Making Sense of Dog Training Methods

All dog training methods you've ever heard about actually all fit into one of two categories.  There are only two methods in the whole world!  It becomes easier to figure out which method you want for your dog when you can divide it up this way.  And they are...

... all-positive and balanced.  Of these two training methods, all-positive training is probably what you've mostly heard about.  Balanced training isn't as well-known in the general public, but this is changing! 

Thanks to the overwhelmingly consistent and accurate results, this type of training is becoming more and more the choice for dog owners who are serious about their commitment to changing their dogs' behavior and how well they obey commands.

The problem with the all-positive training method is that you can never teach your dog to obey you simply because you are the "pack leader".  Touch-free training, clicker training... they all involve coaxing, luring with treats and simply put - pleading for your dog to listen.

With dogs, they have a need for a leader.  If you don't take that position, your dog will.  And when your dog knows you are the leader of your pack, he will respect you!  Yes, your dog is your friend... but he cannot be your equal.

I teach owners to train their dogs using "First Command Response".  This is so important to training, that I would even go as far as to say that without it, we could no longer call our method balanced training. 

It is exactly how it sounds - the dog is trained to respond to your command immediately, the first time you say it.  That's right!  No more chanting the commands (stay, stay, stay....), no more looking silly when your pooch ignores you and runs away.

How could you want anything more?

Two Elements in Balanced Training

The main elements in the balanced dog training method are negative correction and positive reinforcement.  Dogs live for the moment, so both reward and correction must be for the moment, too.  As an example to help you understand what I mean:

  • When house-training your pet, you have to go outside with your puppy and give him a treat on the grass, seconds after he goes pee (this is positive reinforcement).  If you wait until he comes back inside, then make him sit in front of you, THEN give him a treat, you've simply taught him that if he comes inside and sits in front of you, he'll be rewarded.  Do you see where I'm going?
  • Or this one:

    If you punish your dog for chewing your good shoes after you come home and find them by the front door, he won't understand what he's being punished for.  You would have to correct him as he has the shoe in his mouth for him to understand that this correction is for chewing your shoes.
My dog, Justice, doing a down-stay!

For negative correction, we use "startle tactics".  A simple, humane leash and collar correction (which is tight for only 1 second) is given, NOT hitting the dog or yelling "Bad dog!". 

The objective is to startle the dog in the midst of the undesirable behavior.  Keep in mind that this is only to inform you of how we train...

Please don't experiment on your dog!  Get proper instruction to ensure that your technique is correct.

Of the two dog training methods, balanced training is the best for behavior modification, whether the problem is barking, chewing, biting, nipping, jumping, mouthing, food/toy aggression, running away, begging, or stealing objects.  

To sum it up, this method of dog training is called balanced because you need to teach your dog the difference between right and wrong.  It is not bred into them, nor does it occur by osmosis or anything else!  You must be the leader that your dog needs.

All-Positive Dog Training Methods

I won't spend a lot of time on all-positive training, as you're likely in the balanced training camp if you're reading this!

To be quite honest, the majority of my experience with this dog training method is from observation.  I visited over 20 different dog training schools in southern Ontario while working on my apprenticeship - under cover, I might add. 

I wanted to see what all-positive training classes looked like for myself, what they taught.  I wanted to see how the dogs behaved after 10 lessons in all-positive training compared to dogs who went through 10 lessons in balanced training.

It was interesting, that's for sure.  It was hard to really put a finger on one definition of all-positive training, as each school differed in their approach and methods.  In all fairness, there is a broad spectrum within balanced trainers, as well. 


What was different from trainer to trainer?

  • some use clickers in training, others do not

  • types of collars used (anything from head halters to harnesses)

  • many include trick training in their obedience classes


What was fairly consistent across the board with all-positive dog training methods?

  • repeating commands over and over again (or chanting the command - stay, stay, stay)

  • treats galore!  Some schools used so many treats, that dogs were jumping and nipping at hands to get treats, or even throwing up.

  • ignoring bad behavior.  For example, if your dog jumps on you, many trainers instruct you to ignore him.  There were usually no corrections for barking and a general lack of control of the dogs in the room.

  • in most classes, the majority of leashes were tight during exercises, instead of loose leashes

  • no corrections if a dog disregards or breaks a command

  • not very black and white training - dogs are allowed to sit or heel wherever they like

The biggest impression I got from most of the all-positive schools was that training your dog should be fun (which is so true!), but that the pendulum swings way too far in that direction, resulting in classes that were unorganized, loud, inconsistent, and fairly ineffective. 

I don't have a problem with positive training... my problem is that this method completely disregards any type of correction, control, or respect.

The Long and Short of It

In the end, it's your choice as to which dog training method you choose for your own dog.  But please, please, please don't jump in uninformed! It's a lot of money to lay out for a potential waste of your time.

At the very least, check out a few trainers in your area who teach both all-positive and balanced methods.  See for yourself what the dogs learn in class, and whether the dogs appear to be reliably under control.

I feel that balanced dog training methods are the best choice for a myriad of reasons.  I don't want my dog to rely on a treat in order for her to listen to me.  I want her training to be very black and white, easy for her to understand.  

And I want you to have the same relationship and bond with your dog that I share with mine!