The dog training method you use depends on how you choose to communicate with your dog. And, this is where trainers split camp. The two camps are positive trainers and correction trainers. Correction training is also referred to as fear passed training, while positive training is often called reward-based training. Put simply, with correction training the dog learns to be afraid of the consequences of not doing the right thing, whereas with reward training he gets a reward as the consequence of doing the right thing. I use both methods, but whenever possible – and for short training programs – I use positive training. In all articles I advocate positive training. You cannot safely learn correction training without the supervision of an experienced trainer.
- Develop a deeper understanding of positive training. “Positive Training” is a very misunderstood term. Most people think it means just using food rewards. Though positive training may include using food as a reward, this does not properly define the method. Positive training is training without using physical pain as a punishment for not doing the right thing.
When you ask your dog to sit, there are many wrong things he can do, but only one right thing. He can stand, lie down, and run away…etc. which are the wrong things. The only right thing would be for him to sit. If you were to use correction training, you would continue to punish him again and again until he did the right thing. If the dog does not understand, then he might give up trying out of fear before he ever gets to the right thing. With reward training he gets nothing until he does the right thing. This way he is not afraid to learn new things.
- Positive training takes time. The positive training method is often criticized by trainers who have never taken the time to learn it. Positive training generally takes a little longer to reach the owners goals. For this reason it is difficult to market. A trainer must also invest more time in educating the dog owner, and time is money. Other methods work, but at what cost? When owners understand that it is better tailored to how dogs learn and in the long run results in a more reliable dog, they opt for positive training.
- What are you teaching your dog? Another reason to be careful with fear based training is that you can be teaching the dog the wrong things. A good example is a dog that is growling and you think he might bite. If all you do is punish him for growling, then you could be teaching him just to not growl before he bites. This creates a worse situation than you started with. Now he is unpredictable. Training should be a fun experience for both you and your dog. Your dog should not be afraid to learn which can easily happen with some forms of training, especially for sensitive dogs.
When we discuss training methods we are talking about communication. To train a dog is to get him to do what we want. How do we communicate what we want? The method we use to train is the method we use to communicate. It is the language you use with your dog. You can either tell him he is right or he is wrong. Now if all he hears is “wrong, wrong, wrong”, why would he want to keep trying? Positive training is creating an environment for the dog to keep trying until he gets it right. Then it gives him an incentive to remember and repeat it. Isn’t that what we want – for our dog to want to please us?
It amazes me that people say they have a dog for companionship or friendship, while physically punishing him every time he doesn’t perform on command. If I hurt you every time you did not do as I said, would you want to be my companion or friend? It is time dog owners started giving this more thought. Traditional correction (fear-based) training has been around for a long time. It will not go away slowly. Though it may have long-term adverse effects, it is often more convenient for the owners. But teaching dog owners how to be alpha dog and using positive training techniques work better if your goal is to make your dog a loving, happy companion and truly part of your family.
Eleanor Scheidemann is CEO of The Dog Lady, Inc. You can also visit her blog, The Dog Lady Speaks, and learn more about her recommendations for natural dog food.