This article discusses a few of the most widely used training methods. However, I believe that positive reinforcement is the most effective dog training method. I will discuss why I believe this to be true.
There are several schools of thought when it comes to dog training. They may be called something different but they all come down to 2 main methods: the traditional dominance method, and the positive reinforcement method. However, the biggest debates come from whether to use the traditional dominance method or the positive reinforcement method.
Traditional Dominance Method
This method is often referred to as the “Alpha Dog Method” meaning that the only way to train a dog is to be the pack leader, or the alpha dog in order to get your dog to obey you. The dominance method uses tools such as a prong collar, a shock collar, choke chains, or jerking the leash to get the dog to heel. This training uses punishment to enforce commands and has more recently become more controversial as studies have revealed that this training method is more likely to result in a more fearful or aggressive dog.
Based on a Misconception
Dominance training came from a study of wolves in captivity. This study concluded that wolves always have an “Alpha wolf” that always gets his needs met before all of the other wolves. The problem with this study was that wolves in the wild behave completely differently in the wild. As it turns out wolf packs in the wild look out for each other in order to maintain their survival. This flawed study was what the Dominance Training Method was based upon.
Dominance Training can Harm the Dog-Human Relationship
Dominance training can interfere with the bond between you and your dog because it incorrectly suggests that you should be forceful, sometimes even punitive, to get your dog to be obedient. The end result of using this type of training is that your dog may be more obedient, however, she could also become more fearful and stressed and afraid of the training sessions.
It is much preferable to have your dog enjoy her training sessions and trust and obeys you because she has a strong bond with her owner.
The result is that you may have a more obedient dog, but it will be a dog that is more anxious and afraid of consequences, rather than one that trusts and obeys because it has a great relationship with its owner. It may also exacerbate the behavior of a dog that seems like it’s trying to be dominant, but is really acting out of anxiety and insecurity.
Positive Reinforcement Method
The positive reinforcement method is a rewards-based reinforcement rather than punishment for behavior correction. Negative reinforcement is withholding a treat, toy, or whatever reward you are giving your dog when she responds correctly. Positive reinforcement is rewarding your dog with a treat when she responds correctly to the command.
Positive Reinforcement Training is used by trainers to teach dogs behaviors by rewarding them rather than by punishing them. The goal of positive reinforcement is to show dogs what actions are desirable and what is not.
Positive reinforcement training has become more popular over the past few years because it is more humane than the dominance method. This method of training is a much more pleasant experience for the dog and results in a more positive bond between you and your dog. Most people don’t want their dogs to fear them and they want the dog to enjoy the training sessions.
This method might take longer but it is worth it to have a happy, well-adjusted dog rather than a dog that runs away from you when she sees a training session coming out of fear of punishment.
The key to the positive reinforcement method is to reward immediately when the dog correctly responds to the command.
Using a Clicker
One way to let your dog know that she has performed correctly and that a treat is coming is to use a clicker. For example, if you are training your dog to sit and she is not paying attention or is distracted she is not given a treat. However, as soon as your dog sits, you would click the clicker and immediately give her a reward. This way the dog knows right away what the desired behavior is.
This method allows the trainer to reward the desired behavior instantly by merely clicking, or “marking” the desired behavior. It also allows the dog to instantly identify the correct behavior. There is no lag time between the behavior and the reward as the click effectively bridges this time gap. Once the dog learns the behavior, a verbal cue or command can be added.
Selecting the Reward
It is very important to select a reward that your dog really loves so that she will have a strong desire to perform the correct behavior and will be more attentive during the training.
When dogs behave properly, they receive a reward — a reinforcement for their positive behavior.
Examples of positive reinforcement rewards:
- a Favorite Toy
- a game
Be sure to select a reward that she really loves so she will be looking forward to it.
It’s also important to make sure you’re not inadvertently rewarding unwanted behavior. For example, if your dog barks at you to play or if she jumps up to say hello, don’t acknowledge it as this just reinforces the bad behavior. Instead, wait until they’re calmer before giving them attention.
Be Consistent in Your Training
Be sure to be consistent in how you are training your dog. For example, always use the same word when training your dog. If you are trying to train her to walk on a leash and you start out saying “Heel”, continue saying “Heel” for this command, and don’t change it to “Walk” or something else as that will only confuse your dog.
Training Sessions Should be Frequent and Short
Dogs don’t have a very long attention span so you will have better results if you keep them no longer than 5 minutes, several times per day. This will keep your dog interested in her training so she doesn’t lose interest and get distracted.
Also, vary the locations where you train your dog. Try to get her used to respond to the same commands in different locations. Get her used to busy locations with different amounts of distraction. It shouldn’t matter where you are training your dog, a “Stay” command is a “Stay” command no matter where you are training her.
Train using both verbal and hand signals at the same time. This will help to reinforce the verbal commands.
Make the Training Sessions Fun and Interesting
Always try to make the training sessions enjoyable and interesting for your dog. Try adding a little playtime within your training sessions to keep your dog interested. It’s important to add variety to your training sessions so your dog doesn’t get bored. She needs to learn all of the obedience commands, however, she doesn’t need to always do the commands in the same order every day.
You could also add a few tricks into her training sessions for variety. You can add a few tricks such as “rollover”, “shake hands”, and any other tricks you may want to add.
I believe that the Positive Reinforcement Training Method is far superior to the Dominance Training Method. The dominance method results in more stressed, anxious, and fearful dogs that may or may not be trained.
I would prefer a well-trained, happy, and trusting dog that has a strong bond with me. I would also not want my dog to become aggressive or fearful.