The facts behind dog training methods

With so many dog trainers advocating different obedience training methods, it is often difficult to figure out which is best for your dog. In order to help you make the most educated decision, it is important to understand the underlying principle of dog training. All training methods and techniques fall under one simple concept- dogs learn from pleasant and unpleasant. Dogs will perform certain behaviors and actions if the result is pleasant and avoid certain behaviors and actions if the result is unpleasant.

The use of rewards is based on the thought that the dog will perform a desired action in order to receive the reward. In obedience training, food is the most common reward. So when it comes to the use of reward in obedience, a dog will be self-motivated and eager to obey because the result is pleasant. This is very good method to introduce obedience, to keep training fun for the dog, and develop a high energy look when performing. I believe the use of rewards should be some part of any training program. However, trainers that only use the positive-reinforcement/motivational/reward-based methodology are also training under the assumption that the reward holds greater value to the dog above all else. If you look at most dogs, this assumption is simply untrue. For example, if a dog is chasing after a cat, the dog has far greater interest in pursuing the cat than any treat the owner may be holding. The only time food holds greater value than nearly anything else in the world is when the dog is practically starving to death, but that is not a state in which you will find most family pets. If a dog has good food drive and the distraction level is low, training that is solely reward based can work well. On the other hand, in later stages of training, it is simply impossible to get a dog to obey solely with that training method when the distraction level is higher than the desire for the reward being offered by the owner.

If the owner does not have a reward that holds greater interest than the distraction, then the only way to get a dog to obey is to make the result of continued pursuit or engagement with the distraction (thus ignoring the owner's command) to be negative. In other words, the dog must be taught that is it unpleasant to disobey. Since every dog has a different personality, the level of unpleasantness needed to discourage disobedience will vary. It must be noted that the unpleasant result must be greater than the self-fulfilling urge for satisfaction (pleasant result) brought on by the distraction. So if we at once again take the example of the dog chasing the cat, simply yelling, "NO!" when a dog does not return when given the "come" command is not a result that is unpleasant enough to make the dog want to stop the chase and obey. So if the trainer or owner is unwilling to enforce a consequence that is unpleasant enough to ensure compliance, then you will have very little or no reliability under high distraction.

The explanation mentioned above should make logical sense. Now that you have a good understanding, you should think about two factors- the genetics/personality of your dog, in addition to the level of obedience you would like to achieve. Armed with this knowledge, you can intelligently determine whether the methods and techniques used in an obedience class have the ability to attain the goals with obedience you would like for your dog.