There are many ways to train a dog to do anything you want him/her to do. The methods used by trainers reflect this and run the gamut. Some trainers use positive reinforcement only – they only reward desired behavior; while others use shock collars exclusively to discourage unwanted behaviors. I prefer a balanced approach that combines rewarding desirable behaviors with praise while discouraging undesirable behaviors with audible and collar corrections.
There are numerous ways to discourage unwanted behavior. The tools you use are not nearly as important as how you use them. There are some tools I don’t like. I never use head halters or choke chains. Both have the potential to injure dogs, even when used properly, by putting torque on the vertebra of the neck. I don’t generally use electronic collars. If not used properly, dogs can react to electronic collars with increased fear, which may have been the root cause of the behavior you are trying to correct in the first place. Reputable trainers use caution and avoid tools which can potentially harm dogs.
Every training program must be tailored to the individual dog and situation to be most effective. I strive for a relationship of mutual respect between dog and owner in deciding which methods to use. As humans, we can and should respect the amazing qualities which dogs possess: their intelligence; their highly developed senses of smell, hearing and vision; and their unique ability to sense and respond to our gestures, facial expressions, and even our emotional states. I learn a great deal from dogs every day. But dogs require clear leadership to be happy. The challenge is providing the guidance dogs need in a way that fosters a relationship of mutual respect.
I strive to create a relationship with my dogs that says, “I trust that you’ll do what I want you to do if I make my expectations clear.” A good example of this is how I get my dog to wait for me to go out the door. In most situations where distractions are involved, I put my dog into a sit every time. When greeting people or other dogs, feeding, putting on the leash, playing fetch, or getting into the car, if my dog isn’t sitting and calm I back off and re-approach the situation until he is. But when we go out the door I don’t want my dog to sit; I just want him to wait for me to go out the door first. So that’s what I ask for. Putting a dog into a sit before going out the door sends the message that you don’t trust your dog. It’s like throwing up your hands and saying “I can’t really control you so I’m going to make you sit.” Dogs can see right through that!
In determining my training approach for a particular situation I take into account many factors — the most important of which is maintaining a relationship of mutual respect between dog and owner. Trust is essential! Without trust there is no respect. Evaluating the temperament of the dog is critical in determining the type of correction to use, the level of severity of the correction, and the impact of the correction. If the correction scares the dog, then it erodes the trust between dog and trainer. The goal of a correction should be to refocus the dog’s attention without producing fear. For some dogs and situations an electronic collar might not even refocus the dog’s attention; for others, even the quietest audible correction can frighten the dog.
The goal of any dog owner should be to have a happy, well-behaved dog. Effective training combines positive reinforcement with techniques for discouraging unwanted behavior in ways that take into account the impact on a dog’s emotional state. It is those underlying emotions that drive your dog’s behavior. Changing the behavior without addressing the impact on the emotions is merely treating the symptom. Techniques should be fine-tuned for every dog, owner, and situation! Taking into account the dog’s emotional state is what makes the trainer a behaviorist. Don’t forget to make it fun for the dog! Happy training!