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My Stance on R+ Training and Trainers

Updated: Apr 25

R+ Training otherwise known as "Pure Positive Training" is a style of training in which the dog will never receive a correction. There are many trainers out there preaching and or practicing this method of training with their particular dogs. If outside the dog training community, one might not realize there is such a divide between the different types of training. Because any reasonable person would assume if they are helping people, why would it matter what methods they are using.

Pure Positive at the Navy SEAL Multi Purpose Canine Unit

Me coming from the world of tactical K9s deploying overseas to hunt down terrorism, I did not even know there was a style of training in which there was zero corrections at first. I looked into trainers that were using clickers and treats, toys and many versions of reward. I did not at first make the realization that they were sworn to a method of training that was against a correction at any time ever.

I did not have the luxury of debating theory for months online when I had a Multi Purpose Canine that was partnered with me to deploy. We sought out trainers from all over the world for education and learning, but ultimately it was up to us to determine what was going to be practiced and what was going to be tossed to the side.

In our unit, the Navy SEAL Multi Purpose Canine team, we were constantly open to trying new methods and ideas if it made sense. We had in my honest assessment, one of the best programs in the world only to be compared to other special operations units. Even our worst K9 teams would out preform the majority of all law enforcement K9 teams we trained with. This is by no means a slight on law enforcement. They have a whole different job and set of circumstances. Law enforcement would train where they could, but need to work a shift almost every day.

Our Job was to train every day. We would train 5 days a week and in some cases more. My dog would come home with me almost every night and every weekend. We would train on the weekends and most evenings. Before we were ever put in harms way, we had trained countless hours for a year. Compared that with law enforcement, there is hardly a comparison.

The dogs at our unit were trained balanced. Lots of reward based. We used toys for detection, food for many other training and behaviors. But the relationship that we had with our dogs was much different than a typical pet/owner relationship. We were training dogs that were able to find IED (improvised explosive devices), track down bad guys and apprehend them in very violent ways. These same bad guys that we were after, were actively trying to kill any of our forces, human and dog alike.

This being said, we had zero room for error. Meaning if pure positive training was something that would have worked for us, we would absolutely have done it without hesitation. The reality is R+ training would not work in all training environments with all our dogs. Many of our dogs were trained very positively. Sometimes as close to 95% positive in some cases. Zero of our dogs were trained exclusively R+.

Currently there are zero K9 programs with apprehension dogs that I am aware of that use exclusively R+. I can say with confidence, there are zero special operations K9 programs that are exclusively R+. It is in my observation that most of the dogs in any working kennel are pretty happy dogs. These were dogs that were selected and trained to do a job they love to do. I believe the dogs love excelling in training and if a well timed appropriate correction is given to correct course it only gets them to the reward faster.

I have encountered many R+ trainers. I will never tell a R+ trainer that they need to become a balanced trainer ever!. The line in the sand I hold is that if someone prefers to train R+ than there really is nothing wrong with that. It is only when trainers start to recommend dogs to be euthanized instead of going to a capable balanced trainer that could easily help them do I object. I do not agree that all good trainers are balanced or all good trainers are R+. There are good trainers on both sides of the fence and there are under educated, inexperienced, low IQ trainers on both sides.

The 3 main types of R+ Trainers I have come across fit into 3 different categories

The Marketer- The Trainer who will not talk about corrections. They want to use R+ as a marketing ploy to dog owners that do not know any better. You will find this at many large chain pet stores that have a training wing. Many trainers choose this by choice and some by means of keeping a job. You will find trainers talking through theory and making videos often times never showing an actual trained dog, but lots of theory.

The Novice- The Trainer who has not been training dogs long enough, or has yet to learn anything else besides R+. They may actually believe that R+ is the only method of training that is acceptable, but they honestly just don't know any better. This isn't always someone that is new to dog training. Someone that has never bothered to learn outside of their bubble can still be a novice.

The Expert- This is the rarest of the three. There are all positive trainers that can thrive and even compete with their dogs in various scenarios and sports. They have the perfect dog for the perfect scenario or sport. Keep in mind that many of these dogs are being used for specific purposes and often times can not function on leash in public, but that's ok for many of these trainers because that's not that particular dogs job.

Ethical R+ - This is a term that I have created for a 4th category. There are R+ trainers out there that know balanced training works but choose not to for preference and or personal reasons. They will refer a dog to another trainer or not take in dogs for training that are beyond their means and or ability. I think these are very rare, but they do exist.

Time and time again I would love to see some podcasts where R+ trainers and balanced trainers could come together to talk through agreements and disagreements. I think public discourse is a great way to let ideas come forth. In my experience, I have found very very few R+ trainers that are willing to talk publicly with a balanced trainer. In my opinion any idea that someone holds true, should be able to be tested with public exchange in a friendly non disrespectful manner.

If you know any knowledgeable R+ trainers out there please contact me if you would be interested in doing a mini pod via Instagram live. Would love to hear your take on this. No matter what style of training you do, if you are helping people and helping dogs, you are a net positive on the world.

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