Learning shouldn’t hurt…

Sometimes balance can be a good thing. But in dog training the word “balanced” is often a pseudonym for use the use of punishment-based training. This style of training alternates between praise for success and pain in the form of a choke, electronic nick or physical contact. It can unhinge nervous dogs to the point of becoming reactive or just plain sullen and distant. It is a relationship based on fear rather than wanting to please the owner.

Balanced trainers often cite their success with training “difficult” dogs and working dogs.  Many of them do board and train so their clients do not need to witness their dog being shocked repeatedly for not sitting correctly and the like.  And when the dogs return the behaviors gradually begin to fall apart since the family does not keep up with reinforcement therefore the need to often return for more “training”.  In another example a trainer will use their ands vigorously to push the dog into a sit or down or to sharply pull upward choking the dog in a correction in order to make them sit more quickly rather than teaching the dog to sit first and then reading only for the quicker sits.

Yes you need patience for positive training.  There are no shortcuts to teaching and learning. Anyone who has spent time in a classroom as a student knows this.

Right now veterinary colleges and institutes of higher learning like the the Penn Vet Working Dog Center are taking the initiative and exploring new positive methods for training working dogs positively. The result is a dog that likes to work, wants to work as part of their nature, and is reward-based not punishment-oriented.  And there is a stronger bond between handlers and their dogs who serve police departments, patrol our airports and whose lives we depend on.

I am a trainer with a long-abandoned balanced past.  At one time I was reliant on the choke collar as it was all that was used for training for obedience.  And I hated it. Eventually I abandoned the use of it and sought out new ways to get better attention and response from my dog. After all the higher obedience exercises were all off-leash.  I wanted my dog to want to please me and I wanted to enjoy having a dog that actually liked to work.  And having a terrier to top it off, I was told I was a dreamer thinking that I could even think of training it to be a working dog.  I am here to tell you that it is possible.  My Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers became part of a grand experiment to prove not only the breed’s versatility but to also nourish my need to find a method that made sense and did not cause pain to my dogs and guilt in me.

Using positive leadership-based methods do work provided that they are applied with consistency, in multiple settings and with limit-setting.  My dogs get absolutely nothing for free…ever.  Their food, attention, going outside, in and out of the car, on the sofa-all of this must be earned. And it will be a part of their lives forever.  This is how I maintain the bond. I expect it of them and nothing less. And we are happy together doing all sorts of things that people told us we could not do. This form of obedience blends into our everyday lives and they not only listen but are quite happy to do so.

As a professional certified trainer  I highly suggest that you consider this style of training for your dogs no matter what their breed.  I have always felt that dogs should have a chance to learn behaviors first, reinforced by something of value and taught in multiple locations. Dogs are not universal learners like we are.  Commands need to be short and sweet and sound like you mean business. Some dogs are visual learners and hand signals are another way of communicating.  Positive reinforcement and leadership-based methods builds confidence in dogs that have had a rough start like rescues and also those dogs that are a bit of a challenge.

Having your dog know the value of rewards including attention, food, freedom, praise and play and who they come from-create a better-behaved, respectful dog that listens without hurting them physically or emotionally.

®Dorice Stancher 2016 Canines Can Do, llc® All rights reserved.

Dorice Stancher is a professional trainer certified CPDT-KA, CTDI with an MBA in Organizational Behavior. Her dogs have titled in Obedience/Rally, Conformation, Barn Hunt, Pet Therapy and Dock Diving. They enjoy paddle boarding and dogsledding when not competing.

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