Sorry I’ve been M.I.A. the last few weeks.  Went on vacation with the hubby and got back yesterday.

While on vacation, I got to soak up lots of Animal Planet (I don’t have cable, so it’s a treat to watch that and TLC every time I’m in a hotel). One night they had a show on called “The Bear Whisperer”.  In some small town in California there are a plethora of black bears. Occasionally the bears would get into trouble and then be killed because there was no one to vouch or them or try to change the system. Until a funny man named Steve Searles stepped up to the plate. He now educates the community AND the bears on how to live peaceably together. I was mesmerized!

First he educates his community (civilians and police officers alike). Don’t feed the bears, if you see a bear sleeping don’t bother it, if a bear is in trouble call 9-1-1, keep your garbage well-sealed, don’t try to confront a bear for that “perfect photo”, etc. Then he educates the bears. If the bear does something wrong, he uses multiple negative reinforcement techniques to deter the bear from repeating the unwanted behavior. For example, a cub, named “Ace” broke through a screen window, entered someone’s house and got into their kitchen. Steve found the bear and detered him from repeating himself by spraying Ace with pepper spray and shouting “You bad bear!”.  When this same cub re-entered the same house, he used a rifle to launch rubber bullets (that won’t penetrate the bear’s skin) and firecrackers to kick the bear out of the neighborhood. You should have SEEN that bear take off! However, if Steve finds a bear that isn’t doing anything wrong and shows a healthy respect for people, he will learn from them and bond with them.  What a beautiful picture of training! (Exercise–the bears take care of that themselves, then discipline, and THEN affection)

Check out this video of Steve and “One Ear”

I’m all for positive reinforcement training but when that’s all you provide, you miss out on an important factor–in the wild, animals use positive AND negative reinforcement to teach each other. Yes, it is possible to teach a dog a bunch of commands using a “reward only” system. But if you calmly direct your dog when he does something wrong, you can take him to a whole new level.

In a world where so much value is placed on “taming the wild animal” (getting so comfortable with gorillas that they “groom” you, keeping a lion cub in your house and then getting excited when he “hugs” you, sticking your head inside a lion’s mouth, etc.) I was SO thankful for this alternative. The Bear Whisperer repeated several times throughout the show “We need to put the wild back into the bears”. What a foreign concept–I love it.

The Bear Whisperer uses several negative reinforcement techniques: vocal reprimands, rubber bullets, flash-bang firecrackers, pepper spray, and others. In dog training you can also use multiple negative reinforcements: vocal reprimands, leash corrections, physical corrections (like the touch or leg tap), pennies in a tin can, an e-collar, a chain or prong collar, a spray bottle with water in it, clapping your hands, snapping your fingers–the list goes on! So next week think about negative reinforcement not as something to use as a last resort, but instead think of it as an enhancement of communication–how dogs communicate to one another in the wild.

Lead your dog!