Thanks to Steven Appelbaum for this guest post. Mr. Appelbaum is the President of Animal Behavior College, the nation’s largest animal career vocational school that offers certified dog training, veterinary assistant, and dog grooming courses. He is a dog trainer, lecturer, writer, and educator with more than 35 years in the pet industry. He is currently being trained by his basset hound, Truffles.
For many decades, the most common methods used for training dogs were compulsion-based. This means that dogs were taught using force and/or to avoid some type of physical punishment.
These days, more and more people use positive methods of dog training. This means that dogs are taught by being rewarded for desired behavior.
Without getting into a technical discussion on the definitions and differences of positive punishment vs. positive reinforcement, let’s look at some examples of how dogs were trained, then and now.
Dog Training Past and Present: Punishment vs. Reward
Challenge: Jumping on people
Training solution: Sharply say “no” when the dog jumps and then bring your knee into the dog’s chest. This is unpleasant to the dog and in time the dog will avoid the correction (punishment) and stop jumping.
The challenges to this type of training method are obvious. First, you might injure the dog. If the dog was large and you weren’t physically strong enough, you might be ineffective. This technique was hard to apply when a dog jumped on you from behind, or if the dog was so small that your knee wouldn’t connect with her chest. Smaller children couldn’t utilize this method and parents asked themselves whether they wanted their children learning to physically punish their pets as a way of teaching them.
Now, let’s compare this with today’s more positive dog training approach.
Challenge: Jumping on people
Training solution: When the dog jumps, ignore her or simply walk out of the room. The idea is that since most dogs jump to get attention and to greet you, if you don’t give them the attention they desire when they jump, the behavior will not be reinforced and over time it will weaken. This coupled with teaching the dog to sit for the praise and greeting she wants will, after a while, stop her from jumping on you.
Both methods work, but the positive method is physically and emotionally less risky for the dog.
Let’s look at another example.
40 years ago, teaching a dog to sit meant saying “sit,” waiting a second and, if the dog didn’t sit, pushing down on the dog’s bottom or pulling up on the dog’s leash to force the dog into the sit position. Command, correct, and praise.
Today, dog trainers circumvent the correction altogether by prompting the dog to sit with a food treat in their closed hand, which is slowly brought up over the dog’s head. When done correctly, the dog will follow your hand, lean backwards, and sit. Command, prompt, and praise.
Finding a dog trainer who uses positive methods
If you’re looking to hire a dog trainer and want one who uses positive training methods, observe the trainer in action. Does the trainer focus on praising the correct behavior, or is the focus on punishment for incorrect behavior? Positive dog trainers focus on the former, and many won’t use punishment at all.
Although the term “positive training” is often misused by trainers and misunderstood by pet parents, it’s quite effective. Positive training methods have reshaped the dog training world in the last 40 years.
This is a good starting place for finding a positive dog trainer near you.