Blog Category: Blog

Pressure is a term that I use a lot when discussing dog training. The concept of pressure is somewhat central to my system of training and influencing dogs’ behavior, and understanding how pressure works will make anyone a better handler.

The most important to remember is that pressure motivates, and the release of pressure educates. Say that out loud, repeat it and let it sink into your memory.

Pressure motivates, release educates.

Any pressure, to be motivating, is by its nature going to be aversive. The degree of aversiveness can, of course, vary from mildly annoying, to painful. Ideally, when working with dogs, we want to be as minimally aversive as possible. Although a dog may encounter many sources of pressure throughout their lives, there are three main types of pressure that we use to influence dogs.

Physical Pressure is probably the most natural for people to think about. Examples of physical pressure are: leash pressure, guiding with hands, or even electronic pressure. I would even consider the pressure from and unpleasant noise, or smell to be a physical pressure.

Social Pressure is often undervalued. Social pressure can be strong eye contact, stern voice, and assertive/forward body language. The most practical use of social pressure that I find, is using eye contact and body language to move a dog and claim space. Because you are creating space, some may call this spacial pressure. Among horsemen, this technique is often referred to as yielding. Social pressure is likely to be the most primal form of pressure. Nearly all animals who live within social groups use this as a part of their dominance rituals.

Achievement Pressuremay be a made-up term, I’m not sure. I use this term to refer to the type of pressure we all feel when there is something that we strongly want to achieve, and we have to figure out how. This is the type of pressure associated with positive reinforcement training. Of all the types of pressure, for the average dog this is likely to be the least stressful or aversive. Although for an extremely driven dog, achievement pressure can actually create a significant amount of stress.
Not all positive reinforcement training will involve achievement pressure however. Capturing, or the technique of waiting until a dog naturally offers a behavior and then marking it with a reward, will not involve achievement pressure because in most cases the dog did not know that there was something to achieve, and was not trying to figure it out. (If she were trying to figure it out we would more likely call that free shaping.)
Unfortunately, it is un likely that anyone would be able to adequately train a dog using only capturing techniques, so understanding how achievement pressure works, and how it can be stressful is still important, even for the “reward-only” dog trainer.

Again I must re-state, this is not intended to be a scientific, or exhaustive definition of pressure. It is meant to be functional, for the purpose of further discussion of my training techniques and philosophies.

There will definitely be more to come on this topic, so check back soon!