The Two Sides of Dog Training: The Right and the Wrong Way

Posted on 09/05/13 76 Comments

Big decisions in life (which result in a dramatic turn either left or right) are made by weighing the pros and cons of either direction. Nobody confidently steps away from the direction they feel is the right way. So we have to assume each of us has some level of certainty when making decisions in our dog training.

I believe in a training program founded in positive reinforcement but that doesn’t polarize everyone in the same direction.There are those who primarily use food lures to train, others that will only use a clicker to shape their dogs, some of us integrate games of tug into everything we do and more still whose dogs in drive refuse any form or a reward.

Take this group of “positive trainers” and the following statements can cause heated debates amoungst the entire group. Someone must be right and therefore someone else will be WRONG!

1. All dogs are individuals; some like toys and others like food . . .use what your dog loves.
2. All dogs can be taught to love food and toys in training. You should inspire your dog to alternate between both during work.
3. Some dogs don’t have the confidence to “offer” behaviour so shaping “won’t work.” These dogs must be trained only with food lures.
4. Using food lures is the same as shaping behaviour . . . it is all positive dog training.
5. Some dogs just don’t like to work; those dogs should be retired.

You can find “positive” trainers that will passionately support any one of these five statements…to the point of causing some very heated conflicts with those who may disagree.

Now what if we now introduced the dog trainers that believe in a balanced use of all four quadrants of operant conditioning. Those who believe with their whole heart that:

1. You can teach with cookies but collar corrections are necessary to “proof” solid understanding.
2. A dog should work for you because he loves you; no food or toys should be necessary.
3. A dog must be shown who is boss; pinning and alfa rolling should be used when necessary.
4. Most dogs can “take” electric shocks or severe collar corrections as long as they are given without emotions from the owner.
5. Physical corrections are necessary for high drive dogs in field sports or protection work because when these dogs are in drive they will not listen to anything else.

Put 20 dog owners into a room, all who feel passionate about one of the above ten beliefs and ask them to try and “sway” the other guy, I promise you blood pressures will rise!

Last week on my blog there was some controversy when some of the comments got “heated” (I suggest you not go back to look . . . seriously . . . life is too short . . . go and spend quality time with your dog rather than search back for those negative comments). But these disagreements got me thinking about how there is always an “us against them” when opinions do not align. I do not pretend to be innocent in all of this. I personally have seen an evolution to my own outlook where disagreements with others are concerned…it is all a journey and I really love where it is going.

The bottom line is, we all love our dogs. Yes, of the above 10 statements about dog training there is really only one I can strongly identify with. There was a time I would react very emotionally to most of the other 9 statements but today I am learning to respond differently. Life doesn’t always turn out as I would like and when it doesn’t I try to remember this line from the late great Coach John Wooden;

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”

I think my response to other people’s choices became less emotional as I grew more confident in the direction I chose for my own life and dog training. I have put more of my thoughts on this subject in the video below.


  1. Andrew says:
    Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at 3:22am

    Amazing write-up Susan! However, there are several ways to train your dog such as you can teach them how to high five for a change or making him dance, water fetch, headstand and so more. It’s all by knowing what works for you as well as your dog.


  2. Gudrun says:
    Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 2:45pm

    Dear Susan, Thank you so much for that video. I have been in a slump with dog training for over a year. I just haven’t had the energy or the motivation. And it has showed in trials. The last few trials in the fall my dog was much more interested in all the other dogs, and everyone else than in playing agility with me. And my confidence and motivation plummeted even deeper. I tried to pull myself up by signing on to puppy peaks in september, but have barely visited the site. Now I signed up for the handling course. This video though – it is so inspiring. I hope I will be able to let my core values reflect in my dog training in the future. And that I will rediscover the confidence, the motivation, the energy, in short the joy. Thank you so much Susan!


  3. John Schaller says:
    Monday, January 6, 2014 at 6:29pm

    I came to this post from browsing your blog and from your more recent bad-dog obedience interview. Thanks for such a great resource! In terms of high drive dogs in field sports, I have a personal interest as the owner of a fairly high drive pointer. I definitely am having to spend a lot of time thinking about proofing among other things. If you ever find sufficient interest in an e-course focused on steadying a pointer to WSF using only +R to warrant the effort for the course, I’d be very interested. (I know it’s out of your normal focus.) ATB and thanks again for the blog!


  4. Caitlin says:
    Wednesday, January 1, 2014 at 5:14am

    I teach my dogs with positive reinforcement and I wouldn’t do it any other way! It makes me happy to see them happy. I am so pleased with +R (and a bit of -P) that I made a blog about it.


  5. Greg says:
    Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 4:15pm

    This is an inspiring post about keeping yourself on goal and out of negativity and useless worries. Life really is too short, thank you.


  6. Chris says:
    Friday, October 18, 2013 at 1:16am

    Basic training concepts, reward them when they do something right and take away something they enjoy when they do something wrong. These may be your attention, food, toys or letting them outside to play.


  7. Yohannes H. says:
    Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 2:21am

    Great post Susan, as there are indeed so many ways to train a dog and who are we to argue which is more correct than the other…

    Bottom line is, people keep dogs for different reasons and that will shape how they see their dogs and how they intend to train.

    I personally believe in positive reinforcement:)


  8. Emmanuel Mba says:
    Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 11:03am

    Thanks for the wonderful suggestions and I agree to the ideas you have mentioned. Your dog must obey and love you, just as you love them. Obedience is one the most valued training objectives.


  9. Laura W. says:
    Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 11:13am

    Had to come back today and re-read this blog because I was sorely tempted to run around and try to catch some butterflies… Instead, I resisted and have been inspired even more by the situation, to build my garden. 🙂


  10. Gerilyn Bielakiewicz says:
    Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 12:07am

    How lucky we are to have you Susan! It’s so nice to have someone in a leadership position not only give us a solid foundation to inspire us but also handle those who don’t see eye to eye with kindness and compassion. There is not enough example of this in the field of animal training and we are in desperate need of it no matter what you believe about how it should be done. I’m sure there are other disciplines that struggle with this but civility and tolerance is a cornerstone to happiness and the quicker we realize this the happier our lives will be. Thank you for leading the pack, and being a pioneer in our field.


  11. Corry says:
    Monday, September 9, 2013 at 1:15pm

    I love your comments on being surrounded by like-minded people. That is such an important part of my life, and it’s so nice to know when other people ‘get’ what that means.
    You are an inspiration.
    Thank you. (:


  12. Christine says:
    Sunday, September 8, 2013 at 4:34pm

    Luv the butterfly in the garden analogy and that this video is written – great presentation.

    Your dog happy, you happy 🙂


  13. Juliet Whitfield says:
    Sunday, September 8, 2013 at 3:49pm

    I am always inspired by you Susan, thanks for all you do!


  14. Kathy says:
    Sunday, September 8, 2013 at 2:59pm

    Please learn about balanced training and/or training with an ecollar before making negative statements about both.


    • Susan says:
      Sunday, September 8, 2013 at 9:07pm

      Kathy I didn’t think I made any negative comments about any methodology of dog training. That was my point of this post . . .


  15. Mila Ratkovich says:
    Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 11:38pm

    I love your ideas, and i just love how you express yourself, i´m not a huge fan of agillity, im more onto bitting sports, But that doesnt stop me from thinking that i love your techniques and try to apply them on my own training. It is frustrating but i wont give up.
    I would really love to take any of your semminars but i do not have the economy to do so…. i live on mexico and as a student i do not have a lot of fluency. I do have ruff love, crate games and shaping success.But i want more…. maybe next year i can get on 5 min formula, today im gratefull that you upload this video because i was really lost with my tought, with my dogs and with me in general. Thanks Susan for inspiring not only agility trainers or fans but to open a new world for other dog sports. 😀


    • Susan says:
      Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 11:50pm

      Thanks for writing Mila, I am so happy you are getting value from my blog. I have some free online teaching happening next week I know will be of benefit for you!


  16. Lesley Weihs says:
    Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 6:31pm

    I am privileged to be a part of the Do Land community – through my association, I’ve learned that small changes can have a huge impact on both mine and my dogs’ lives!! Our garden is blooming 🙂


  17. Krista Hill says:
    Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 5:16pm

    …thank you!!


  18. Donnie Scott says:
    Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 4:19pm

    Sometimes when you really need to get a message – it comes into your mailbox. Thank you for that.


  19. Debbi says:
    Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 2:59pm

    I think my association with you through PP and Recallers has caused a huge change in MY OWN “reactiveness”!
    Thanks I needed that!


  20. Imbi says:
    Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 2:46pm

    Thanks for the reminder, Susan. I’ll be tending to the butterfly garden with more nurturing and focus, instead of waving that darned net around. Cheers!


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