ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Positive Fallout

We talk a lot about the "negative fallout" from using aversives. I wanted to share my experience yesterday at the vet's, and what I think was an example of "positive fallout" from using positive methods!

Brady was up for her annual exam. We hadn't been to the vet since we switched over to postive methods almost a year ago, but we've been working pretty hard this last year on improving her fear aggression with strangers and reducing her triggers for strange people petting her.

Also, I have to say that this vet isn't particularly good handling nervous or fearful dogs - she just moves a little too quickly and jerky, and is a little "hard" if you know what I mean. (Before you ask why the heck I'm going to her: I've had a hard time finding a vet I like for both pets in this city, and this vet is one of the few Feline Fellows here and is absolutely great with the cat - since the cat is my current health-problem-child and the dog just needs maintenance care, I'm taking the dog to her as well.) Anyway, Brady has a history of growling and threatening to snap at this vet (ok, all vets!)

So, to make a long story short - Brady didn't growl once!! She looked incredibly uncomfortable and fearful at times, but the vet handled her stem to stern, probed her abdomen, listened to her heart and lungs, moved her around on the table (one of Brady's biggest bugaboos - she *hates* being physically manipulated!), gave her shots and even delivered a bordatella vaccine (the spray into the nose thing!) without a single grumble or fight! I had great treats and had been shoveling them since the moment we arrived, although Brady wasn't particularly interested in food during the exam itself. After we let Brady go after delivering the bordatella, which would be a typical moment for her to aggress - as the vet removed her hands from her body - I saw Brady's head swing toward the vet and I immediately scattered a handful of treats on the table in front of her and she started hoovering instead. It was a frenetic hoover - I can read her well enough, I think, to interpret that she was displacing her anxiety into eating the treats. Before we started using positive methods, I'm certain she would have channeled that anxiety into a growling lunging snap at the vet!

So what did I see that I think was the "fallout" of a year's worth of positive reinforcement training? Even without having ever done one moment's worth of counterconditioning at the vet's office or with the vet herself, I think the year of working with Brady using a positive philosophy instead of a punishment philosophy resulted in:

1) a dog for whom some triggers for fear aggression with strangers have been greatly reduced through counterconditioning - she allowed a virtual stranger to closely approach, pet and even manhandle her body without argument - this never would have happened a year ago.

2) a dog who was still fearful but now willing to trust me and other people enough to tolerate a much higher level of the truly scary stuff than ever before, before escalating past her levels to cope.

3) a dog who now had "appropriate" alternative outlets for her anxiety other than aggression - both cognitive tasks like targeting my palm and eating the treats. I could literally see the chemically calming effect they had on her, and it almost seemed like she was *relieved* to turn to them instead of aggressing - like an addict needing a hit to ease her anxiety and pain.

Hey, I haven't turned her into a dog that goes running up to every stranger and asks for a hug, and probably never will! But I'm just so proud of her! She's come a long long way, and she never would have gotten to this point if it hadn't been for clicker training (and the folks on this list!) I'm utterly convinced that the fallout from punishment, had I continued to use it, would have mentally damaged this dog beyond repair. But, after yesterday's vet visit, I can so clearly see the strides she has made in her psychological health due to the benefits of positive training.

Thanks again to all of you who have helped over the last year, and to those who are just starting out - you've got great things ahead of you!

Cheryl & Brady
copyright 2002 Cheryl Jarvis


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