For a while there was a surge in the term ‘Force Free’. It was everywhere you looked. Since then there has been quite an assault on the term with many jumping on the bandwagon of, ‘there’s no such thing as force free’. I witnessed this mainly from aversive type trainers. (Aversive trainers are those who choose to use things the dog doesn’t like; the dog complies to escape or avoid the aversive). Increasingly though, I see and hear highly respected, positive dog trainers and behaviourists also ditching the term and stating that there is no such thing as force free.
I say there absolutely is such a thing and we shouldn’t be too quick to ditch the term.
Aversive (or force) based trainers often passionately believe in their methods. They believe they are right. If they believe they are right, it stands to reason that they believe force free trainers to be wrong. They increasingly come under attack for their methods; science and shifting ethics don’t seem to be on their side. It should not be surprising, therefore, when many of them attempt to discredit the force free movement. It seems quite silly that of all the arguments they could choose, the one I most often see is that force free trainers must be jerks (some are more polite, some much ruder) because there is no such thing as force free; it simply doesn’t exist, they say. Their ‘proof’ that it doesn’t exist is that to use a lead (leash) is to use force, to shut the front door is to use force, and I even hear that to use food is in some way using force (because the dog has to train to eat).
What a load of utter BULLPOOP! (I can think of no better word)
To be a force free trainer means that you don’t use fear, intimidation, pain or discomfort. It means that you don’t FORCE the dog to comply.
Shutting your front door is not forced training; it is management, it is health and safety, it is protecting the dog from harm and allowing them to feel safe.
Using a lead and collar is not forced training; It is management, health and safety, and responsible dog ownership. UK law also makes it an offence to have a dog in a public place without a collar and ID tag. They must also be on a lead whilst on (and beside) the highway.
Using food is not forced training; It is allowing behaviour to be positively reinforced with a primary reinforcer, making the behaviour more likely to occur in the future. Every animal on earth evolved due to their ancestors ability to work for food. In nature, food rarely comes along and jumps in to your mouth to experience the thrill of sliding down the oesophagus. It’s far from force; it is in fact allowing the dog to perform genetic behaviour instincts (seeking food) and gain life enrichment.
Would it be considered ‘force’ to hold a child’s hand at the roadside? or to keep them safely indoors at night? to take them to school? to feed them at particular times? of course not; it is beyond ridiculous.
Are the arguments against force free training so weak that they must argue semantics and suggest that because a dog is not free to run into the road (because you are a responsible owner), you are using force. It’s nonsensical.
We now have other descriptions rising in popularity such as LIMA (least intrusive minimally aversive). I will not be using them because such titles are not instantly understood, they are not so user friendly. Technically, they may be a more accurate description but it’s technical jargon and alien to most pet owners.
I’m going to stick with Force Free. I will not be pandering to those who (for their own interests) want to misappropriate the words. They are the words I fell in love with, they are the words that mean something to me and many others.
So, is there such a thing as force free training? Hell yes
Shay Kelly is the author of Dog training and behavor: a guide for everyone and Canine Enrichment: the book your dog needs you to read