[Sticky] Positive Training  

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"a study that found pets trained using aversive methods were 15 times more likely to exhibit symptoms of stress than those trained using "positive" techniques and that training dogs with positive and humane principles was more effective and caused less stress and anxiety than training a dog using aversives such as physical punishment and equipment such as shock, choke or prong collars."
https://positively.com/press/the-truth- ... -training/

Positive Reinforcement
The use of positive reinforcement methods when teaching your pet has been universally endorsed by the behavioral scientific community at large as the most effective, long-lasting, humane and safest method in training.

In short, positive reinforcement means that if you reward a behavior you like, there is a better chance of that behavior being repeated. When paired with negative punishment (the removal or withholding of something the pet wants like food, attention, toys, or human contact for a short period of time) or using a vocal interrupter to redirect negative behavior onto a wanted behavior and to guide a pet into making the right choices, these methods are a foundational element of the core of positive training. The most respected and successful leaders are able to effect change without the use of force.

Avoidance of Punitive Methods
Scientific studies have shown that the use of confrontational, punitive training techniques on pets not only does not work long term, but actually exacerbates aggressive response and makes already aggressive pets even more aggressive. It is a pretty simple concept, but sometimes it can be hard for pet owners to remember that fighting fire with fire usually results in someone getting burned.

So modern behavioral science weighed in against compulsion training, but for most of us, it does not take scientific journals to tell us what our instincts have already said: it is more humane to reward than to punish. Many who promote old-school training techniques argue that the punishment they dish out in the form of an electric shock or a swift kick to a dog’s ribs is not particularly damaging. There are indeed varying degrees of punishment, and everyone ultimately must make their own choice regarding how far they are willing to go. But most well-adjusted people would rather avoid doing anything that will make your pet feel pain or fear if they can help it, regardless of how minimal that punishment may be.
(slightly edited from: https://positively.com/dog-training/pos ... -training/ )


The basic idea is a scenario like this. Your dog barks when someone walks by the yard. Instead of yelling at him, spraying him with the hose, or shocking him, you train him positively. So you train him to come running to you and paw at your leg when someone walks by or to ring a bell or to just sit down and watch them. Punishment pretty much always fails in this situation, especially positive punishment as described. Positive reward/reinforcement works much better. Why well sure punishment sucks but barking still gives him what he wants and you likely can't punish him the instant he starts or every time. But if you teach him to do something else when someone goes by he gets some reward he really desires. This type of training though may mean you need to keep treats to just being rewards though and not given freely for nothing or the motivation becomes minimal. If he does bark after this training then a negative punishment or making him come inside might help.


So how does that relate to exotic pets? Well let's take a common issue like a fox biting too hard. Common training people suggest include mostly Positive Punishment, tap on the nose, squirt bottle, time outs. And many times owners try this and come back and say "he still bites" or sometimes come back saying it's even worse he gets really aggressive now instead. So how do we do better?

A good Negative Punishment here is to walk away maybe even into another room closed off to him. He wants to play with you but he bit so now he can't. The idea of directing his bite onto a toy instead is often recommended but it usually lacks any kind of reinforcing. If you just shove a toy in his mouth when he bites it may be more unwanted in his eyes and therefor turns into punishment and the toy is seen negatively. So instead redirect his biting onto a toy but reward him with something he wants when he does bite it instead of you. If he voluntarily bites the toy rather than you on his own then you want to reward him then too, so choosing a specific toy for this might be good since you don't want to treat him for playing with all his toys. He could have a special bite toy and you reward him when you see him biting it. By doing this he knows he is rewarded for biting the toy, which is what you want, and he loses what he wants if he bites you. This then gives him no motivation to bite you since his motivation was playing with you in this scenario but plenty of motivation to bite the toy(treats!).

My fennec fox site: http://tiny-foxes.com
My anteater site: http://www.livingwithanteaters.com

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/TamanduaGirl

Posted : January 21, 2016 5:51 pm
Reputable Member

I love studying animal behavior, especially body language and their interactions with people and each other.
I certainly know how stressed a dog can be when they are yelled at all the time or teased, and using a choke collar is only going to hurt a dog. However, we did have to use a shock collar at one point to stop our dogs from jumping the fence because they were in danger of being hit by cars. However, one of our dogs learned to jump even with the shocker collar on and now we no longer use them as they become old enough that jumping a fence that high was too much work. icon-smile

Positive Reinforcement works like a charm for many situations. One of our dogs has a tendency to try to sneak out to the barn but has learned to come for a treat and praise over being punished for not coming when called. Some species naturally just don't seem to understand negative reinforcement, particularly naturally solitary animals such as cats, rodents, ect.

However, I did write a whole paper on this (far too long to post here) about how the use of negative reinforcement is also a natural part of some animals learning and that it does help an animal understand what you are asking far better then just trying to tip toe around the bad behavior. For example, giving an animal a treat for getting off of a table won't teach it that being on the table is bad, only that being off of it is good.
The reason I have seen that Punishment has worked so poorly with animals is how it is used. If you are angry, yelling, chasing, or slapping an animal it breaks trust, causes fear and aggression and ruins the relationship between owner and pet.
Instead of using fear and pain to stop a dog (we don't actually hit our dogs unless they are in a serious fight, in which we are only trying to stop them from hurting one another). It is a firm voice (no need to scream or shout) with a no and a touch to the neck (no need to slap or hit, just a touch to get their attention) that stops the behavior. No pain and not even any real fear, just showing them that you do not like what they are doing. This is a short, effective, and non-physical method of getting across to an animal that is is misbehaving. This method doesn't work for some species (I have found it only aggravates cats to try any kind of punishment at all), but for dogs and for ferrets it seems to work quite nicely at this is how they communicate with one another so they understand what is being asked of them far better then if asked to understand human communication methods.

Punishment with exotics likely wouldn't work very well because they are not domesticated and many do not naturally use these methods in their own behavior. For this reason, positive reinforcement likely will work far better.

I'm not arguing with what is being said, just thought I would add a few of the things I have noted over the years. This is very helpful so thank you for posting it. icon-smile

Posted : January 22, 2016 3:20 pm
Admin Admin

Thank you so much for this post. It will be great to link to, and will be an invaluable resource for new exotic owners. I was wanting to make a post like this, but never got around to it--plus, this is way better than anything I would have written anyway. :icon-wink:

I'll add my experiences with positive reinforcement training when I have a bit more time.

I'm Fable and Ifrit's mommy. Also mommy to Carousel, Breeze, and a bunch of snakes, lizards, and spiders. Oh, and one amphibian!

Posted : January 22, 2016 3:34 pm
Admin Admin

@ GitaBooks

Positive reinforcement with Negative Punishment(taking something good away) is ideal for exotics. If you were to use any sort of Negative Reinforcement/Positive Punishment(get something negative like a shock rather than something good taken away) with an exotic it is important to not have them associate it with you. That is extremely hard. They will associate the bad thing with you much more so than they will whatever they were doing.

One example, of punishment not seen to come from the owner, I can think of is how people use mouse traps on counters. They are placed upside down so if a cat jumps on the counter it snaps to scare them but doesn't hurt them. Or you might try lining the counter with foil so they don't like the feel and sound of being up there. But it's not super long lasting. They will learn to avoid it but will likely eventually try jumping up there again and if you no longer have the deterrent they will start feeling rewarded for jumping up again.

Edit: actually I did do similar when house training Hyzzie. I lined her pee spots with plastic bags to encourage her to go on the nicer pee pads. Switching to washable pee pads with hard floors helped more though.

Conversely trying to potty train the anteaters. Tons more success treating when going in the right spot than when I tried to punish for going in the wrong spot with time outs and such, that turned it into a challenge for him and he fought the idea harder. /edit

An alternate example in one of the articles on the same issue, counters, with dogs was not having food on the counter out when you aren't there(a dog's motive for getting up there) and treating him for sitting and waiting patiently instead of jumping up. And the negative punishment if he does jump up would be taking the stolen food away. It can take longer with this sort of training but it works much better in the long run. They remember it much better and it doesn't risk hurting the bond. Fear and pain actually negatively affect the ability to form long lasting memories. Basic: remove motivation for the behavior, reward an alternate behavior, If needed Negative Punishment (removal of something rewarding, take toys or treats away, remove privilege of being in the room for a bit etc.).

I've seen tossing a can of pennies near an animals as a punishment that doesn't come from you but really any bright animal is going to know you threw it so not really.

My fennec fox site: http://tiny-foxes.com
My anteater site: http://www.livingwithanteaters.com

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/TamanduaGirl

Posted : January 22, 2016 6:47 pm
Admin Admin

Speaking of cats. I trained my old cat, Kat, to sit on a scale. This was basically a hard target training(go to a spot rather than a moving wand). She was easily motivated with just petting. She would follow me to the bathroom and ask for the scale out if it wasn't so she could sit on it and get pets. I think she was proud to have learned something. It's didn't really help with weighing her though.

No peaking at my weight by TamanduaGirl, on Flickr

My fennec fox site: http://tiny-foxes.com
My anteater site: http://www.livingwithanteaters.com

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/TamanduaGirl

Posted : January 22, 2016 7:11 pm
Reputable Member

Yes, I certainly agree with what is being said. I never want my animals to be afraid of me or me to cause them pain. I think the only times I was really rough is when another animals life was in danger, like when they tried to kill my chickens, and then I was just mad at them. However, I'm an over protective momma when it comes to my chickens. :lol:

That is an amazing cat! Lets just say my cat is about as spoiled and selfish as possible and leave it at that. Lol. icon-smile
She has beautiful eyes.

Posted : January 23, 2016 10:28 am
Admin Admin

One thing I left out was negative reward. This is much less commonly used as it is one that tends to be stressful. It can work well and kind of quickly, but it tends to be along the same lines of breaking a horse. It might be a thing to use in extreme cases like some rescue exotics.

Negative reward is where you remove something negative to act as the reward. This means they need exposed to something negative until they do good so this is something done.

One example though is aggressive fennecs. Aggressive fennecs taken in by a rescue were treated with this method. Pick the aggressive fennec up, you will likely need to wear gloves to protect yourself. Only set it back down once it calms down. Repeat indefinitely till it gives in and accepts being picked up without aggression as it has learned acting out gets it no where but calming down does. This worked great for the rescue and the fennecs not only learned to tolerate handling but grew to like attention and petting. I would save such things for extreme cases however. The rescue I think had little choice as they can't get bitten every time they clean a cage or let an animal have some out of cage time.

This can also backfire. Aurora becomes more aggressive if she sees gloves but she was likely mishandled as well as handled with gloves. But just picking her up now and then when out has her better about handling and she comes for treats.

For a better bond try first the regular "getting to know you" scenario. If you just took in one troubled animal and are not running a rescue then you have time for this. Just spend time near or in the animals space doing nothing and not even looking at it or trying to pet it so it can get used to you and eventually start coming to you on it's own terms.

If it's willing to at least come up to you then you can try hand feeding methods as well so it sees you are a good thing.


So training types

Positive reward: Give a reward for doing desired behavior

Positive punishment: Give a punishment for a non-wanted behavior

Negative reward: Remove something unwanted/unpleasant as a reward, generally used for desensitization, like removing a harness once it stops fighting to get it off.

Negative punishment: Remove something good as punishment for an undesired behavior

If you get confused just think of the positive and negatives of training method names as being math +reward -reward +punishment -punishment You are adding or subtracting the named item after.


Another take I saw on stopping dog barking is a positive reward type desensitization. If the dog barks at a door knock give one soft knock or a recording of a soft door bell if that's the case and reward with a treat before he has a chance to bark and slowly work to louder and more knocks. You could do similar, if a dog barks at someone walking by, by having a friend walk to a point just prior to barks happening and treat then work on them coming closer over time, over many weeks most likely.

Similar for something like cage aggression as an alternative to the above would would be positive reward, incrementally. Maybe just give a reward for it not getting aggressive when you come near the cage, work up to giving a reward for touching the cage without aggression, then for opening the door and then a finger just inside etc. To avoid back steps from negative interactions when you need to clean the cage you could do so while the fennec is out of it or have a lock out area like with big animals.


Just want people to be aware of options before resorting to punishment based training.

My fennec fox site: http://tiny-foxes.com
My anteater site: http://www.livingwithanteaters.com

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/TamanduaGirl

Posted : March 5, 2016 5:23 pm
Reputable Member

This is some great information. I'm working with the dogs at our local shelter now (so much fun) and the positive rewards is a great way to do so since many shelters do not use a lot of punishment (people would likely get the wrong idea or not do it correctly, so it is simply a way to help keep animals and people safe and avoid getting in trouble).

Anyways, as far as using negative reward, this is similar to the "trained helplessness" that I have read about. Trained helplessness is when you teach an animal to give up because no matter what it does it will never be able to escape from the fearful, painful, or frustrating situation. Personally I am against this method in most cases since it is teaching an animal that it has no choice in what happens and MUST except what you want from it, which can lead to an animal to experiencing the confidence, mental choice, trust, and tameness it could otherwise have.
It may take far longer to tame an animal by letting it come to you on its own, but the bond should be better. Many people use the trained helplessness for harder to tame animals like reptiles, certain rodents, ect, but I'm trying to find new methods for more difficult to tame small animals to be carefully socialized so that the stress of forced handling is not something they have to go through.

By the way, I'm not saying that negative reward can't work for certain animals, I'm just generally against it, especially when used with a fearful, untame animal such as a new pet snake (a lot of people hold a struggling snake until it is too tired to fight any longer. This is terribly stressful for the animal, which thinks it is going to be eaten and doesn't understand what handling or petting is, as it would never experience that in nature).
In some situations a negative reward can work, depending on the individual animal. For example, some animals that just are struggling to get free because they are bored can be held still until they stop struggling to teach them to patience, in which case the animal may be frustrated but is not fearful.

Posted : March 6, 2016 8:13 pm
Admin Admin

Yes negative reward has by and large fallen out of favor for good reason. Even when it comes to training horses. Actual "breaking" a horse isn't as common as it used to be and gentler methods preferred. If used to "tame" an animal the issue would be just because it doesn't lash out doesn't mean it's not scared inside and just learned not to show it, the learned helplessness. That method of "taming" snakes sounds bad. Some animals can die just from that kind of stress. I think Aurora is an example of learn helplessness. She never lashes out at me with her big claws so safe but still scared so handlable but not pet tame and as I pointed out gets upset just at the sight of gloves. I tried gloves when she went through a bout of anorexia and I had to force feed her and feared she might lash out. It actually went much smoother when I didn't use gloves. She'd just shove at my hands a bit.

Though when she's out for her walks I will pick her up and set her back down often just to do it and over time she got much better about handling. When out I can pick her up and usually wont get growls and hisses any more but she still squirms but the lack of vocals means it's not as stressful for her. For some reason she remains more flighty about me in the room though.

Cage aggression is more from a place of dominance and possession, usually though can come from fear like a rabbit may fear being picked up and taken from the cage. But like with fennecs it's normally from a place of possession. So donning gloves and cleaning the cage anyway but backing off if they calm down may be a decent way of teaching them to accept it with negative reward. Though a positive reward system so that it comes to see your reaching in the cage as a good thing might work better even if slower and in the mean time clean it when they are out of it maybe even in another room or something to avoid confrontations.

My fennec fox site: http://tiny-foxes.com
My anteater site: http://www.livingwithanteaters.com

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/TamanduaGirl

Posted : March 6, 2016 9:10 pm
Reputable Member

That's true.

I know that when our cat, Nym, is hungry he lets us pick him up but otherwise he doesn't enjoy it. That's a good way to get a pet to accept handling is to always have it lead to something they wouldn't otherwise get. We pick him up and set him on the table or bar-counter so he is out of the dogs reach to eat. Any other time he tends to bite or claw just because he's a bit of a spoiled cat. :lol:

That's one thing I've noticed is nice to give animals, the choice. Sometimes animals need to learn to listen. A dog needs to come when called in case of a problem such as it is on the road and a car is coming, or a strange dog is walking by. However, otherwise, something like a chicken or something I always let choose if it wants to come or not. If it doesn't want to then I accept it and let it be. That choice is what makes the animals more comfortable to be around me. However, it might also be why none of my chickens enjoy being petted or handled.
I think chickens don't like to be petted or handled just because they don't naturally lift one another (by the scruff like a dog) or preen one another (like parrots) so its not part of their bonding. However, many owners have chickens that leap into their arms for petting and cuddling. I guess it depends on the individual as well.

Posted : March 7, 2016 9:15 am
Admin Admin

Good brief tutorial for more positive training methods

Other examples on her channel

My fennec fox site: http://tiny-foxes.com
My anteater site: http://www.livingwithanteaters.com

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/TamanduaGirl

Posted : March 10, 2016 11:10 pm
Admin Admin

Made a training section for my in-progress Pet fennec site. Hmm need to make the titles bigger and do one more read over of it for errors but here it is


The info there is a good compliment to the discussion here.

My fennec fox site: http://tiny-foxes.com
My anteater site: http://www.livingwithanteaters.com

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/TamanduaGirl

Posted : March 16, 2017 11:39 pm
Black Emo

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