Are There Different Dog Training Methods?
Yes! There are various training methods out there, and they all claim to be the best. These include but are not limited to: military style, correction based, balanced training, and pure positive. How are you supposed to know which one is the best for your dog?
There are four elements of training that can be used in balance with each other to communicate with your dog in a way they will understand. All training styles utilize one or more of these elements in different amounts.
Positive reinforcement is adding something to help the dog remember a behavior, like giving the dog a treat for sitting. The more you practice this, the more readily your dog will sit for you because he is anticipating a reward for obeying.
Negative reinforcement is taking something away to help the dog remember a behavior. Such as withholding a treat if the dog doesn’t sit when asked. Your dog knows you have treats, and he wants one. But if he doesn't obey, he doesn't get that reward.
Positive punishment is adding an undesirable consequence for a behavior, such as a pop on the leash. For example, if you ask your dog to heel, and he pulls ahead instead, he receives a pop on the leash or training collar until he respects you and obeys the command.
Negative punishment is taking something undesirable away to help the dog learn. Using the previous example, this would be not popping the leash after the dog is politely heeling next to you.
This is how every living thing learns. Even humans. You speed, you get a speeding ticket. That’s positive punishment. If you keep speeding, your license gets revoked and that’s negative reinforcement. That’s life!
I do not ever condone abusing an animal in any way, for any reason. That is NOT what it means for your dog to have consequences. Consequences can be as small as a snap of your fingers to get a dog's attention, turning their head away from something they are barking at, or even just the word "no." We are merely communicating clearly to the dog in a way they can understand.
Dogs have the mentality of a 3-6 year old child. They are VERY smart. They learn very quickly. But those times when they make a conscious decision to ignore their training, when they decide to disobey, that is when consequences come in. Once you have the foundation established and a great trusting relationship, it should only take a couple of corrections and the dog will learn that a specific behavior isn’t allowed.
Dogs do learn best when they are rewarded for behaviors we like. But we have to remember they are not treat-powered robots. They are living, thinking, intelligent animals! Purely positive treat training goes out the window when instincts kick in. Instinct to chase that squirrel, instinct to guard their family from a stranger, instinct to run and dig.
In my experience with my own dogs and in my many years of training, I have learned that rewarding behaviors only goes so far. To truly take your dog to the next level, you have to have some sort of consequence for bad actions. That’s the way it is with wild animals, that’s the way it is with humans, that’s how nature works!
So, when looking for a trainer, look for a one that uses these four elements in a way that is getting results you want, in a way you trust, that your dog responds to. All dogs are unique, and a good trainer will know how to best utilize their particular style to best serve your dog's individual needs.