BUILD A BOND: During the first few weeks, your primary focus should be on getting to know your dog and bonding with him. It is important that you build a positive relationship with your dog before progressing to training and instruction. Try to create a relaxed and fun environment for your dog and try to keep the number of people he comes into contact with to a minimum. If you are starting a training program with a dog you have had for many years, start the relationship afresh, as if you have just met each other for the first time.
FOOD AND TREATS: Food is a very powerful training aid that can deliver great results when used appropriately. During the first weeks, always feed your dog by hand. Make sure you have food with you wherever you go, and give your dog bits of food on a regular basis, not just when you are engaged in training sessions. When your dog recognizes that you are the source of food, he will remain close to you. Again, always give food directly from your hand because doing so will teach your dog that you are the only source of his food; i.e., you are the leader. As your relationship progresses, your dog will become increasingly calm when you are around.
People frequently ask me what type of dog trainer I am. I regularly get asked questions such as, “What style of dog training do you follow?” “Are you a positive trainer?” “What methods do you use?” The truth is that I do not follow a very specific style of dog training. I don’t 100% prescribe to any single approach, be it force free training, compulsion-based training, old-school training, etc.
I try and maintain a very open mind when it comes to the dog training methods I employ. For me, anything goes. It really depends on the situation and the dog I am working with. I never rule any method out unless I have directly experienced it for myself and found it to be lacking. People who insist on attributing some type of label to my training approach would probably describe me as a balanced trainer; however, none of the approaches I employ involve balancing equal amounts of anything.
My basic training approach involves all four quadrants of operant conditioning. I employ positive reinforcement on a regular basis but, when appropriate, I also use negative reinforcement, negative punishment, and positive punishment.
I’ll point something basic out right off the bat. You’ve probably heard it hundreds of times before, but your dog is not human. Too many dog owners make the mistake of thinking that their dog sees the world in the same way they do: He doesn’t.
Dogs learn differently to humans. Specifically, they are very context focused. What I mean by this is that if you teach your dog to sit on your command in the kitchen, he won’t necessarily follow the same command when you’re in the park. You haven’t taught him to. Your dog learned to respond to your instruction in the kitchen, not anywhere else. So, until you start to show your dog that you expect him to sit on command in additional settings, he simply won’t understand what’s expected of him.
Many people try to address the issues they are experiencing with their dogs by sending them away for training with a dog behavior expert. This approach is fundamentally flawed.
Similarly, if you have been the only person to issue commands to your dog, he has associations with you, but not necessarily anyone else. So what does all this mean for aggressive dogs?
If your dog behaves aggressively toward you or members of your family, it is highly likely that he is exhibiting a form of dominance aggression. This essentially means that there is a problem between the dog and the person he is behaving aggressively toward. You need to solve this problem.
When training dogs, there is a distinct need to ensure any undesirable behaviors are proactively corrected. In this article, I will describe my experience of dog training and provide some insights into my personal views on the all-positive dog training that has become so popular in recent years.
All-positive dog trainers typically fall into one of three types:
The basic truth is that the behavior of a four-year-old dog that has a history of aggressive behavior, ignoring owner commands, reacting nervously to stimulus, pulling on its leash, etc. cannot be remedied simply by offering tasty treats alone.
While I strongly disagree with the approaches adopted by the people who belong to the first two categories (I will explain why in due course), I do have some respect and admiration for those in the third category because they typically operate in the knowledge that pretty much every pet dog will require distraction/correction training at some point. I have personally met many all-positive trainers who specialize in training dogs for competitive purposes and have observed how these trainers manage their dogs very strictly. However, this does not necessarily mean that competitive dogs are well behaved outside the competitive environment. Furthermore, many of these same sports dog trainers will absolutely refuse to engage in any form of pet training because they are fully aware that the all-positive approach cannot be as successful in everyday environments. To be honest, the only people from this third category of all-positive dog trainers who I have zero respect for are those who claim that their all-positive methods can be successfully utilized on any dog.
I have been working with dogs for a while. I have trained multiple breeds and dealt with a wide range of issues. If my experiences so far have taught me one thing, it’s that you should always be wary of a dog trainer who claims they can “fix” all your dog’s problems if your pet spends a set period of time being boarded and trained in their facility.
To start off, it doesn’t matter one bit how well your dog ultimately learns to behave in the facility; it is his behavior at home that you are concerned about. It doesn’t matter how well the dog trainer can handle your dog; it is how well YOU can handle the dog that you are concerned about.
Let’s get one thing straight: Regardless of how good the dog trainer is, he or she cannot permanently modify your dog’s behavior and habits into something that YOU can manage on your own in the home setting if you are not involved in the training process. Period. If you have a dog that is exhibiting signs of aggression or unsociable behaviors, it can be very stressful and even traumatic. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that thousands of people are lured by false promises that simply sending their dogs to an expensive facility for a couple of weeks will be the solution to all their problems. Believe me. It won’t.