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Training a Dog


You will find many different opinions on the Internet, from people you know, strangers, books, trainers and the list goes on.


You can read one thing and then read the exact opposite in a different search.


This should help you sort things out. Keep these things in mind:


  •  Pretty much any advice you hear would work for at least some dogs whether you agree with it or not.

  • Most everything has a bit of truth to it.

  • There can be multiple ways to train the same dog to do the same thing.

Whichever way you choose to train your dog you should ask yourself these questions:


  • What are the Pros and Cons to training this way?

  • Do these methods apply to me and my dog?

  • Do I feel comfortable with this style of training?


Making Things Simple


Training breaks down into two basic categories:


  • Reward - Pursuit of pleasure and reward.

  • Consequence - Avoidance of dislike or pain.


Reward


The top three things a dog will work for as a reward are:


  1. Food - includes treats and kibble.

  2. Possessions - includes toys, Fetch & Tug.

  3. Attention - The praise and petting you give your dog.


Consequence


This used to be the traditional style of training. This style of training was why you heard a dog cannot be trained until 6 months or a year of age. The consequences could be harsh enough that it could break a dog’s spirit. They would often find more dominant dogs did better with this training. This was more suited to a dog that could take a leash correction and keep on going. Some soft tempered dogs if you corrected them on a leash could become terrified or really shut down with training out of fear. The more common methods used here are:


  1. Leash Correction - Could be a yank on the leash for sit, down, to stay in heel, come when called or to stop doing a negative behaviour.

  2. Alpha Roll - This was done to mimic a higher ranking dog correcting a lower ranking dog in the way a higher ranking dog would grab a lower ranking dog by the neck and pin them to the ground. The higher dog may growl or bite at the other dog’s neck until the dog yelped (basically saying “I give in!”).

  3. Remote Collar - This came about with new technology and allowed a person to correct a dog from a distance. When these collars first came out they only worked on hard tempered dogs that could take a fairly painful correction. The remote had no settings, it was either full blast or nothing. Then came about collars that had settings from 0 - 5 or 0 - 10 and some 0 - 16. There are now collars such as the Dogtra brand that have settings from 0 - 100 and 0 - 127. These collars allowed a person to fine tune the correction much better to that specific dog. These collars could be used on a much softer tempered dog without making the dog fearful.

    Most people are still used to the old collars and perceive them to be quite cruel. They may have only seen them used at a high level of correction which can make the dog yelp or scream or even twitch their head to the side since it can contract the muscle in the dog’s neck.


Pros and Cons


There are pros and cons to either side and the list can be quite long. We will list some of the more key pros and cons:


Reward Pros

  • Dogs like it.

  • Can help them overcome fears.

  • Can train complex behaviours like tricks.

Reward Cons


  • Can become a bribe - where the dog only does it when treats are present (there are ways to properly wean off treats but many people have a tough time doing it right so it can quickly get to the point where a dog only does the behaviour if a treat is present).

  • Not Enough for Distractions - In some cases some dogs may be more rewarded by chasing the rabbit than they are in getting the piece of cheese. If your dog is highly food motivated and has low prey drive this won’t typically be a problem. If your dog does have a high prey drive and isn’t too food motivated or gets a lot of treats for free at home then this can be a problem.


Consequence Pros

  • Excellent Obedience - You can get excellent obedience because the dog knows you are going to make them follow through as opposed to a dog only doing it when it suits them best for a reward.

  • Good for Distractions - If there is a consequence for chasing the rabbit then the dog may choose not to chase the rabbit. Avoidance of pain, discomfort or dislike can work well for many dogs. This helps to avoid Bank Robber Principle where the dog thinks “What is the downside if I chase the rabbit?”

Consequence Cons


  • Can Break the Dog’s Spirit. In the beginning dogs often don’t know what you want them to do. If you correct them to do something they don’t know how to do it can cause the dog to become sad or scared looking when told to do a command. This is why some people say they do not want their dog trained too well because they don’t want their dog to lose their spirit. This could often be the case with pure Consequence (Force) training. With advancements in Reward training you can still get high levels of obedience and your dog will maintain their character and personality.

  • Aggression Worse - It can make aggression problems worse. The most common you would see is Leash Aggression. This is when a dog may become excited when seeing another dog or person. The handler may then yank on the dog’s leash to get the dog to settle down. The dog may relate this painful correction toward seeing other dogs or people. This in turn can make the dog even more aggressive toward seeing other dogs or people as the dog thinks the more aggressive they act, the faster the dogs and people go away and the faster they stop feeling pain.

    This is why many Force based trainers will say you are better off doing one really good correction rather than a thousand nagging corrections. The idea being that you correct the dog hard enough that they stop the behaviour immediately and you no longer have to correct the dog. The dog then still sees the other dogs and people and also no longer feels pain so they learn it is not the other dogs or people that cause them the pain, it was the way they were reacting that caused the correction.

    To do that properly requires a really hard yank on the leash which some people may not be capable of providing a hard enough correction to a hard tempered dog. It also looks pretty bad in public so you could have a lot of people yelling and screaming at you if you did this. Years ago it used to be common but present time it has fallen out of favor just like spanking a child used to be common and now it too has fallen out of favor.

  • Hurt the Dog - You could also hurt your dog. Smaller dogs are more likely to have their Trachea collapsed from hard yanks on the leash. This is why you may see some trainers advertise that they do not work with small dogs. The reason often being they cannot do the same correction to a small dog that they can to a big one so they avoid working with them altogether. Also the nature of people that get small dogs don’t often align themselves with force based training techniques, not always but quite common.


Examples of Differences


Teaching Sit


Reward - Use a treat to lure the dog into a sit and then reward.

Force - Yank up on the dog’s leash and hold the leash up until the dog sits.


Teaching Heel


Reward - Hold treats next to your leg and reward your dog for walking next to you without pulling on leash.

Force - Yank on the dog’s leash if the dog tries to pass you.

Teaching Come (Recall)


Reward - Act excited and call the dog over to you and reward your dog with a treat.

Force - Use a remote collar to correct the dog if they do not come when called or use a long rope to bring the dog back to you.


Both Styles Can Work


Both ways can train a dog to do the same thing. It depends on a person’s personal preference and how they were taught as to what their opinion is.


How to Decide Which to Use?


What you choose is entirely your choice. This is how we go about it. We ask ourselves this question:


“How would I want to be taught to do these commands if I were the dog?”


In almost any subject you can get different opinions. There is one question where almost everyone would agree and that is this:


“Would you prefer to be happy or sad?”


Most people would prefer to be happy.


Reward is more pleasing than consequence. So this is how we set up training:


  1. Start with Reward - We start by using reward to teach the dog what we want them to do. This includes the use of food, fetch or tug and attention. For some dogs, once they understand what you want they will always follow through even if you stop rewarding with food.

  2. Consequence if Necessary - Sometimes you come across Bank Robber Principle where the dog says “I know what you want me to do, but what is the downside if I do a negative behaviour?” In this case you can then use a consequence to deter the Negative Behaviour which can then in turn make your Positive Behaviour more fun and exciting to do.

    Example - Let’s say you want your dog to Sit and you have used a treat to teach your dog to sit. Your dog may however really like to jump for the treat. The lesser consequence to use would be ignoring the dog until they sit. Some dogs that can work and others are very persistent at jumping. You could then use a stronger consequence such as giving them a squirt of Bitter Apple Spray. Some people may recommend sticking your knee out or giving the dog a harder shove down.

You are more likely to need a consequence for a negative behaviour with a high Beta or Alpha type dog. Omegas, once they learn what you want will almost always follow through. Betas or Alphas are more likely to test and not listen.


This is why some people can have such great success with just treat training and others will say “my dog couldn’t care less about treats, they are not motivated by food or they will listen with treats but only so long as there is no distraction like a rabbit present”.



Benefit of Reward First, Consequence Second


Using this method you end up with the Pros of both sides and the Cons of neither. You have a dog that is happy and quick to listen, always follows through and maintains their character and personality.


Also by starting with Reward and then using a Consequence if necessary you can borrow things from the Force Based Side but to a lesser extent. Here’s an example:


Teaching Sit


If you remember, one of the ways to teach Sit through reward is to use Treats and the way to teach through Force (Consequence) was to yank up on the leash. Both can teach sit but there are pros and cons associated.


In using Force to yank up on the leash we know a lot of dogs, you would hang them before they would ever think of sitting. We had one client come here and say he went through a Force Based Training Class and they had him lift up on the leash. His dog started to become faint and finally sat and he released the pressure and the dog fell over, almost passed out. He cut off the dog`s air supply long enough that it fainted.


The pro you get by using force is that the dog knows they have to do what you say or you will make them. Here is a way to achieve that pro without having to hang your dog.


Reward First - Start by using a Food Reward to teach your dog to Sit. We teach with a hand signal first and verbal command second.


Leash Pressure Second - Once your dog has been taught with food you can then have the dog on leash. Gently lift on the leash so there is a tiny bit of pressure on the dog`s collar. Then tell your dog to Sit using your Hand Signal and Verbal Command. Once your dog sits you can then release the pressure and reward your dog. Repeat this sequence over and over until you can just lift on your dog`s leash without saying sit or giving a hand signal and your dog will sit.

Now you have a way of making your dog follow through. They understand what Leash Pressure held upwards on their collar means and you didn`t have to choke off their air supply to teach this.


Common Ground Between Trainers


Trainers tend to either be 100% Reward or 100% Force. They argue back and forth all the time. They often don`t realize there is common ground. This is the main reason a person looking to train their dog can get so confused. One trainer says to do this and another trainer says the first trainer was an idiot and you should do this instead.


It is the goal of this website to help you analyze the different methods out there and utilize what works best for you and your dog.


If you want a dog that listens well and maintains their character and spirit then you have come to the right place.