Your dog has a behavioral problem. Let’s say your dog is fighting with another dog in the home, or reacts inappropriately to other dogs in public, guards the couch, or bites people. Maybe your dog barks too much or steals food off the kitchen counter. You want all that to stop. What are your choices?
First choice is to do nothing. The problem with this approach is that every time your dog gets a chance to respond inappropriately to anything, your dog is being trained by you to do that even more, and with more intensity, over time.
The second choice is to avoid all of these situations. You could remove other dogs from your home or keep them separate all the time. Or you avoid being around other dogs in public. Or you put cardboard boxes on that couch so the dog can’t get up there. Or you don’t let anyone near your dog. This might make the situation livable, on the other hand, you are not dealing with the underlying issues and the problems might, and probably will, crop up in some other area. Also, your dog is going to have to live a more restricted life, sometimes to the point that the isolation would be considered cruel and might undo your dogs socialization.
The third option is to hire a trainer that only uses positive reinforcement to fix problems. Each situation would be broken down into very small parts and each part trained to get a structure of responses that, hopefully, makes the problem go away or be manageable. Unfortunately, this type of training usually doesn’t address the internal motivational mechanisms that were driving the undesired behaviors, and if a temptation comes along, there is a good probability your dog can break through all of that training and the problem comes back. Your dog has figured out a way to self reinforce the behaviors you want to stop. Then you’ll be told that your dog needs a drug to fix the problem, which isn’t really fixing the problem but medicating it. Many behaviors are a result of actions that have a biological purpose and are typical of dogs and those can’t be programmed away with this approach. The performance of those behaviors is always going to be more satisfying than the treats used in the training. Most exclusively positive trainers never give their dogs enough freedom to express natural behaviors, and the dogs live a very restricted type of life.
The fourth option is to find what I call the all force trainer. These are the trainers that base their entire program around using discomfort to fix problems, and you can find them in almost every city in the country. Sometimes they do use positive reinforcement in their programs, but the dogs still are put under too much influence. These are the trainers that turn dogs into robots and zombies. All the play and spirit are taken out of the dogs. This method is cruel and outdated; no top obedience or working dog is trained that way any more. That type of training went out of style 50 years ago. These dogs then walk along in a funk. They are unresponsive. The main focus of these programs is usually a set duration board and train type approach. Two main goals of the program are to get the dogs to do extended Down Stays on raised dog cots, and walking on a leash without any reaction. These programs run somewhere between 5 days to 3 weeks. These are the people that, in my opinion, should be drummed out of the dog training community. Dogs are put through the program in a set number of days or sessions, having no pace based upon how the dog is accepting the program. That’s not good for any dog.
There is one last option. This approach would address the underlying emotions and behaviors the dog is engaging in and steering the dog into results that are good for the owner and the dog. This type of program doesn’t have a fixed set of lessons or time frame. This approach teaches what is the best response, encourages the dog to want to do the best response, and then discourages the dog from making the old responses. This approach requires the dog to have solid responses to commands in all situations without sapping the dogs joy, personality and spirit. This approach allows the dog to go at the pace that the dog can handle until the dog can do it all proficiently. Lastly, this approach requires the owner be involved and to master the necessary skills. Obviously, this is my way, but since I’m in business, I won’t post the details here. My approach doesn’t make a dog into a robot or zombie, yet can fix what you want fixed.
OK, it’s now your choice what to do. Which way are you most comfortable with?