The best in health, wellness, and positive training from America’s leading dog experts

Positive Conditioning

New to Positive Dog Training?

Switching to positive training? At first, it might be frustrating for you – and your dog. The benefits, however, will last a lifetime. In positive training, the goal is to help the dog do the right thing and then reward him for it, rather than punishing him for doing the wrong thing. If he makes a mistake, the behavior is ignored, or excused with an “Oops, try again!” to encourage the dog to do something else.

Good Books On Positive Training Techniques

The dog training field is now producing a steady stream of books that offer instruction and guidance, and many of them appear to promote dog-friendly training methods. But you can’t always judge a book by its cover! It’s more than disappointing to order a promising volume with a “positive” title, only to discover that hidden within the pages are suggestions to jerk on collars, glare into your dog’s eyes, and worse.

Understanding Reward Based Dog Training

In the 1950s, behavioral scientist B.F. Skinner developed a number of principles that are applicable to all living things with a central nervous system. He found that animals are likely to repeat behaviors that are enjoyable/rewarding to them, and not likely to repeat behaviors that result in something unpleasant (punishment). Neutral stimuli – things that don’t matter to the animal – don’t have an impact on behavior one way or the other. Skinner demonstrated that humans can use these simple principles to modify an animal’s behavior. Rewards are the most reliable way to deliberately increase an animal’s offered behaviors; conversely, punishment decreases those behaviors. (See “The Four Principles of Operant Conditioning,” next at end of story). We use these behavioral principles in dog training with great success.

Force-Based Training Methods and Some Unintended Consequences

Most people, unwittingly or intentionally, use a lot of physical force when raising and training their dogs. The purposeful ones have a whole variety of reasons. Some may have read about behavioral theories regarding dominance and “the importance of showing the dog who’s boss.” Fans of these theories may advocate imitations of canine behavior such as “scruff shakes” or “Alpha rolls” to convince the dog he’s at the bottom of the family hierarchy. Others may have been influenced by advocates of traditional, military-style training – think of yanking collar ‘corrections’ or using the leash leveraged under their foot to forcibly pull a dog into a Down.

Training Larger Dogs Using Positive Methods

A holistic pet behavior counselor often has to be like a detective. You have to find all of the missing pieces of the puzzle and put them together to form a complete picture. Sometimes this is not easy because people are not accustomed to thinking about the whole picture in order to determine the cause of their problems. Most of the time, people focus on one detail and cannot see the forest through the trees.

Teaching Fetch Using Positive Reinforcement Techniques

Who has not watched in awe as a Border Collie at a local park sails through the air, snatches a FrisbeeTM in mid-flight and dashes back to her owner, dropping the Frisbee and waiting in eager anticipation for the next throw? Playing fetch with your dog is fun. It’s also a great way to strengthen the dog/human bond, satisfy your dog’s prey/chase instincts, and provide enough exercise to work off that excess energy that can make him a challenge to live with. A formal retrieve is also required for upper levels of obedience competition.

Tethering Your Dog for Training

For many years, I have been a vigorous and vocal opponent of keeping dogs tied or chained as a primary means of confinement. The hazards of tying a dog are well-documented, and include increased aggression, vulerability to human and non-human intruders, and the risk of hanging or choking. It may come as a surprise, therefore, to know that I regard the tether as an invaluable piece of training equipment. The difference – and it's a big one – is in the application.

Shocked About E-Collars

I suggest they wear one and let you "tune" the intensity until it reaches their "recognition" level. I have two dogs who

Promoting Positive Training Methods

Every so often, at a training demonstration or event promoting positive training methods, a skeptical spectator will ask me whether positive training methods can be used for preparing dogs for all types of careers. I know where they are usually going with this question. Their real question is, “I know you can teach dogs to do cute little tricks with treats and stuff, but what about when you want a reliable dog, like an obedience competitor, a protection dog, or a police dog?” Their assumption is that in order to teach a dog to respond without fail, to sharply execute the handler’s every command, you will have to use force- and fear-based methods at some point in the dog’s education.

Latest Blog

Nobody’s Perfect! Least of All Me!

I strive to be a good dog—I mean, a good dog owner. But recently, I was stuck between being a responsible dog owner and being responsible for my dogs’ well being, and I broke a leash law in order to protect my dogs. And I got yelled at, a couple of times.