Positive Education: these words that mean everything and mean nothing


A publication by Marion Nicolas, which supports a previous article on positive reinforcement. A text that makes you think and which concerns in general all our pets, including our parrots …

By positive education, we often mean “only use R + in your practice with our animals”. We hear everywhere that positive reinforcement is the guarantee of an ethical and benevolent practice and learning towards his animal.

Yet… Is this really the case?

I am not going to go there 4 ways, we can quite do positive reinforcement and yet be far from having an ethical practice or even being completely coercive (= which exerts a constraint). Yet the opposite of what we usually seek for our animals.

The strict definition of positive reinforcement is increasing the likelihood of occurrence of the frequency of a behavior by adding a stimulus.

A concrete example : My dog ​​sat down, I give him a treat. My dog ​​will probably sit more and more often in the hopes of getting a treat more often.

Alright, so where is the problem?

The problem is multiple, but the first comes in the notion of the selection of the reinforcer (or motivator). And the notion of choice that results from it.

If my dog ​​has no other choice to get an X treat, he MUST do this or that, do he really have any other choices?

Wouldn’t we be forcing / exerting latent pressure, to perform these exercises without realizing it?

“Oh Marion, you’re exaggerating, if he gets a reward he’s bound to be happy, so where’s the problem?” “

Be careful, I am not saying that the R + is to be avoided, far from it! On the other hand, the R + alone is not enough to be benevolent in its practice and its communication with its animal.

My goal here is only to allow everyone to see our practices from a new point of view.

The most frequently encountered problem that we realize without even realizing it is the classic food reward which causes a form of restriction on the part of humans so that the animal “listens better”.

“If my dog ​​has eaten well, he won’t listen to anything, so I was told to divide the bowl and distribute it over the day.” As long as we were told that the dog could become dominant if he had too much … and that’s the pompom.

The dog therefore has no other choice than to do what is asked, on pain of not having enough to eat. This inevitably leads to latent stress, an increased likelihood of food theft, eating disorders, or food-related behavioral disturbances.

Let us be clear, here the problem is not the food reward, but the use that is made of it.

This reality is also true for any animal species, as soon as they are made to perform exercises to obtain something that they cannot obtain otherwise: in parrots, free flight without the bird being able to eat its fill, etc. etc.

It is difficult to conceive of this reality, because for the majority of us in our daily life, our food intake is not conditioned by the goodwill of another living being. We open the fridge, the food is available. And even if it’s empty, a car hit and * you know * you can get to it easily. We have this possibility, this choice, at any time. This choice that has been withdrawn in the case where food intake is no longer possible other than by doing what is requested 𝙚𝙩 𝙦𝙪𝙚 𝙘𝙖 𝙣𝙚 𝙙𝙚𝙥𝙚𝙣𝙙 𝙥𝙡𝙪𝙨 𝙙𝙚 𝙫𝙤𝙩𝙧𝙚 𝙫𝙤𝙡𝙤𝙣𝙩𝙚.

Does that mean nothing to you?

Me it makes me think that the dog is the only animal species of which one systematically requires at least that it sits without moving before being served. As if eating… Should always be earned.

We don’t ask that of our farm animals, our cats, our birds. There is only pressure in the bowl for our dogs.

Food intake is vital, primary. It is for this reason that food is called a primary enhancer. It allows our animals to do a lot of things, but without going so far as to quote Uncle Ben, it is a great power that is given to us, and that we often use indiscriminately.

Without going so far as to make his animal miss (consciously or unconsciously for that matter!) We can find this crisis of lack of choice in mundane actions: a dog on a too short leash who “undergoes” the interaction of another then that in long or loose he would perhaps have been content to retreat.

It is found in all activities: Medical training, sports, obey, mediation, etc., without an introduction to the notion of choice, without a fallback zone.

Example : I taught my animal to sit down when we are at the vet so that he can do his care without problems. But without having introduced the notion of choice and refusal for his animal, how to be sure that at this moment he really wants or is willing to do these acts? What if the induced stress was greater than the treat (or the reward in any form)? What if he just didn’t want to? So without realizing it, we’re going to force it. Forcing him to still perform this exercise, this manipulation (whether it is for his final good or not, that is not taken into account by the animal which is only interested in the present moment …)

And it is for this reason that I have many people who tell me that one day, their dog reacts badly when usually everything was fine. The animal (especially our dogs who are very tolerant…) accepts the situation, obediently. Until one day it was one too many times.

𝐀𝐜𝐜𝐞𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 ≠ 𝐅𝐚𝐢𝐫𝐞 𝐩𝐚𝐫 𝐞𝐧𝐯𝐢𝐞

Without choice, we have pressure, a feeling of being cornered, of not being in control of our actions or decisions. We are forced to do things that, if they don’t bother us most of the time, well… we are all living beings, with our threshold of tolerance and our current desires or fears.
With the choice, we know that we will always have a way out, that we can stop an action at any time. We considerably increase the well-being factor of our animals, and we also increase without any common measure, the confidence that they can bring us.

Ethics can be learned. It is not just a nice word that we put on his practices or on his CV because we ourselves see our way of doing things as being ethical.

We love to teach our dog the word NO. And if…. we taught him to be able to do the same? Why should saying no only be for humans?

Choice (as much as possible for our pets) should not be a luxury, but a right.

Marion nicolas

Animal Behavior Consultant


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Marion Nicolas, June 9, 2021, Facebook publication Animal Therapy “𝑬𝒅𝒖𝒄𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏 𝑷𝒐𝒔𝒊𝒕𝒊𝒗𝒆: 𝘤𝘦𝘴 𝘮𝘰𝘵𝘴 𝘲𝘶𝘪 𝘷𝘦𝘶𝘭𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘵𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘦𝘵 𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘯 𝘥𝘪𝘳𝘦”, available online at: https://www.facebook.com/animaletherapie, accessed June 13, 2021


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