it employs a hammer or not. Providing information and direction that will lead to success takes time, patience and practice. I believe that the majority of people who consult with a trainer want to learn the best and most humane ways to train their dogs and can even become excited about the untapped potential both they and their dogs share. What seems obvious to positive reinforcement trainers may not be to someone else. If we strive for clarity and simplicity we might not put the guy with the hammer out of business but we might decrease his market share.

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