Dog Training 101
— Published 09-04-2018 by: Leonard Houser (Thunder Ridge Kennels)
While certainly presenting ‘a complete guide to dog training’ is beyond the scope of this article, we thought we would present the basics of what is involved in training a dog. The dog training information presented here is general in nature and most applies equally to both obedience traing and training hunting dogs for the field. Although successful dog training involves the trainer being able to ‘read’ the dog being trained and adapt the training accordingly, the following is an overview of competing schools of thought as well as our philosophy on how to train a dog.
Dog Training Philosophies
With enough patience almost any dog can be trained for a wide variety of behaviors. Dogs have a natural desire to please and can be trained to exhibit desired behaviors as well as not to exhibit undesirable ones. The two major schools of thought on dog training can be described as positive traing and negative training. We prefer to use a combination of positive and negative reinforcement, but before we get to that lets take a look at both methods individually.
As the name implies, this method of traing a dog uses positive reinforcement to reward the dog when he exhibits a desired behavior. It often involves giving the dog some sort of treat such as food or a favorite toy when he behaves as desired. Many trainers using this method also utilize a ‘clicker’ (simply a device that makes a clicking sound) when rewarding the dog and eventually most dogs will see the click itself as reward enough once they have associated the sound with something good such as their favorite treat.
Trainers who stricly use positive reinforcement do not punish dogs for bad behaviors, they simply only reward them when the dogs behaves as desired. Rather than punishing bad behavior during training, the dog trainer may simply ignore the dog when it behaves poorly and wait for the desired behavior before rewarding the dog. Although it can take much longer to train a dog using only positive reinforcement, some dog trainers have been quite successful with this method.
Contrary to what many might beleive, negative reinforcement does not involve punishing the dog. This term covers a training technique which involves the removal of an adverse stimulus. An example of negative reinforcement training would be putting pressure on the dogs rear when teaching the sit command and then removing the pressure when he sits. It is simply the opposite of positive reinforcement and rather than adding something good (such as a treat) it removes something to reinforce the desired behavior.
Positive & Negative Punishment
Despite the inclusion of the word punishment here, dog training techniques in this category do not involve abuse. Beating a dog is never a good idea in any training situation! Rather, this type of training involves adding an adverse condition with positive punishment or removing something good with bad behavior in the case of negative punishment.
An example of positive punishment in dog training would be the use of a pinch or electronic collar. By adding the adverse stimulus from these when the dog exhibits undesired behaviors, they quickly learn what is not expected of them. Negative punishment, on the other hand, is more like a ‘time out’ and involves things like removing things like attention or even play time with other dogs when the dog behaves in an undesired manner.
A Blended Approach
At Thunder Ridge Kennels we prefer to use all of the above techniques in varying amounts and degrees depending on the dog. While being consistent is certainly a key factor in training a dog, the ability to properly ‘read’ a dog and use the most effective training technique is something that comes with experience and is, ultimately, the primary factor in successful dog training.
We prefer to focus on the positive, but realize that when used correctly and consistently negative reinforcement and even punishment can be quite effective. We routinely use electronic collars and prefer ones with options for not only delivering a mild shock, but also the ability to make a noise or spray water. In most cases it takes very little time before a sound or spray is all that is required and there is no need to apply a shock to get the desired result.