Our philosophy of training is first to inspire behaviors with motivation, then through conditioning and repetition to ensure that they are performed precisely, reliably and with as much motivation as possible.
Our advanced training programs contain traditional exercises (sit, down, etc.) as well as extremely advanced exercises (Secure, Protective Escape, Rest Assured) that are more complex to teach.
All exercises are broken into behaviors that dogs do naturally. There are the behaviors such as the “Sit” or “Down” which are common, everyday behaviors. They lie down to sleep and sat as puppies; it was the first behavior they performed after crawling.
Then there are less common behaviors such as walking backward, which is required for performing our “Secure” and “Protective Escape” exercises. Obviously, dogs do not come with a reverse option. Nor do we see dogs walking backward by themselves down the street. Yet when we look to nature, we do find the behavior. Dogs, like humans, when finding themselves in a tight restricted area and hoping to change direction, instinctively do so by trying to turn around. If that is not possible, what instinctively do they do next? Walk backward!
The challenge is finding out how to inspire such natural behaviors creatively when they are not used in everyday life. In this way, our company has to become somewhat of a “think tank” or research center where trainers develop innovative methods and techniques.
The use of positive versus negative reinforcement is often a source of controversy among professional trainers.
The use of positive reinforcement is simple: motivate with something inspiring such as praise, affection, toys or food. If the motivation is linked enough times to a behavior, and repeated enough times, it becomes habit. If performed amidst distractions it becomes to some degree more reliable over time. The fundamental problem is that a dog naturally will choose to do what is most pleasurable. What happens when you call your dog, who absolutely loves coming to you, and suddenly he or she sees a rabbit, a cat or squirrel running across the yard? Coming to you sure is pleasurable. Chasing the cat, rabbit or squirrel is even more so. Your beloved dog who adores you will ignore your command to come and instead chase after those sources of greater pleasure every time! Obviously the reliability of purely positive motivational training is limited.
Negative reinforcement creates reliability. A “do it or else” conversation gets results if the consequences are great enough. In addition to reliability, negative reinforcement alone also creates an oppressive mentality at best, and a fearful dog when taken to extremes. It’s effective in obtaining control but not a very appealing method of training.
Our approach is one of balance. Again, we inspire with motivation to create or induce behavior. We then condition through the use of both positive and negative reinforcement. When it comes to positive reinforcement, or motivation, our criteria is simple: as much as possible. Our criteria for negative reinforcement is equally as simple: as much as needed and as little as possible.
There are four phases to each dog’s training program at CPI.
The first is foundational training. This is essential regardless of whether a dog is untitled and has only begun training in a European dog sport and has earned titles in basic obedience and protection (sport of Schutzhund) or has earned advanced working titles such as in the French Ring or Belgian Ring Sports.
In obedience, our specialized foundational training enables the dog to perform with as much motivation as possible on a long-term basis, and without the need for ongoing conditioning or rewards. To return to such basics when a dog is already performing off-leash obedience usually delays the finishing process by two to four weeks. The end result is a dog that finds obeying his owners deeply rewarding.
In protection, this foundational training ranges from imprinting and developing drives to biting and fighting skills, depending on which training program the dog has entered. All are instincts and skills the owner may need to rely upon should he or she encounter a threatening situation.
This behind-the-scenes training, while time consuming and costly from a labor standpoint, is time and money well spent. The mutual enjoyment between dog and owner depends on it, as does the owner’s safety and well being.
The second phase is the teaching of specific skills. In obedience, this includes all of the advanced exercises needed for complete off-leash control. In protection, this ranges from basic through advanced handler protection skills, depending on which program the dog is being trained in.
The third phase is functionality. The third phase expands the dog’s understanding of the advanced exercises from “classroom,” or in our case training room, to a functional understanding. In human terms this would be similar to someone studying a martial art, learning a series of skills such as blocks, then learning how to apply them. The concept of applying them would typically start with learning how a specific block could be used against a specific strike.
The fourth phase is integration. Dogs are somewhat like people, at least in the way that they can compartmentalize information. For example, a coworker’s name comes easily to mind in the office, but not so easily in the grocery store. The same happens with dogs when responding to commands in obedience and protection or with manners. Our task of integration, therefore, requires creating as many different mind sets (playful, affectionate, tired, just waking up, etc.), physiology (laying down, standing, etc.) and environments (inside a house, car, staircase, etc.) as possible and requiring whatever exercises the dog would least likely expect.