Dog training has made so much progress over the years, and yet there are still many different approaches to how people choose to interact with their dog. Overall, there are three distinct types of trainers who all may be able to help you get results with your dog. While there may be overlap of the methods used by some of these trainers, there are also methods used that can be detrimental to the relationship between you and your dog, methods that only get you results in the training class environment and methods that both build your relationship *and* get you real-life results.
Trainer Ones get results by using force and intimidation. They focus on punishing unwanted behaviour to increase desired behaviour. If you find yourself being asked to do any of the following to your dog, you are likely getting advice from a Trainer One:
-jerk your dog’s leash if they are pulling to get loose-lead walking, or use a prong collar
-raise your voice and lower your tone
-use a shock collar to build a reliable recall
-show your dog who is boss
-physically make your dog do what they are told to do (perform and alpha role, push them into a down, drag them back to you if pulling on lead etc.)
Initially, it might appear that these suggestions work and because they seem to get owners a ‘quick fix’ they are often readily adopted and passed along as something for others to try. Over-powering, bullying, frightening, and causing your dog pain to gain compliance only damages your relationship and over time the behaviour will get worse. None of these techniques work to teach your dog what behaviour is actually preferable…they all only serve to make a dog afraid of the punished behaviour and ultimately, their owner, as there is a negative association made between the punishment and the deliverer. The ‘cure’ is also dependent on the tool used being present…take away the leash pops and the dog goes right back to pulling on lead. Remove the shock collar and the dog quickly realizes that they do not have to listen to the recall cue.
Trainer Ones will tell you your dog does not listen to you because you are not showing them that you are in charge…but, who wants to ‘rule with an iron fist’?
Trainer Twos are good people…they train dogs using rewards-based training methods and want to keep things positive for you and your dog. Trainer Twos might:
-use food rewards
-use toy rewards
-use verbal praise
Sounds good, right? It is…rewarding our dogs for doing something right is the way to go. However, Trainer Twos largely focus on training behaviours through repetitive practice and are more focused on what comes out of your dog’s brain, rather than what goes into it. They spend a lot of time telling a dog what to do and trying to manage and influence their behaviour…the dog is not taught to think for themselves and training is often done *in* the situation, putting a lot of pressure on the dog. Learning does not often translate out into the real environment, even if that puppy class was aced. As soon as the rewards go away (or you forget your treats while out on a walk…we have all done that!) it becomes harder and harder for a dog to listen.
Trainer Twos will tell you your dog does not listen to you because you need to practice their behaviours more…but, a sit is a sit and your dog knows that – it is really that the environment is just more interesting than you, that behaviour and whatever treat, toy or verbal praise that you have and your dog does not have the skills to know how to properly deal with that.
Trainer Threes are games-based concept trainers. They use rewards-based concept games to shape a dog’s brain, building up concepts such as:
-tolerance of frustration
Trainer Threes focus on games that build these concepts and make learning in the future easier as a dog learns to think for themselves. Training *for* situations, not *in* situations, concept trainers provide dogs with a toolkit of strategies that enable them to cope with the environment, want to engage with you more and make good choices. Trainer Threes help you and your dog build a relationship where your dog actively chooses you over the environment because you have re-shaped their brain through play, games, and positive reinforcement.
Trainer Threes will tell you that your dog does not listen to you because they need help building concepts such as focus, proximity and disengagement…and there is a game for that!
Photo courtesy of Absolute Dogs
So…which type of trainer are you? You can probably look back at training classes that you have gone to with your own dogs and identify what sort of trainer they were. Some trainers fall into the middle of trainer types and may teach with elements from more than one type (for example, there are a lot of positive reinforcement based trainers who still teach loose-lead walking by advising leash pops and abrupt 180 degree turns to ‘get your dog in line’). How would I, a games-based-based concept trainer approach this? I would play proximity games to first build value for my dog wanting to be near me. I would teach ‘catch’ and ‘magic hand’ to reward my dog for being in position by my side. I would play disengagement games to teach my dog that yes, they will see things out in the environment that they will want to pull towards, but it’s more valuable to come away from them and stay with me. I would do all these things at home in my living room and in my garden (away from the situation)…playing games, having fun and teaching my dog what I *do* want, rather than punishing behaviours in the moment and damaging our relationship. See an example of a proximity game being taught and played here:
If you’d like to experience what training with a Games-Based Concept Trainer would be like, and work on building focus and engagement with your dog, consider joining the 30 day, game a day challenge found here: https://www.playwithpurposedogs.com/services-3