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Introduction to The Third Way Method of Dog Training

By Chris Bach and The Third Way – The Next Generation in Reinforcement Training

The following article was previously printed in “Front & Finish” dog training magazine.

What would make YOU feel more confident during competition? More importantly, what would make you feel confident when a correct response could mean life or death? What if you knew your dog could be startled by an unexpected noise or motion and not panic? What if he would recover quickly and then continue what he was doing, undaunted and with delight! Would it add to your confidence if you also knew he could go on to the next task totally unaffected?

Would you like to have your "laid back" dog more committed to perform, or your "high energy" dog able to perform more reliably because his emotions are under control? No matter which sport you care to participate in, obedience, agility, herding, Schutzhund, field trialing, tracking, or anything else, if your dog is committed and has his emotions under control, you are going to improve performance. Just how dramatic the improvement can be will astound you!

There is a new way of training that accomplishes all this and more. I have developed this original and unique way over a span of twenty-some years and I have named it THE THIRD WAY. It is very different from the first, most common or traditional way of training, which depends upon dominance theories and utilizes corrections and suppression in order to change or teach behaviors. It is also very unlike the second, new and current trend of food “luring” and “clicker” training, although food and clicker devices are used in my program.

THE THIRD WAY uses no “corrections”. It does not attempt to “dominate” or control the dog. It does control the dog’s interaction with the environment. It does stop undesirable behavior as soon as it occurs, and then prevents it from happening again. This takes place by manipulating what is happening in the environment by utilizing management tools and techniques, not by going after the dog in an attempt to correct or suppress the behavior.

Its theories depend on facts, and only facts, about "behavior" and the "learning process"; not old wives' tales such as dog’s being able to make moral judgments about what is right and what is wrong behavior. It does not credit dogs with human thought processes, or character weaknesses such as laziness, spitefulness or stubbornness. It never blames the dog for failing to meet human expectations.

In fact, I believe that every dog is PERFECT at being themselves. They are a product of their individual nature or temperament, and of how they have been nurtured. Everything they do is right. They do not have the concept of wrong or of making a mistake.

When it seems that they might be acting in an apologetic way as if they know they are wrong, it is only because of our misinterpretation of what is really happening. In truth, our dogs are simply responding to our body language. When people perceive that their dog is wrong or has made a mistake, their body sends signals to their dog that trouble is about to happen. Dogs quickly learn to predict when they are in jeopardy. The dog then either tries to leave or to placate their owner by acting submissively. Leaving is misread as stubbornness or stupidity instead of a normal response to escape something bad. Acting submissively is misread as an apology, when it should be interpreted as a plea not to be hurt or frightened.

My techniques have a new twist, and are totally different from any other way of training, and so are the results. It requires a new thought process, but the power it affords to teaching and changing behavior is incredible.

THE THIRD WAY is based upon the knowledge that dogs are totally self serving creatures; that learning only stops when the dog is sleeping or otherwise not conscious; and the belief that dogs are highly motivated to live harmoniously within their environment.

THE THIRD WAY puts the dog's focus on the trainer, NOT what the trainer has to give him. It puts the trainer's focus on enhancing desired behavior, and managing the dog so as to stop or prevent undesired behavior or responses. It totally refrains from the forceful suppression of unwanted behavior.

THE THIRD WAY teaches and enhances appropriate behavior by using reinforcement. Reinforcement is intended to increase the probability that a behavior will occur again. THE THIRD WAY magnifies even further the results by using and understanding "reinforcement values", and how to intensify as well as diminish them.

Also, THE THIRD WAY gives the trainer the ability to use "reinforcers" as distractions during my correction-free “proofing” or clarifying process. All this intensifies the dog’s concentration, awareness and commitment to the trainer, making learning faster and more permanent.

To activate the learning process in any dog, the dog must be motivated to solve a problem. The motivation will always be that the dog WANTS something. For example, if a dog wants to get out of his crate, it will learn that it must first sit and make happy eye contact if that is the ONLY way the crate door will open!

My Husband’s Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever puppy, "Rosie", learned from day one that she must sit and play the Eye Contact Game, instead of scream and claw at her crate door, in order to get out. We got her at just a few days short of seven weeks old. By the time Rosie was nine weeks old, she could sit and play the Eye Contact Game without moving in order to leave her crate, go out doors, or be greeted. She could even maintain her “sit” and continue looking into our eyes, instead of at her dish, while it was being placed on the floor. She waited to break eye contact and then eat until she was released! She was so cute! She found this game so reinforcing that she continuously offered the “sit” and “make eye contact” behavior just to get our attention!

To activate the learning process in any dog, the dog must be motivated to solve a problem. The motivation will always be that the dog WANTS something. For example, if a dog wants to get out of his crate, it will learn that it must first sit and make happy eye contact if that is the ONLY way the crate door will open!

REINFORCEMENT VALUES

Reinforcers are what the individual dog WANTS. The "reinforcement value" of a reinforcer is determined by how much brainpower and physical energy a dog is willing to expend, to get the reinforcer at any given moment. The trainer does not and cannot determine reinforcers, or reinforcement values. It is up to the dog! We can, however, influence reinforcers and reinforcement values. THE THIRD WAY uses this ability to our advantage and as a result, we do not need nor depend upon “corrections” to suppress or get rid of undesirable behaviors.

For example, Clara's Boxer, Lady, loves food, but is even more attracted to people. Clara is training in a field where there are no people, so Lady is responding well to the food Clara is using. Suddenly, four youngsters come running on the field. Lady no longer wants the food; she wants to greet the children.

Clara gently moves Lady away from the children in order to decrease their reinforcement value. Once Lady is far enough away that the youths no longer interest her, she is able to respond to Clara's cue to sit and stay. Upon compliance, Clara allows Lady to greet the children as her reinforcer for the sit/stay behavior. By first decreasing the reinforcement value of the children so Lady could be successful, and then using her desire to greet, or “social drive” to reinforce her, Clara increased the reinforcement value of herself, and the sit/stay behavior!

Clara's other option was to again decrease the reinforcement value of the children by moving Lady away. Once Lady no longer exhibited any interest in the children, and resumed her interest in the reinforcer (food) that Clara was using, Clara could begin teaching again. This way, Clara increased the reinforcement value of herself, the sit/stay behavior, and the food.

If, instead, she had insisted that Lady sit/stay by forcing her, she not only would have decreased the reinforcement value of the sit/stay behavior, but also the food and herself. She would also have increased the reinforcement value of the children because Lady would perceive interaction with them as her only chance for reinforcement! Clara previously used this option. The result was that Lady became extremely uncontrollable when she was around children. She would not pay attention to Clara no matter what corrections were used. When she was off leash, she would always run away from Clara regardless of whether children were present or not!

Once Clara began using reinforcers and reinforcement values to her advantage, she was able to teach Lady how to ignore the children on cue, no matter how close they were or what they were doing! She also learned to come; sit and stay, and she would even do it off leash!

When using THE THIRD WAY, the trainer will always be aware of the "reinforcers" that the environment is presenting to the dog, OTHER THAN what is in the trainer's hand or on the trainer's mind! The real power comes when the trainer stops fighting with their dog and attempting to suppress their dog’s drives and desires, and instead begins to enhance or diminish reinforcement values to strengthen or eliminate behaviors.


(c) THE THIRD WAY ~ Chris Bach ~ 2002. All rights reserved.