Dog training techniques revealed

Though there are several techniques to train a dog, all of them can be categorized by the way they address behavioral issues. Thus, there are two main categories: techniques based on learning theories and techniques based on canine ethology.

The former category focuses on behavior modification, usually disregarding typical and natural behavior of dogs. The latter one focuses on natural dog behavior and often ignores current learning theories.

Dog training techniques based on learning theories

This category comprises techniques that use positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and punishment as main ways to educate dogs. Since those techniques are very different among each other, they are better organized under three subcategories: traditional dog training, positive training and mixed techniques.

1. Traditional dog training

Traditional dog training was developed to train war dogs and it was successfully used during World War I and World War II. After World War II, this technique gained enormous popularity because of a lot of stories about heroic dogs.

Negative reinforcement and punishment are the main teaching ways of traditional training. Thus, this technique works by physically forcing the dogs to perform a desired behavior, until dogs learn that behavior.

Choke chains, prong collars and shock (electric) collars are common tools in traditional training and all its variants. Also, this kind of training is usually targeted to dog obedience exercises, disregarding behavioral problems.

The main advantage of traditional dog training is the high reliability of the trained behaviors. On the other hand, main disadvantages are potentially dangerous collateral effects, such as fear biting and damages to the dog’s trachea.

2. Positive dog training

Positive training was developed under the principles of Skinner’s operant conditioning. While it’s not a new technique, it didn’t get enough attention until the nineties, when Karen Pryor’s book “Don’t shoot the dog” became a bestseller.

Choke chains, prong collars and shock (electric) collars are not needed in positive training. In addition, training sessions tend to be very fun for dogs as well as for trainers.

Positive reinforcement is the main teaching way of these techniques. Thus, this kind of training is also known as reward-based training, though rewards are not the same as positive reinforcement.

Clicker training could be the most popular of positive training techniques at these days.

Main advantages of positive dog training are: 1. highly reliable trained behaviors, 2. no need to physically force your dog, and 3. Positive training is fast, fun and simple.

Ironically, the main disadvantage of positive training arises from its simplicity. Many novice trainers get so amazed with how easy and fast is to teach a new behavior that they forget to work on reliability and fluency of those behaviors. Thus, their “finished product” is a half-trained dog.

3. Mixed training techniques

Mixed techniques use both positive and negative reinforcement. Therefore, these techniques are friendlier than traditional training, but not as much as positive training.

Mixed dog training techniques are widely used in tough sports such as Schutzhund, Belgian Ring, Mondioring, etc.

Although trainers who use mixed approaches also use positive reinforcement, they usually avoid using food as a reinforcer. When they have to use a positive reinforcer, they tend to prefer games over food.

Dog training techniques based on canine ethology

Techniques based on canine ethology take into account those behaviors that are natural in dogs, but usually ignore the principles of learning theories. These techniques are also known as “dog whispering”.

The fundamental premise of these techniques is that the owner should become the leader of the pack. Thus, the owner will achieve the higher hierarchy in the pack: the alpha dog status.

While these techniques are very popular, their actual efficacy is questionable. Besides, there’s no clear standard for these techniques, so the procedures used by one trainer could be very different from those used by another trainer.

Many trainers don’t accept that these are actual training techniques. In addition, several of its practitioners don’t consider themselves as dog trainers. Instead, they claim they are people who can communicate with dogs by a deep understanding of dog behavior and proper body language.