A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One title=
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One
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By Joan Hunter Mayer

Pet parents, what’s your training style? Do you give a treat when your dog sits on cue? Yell when your dog jumps up on guests? Reward some behaviors and punish others? As you search for practical dog training solutions to everyday challenges, you’ll likely come across advice that falls into one of three broad categories: 1. force-free, 2. aversive or 3. ‘balanced’ (a combination of rewards and corrections). So, let’s dive in, explore each approach in a little more detail and discover why training styles matter to you and your dog.

In Part One of this two-part series, we’re going to take a closer look at these three philosophies and how they relate to hot button issues such as the use of training collars, the science of learning theory, and the use of food in training.

Popular Dog Training Styles: The Nitty-Gritty

A force-free, fear-free, humane approach to dog training involves training without the use of force, fear, pain, coercion or intimidation. The aim is to teach you and your pup real-life skills while keeping you both safe, having fun and enhancing the canine-human bond. Techniques in this category are based on a love-of-dog training approach.

Positive reinforcement is a common force-free option. Technically, reinforcement is the process by which a consequence increases the strength of the behavior it follows. Emphasis on the word process – positive reinforcement doesn’t mean cookies. It could be anything your dog finds motivating. Since behaviors that are reinforced are repeated, dogs learn what we would like them to do, leading them to offer behaviors we find preferable (such as sitting calmly rather than jumping up for attention).

Aversive approach - Correction-based training utilizes what is called positive punishment, adding a noxious stimulus, to “fix” unwanted behaviors. Training collars such as choke, prong, shock and others add something aversive following a behavior to decrease the frequency of that behavior. Punishment is the process by which a consequence decreases the strength of the behavior it follows. Things can get a little confusing with this term. But, as long as we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of behavior terminology, we should note there is positive punishment – adding something aversive and negative punishment – taking something away. (For instance, a “time out” in sports is considered punishment. The player loses time playing in the game.)

‘Balanced’ dog trainers utilize both positive reinforcement and positive punishment, rewarding some behaviors and using aversive stimuli to “correct” others.

The Use of Training Collars

Force-free means pet parents and trainers avoid using equipment that pinches, chokes, shocks, scares, annoys or startles dogs. If you are struggling with unwanted behaviors, instead of punishment, a more thoughtful approach is offered. Let’s say Fido relentlessly pulls on the leash during walks. It’s helpful to think about why your dog might be pulling or lunging. Does he have adequate opportunities to engage in normal species appropriate behaviors such as sniffing and socializing? Perhaps he is frustrated, frightened, anxious, experiencing overarousal or releasing pent-up energy. Maybe he is not getting enough mental and physical exercise between walks. When you can identify and address what your pup is having a hard time with, you can work as a team towards making walks more enjoyable for you both.

Aversive - Training collars use pain and positive punishment to decrease behaviors. To clarify, a touch, a buzz or a vibration alone would not change behavior. By definition, an aversive stimulus can only change behavior by causing fear, pain or stress. Punitive methods tell dogs what you don’t want them to do; training collars do not teach dogs what you want them to do instead.

‘Balanced’ - Please note that it is impossible to be force-free and use corrective collars. Philosophically and physically, they are opposite and incompatible.

 When it comes to the use of training collars, pet parents should be aware of the risks, including that correction-based training can result in increased fear, behavior problems and a wounded human-dog bond.

What Does the Science Say?

Force-free dog training is rooted in the scientific methods of animal learning and proven to be effective, without causing harm. Pet parents are asked to understand how dogs learn, how they communicate, and what are considered normal, species-specific behaviors. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on Humane Dog Training states, “Based on current scientific evidence, AVSAB recommends that only reward-based training methods are used for all dog training, including the treatment of behavior problems.

Aversive - “Aversive training methods can be dangerous to people as well as animals and pose a threat to animal welfare by inhibiting learning, increasing behaviors related to fear and distress, and causing direct injury,” according to the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists’ Position Statement  on Humane, Effective and Evidence Based Training. 

‘Balanced’ – Since corrections are included in this approach, all the same risks cited above for aversive methods apply here.

Based on the science of learning theory and the leading veterinary behavior scholars, taking a more humane approach to dog training is safer and more effective for learning than using aversive training methods and tools.

The Use of Food- and Other Rewards- in Training 

Force-free training can involve using anything your dog wants. For instance, positive reinforcement training focuses on using rewards to reinforce desired behavior. Treats, petting, praise, and interactive games can help to strengthen your bond, providing opportunities for enjoyment and connection while you’re training together. Rewards can motivate your dog to stay interested, curious and engaged with you. Once you and Fido know how to get the most out of reward-based training, it’s pretty easy to employ.

Aversive methods place the emphasis on punishing behaviors you don’t want.

‘Balanced’ – Food rewards are commonly used here in addition to corrections… which can be downright confusing! Dogs might not trust the training process because it’s unpredictable and perhaps even sometimes scary and/or painful. 

Returning to the science, we see that training with positive reinforcement (the addition of rewards) is safe and effective, whereas correction-based training (the addition of something aversive) can be dangerous; plus, it doesn’t tell your dog what you do want. Combining the two in an attempt to be somehow ‘balanced’ simply adds unnecessary stress and risk.

In Part Two of this article (to be posted next Saturday), we’ll talk about how dog training styles compare when it comes to time commitment, unintended consequences, treating dogs as individuals, and what’s in it for you, as a pet parent and/or animal advocate.

Until then, as you and your pup navigate life’s challenges together, please keep in mind that dog training is an unregulated industry. And while there’s no shortage of opinions on the topic from television, social media, friends, family, strangers, self-proclaimed ‘experts’ (the list goes on…and on), we hope this closer look inspires you to be inquisitive, and to think critically and compassionately when deciding how to help our canine companions thrive as furry friends and family members.


The Inquisitive Canine was founded by Santa Barbara canine behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer Joan Hunter Mayer. Joan and her team are devoted to offering humane, pawsitive, practical solutions that work for the challenges dogs and their humans face in everyday life. Here’s to barking with the dogs, cheering for the humans, and having fun!

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Lucky 777 Aug 24, 2021 10:19 AM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

As soon as I read the phrase "pet parent" that's really all I need to know about this trainer. People who "adopt" not buy, who have "furry babies" instead of dogs, might be the same ones who never spanked their kids who now are entitled brats who live on their cell phones and never make eye contact with adults. The science of dog training is evolving as we are able to intuit their emotions more through research, but the basic relationship will always be that we teach them what behavior we want so that they are canine good citizens. Manners matter. As with training horses, you "Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult." There are many ways to do that, and it is not racist to say that different breeds and dog personalities require different methods. This is an advertorial.

ZeroHawk Aug 25, 2021 01:09 PM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

Pit, good on you for doing that. I've rescued many as well and have given them their forever home until they passed. My current mal was rehomed 3 times which is baffling as she is the most calm, well mannered and reserved mal i've worked with, but she's still a mal and still has loads of energy and needs that most don't understand. I applaud you for rescuing and saving. you rock!

PitMix Aug 24, 2021 01:07 PM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

I've seen kids raised without violence turn into fine humans. I've seen kids raised with violence turn out not so good. If this is true of humans, imagine what you could do with a dog? I brought a supposedly dog-aggressive dog home from the shelter to get her out of the 26 deg weather at night and in 2 days she was wagging her tail at the other dogs. Supposed to stay 2 days and stayed 2 years until she passed away in the middle of her loved ones. Using punitive methods means that the human has a failure of their imagination in most cases.

shorebird Aug 24, 2021 09:41 AM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

Zero and Pit: Absolutely right. You want to be the leader of the pack, not the terrorizer of the pack. If you are willing to shock and jerk a dog it makes me wonder about your own upbringing. Dogs already love you and want to please you. Would you shock or jerk a member of your family?

ZeroHawk Aug 25, 2021 01:07 PM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

Shorebird- thank you. i take my dog training very seriously, and I take my malinois' feelings and mental state very seriously. I train them for all sorts of things that people really depend on and let me tell you that if I used harsh methods, I would have some very terrifying animals under my control. Malinois are not normal nor are they average dogs. They require hours and miles of training and exercise and mental stimulation in order for them to work for you in the best possible ways. These dogs are known worldwide and used in military and law enforcement as well as simple hearding. If i treated them harshly, the chance that they would save me diminishes greatly by building a wall of fear and resentment. My mals are top performers and I can do the same with any breed if I can do it to a Malinois.

PitMix Aug 23, 2021 12:00 PM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

I know a trainer that makes her living rehabbing anxious and nervous dogs that have been subjected to shock collar training and it made them nuts. I've also noticed that there is a big difference between a professional trainer using shock and a dog owner that is not 100% focused on the dog so that the shock is applied late and too strong. Saw a husky whimpering because it was being shocked for every behavior at a high level. Most people should not be using them.

ZeroHawk Aug 23, 2021 09:32 AM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

The dog in the photo is a belgian malinois. I have owned several and own one now. She's my world. I've trained mals and other belgian shepherds for years. I also do volunteer training for a S&R organization. That being said, no, you do not train with a shock collar. You do not train by yanking on the leash, well sometimes it happens but it shouldn't. I've successfully trained many breeds without any of that nonsense. My current mal has been trained in S&R, some bite work, 3 levels of obedience training, 2 levels of agility training, she also climbs walls and trees, swims a few miles, body surfs, kayaks, knows commands in 4 languages and sign language as well. She picks up plastic bottles and drops them near the blue containers. She's full of empathy and love and can tear you up 10 ways to sunday. All of this is fact and none of this was done with a shock collar. I challenge the use of shock collars and say simply with my experience, that if you have to use a shock collar, you have no clear idea how to properly train a dog. If you actually want some tips, I am more than happy to help demonstrate. You can find me around SBCC, the baseball field or Ledbetter.

Babycakes Aug 22, 2021 09:09 AM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

When will people learn that it's NOT okay to choke and electrocute your dogs to teach them how to "behave." This poor treatment of animals is the same as spanking/hitting your child to teach them how to behave. What's wrong is wrong, and if you have a need to be controlling, maybe get yourself a drone to control!

ZeroHawk Aug 24, 2021 09:27 AM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

man you guys really don't get it. you do NOT yank on the leash, nor do you yell, nor do you shock them or put loud audio tones in the ears FFS. Have you tried.....patience? Research? Simple single syllable commands? Gentle leading, toy/treat/affection rewards? Persistence and maintain patience? This is what dog training requires. From a professional view.

a-1629685881 Aug 22, 2021 07:31 PM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

it is not electrocution. it is a short stimulation and 90% of the rare times I use it, it's the audio one. And because it does work, and because it worked to train him quickly, I don' have to yell or jerk the dog; he comes when I call. only need it if he wants to roll in something icky or is attracted by smells of someone's food. I don't think teaching a dog to behave is abusing it. having a dog that doesn't behave, having to jerk on a leash, yell at it- that is abuse.

Babycakes Aug 22, 2021 10:21 AM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

"Physical stimulus"..... as in "electrocution" is okay by you? Let's put a bark collar on you and see how you like being yanked around, screamed at, humiliated, and see how YOU feel after being abused into submission. You people who abuse animals are no better than chicken wranglers!

a-1629652139 Aug 22, 2021 10:08 AM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

Really? Yanking hard on a leash or yelling at a dog doesn't seem that much less traumatic than a gentle and brief audio tone or physical stimulus, especially if it works. And it is NOT equivalent to electrocuting one's dog!

And what about putting a bit in a horse's mouth?

a-1629643149 Aug 22, 2021 07:39 AM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

My first problem with this article is that it seems to be written by someone who has "a horse in the race." Is this person a trainer? If so, then her point of view, while valid because it represents one perspective, is also biased and self-serving.

I have a large dog and wanted him to learn to be well behaved, especially around older adults and young children, who could be injured if he were too rambunctious. Having tried various training methods with prior dogs, I used a trainer who, at the end of the training, uses a collar with sound and shock aspects to reinforce positive behavior. It's a very low level of 'shock' and the audio cue simply gets the dog's attention. If your dog is heading up to someone's picnic in a park because the smell is too tempting, or is eager to roll on a dead seal on the beach, then it's nice to have a method to quickly recalibrate the dog's attention, to divert. I know dogs are sentient beings, and we should treat them with love and respect, and I do. But just as I wouldn't allow my child to push someone over or try to eat their food, I don't want my dog being a nuisance. This method works for me and my dog, and we are both better citizens for it. Would other methods work? Sure, probably. but they did not work for me with other dogs.

ZeroHawk Aug 23, 2021 11:50 AM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

really? i train extremely hyper dog breeds with the highest possible prey drive, and I simply speak to them and gently correct them. With 100% results. I simply snap my fingers, bam! I've got their undivided attention. I can also snap them right out of their prey drive, mid run. Clickers work too. All dogs are different? Not when it comes to the basic principles of K9 training. I'm talking from years of personal experience training belgian shepherds and GSDs. If you have to resort to a shock collar, then yo don't know how to communicate with the dog, nor do you understand the basic principles of how they communicate and receive information. My dogs dont jump on people, unless i command them to do so and then it's not going to be pretty. I urge you to try less stressful and damaging techniques. I also have trained the untrainable. Pugs, chihuahua, staffordshire pittys. I've mostly work with Belgian Shepherds, German and Dutch shepherds and Aussies.

a-1629685714 Aug 22, 2021 07:28 PM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

exactly my experience. dog doesn't mind doing things right; behaves well, is loved and loving. shows no fear. and I probably only have to use the audio or 'shock" option once a month. But it works when I do and he shows no lack of love or appreciation for doing it right.

m2457 Aug 22, 2021 10:12 AM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

I use the same method and love it. I can't think of the last time I had to use the shock option, (usually only if he tries to roll in something dead):), and I rarely even use the low audio option. I have a very high energy dog that needs to run, and much more then I can. His collar range is the length of 3 football fields, and when I take him to remote places, he responds even if I cannot see him anymore. Huge plus. This was a rescue dog that was literally dropped off at my house. I made a decision to train him in a way that would fit both our needs and allow me to keep him. I do not regret it.

SBsurferlife Aug 22, 2021 10:08 AM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

My first problem with your comment is, who else would you expect to write such an article? I wouldn't find much credibility from a dentist who owns a Yorkie and writes about their tips on how to keep it from ankle biting. Obviously someone with extensive dog training experience would write such an article. My second issue, you're clearly triggered by some of these tips because it doesn't jive with however you trained your dog. That's fine, but not all dogs are the same, not all experiences are the same, no need to critique the author who is providing a variety of options for different people and different dogs. While I think your method of training your large dog is harmful and fear-based, it's not my dog so live and let live. Also, children are not dogs... ridiculous comparison.

Eggs Ackley Aug 22, 2021 07:21 AM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

“correction based training can be dangerous…and adds unnecessary stress and risk”
So the majority of dog owners(not parents, mind you) using a regular collar, like leather or nylon webbing, and a proper leash are doing it wrong? How does the animal know a behavior is undesirable without a correction?
With this kind of advice the dogs are going to be more entitled the the kids already are around these parts.

PitMix Aug 23, 2021 11:56 AM
A Closer Look at Dog Training Techniques: Part One

I've heard that you should start by having your dog follow you in your yard at heel position because that is where the treat is. Once he figures out the rewards come when he is in that position, then you attach a leash and move on to the street. Training with baby steps.

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