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Why I Use Positive Methods to Train Dogs

When I chat with a potential dog training client, I explain that I am what’s called a “positive trainer”-that I use treats or toys or whatever the dog finds motivating-to develop the relationship between the dog and its family in a positive manner, rather than using an electric collar or putting them on their side.

Another type of dog training is “traditional training” in which electric collars (sometimes called e-collars or shock collars) and prong collars may be used.

It’s called traditional training because that’s what every trainer did going back several decades. That is, until some trainers decided to look at training from a different perspective. Instead of punishing the dog for doing something wrong, why not manage the dog's behavior and reward them for doing something right? By rewarding the dog for doing something right, it’s likely the dog will repeat the desired behavior. For instance, we continue to go to work if we continually get a paycheck.

Positive training does NOT mean permissive. No one wants a dog jumping but while a punishment-based trainer may knee the dog in its chest or press the button on the e-collar, the positive-based trainer may have the dog sit to be greeted or touch the person’s hand with its nose.

When we know better we do better. For instance, when I was growing up, my dog stayed outside in a dog house because that’s what everyone did at that time.  Nowadays, most people wouldn’t think of keeping their dog outdoors. In fact, Hokie sleeps in bed with me when she chooses. So as we are open to new ideas and learn new things, our long-held beliefs can evolve. How do I know this?

I once was someone who used a prong collar and an e-collar because that’s what I was told. I didn’t know any better at the time. The prong didn’t work on Zippy because I had to give him frequent collar pops (corrections) to keep him walking

beside me instead of teaching him where I wanted him to be in relation to my body.

And I thought it would be fun to have him off leash. But I soon realized he was afraid of the shock or vibration of the e-collar so I abandoned it. Besides, there’s really no place in the Roanoke Valley for dogs to be off leash except for dog parks.

So I began to change my thoughts. Puppies, like children, don’t come with an owner’s manual. When I was in school, I was expected to sit in a hard chair for several hours a day. Now educators have determined children learn in different ways; maybe they need to stand or walk around a room or see videos to grasp new concepts. Education has changed the way the learner takes in and retains the information.

So then has the education of dog training; which is actually training the humans. Puppies don’t know what they’re supposed to do so they repeat the behavior that gets rewarded.

Instead of punishing the behavior I don’t want, what about reinforcing the behavior I DO want?

I’ve heard of many traditional trainers who, when they learned about the positive training movement and explored some of the science behind it, made the move to become positive trainers. I don’t know of anyone who’s done the reverse.

In 2022, I decided I wanted to further my education and started a year-long dog trainer course with the Victoria Stilwell Academy. I graduated in 2023 and am now a Certified Dog Trainer through VSA. This course aligned with my beliefs and showed me positive, force-free training is the way to go. After all, if positive training works for sea animals who we sometimes can't reach to "correct", why not use it for man (and woman's) best friend?


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