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Dog Training Methods – Which Do I Use?

 Dog Training Methods – Which Do I Use?

dog training methods positive reinforcement
dog training methods their use effectiveness

Dog Training Methods

With so many different “types” of dog trainers out there with different methods, how do you choose how you want to train your dog? Some people might say “whatever works”, but what if just because it works doesn’t mean it’s your best or only option? If there were a better way to train your dog and have a strong relationship at the same time, who wouldn’t want that?

Let’s take a look at the main “types” of trainers you will find today:

Correction Based (AKA “Traditional”)

Correction based training depends on a training tool to deliver “corrections”. Training tools often include choke chains, prong collars, and electronic shock collars. The “corrections” are given whenever the does not perform the desired behavior. In order for this to work, the correction has to be scary, uncomfortable or painful enough to make the dog want to avoid having that happen again. The dog’s motivation is avoidance of scary, painful, or uncomfortable “correction” given by you.


A “balanced” trainer is one who uses “corrections” in addition to rewards and praise. This can sound like a really great way to train because people will try to convince you you have to “correct”  the dog in order to tell him what he “did wrong” in addition to rewarding when he does right. Sounds good in theory but ultimately, there are a nearly infinite number of things the dog can do other than what’s “right”, leaving room for many, many corrections but only one way to earn the reward. The dog’s main motivation is still avoidance of scary, painful, or uncomfortable “correction” given by you.

Positive Reinforcement Based (Force-Free)

This type of training involves teaching the dog the desired behavior, and rewarding when the desired behavior is performed. It also involves removing reinforcement for undesirable behaviors, so the dog no longer has a reason to perform that behavior. The key involves addressing the underlying emotional state and environmental factors contributing to the undesirable behavior. “Corrections” are not used. Rewards consist of anything the dog values, i.e., food, toys, play, petting, treats, access to places and things, etc. The dog’s motivation is being rewarded by you.

So which do you choose? They all work. But why? Do you want your dog to listen to you because he finds it rewarding to work with you as a valuable team member, or would you rather he listen because he’s afraid of what happens if he doesn’t?

Luckily, in the past couple decades we have come very far in the canine science fields, as well as behavior and learning psychology. We now have thousands of pet professionals and trainers like myself who handle everything from puppy training all the way to aggression, or “red zone” cases successfully without ever having to use pain, force, or fear. No “corrections”. This evidence shows that corrections are unnecessary, and is leading to more and more crossover trainers every day. Trainers who grew up using “traditional” correction based methods, but saw that they could get the same, if not better results if they learn to adjust their training and adapt to modern learning science.

We now understand that when an animal fully learns a behavior, there is no need for corrections because the animal chooses to perform the behavior on their own free will. Full learning means we as their trainer have proofed the behavior in different environments, with very gradual levels of distractions, only making it more challenging when the dog is repeatedly successful, never asking too much too soon or setting the dog up to fail. If the dog is unsuccessful, that tells us it’s probably because:

1) We asked the dog to do something when they were past threshold, ie: in too distracting or scary an environment, one we haven’t practiced working up to yet.

2) We are not communicating clearly enough to the dog what to do.

3) We are not properly reinforcing or motivating the dog for performing the desired behavior.

Why do we have to reward the dog? Why won’t he just listen to me because I said so?

There is no living creature on earth who does any behavior for no reason. Everything we do, we do because it is reinforced. We go to work because we get a paycheck. Ideally, your dog works for you because you make it fun and worthwhile in some way. It is unfair to ask an animal to essentially be our slave. This is often called the “Lassie Myth”, media and movies give us the idea that dogs should listen to us just because we are their human. If we cling to this idea we end up frustrated and so do our dogs.

Does that mean you always have to have a clicker and treats with you? No! A good positive reinforcement based trainer will explain that in the beginning stages of learning, we want a high rate of reinforcement to help the dog learn what is “correct”, or worth doing again and again. Once the dog learns the behavior the clicker is out of the picture. When your dog can perform the cue 9/10 times you can gradually begin reducing the rate of reinforcement, aka give rewards less often. For example you might reward every 3 behaviors performed for a while, then every 5, then every 8, and eventually rewarding only occasionally. You want the behavior to become a habit, like muscle memory.

One of the most important factors in solidifying behaviors is to use functional rewards in everyday life. These can include things like their meals, playing fetch, going for walks, sniffing a tree, meeting new dogs and people etc. These types of things are definitely rewards (to most dogs) and should be treated as such. Use the things your dog likes to reward your dog for good behavior and you will soon find a dog happy to offer good behavior as a habit, in exchange for every once in awhile getting a nice reward. The idea is similar to gambling in humans. It’s worth a shot even though it might not be rewarded this time, and when practiced frequently, can easily become habit. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a dog “addicted” to behaving?

Does that mean positive based trainers never use punishment? Nope. Positive does not mean permissive. The punishment we use (the scientific definition of negative punishment) decreases the unwanted behavior without ever having to inflict pain, force, or fear! On the flip side, we also make sure to really teach the dog want we want him to be doing instead. He learns what is not reinforcing, and what is, and therefore chooses to do what is reinforcing. Naturally, we take the reinforcement out of behaviors we don’t want, and make the behaviors we do like, very reinforcing.

The best part of using positive reinforcement based training is developing a thinking, working, learning, trust bond between you and your dog. Your dog can learn to trust you to teach them what they don’t understand, and never harm them for making inevitable mistakes. They learn that you can communicate with them clearly and therefore choose to orient towards you and find interacting with you simple and rewarding. Your dog develops thinking and problem solving skills. Good behavior becomes a habit. Your dog enjoys learning and is willing to offer new behaviors to try and see which is “right”, rather than being afraid of doing something “wrong”.

When in comes down to it, animals of all kinds are being trained and “rehabilitated” without ever having to scare, hurt, or make the animal uncomfortable. So the question then is, if you don’t have to, why would you?