Dog Training - Make Yours Positive, Reward-Based and Force Free

What school of dog training are you willing to subscribe to?  Were you only taught “old school,” William Koehler (dating back to 1946) “yank and crank” dog training, which uses negative reinforcement techniques such as intimidation, fear and punishment (including correction devices that you wouldn’t want used on yourself) to get your dog to do what you want? Koehler’s methods are even more controversial today than they were 40 years ago, but, unfortunately, his influence was powerful and many of the “older generation” simply aren’t up-to speed on positive reinforcement, reward-based, force-free training (think Dr. Ian Dunbar, Applied Animal Behaviorist Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., Jean Donaldson, Karen Pryor). Applied animal behaviorists, those with advanced degrees in behavior and veterinary behaviorists - veterinarians who have completed residencies specializing in behavior problems, are unified on the point that the use of physical confrontation and pain is unnecessary, often detrimental and, importantly, unsafe on many levels.  Negative technique training is typically immediate, which is why it remains popular to this day. After all, a dog will respond to discomfort and pain much more quickly than he’ll ever learn and understand a command – but our dogs are not to blame and should not be at the effect of our impatience. When an owner begins to train their dog using a negative technique and the dog “behaves,” the owner mistakenly believes that the dog is learning and now respects them as their leader. Wrong! Respect is earned as the result of sound leadership techniques. When the dog “behaves” after you’ve applied negative reinforcement, he is responding to fear of the pain you’ve inflicted on him, not to anything learned, and certainly not because he respects you as his pack leader. Personally, I believe in mutual respect when it comes to my dogs. I believe in benign and sophisticated tools and methods that focus on behavior modification without the use of any force or discomfort whatsoever.

The key to positive training is “understanding” how dogs “understand.” Dogs see life in black and white terms. They see life in terms of “things that are pleasant for them” and “things that are unpleasant for them.” They don’t understand English and for the most part, they don’t reason. They just react to black and white:  pleasant vs. unpleasant. The vast majority of pet owners fail to understand that the driving force in a dog’s life is its desire to do things that make them feel good. Dogs don't do things to make YOU feel good; they do things that to make THEMSELVES feel good.  Positive training methods take a dog through a learning phase that teaches them what it is that you want.  It encourages respect and a stronger bond. Keep in mind that a dog may slather you with slurps and kisses and curl up and cozy up to you, but that does not equate to your dog respecting you. Unless you know, 100%, that your dog understands what you are asking of him and knowingly doesn’t do what you ask, I plead you not to correct him. Yanking on your dog’s collar does not teach him that you do not want him to pull and yelling at your dog when he barks does not teach him that you’d like him to stop barking. Don’t assume your dog “knows better.” He doesn’t. Take the time to teach him the command.  Be patient, and be consistent. We can’t yell at our dog for displaying territorial, aggressive behavior with visitors and then take them for a walk or offer them a treat if they happen to mosey away from the guest.

My message is simple:  Be patient, be respectful and be kind. Force, discomfort and fear? Not in my book.