How Do I Choose a Dog Trainer?

Did you ever notice if you ask several dog trainers a dog training question you will get several different answers? While you may get a million different answers if you ask a million different people a dog training question, in the end it all comes down to basically only 2 different methods of training a dog.

One-way is the Traditional method (also called the compulsive method, properly known as Positive Punishment) which is when you need to use the force of a choke, prong collar or a nylon slip collar and the training is about “correcting” (usually choking but can also include hitting, kicking, slapping, or any aversive) the dog to get it to do the behavior you want or to stop it from doing a behavior you do not want. The second way to train is called Positive Reinforcement. Instead of focusing on what your dog is doing wrong you focus on what your dog is doing right and then you reinforce that behavior with a treat or toy and praise. For example “If I gave you a $1,000 dollars to sit in a chair for one minute would you do it? Are you more likely to do it again if I ask you to do it again later and pay you another $1,000? Would you prefer to be yanked with a choke collar to get you to sit in the chair and would you look forward to sitting in that chair again”?

A Brief History of Dog Training
In 1910 a German by the name of Col. Konrad Most wrote a book called “Training Dogs- A Manual”. In 1954 the book was translated into English and Konrad Most became known as the father of “Traditional” dog training. It became the model used to train military dogs. It is based on using a choke collar and “correcting” (choking) a dog to get it to do what you want. It was commonplace to take a dog and hang it from the choke collar if the dog did something the handler didn’t want it to do. This type of training has been used on family pets and is still very prevalent today as a way to train any breed of dog from a German Shepherd to a Chihuahua.

The choke collar does just that, it chokes your dog. There is evidence that 90% of the dogs wearing choke collars get broken blood vessels, collapsed tracheas and trauma to the spine not to mention that the thyroid gland sits right there too. In aggressive dogs it increases aggression and in submissive dogs it increases fear. Dogs learn by association. If the dog gets excited and sees a person, an animal or even a small child and jumps towards them, the collar tightens which causes pain which causes the dog to think “hmm, whenever I see that child, I feel pain, I guess I don’t like that child”. The dog associates the child as the cause of pain.

In 1938 a man by the name of B.F. Skinner arrived on the psychology scene with a new principle of human and animal learning called Operant Conditioning. It is based on the idea that if you get rewarded for doing something, you are more likely to do it again to get the reward. What Skinner’s principle of learning basically says is this:
A response (for instance your dog sits) when followed by a reinforcer (your dog gets a treat for sitting) is strengthened and is therefore more likely to occur again.

This principle is based on the idea that getting rewarded makes you want to do something again. You go to work – you get a paycheck. You do your homework – you get to watch TV. The same applies to training a dog. The problem is you can’t tell a dog that if he sits 20 times today you will take him to see a movie. Dogs don’t care about movies or money or a new pair of shoes. What they do care about is food. If your dog does a behavior you like; you reward him with a treat. The treat becomes the “tool” to reinforce a behavior. It is simple. No jerking on choke collars needed to get the behavior you want.

Although Skinner was interested in the learning model in general, it wasn’t until two of his students, Marion Breland and her first husband Keller Breland took this concept and used it to train animals. In the early 1940’s they started Animal Behavior Enterprises, a business that trained and provided animals for commercial purposes.

Unfortunately World War II came along and with it the Traditional method of dog training became solidified. In 1950 however, Keller Breland was hired by Marine land to develop a training program for marine animals. He developed a system of positive reinforcement training that is still in use today. It has taken awhile but slowly positive reinforcement training is coming into the forefront as the preferable way to train.

So the first thing I would ask if I wanted to hire a dog trainer is: “What method of training do you do?” Do you use a choke collar or do you use the positive reinforcement method. Ask them how long they have been training, how did they become a dog trainer, etc.? Don’t assume that because someone says they are a dog trainer they have the necessary experience. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions. A good trainer will be happy to answer them. Your dog is an important part of the family and deserves to be treated by a gentle and knowledgeable person.

The most important tool you can use when training your dog is your intuition. If a trainer says something you don’t like or that feels wrong to you trust your instincts. Listen to your intuition and don’t do it. I am here to work with my clients, to empower them and their relationship with their dog. The relationship you have with your trainer, whether it is for only one session or many sessions, should make you and your dog feel good.

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