Choosing A Training Methodology

Choosing a method of dog training is extremely important.  If you chose a method compatible with your worldview you are more likely to follow through and put in a lot of enjoyable hours training your dog.  If you train your dog consistently you will both have a much better life!

Much like our article on the science of dog training, this is a topic that could garner a large amount of debate. I am an open minded individual and am always willing to hear both sides of an argument. Unfortunately, a common trend in society today is that individuals take an extreme position on a topic and defend it to the ends of the earth.  The topics include a vast array of subjects from politics, to police brutality to dog training.

An old dog training joke goes something like this: Ask 10 trainers how to train a dog and you will get 20 different answers.  That being said, even with such a vast array of answers there are two general camps in terms of training dogs.

One training camp is often called positive only training.  This camp generally has the belief that the dog should not be corrected for bad behavior.  Instead, you should teach your dog appropriate behavior through encouraging behavior that you like. This method uses treats and praise as the incentive to get the dog to act properly.

The other training camp relies on teaching the dog the desired behavior (using treats or praise) and then rewarding the dog for good behavior and correcting for undesirable behavior.  

Trainers from these two camps tend to tell people that the other technique will never work and that you are wasting your time or even ruining your dog.  In this article, I am not going to tell you that either one of these styles is wrong or attempt to sway you to either side.  The goal is instead to help you find the style of training that makes the most sense for you and your dog.  

Being a trainer you would assume that I would always encourage individuals to utilize my training style (just as an fyi, it is a blend of the two approaches listed above).  Instead, I encourage individuals to build a relationship with a trainer that truly represents their beliefs and that they enjoy working with.  The first thing that a person needs to do in order to find a trainer and technique that will work for them is to ask themselves what they believe in.  An easy way that I have found to do this is to relate raising a dog to raising a child.  Here are some questions that I ask people in order to understand them better:

  1. What would you do if your child brings home an A+ report card?
  2. What would you do if you catch your child drawing on the walls of your home?
  3. What would you do when your child shows good manners while in the grocery store?

The first question gives me an idea of your mindset about rewards for positive behavior. Most people will answer this question similarly and would reward the child in some way. In terms of dog training this would suggest that you believe in utilizing some form of positive reinforcement with your dog.  The level of the praise associated with that positive reinforcement will likely differ based on the importance of the positive behavior being exhibited.  As a side note, it would be very unlikely to find a trainer that doesn’t advocate positive reinforcement for good behavior.      

The second question gives me an idea of what to do when something inappropriate is occurring and is the area of largest debate when it comes to training a dog.  If you answer this question by saying that you would either allow the child to express themselves or would redirect them into a more appropriate activity, then positive only based techniques make the most sense for training your dog. If you say that you would stop the child, explain that they have done something wrong, and then give them some sort of punishment (taking away their television time, stern reprimand etc.), this would suggest that when training your dog you want a method that uses some sort of correction.  From my experience this is the area where the majority of people land.

The third question may seem unrelated to dog training, but it is meant to determine the level of praise that you should provide when an expected behavior is occurring. The most common answer that I receive to this question, is that the person would be happy but not make a huge deal out of it.  For a dog a good example of this would be the dog laying down and chewing on a bone instead of your couch leg. The correlating response might be “good boy” and a simple pet on the head.   

Once you have established your beliefs, you should research training companies and individual trainers to find one that meets your needs. Call multiple companies.  Ask them what they would do in particular situations (think of the three questions above).  Does it sound like something that you would be willing to do? If not, it is probably not the right trainer for you. No matter how experienced a trainer is, if they don't train in a manner that you agree with then all your effort may be for nothing. Once you find the trainer that is right for you get out there and have fun with your dog!


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