What Does Force-free Mean?

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Training should be fun and supportive for both you and your dog. Force-free training is an approach that center's a dog's physical and emotional comfort. Their wellness is a key component. Force-Free training doesn't utilize any kind of coercion, correction, or intimidation. Akin to gentle parenting with human children, it is about gently guiding your dog as a learner. Force-free training taps into the interests and motivation of your dog to change their behavior.

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What is force-free dog training?

Force-Free means training your dog without the use of force, any kind of punishment, or aversive approaches. The training does not use leash corrections or any other kind of intimidation or physical correction when working with your dog. It works together with positive reinforcement approaches. Positive reinforcement finds what is motivating to your dog, usually food, toys, or play. It uses that as reinforcement for the desired dog behavior. When your dog has been rewarded, they are more likely to repeat the desired behavior in the future. All dogs regardless of breed or size can benefit from this type of training.

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Reasons to avoid balanced dog training

Balanced training is a term that has become more popular in some online communities. This approach involves punishment, aversive tools, and consequences as part of dog training. Balanced training uses aversive shock collars, prong collars, alpha rolls, and discredited dominance methodologies.

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These harmful approaches don't shift the way a dog feels. Instead, they temporarily suppress emotions. This means that temporarily your dog might stop barking, lunging, or doing other frustrating behaviors. However, since their underlying feelings haven't been addressed, the behavior is likely to return.

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Using aversive tools and techniques can also harm the relationship you have with your dog. Force-free and positive reinforcement training approaches are more effective for teaching your dog new cues and shifting any unwanted behaviors.

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How to utilize force-free dog training approaches

With dog training, you want to use positive reinforcement training techniques with rewards — to reinforce the dog behaviors you want to see more of. The goal of the training isn't to obtain a robot-like engagement or response from your dog. Rather, the goal should be paying attention to your dog's body language. When utilizing force-free principles you'll also and to use management as part of your dog's training to keep them successful.

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If you're struggling with your dog's behavior and aren't sure how to use force-free and positive reinforcement training, it's always a good idea to work with a professional dog trainer. A dog trainer will be able to help you and your dog communicate more clearly with each other. They can give you the tools to begin introducing force-free approaches. The Pet Professional Guild provides a directory for helping dog owners find behaviorists and trainers in their local area.

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View your dog as an individual being

A core component of force-free training is recognizing your dog as an autonomous being. This means respecting your dog as an individual with their own wants, desires, and responses. Give your dog as many choices as possible in their life. Provide them with robust physical and mental enrichment. This means when it's safe and possible to give your dog the opportunity to make decisions about what activities and enrichment activities they engage with.

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Force-free dog training can still have rules

A misconception about force-free training is the idea that dogs have no discipline or rules in the home or that things are purely chaotic. Having a commitment to force-free approaches doesn't mean that you can't have rules and expectations for how your dog behaves in the home. What it does mean is putting in the work to help your dog be successful — through gentle management and training. Not with aversives, force, or punishment.

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Adopting a force-free lifestyle with your dog means meeting your dog where they are at. You should respect when your dog says "no" and use positive reinforcement to motivate your dog's response to cues. Careful environmental management, desensitization, and counterconditioning can shift a dog's emotional responses during stressful situations.

In summary

Force-free positive reinforcement training is an effective way to work with dogs. The approaches work with all varieties of dogs regardless of breed or size. Force-free training utilizes your dog's natural behaviors and interests to provide a more engaged and enriched life for your dog, teach new skills, and when necessary, work towards adjusting behavior. A commitment to force-free training means not using aversive, scary, or painful tools or training techniques when working with or engaging with your dog.

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