Force Free Training has become an umbrella term for many types of training. Many 'trainers' call themselves force-free but do not follow the ethics and guiding principles that the term represents. It’s no wonder that many people are getting confused as to what it is. For a clear definition, have a look at the PPG’s summary of this term.
A huge part of the philosophy is intent. A force-free trainer’s intent should never be to do any physical or mental harm, in order to get a dog to comply. We do not intimidate or intentionally cause stress or fear. We do not apply physical force when the animal does not understand or lacks the confidence to offer the behaviour.
There are so many weird things that people seem to believe about the Force-Free Method. Here is a couple of them.
Can I become frustrated because of my dog?
Yes, it’s allowed. Just do not take it out on your dog. We tend to overreact when we are feeling frustrated and then do more harm than we intended to. If you are feeling frustrated, that means that you lack the information needed to continue with the training. It’s best to stop the session and figure out what is missing before continuing again.
Can I say no to my dog?
Yes, you can. As long as you teach him, or redirect him to what he is supposed to do instead.
Does force-free mean that my dog can do whatever he wants and I’m not allowed to do anything about his unwanted behaviours?
Noooooooo. Boundaries are very important. But we use training methods that do not leave the owner and the dog upset with each other. There are effective ways of teaching that do not include upsetting your and your dog’s cortisol balance. (Cortisol, is the stuff that is released throughout our bodies when we get angry or scared, it stays in our systems for a while once released).
Would force-free trainers rather suggest euthanasia than use aversive methods?
Uhm.. no. This is an actual comment an aversive-based trainer made. It’s simply not true unless he met a very questionable ‘trainer’ who does this. A qualified trainer does not ever need to resort to aversive because we have modern scientific psychology knowledge. And we have this because we studied it. At an accredited educational institution. This allows us to solve problems without having to apply aversive techniques. Only when the animal is a real danger to others around him/her or is suffering from a severe neurological issue (diagnosed by a vet) will euthanasia be suggested.
Modern science has taught us that there is much more to teaching dogs than what was previously believed, about eighty years ago. Dogs are sentient beings, they have emotions, complex cognitions and consciousness. Their being is shaped by their experiences, just like ours. They can experience trauma, depression, anxiety, fear, and attachment issues, just like we can and it’s stored in their memory and nervous system as well.
This is why it’s important that we train dogs with a holistic approach, including mental well-being AND physical well-being while having the appropriate knowledge and practices that promote it.