Being a dog owner with two puppies at home I am constantly on the lookout for new, and hopefully better ways to train my dogs. I do not need dogs that are winning awards for obedience at AKC shows but I do want dogs that can venture out to have some fun and respond to commands that will keep them safe during. There is no one definitive, standard dog training method that works all the time. There are almost as many different methods as there are professional trainers out there as they all seem to have their own particular theories and methods. Positive reinforcement training rewards desired behavior instead of punishing.
I have tried many of these methods through the four dogs that we have raised from puppies. The training methods that deliver a ‘correction’ when an unwanted behavior is exhibited with the desired outcome of the behavior ceasing to avoid any corrections have rarely worked for me. I have always wound up with decently behaved dogs but only after I abandoned these methods, resorting to just having fun and not worrying about the training. Most of the times these methods have produced the opposite of the desired outcome. For instance to teach a puppy not to bite this form of corrective dog training recommends holding the pup down till it basically gives in or becomes submissive. I have tried this and only wound up with one angry puppy that at times would exhibit possible fear towards me. I do not think that producing fear or anger in a pup is a good way of training for anything other than aggression.
In recent years there has been a movement towards what is called ‘Positive Dog Training’ or ‘Positive Reinforcement Training for Dogs‘. This type of training has theoretical basis in the work of psychologists such as BF Skinner and Pavlov. The terms ‘positive’ and ‘negative’, in this context, refers to giving (positive) or taking away (negative) either a reinforcement or a punishment or correction. With these variables you can either have positive reinforcement where you reward a desired behavior, a negative reinforcement where you would with hold a reward, a positive punishment where a correction is given for unwanted behavior or negative punishment where a correction is with held for not doing the unwanted behavior (the dog does the right thing and is not corrected). Positive reinforcement training only gives rewards and the worst that is delivered to the dog is attention or the reward is with held. This final point goes against the pure theory of positive training but it is still not a physical correction, therefore you are not hurting the dog in any way.
There are beginning to be a good bit of research on this type of training and the theories behind them. There is Karen Pryor who uses and promotes clicker training; there is Paul Owens that bills himself as the ‘Original’ Dog Whisperer, and many more. Recently a book was published by the dog trainer for the family of Senator Ted Kennedy and President Obama; Dawn Sylvia Stasiewicz called “Love that Dog Training Program”. She outlines a fairly easy five week training program that progressively puts your dog or puppy through basic obedience training. I found the book to be straight forward with just enough theory to inform and not confuse. There is no ‘new age’ energy talk and your position of alpha is looked upon as a natural progression to following the techniques properly.
The method feels right to me and has produced successes where other methods have not. The training sessions are fun for all of us and therefore are done more often. The hardest part is getting your timing down so you can reward the proper behavior and not reinforce a behavior you do not want.