The Problems with “Positive Only” Training
“Positive only” dog training has become quite popular. This method does not utilize corrections in any form. If the dog performs the desired behavior he gets a treat. Although it sounds wonderful, it simply doesn’t work.
Years ago many dog trainers became extremely harsh. Corrections were extreme and rewards rare. Thankfully many trainers of today have come full circle. The emphasis is on the POSITIVE-not the NEGATIVE! The Positive only method does work well for tricks we may want to teach our pets. If the dog performs the trick he gets the treat. If he doesn’t speak or beg on command it simply does not matter. However, if your dog is chasing a cat across a busy highway, it is likely the cat will be a higher reward to your dog than even the tastiest of treats you may have to offer. There must be a negative response to inappropriate behavior.
With “Positive only” training, you will have a dog that performs the desired behaviors when he feels like it. If your dog is allowed to do or not do behaviors based on his needs, he will likely not be well mannered and he is not learning to respect you. He needs you to be his leader.
Balanced Training is Best
I believe in a balanced method of training. This simply means that there are both positive and negative consequences to behavior. A positive consequence (treat, praise) results in the behavior more likely to be repeated. A negative response, (NO! angry expression, or pop of the leash) results in a behavior that is less likely to be repeated. Through training, your dog will learn to make choices. He can decide to do a behavior or not to perform a behavior. He can earn positive rewards or he can get a negative response. Like all living beings, his behavior has consequences.
Balanced training results in a relationship built on respect and trust. Showing your pet the desired behavior and being consistent in enforcing it achieves this goal. If getting on the couch is not allowed on Monday it cannot be ok on Tuesday. You must be a fair and consistent leader.
Your training program will be developed to meet your needs. If it is ok for your pets sleep on the furniture then your plan will address other issues you find undesirable. Training with consistency builds a bond that allows your dog to trust you.
Some trainers do not use food in training. Their theory is that we end up bribing the dog to perform and the dog should be working for us, not food. Utilizing food with dogs that are learning to learn helps them focus without creating stress. The dogs begin to understand the desired behaviors in the most positive of circumstance. Food is a learning tool and its use will be gradually faded.
Training Aids to Help Achieve Desired Outcomes
When necessary, I train with prong collars. I know they can look ominous but in reality they allow communication with your dog in a safe and humane manner. A prong collar does not require the owner to pull or jerk in order for the dog to receive the desired message. Unlike a choke collar, a prong collar, when used correctly, cannot physically harm your pet.
Similarly, Electronic collars have proven to be an effective, reliable and humane training tool. E-collar training is nothing like it was in the past. It is a method to communicate with your dog off leash. The reality is without a leash the dog does not have to come when called. The E-collar allows your dog to be off leash in an appropriate environment and ensures he will return to you when requested.
I do not require my clients to use either prong or electronic collars. I will recommend them when I feel it is appropriate but will honor all clients’ wishes.