A reader writes that it has become quite a challenge to decide on a particular training style to implement with her dog. There are numerous trainers in her area to choose from. She’s gone to a few of them, and each seems to have a different approach to remedy her dog’s behavior. The difficulty is in deciding which training method is the right one. Which technique or method works the best?
Anyone who knows their stuff will tell you there is more than one way to train a dog. One of the terrific challenges in working with dogs is adjusting training plans according to each individual. A trainer must have the ability to provide realistic options that are effective, appropriate and realistic for each owner and her dog. Rather than deciding on a definitive right vs. wrong approach, I suggest you ask yourself the following:
First, is the technique you are being taught effective?
If you and your trainer are working to teach your dog to do something or refrain from doing something, you should be able to see the progress or results fairly quickly. If it is not getting you closer to your training goal, your trainer should be able to suggest several alternative approaches.
Second, do you feel comfortable implementing the techniques being taught to you?
Have you been given enough information to apply the techniques properly, and can you physically do what is being asked of you? There are some trainers who still recommend a physical, hands-on approach to working with dogs, but this is not at all necessary.
Training skills based on the science of positive reinforcement embrace the concept of little or no physical handling, which many people prefer, and some require. Bottom line, if you are unwilling or unable to implement the techniques being presented to you, find someone who is more suitable for you and your dog.
Third, how is the training approach affecting the relationship between you and your dog?
Ideally, proper instruction should provide you with a means to communicate with your dog and better understand the canine perspective. The bond you have should become stronger; your relationship enhanced. If the training methods you are implementing are causing your dog to submit to you, become frightened or wary of you, or distrusting of you, the training is destined to break down, right along with your relationship.
Next, are you and your dog comfortable with the training equipment that has been suggested?
While early training and management require a leash and some type of collar or harness on the dog, there are lots of options out there. Many are not at all dog-friendly, and some are downright inhumane. Bottom line, a good dog trainer is going to be able to aid you in getting the results you are looking for using training tools and methods that don’t harm, scare or injure your dog.
Finally, what is the dog getting out of the deal?
Old style “do it or else” training relies on the threat and/or implementation of punishment to keep the dog obedient. But this misses the point completely – dogs will logically and naturally repeat or offer behavior that works for them.
Modern training uses rewards in many forms, from treats to physical praise, access to the yard to snuggling on the couch, or a quick game of tug to a ride in the car, to train and manage the dog’s behavior in all situations. It is much easier to control a dog who genuinely wants to behave the way you’ve told him to than the dog that must be forced or corrected into compliance.
Training your dog should be productive, enjoyable and beneficial for your both.
Lisa Moore is a pet trainer and columnist in Modesto, Calif.