always ask: What type of dog training do you do? Do
you use a clicker? Do you use food rewards?
The answer is:
It depends. I follow a simple philosophy that combines dog
psychology, repetition of positive reinforcement, and as gentle
as possible, yet as firm as necessary, corrections. I
teach the owners to become the pack leaders their dogs
want them to be.
Every dog is an
individual, and the best results are achieved when the
training method compliments the dog's natural instincts.
For example: a dog with a good food drive will respond
well to treat rewards. An excitable and/or dominant dog
with a high food drive can overreact to treat rewards
and may be more difficult to control than if a non-food
form of praise was used.
A dog must first be taught what
is expected of him, without the use of
corrections. It is unfair to correct a dog for failing
at a task he has not learned yet. There does come a
time, though, when the dog knows
exactly what is expected of him but refuses to perform the task
anyway. I believe that at times like these a small number of assertive corrections
now is much preferred to allowing the problem to
escalate out of control. Unfortunately, many dogs who do
not receive proper discipline end up in shelters for
simple issues and problems that could have been
addressed and prevented early on.
We must also remember that dogs
are pack animals. Whether the owners realize it or not, their
dog's behavior is partially ruled by his pack mentality.
That is why I teach the pack dynamics to owners and how they can fulfill their dog's inborn needs.
Training is not summer school for "bad" dogs. Training is a
life-long working collaboration between dogs and their
A few words about claims that
correcting a dog is the same as punishment. I disagree. An
appropriate correction, administered at the appropriate time,
communicates displeasure of an action in a language our dogs can
understand. Think of
this: A good friend of yours drives 35MPH over the speed limit near
a playground and receives a speeding ticket. Do you think that a speeding ticket is cruel to the
driver? Do you think that giving your friend $5 every time
he drove by the playground without speeding will prevent him
from speeding ever again? I believe that there should be a balance between rewards for doing
the right things and consequences for doing
the wrong ones.
It is the same with our dogs. Using only positive reinforcement
and food treats (whether combined with a clicker or not) works wonders when teaching a dog
the general obedience commands and how to perform
certain tasks (roll-over, fetch the slippers, play dead,
etc.). However, the same techniques are not as effective when your dog
gets startled, over-excited, or protective and decides to charge that Chihuahua or the 5-year old girl across the street. There
must be a consequence to an unwanted or dangerous behavior that
the dog is familiar with and wants to avoid. To paraphrase one of my
teachers: "What flavor of treats would you use to stop a dog
from pulling your arm out of its socket when he charges another
As usual, no single method
is superior in all cases. It is always best to use the proper
tool for each task.