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 am not a supporter of the use of labels because I have yet to find one that accurately describes me, or any other dog trainer for that matter. The problem with the labels that are used to describe dog trainers is that they are plagued with contradictions. For example, is a dog trainer a force free trainer if he has a slip lead, martingale, or head halter on his dog? And what about the positive only trainer who starves a dog for a few days to increase the dog’s food motivation? The examples are endless…
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’m also a big fan of giving toy rewards to dogs when they have reached an appropriate state of mind. Guess what? I’ll even use retractable leashes on the odd occasion.
I am a solid proponent of clear communication that is supported by a verbal marker system. I am of the opinion that there needs to be an element of consequence within the training process; however, consequence training is by no means abuse. Above all else, if consequence training is to be employed with a dog, it is critical that the dog is taught what is expected of him first so that he knows what he is being asked to do way before he is corrected for not doing it. Dogs also need to have a clear indication of what they stand to gain when they choose whether or not to obey your command.
Training shouldn’t be labeled according to the tools used or the process by which they are implemented. Training should be measured and judged by the outcomes. You show me a well-trained, adjusted dog, and I will ask you what techniques you used to get there. I won’t pass judgment; I simply want to learn and improve. I am adamant that my approach to dog training does not belong in any specific camp. I hate to be labeled and stereotyped, and any attempts to do so will inevitably fall short.