Post by Charissa Beaubien KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA

I need to be answering emails but I find myself sitting and thinking about all the troubles of the world instead. So trying to find a healthy displacement behavior vs. scouring Facebook I decided to get some thoughts out of my brain.

One thought that I have is about structure. Structure is something I have with my animals, it’s something I have with myself. I think we can all agree that structure leads to better wellbeing and lifestyles. Yet I have seen countless posts or discussions about how positive reinforcement trainers allow dogs to ‘do whatever they want’. Heck, it’s a discussion I have with my boyfriend about raising children. The balance between freedom and structure. I believe there is a balance. And trust me I do not allow my dog to do whatever he wants nor would I suggest that to anyone I work with.

The difference for me setting up my structure so that my learner (including myself) has choices that will likely lead to the ‘correct’ choice. When they choose correctly they are rewarded. Then and only then. If we choose incorrectly hopefully we learn from that but oh well, I didn’t get a reward, I need to try again.

When we first teach a behavior we stack the cards so that our learner has a very high probability of making the correct decision. From there we start to add in more options (or distractions) but only when our learner knows what is expected of them, when they know that the structure is in place and we have their back.

This structure can be applied in so many ways in dog training (and in ourselves). Stay tuned for next week’s blog, on how structure plays a big part in one of the most common puppy challenges.