Have you heard of Positive Dog Training?
I have been interested in animal training since I was a child. I was lucky enough to have a school friend whose mother introduced me to dog training classes and allowed me to show her German Shepherds. Sheba was beautiful and I loved winning prizes but best of all were the twice-weekly training sessions. I learned how to get her to move gracefully around the ring and to stand in a way that would show the judges the finer points of her breed. The obedience training was fun too, and although Sheba wasn’t entered in obedience competitions in shows, they served to make her an all around good girl and strengthened the bond of trust between us.
I really enjoyed that time and learned a lot about training and dogs in general. Or at least I thought I did! In those days, more than forty years ago now, we used traditional dog-training methods, our charges wore choke chains and our words were termed ‘commands’. The dogs learned through a mixture of bad consequences, a sharp word and a tug on the choke chain, and good consequences, praise and the very occasional treat.
Recently however, more and more people consider those methods to be old fashioned and scientifically unsound. Theories concerning the hierarchical nature of dogs, the alpha animal and the importance of human dominance have been proven to be untrue, and the coercive and force-based training methods that dominated the last century have been seen to have serious shortcomings including making some dogs aggressive or fearful. It seems that while some animals can tolerate and learn from a confrontational approach to training, there are many others that are either too sensitive or too assertive to respond well. My dog-furkid Tokichi, is an extreme example of the latter; if he is told to do something, he purposefully won't do it!
This new way of thinking spawned a movement called ‘Positive Dog Training’ which seeks to influence your dog’s behaviours not by punishing the bad, but by highlighting and reinforcing the good.
Simply, a typical methodology would be:
Step 1: Get the dog to offer the behaviour we want voluntarily, without the use of force, then, reward the desired behaviour with a treat, therefore increasing the likelihood of it being repeated. Sometimes a clicker is used to precisely mark the desired behaviour.
Step 2: Put that behaviour on cue, so that they’ll do it when asked, again rewarding with a treat.
Step 3: When the behaviour is rock-solid, we can reduce or phase out the use of food as a reward and use only praise.
Using this positive approach, your dog learns how to think about which behaviours bring reward without the fear of punishment. Additionally, because we are not forcing them to do something, we can avoid triggering the desire that some dogs have to resist commands.
Positive training is a huge and interesting subject and there are many good books and online resources available for you to learn more, not only about dogs, but training other animals too.
If you are interested in reading more about it, I can recommend this book:
Zak George’s Dog Training Revolution is an awesome resource if you want to train your dog:
And Jackson Galaxy is the go-to man for all things cats:
One of the greatest benefits of taking a positive approach to training is that it doesn't threaten the trust built between you and your animal friend, as punishment-based training often does. The more ways we can find to respect our animal companions, the happier our relationships with them will be.