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

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 amongst 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!

In fact, it’s a debated topic that I see come up often. And it 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 either. 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.

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