Think Dog Training with Positive Reinforcement Is All the Rage in Training Dogs and Dolphins?

Dog Training with Positive Reinforcement: Reconsidering the Methods

The following letter was sent to me from Kaat (pictured above with her dogs, including Blooper) after we exchanged e-mails discussing dog training with positive reinforcement. The main focus of our discussions were some of the petitions to ban e-collars and a video clip I have on YouTube that demonstrates using a remote training collar to work with a dog that is having aggression issues.

I’m posting the e-mail in it’s entirety because every single word (including the links) should be read by those who sign petitions to ban a tool that is saving many dog’s lives. In fact, it is my opinion that every single word be read by all dog owners and trainers as well. Kaat is very matter of fact about the current state of affairs in much of the dog training industry. Too many trainers are selling dog owners short on what can be achieved. The idea of dog training with positive reinforcement ONLY is being touted as the be all, end all and too manydogs that can be saved are being given up, destroyed or owners and their dogs are forced to live less than full lives. All because they have only been supplied with half the story. Kaat’s story is a good reminder that people should seek out other opinions and points of view when they are not getting the results they seek.

Hi Robin,

That is just why I love that video. Healing fear and blind panic is the most difficult and thus greatest training achievement of all.

It is the highest drive a dog can get in. So there is no “reward” that can top or divert this state of mind.

Panic is a drive that can not be subdued by satisfaction!

It is exactly that kind of dog that got me to realize that e-collar saves lives.

All my dogs come from an animal shelter. Blooper was badly abused by his previous owner and had severe kennel syndrome. He wanted to attack everything. And I do mean everything! Garbage cans, umbrella’s, other dogs, vehicles (all kinds), humans (all kinds), etc…

He should have had a T-Shirt that says: “I hate everything and your next!”

But it was sad… because walking for him was a trip to Hell. The stress he was in continuously was beyond describing. Furthermore because he also hated dogs every walk could be his last. I kept him on leach but some dog owners feel the bizarre need to let their disobedient dogs run free. An encounter with Blooper could force the other dog into defense. Serious injury could be the consequence.

For two years I tried positive operant conditioning. Two f**ing years lost!

I went to 3 dog schools, 5 personal trainers… And all of them were so brainwashed by the new positive operant training, they all told the same story of which I knew it did not and will not work. Thanks to Karen Pryor and her observations on Dolphins (you know the animals that never get out of their aquarium which contains no diversions at all!!!!!).

Clearly complex problems often lead to simple, easy to understand wrong answers!

I could impose leadership with cookies all I wanted. Blooper did fine and obeyed me as long as he was not in a panic-state of mind. It seems logical now. Polite employees let their boss go trough the door first, unless the building is on fire!

When Blooper attacked a young Malinois pup who approached him I came to the end of my rope. Because dog-aggression is like throwing a stone into water. It traumatizes other dogs and can thus leads to aggression in the other dog, who then makes other victims and so on. It had to stop!

Two years of positive operant training was two years lost of an already short live. Dogs don’t live that long… It was two years of unnecessary fear for my dog. Two years of daily risks to be injured for my dog, for a human, for other dogs… It had to stop NOW!

So I Googled once more for another personal trainer… And this time I absolutely wanted someone who could get results, not just beautiful theories. I considered someone who was a three-time champion in NVBK and Belgian Ringsport, all with different dogs and the highest scores ever achieved, as a trainer that could get results! Indeed I’m one of these owners that wants only the very very best for his dog…Enters Bart Bellon.

And after 20 minutes the problem was solved!

Well It’s Bart, I’ll be honest… we all know him. It took 4 hours of explaining e-collar-training to me and 20 minutes of working with Blooper. Of course it took maintenance but Blooper healed. It all became clear to me. Panic stops once you know exactly what you have to do in a certain situation and this routine is repeated and drilled. This is why soldiers on a dangerous mission do not panic. They are focused on what they were learnt to do and on the accomplishment of their target.

Once he stopped attacking Blooper had a calmer more focused state of mind which allowed him to reassess the situations he was once so scared of. After only a couple of weeks the fear was all gone…

He now lives peacefully with two other shelter dogs. Gets compliment on walks for his outstanding and exemplary obedience. (Which only proves how exceptional an obedient dog has become since the hype of training only with positive operant conditioning, which is, in my modest opinion, not so positive at all).

Blooper is now a happy self-confident dog that really enjoys his life. Thanks to Bart Bellon, who will have my gratitude for ever and then some.

The fact that Blooper could have had all this two years earlier had it not been for the big dog training LIE… still pisses me off big time!

Had I listened to their advice Blooper would have been euthanized. 5 Times he got a death sentence by these “positive” people. Their fanatic attitude results into never reconsidering their methods, but in simply stating: “If the dog can not be trained my way the dog should be put to death. in other words: “the dog is wrong, not my system!”

I’m now wearing Bloopers little T-Shirt, with a little ad on. It says: “I hate all strictly fanatic positive operant trainers… and if you’re one of those liars, you’re next!”

In annex I leave you the survey removed by these liars in order to deny the obvious truth (Once again. Some habits apparently die hard!).

I also give you these very interesting links: The Truth About Training Dolphins,

The absolute proof that dolphins are trained and controlled with existential techniques, namely : hunger.

The relief of slightly unpleasant is thus what motivates them.

The Maslov-principle. It leaves no choice.

Interesting to note is that with this hunger/food-training/controlling system control stops around and about the same time that the hunger disappears.

Predictable and logical…. Except of course for animal rights terrorists!

They just don’t seem to understand there is a difference between a dog that knows the meaning of a command and a dog that will obey this command regardless the circumstances!!!!!

Contrary to the existential training with hunger, e-collar thus offers two major advantages:

1° The application of slightly unpleasant as a motivator is always applicable in the amount needed for a specific dog with a specific drive (at that moment). This is not the case with hunger because it diminishes slowly, and so does your control.

2° When the dog obeys there is an immediate and total relief of the slightly unpleasant feeling. This is not the case with hunger that keeps lingering in the body.

So NEPOPO brings the message to the dog clearer and in a more consequent manner.

Here are the links:

“Free the advanced biological weapon system, an interview with Richard O’Barry by Brent Hoff.”

And the link that shows that movie-producers were sick and tired of waiting for the dolphins to obey, so they used computer animations for the sequel:

Clearly Karen Pryor missed that one! Ach well: The mind is like a parachute. It only works when it’s open!

So Robin, you have all my support because, as George Orwell put it so well: In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.

And if you want to use this testimonial feel free

Greetings & have a Great Day.

Dog training with positive reinforcement is a good thing, please don’t misunderstand the intent of my posting this letter. But the use of one quadrant out of four, forsaking the value of the others, should not be shoved down the throats of unknowing pet owners with for the sake of one’s ideology.

**note: the authors reference to NEPOPO, is a term Mr. Bellon uses to help others understand the reinforcement sequence when using e-collar training. It is an acronym for; Negative, Positive, Positive.

Ne = e-collar stimulation, Po=removal of stimulation, Po=Addition of reward





  • Thank you. I was a Schutzhund competitor in the ’80’s at top level- twice on US team to world championship. (no longer compet). A few yrs ago I saw Cesar Millan on TV and was impressed, reading his backgd and studying tapes of his sessions. A natural. He understands negative and positive and can assess every situation.
    Then! I learned of the hate campaign against him by the positive only aficionados. Worse than Democrats v. Repubs! Sad because of the consequences you point our.
    How do you understand the pos only people? They seem to object to “cruelty” but not see the cruelty in leaving a dog in neurotic misery.

    • Hi Ann,

      Thank you for your input. I personally don’t get all the “noise” either from the all positive group. I do think that it is a very small minority though that really adheres to the idea that there is no place for correction. Most trainers fall in the middle ground and understand that comparison is the fastest and most reliable way to learn. The challenge is helping the lay person understand that correction does not mean pain, fear or some form of “brutality” that the vocal minority makes it out to be. To correct should only mean to make right, to communicate to the dog that a mistake has been made. Much like a GPS unit tells a driver when he/she is off course. It is information, nothing more. I also believe there is a time and place in dog training (and the rest of life) for punishment as well. Punishment does not belong in the learning phase. However, appropriately timed and effective punishment is also part of life and learning what boundaries are…..being a top level competitor multiple times, I know you already know all this, but thanks for letting me revisit the message again!
      all the best,

  • @Meghan, you’re correct Bart Bellon’s NePoPo does not adhere to learning theory terms but it is based on learning theory. It instead is intended for average dog trainer (pet owner) to understand.

    Instead of the science definition of what is positive (added) and what is taken away (negative), he is using his term to mean simply mean there is something aversive that happens (such as the e-stim at just the right level), then there is something good that happens (the e-stim stops) and then there is another good that happens (a reward such as food treats or ball reward). This makes his training system much more easily understood by the average owner. There is the science and then there is the application of that science.

  • Jonathan, I loved how you summed up your response. This is what I believe most of us would agree on:

    “despite all the positive techniques to increase reliability, the remote collar filled the gap. It also worked similarly as well for teaching. And to say it isn’t training, well, then i suggest you look back over your notes of what training is…consistency, repetition, operant and classical conditioning, etc…so how isn’t that training..especially if it reproduces results over and over, the dogs listen well, and can still do quite well when it is removed….

    The reality is the more we stop fighting over what is the best method is, we’ll discover that it is a mixture of all of them, and more so knowing when each is best applied. By being closed to all methods but one, we don’t only sell ourselves short, but also our clients and their dogs.”

  • @ Meghan- I have always laughed about that, because according to learning theory, the acronym is incorrect, but by no means does it diminish that Bart Bellon is probably one of the most impressive trainers I’ve seen. It however does make it easy for the basic dog owner to understand. When explaining it I always offer the comparison in learning theory.

    @Everyone else- One thing i found interesting in the responses on this particular post, is the immediate attack on +R trainers. I originally learned to train using strong (for lack of better words) compulsion drive methods. For years I laughed at clicker trainers (being the ignorant fool I was), but then learned more about it from a very proficient trainer. It turned me on to a new perspective of training. It challenged me to forget dominance theory as I understood it, and replace it with a theory of Assertive Opportunism. I ,perhaps, learned more over the years in effective methods from such trainers. I am forever indebted. That being said, all methods have their flaws, and their limitations and all methods have at least some element that has a time and place. I can bite into an apple, but its best to peel an orange first. Some dogs are oranges. As I began my quest into marker training, I touted it as the most efficient form of dog “teaching” I had seen. However, no matter how well I understood it, or it seemed other professionals who understood it tried to tout it as the save all end all, I saw a general problem. It works great, but not all the time, with every dog, and every situation. So by saying “it doesn’t work” we are misleading. With some dogs, motivated highly by certain resources, it works GREAT! But, if the dogs aren’t highly motivated, this is where those fasting techniques come in. And sometimes that only goes so far. So yes, it does work…but not always, and not always as well.
    Later on, I learned these softer, lower-level uses of remote collar training. It seemed like it was the perfect balancing tool to marker training, specifically because the psychology was so similar. For the dogs that learned great with marking, but were not as reliable as they could be, or just not that reliable in general, despite all the positive techniques to increase reliability, the remote collar filled the gap. It also worked similarly as well for teaching. And to say it isn’t training, well, then i suggest you look back over your notes of what training is…consistency, repetition, operant and classical conditioning, etc…so how isn’t that training..especially if it reproduces results over and over, the dogs listen well, and can still do quite well when it is removed….
    The reality is the more we stop fighting over what is the best method is, we’ll discover that it is a mixture of all of them, and more so knowing when each is best applied. By being closed to all methods but one, we don’t only sell ourselves short, but also our clients and their dogs.

  • I want to quickly make just one more comment re the previous post The acronym NEPOPO for negative positive positive does not adhere learning theory. Would be better for the conversation on both sides to at least define and use terms with consistency. If the first stimulus to the dog is to add then it is Positive if it decreases the behavior then It is punishment. Then if you remove the shock to get the desired behavior it is negative but reinforcing. And then if you give a treat it is positive and reinforcing. The acronym should be PONEPO. Anytime you add a stimulus it is positive, when you remove it is negative. the other part is what does the addition g or removing do, increase or decrease the behavior. E collars rely on positive punishment and negative reinforcement, and if you follow with a treat the. You have positive reinforcement. I work with autistic children using applied behavior analysis, not dogs. but I think it can only help the debate to have the terms clearly defined and understood by all. :).

  • My problem with both sides of this discussion is actually that dog TRAINERS do not get that their skill level is way different than the average dog or pet owner. So what they can do, the average person may not be able to. We can all read and possibly understand cardiac surgery procedure but do not put the scalpel in just anyone’s hand for my surgery. I went for a first session with a trainer, who touted the amazement of the e collar, I was looking for help and found a person who was so degrading of all the work I had already done with my dog. She sat beautifully,followed each command I gave her, and had wonderful leash manners by people and other dogs. I had put lots of love time and patience into her training so to have this one fanatic say she was UNTRAINED because I had not used an e collar was insulting and aggravating. I watched his class though so I could learn, and what I saw was not so dis similar to some positive classes I watched or worked in. The average Joe pet owners were off in their timing of consequence, too busy chatting with the dog owner next to them to catch their dogs incorrect behavior ect ect ect. One woman held an entire conversation never once even looking at her dog all the while activating the remote collar. I am not saying e collars do not work, I am not saying positive only does not work. It is, as always up to the person to commit to the dog. I left that class with my well trained dog and kept searching for what I wanted and needed. I wish that all dog trainers would at least recognize, that their steadfast sometimes arrogant approach serves no one, not the humans and certainly not the dogs.

    • Meghan, Thank you for writing this very honest commentary. I agree with you entirely. The arrogance in the profession is out of control and the infighting amongst “professionals” over methods does nothing to help the average pet owner. There are trainer on both sides of the battle who are guilty of what you have described and it is shameful. I’ve had some come to my class who have done considerable clicker or lure/reward training who’s dog’s worked brilliantly and I congratulate them on the effort they have put in.
      I have wondered about my own defensiveness here on this forum…do I expend too much effort defending and not enough educating? My goal is to educate, but part of that has been the need to show the other side of the coin because “we” (those who choose e-collars or prongs or slips) are under such attack. We are portrayed as nothing but monsters who sit around waiting for dogs to make mistakes that we can punish. Of the people I work with and know well nothing could be farther from the truth. We all strongly believe in teaching LONG before applying punishment. We understand that negative reinforcement can be used in a gentle way that does not harm and we utilize great quantities of positive reinforcement as well as other tools (head halters, anxiety wraps, holistic alternative health care, etc) considered only reserved for those who walk the hallowed halls of “all positive”
      IMO, trainers need to wake up and pay attention to their clients and their dogs and shut up about what everyone else is doing wrong and worrying about banning tools and methods…but until things really start to turn that way I feel a responsibility to defend this tool. Thank you again for writing. I appreciate it.
      all the best,

  • Hi Jen,

    As far as “when to move to an e-collar” I think that really depends on the trainer themselves. In my case, it is my tool of choice and those who work with me do really well with it,whether fear, aggression issues or basic obedience and manners. If a person has great success with other training methods and the clients are happy with it there is obviously no need to change course. It is when we as trainers reach the end of our abilities and declare to the client *there is nothing else, or no other solution* and we refuse to consider alternatives that we are then selling our clients and their dogs short. For me personally, I started down this path when taking on cases of aggression that where being well controlled when on leash but the dog were seizing opportunity off leash. I knew I needed a more reliable way to give my clients at least a rock solid recall (rather than telling my clients to “be more careful about going off leash or never off leash etc.)…that was the beginning of it and the more experience I gained, the more applications I began.

    As for a trainer calling your use of the water bottle gimmicky, this is the type of thinking I don’t understand at all. Our goal and our business philosophy should be based on giving our clients results in realistic time frames. Our fee is in exchange for a service provided and that service should entitle an owner to some sort of defined outcome. If you are giving the client an outcome, a dog who will stop barking when told because you paired an interrupting stimulus with your voice command to gain reliability, why the heck is that a gimmick? There is too much ego in much of the dog training world about how and what tools. It is as if it is a competition amongst trainers that those more saintly and pure are *better*. I’m truly sick of it and the clients and dogs pay the price for the excuses of what tools are supposedly acceptable.
    Good on you for giving dog’s clarity and giving clients a result.

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