Your Purebred Puppy, Honest Advice About Dogs and Dog Breeds

Dog Training – What Works, And What Doesn't

By Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2014

Giving dog a treat
Treats can be great motivators, but if your dog will only obey for a treat, then HE is in charge of his obedience, not you.

Many dog training methods are based on what makes the OWNER feel good, rather than on what actually makes sense to the DOG. For example....

"Positive only" dog training is a big fad right now

With "positive only" dog training, you bribe your dog to do something with food or a toy. If he does the desired behavior, he receives the reward.

If he refuses to do it.....nothing happens. You don't give him the reward, you don't show him how to do the behavior, you just stand and wait....and hope.

"Positive only" dog training often includes a clicker device – a little metal tab that makes a clicking sound when pressed with your thumb. Clicker training is a form of "operant conditioning" (a term some of you may recognize from your college psych classes).

Here's how it works: You click the clicker at the precise instant your dog is doing some desired behavior. You then immediately give a treat. The dog thus learns that whenever he hears the clicking sound, whatever behavior he was doing at that instant will bring him food.

The problems with "positive only" dog training

Positive only dog training and clicker training sound very noble, and if your dog is food-oriented, this training method works well for teaching fun things – like tricks – where it really doesn't matter whether your dog obeys or not. If you tell him to shake hands or roll over, and he doesn't do it, who cares?

But for teaching your dog to come when called in the presence of temptations or distractions...for teaching your dog to stand quietly while his teeth are brushed or his coat is groomed...for teaching your dog to act politely toward strangers and other animals, and for teaching your dog all the other sorts of behaviors you want a civilized family dog to do (or not do!), positive-only dog training just doesn't cut it.

Think about it. What happens when you want your dog to stop chasing a cat and come to you – but at that particular moment he's not hungry and would rather chase the cat rather than munch on a biscuit?

dog pulling on leash

Owners who rely on positive-only dog training are stuck
whenever their dog "isn't in the mood" to do something.

An old-time trainer once said that if a dog really wants to chase a cat, he will chase it regardless of biscuits showering upon him like manna from heaven.

Positive-only dog training suffers from a serious flaw – it does not teach your dog to respect you, and it is RESPECT that motivates a dog to be well-behaved..... yes, even at times when he doesn't feel like it.

Why Respect Training makes so much more sense to dogs

I call my philosophy of dog training Respect Training and here's how it works:

Real life for all living creatures (including dogs, and yes, humans, too!) consists of learning from both positive AND negative consequences.

  • Positive consequences encourage us to repeat a behavior.
  • Negative consequences discourage us from repeating a behavior.

For example, we hold the elevator door open and someone says, "Thank you!" (positive), so we are likely to do it again. We take an extra-long lunch break and the boss docks our pay (negative), so we are less likely to do that again. We learn from both positive and negative consequences and behave accordingly.

mother dog teaches her puppies good behavior
Your dog learns from both positive and negative consequences. Momma Dog will let Puppy know if he is playing reasonably or if he gets too rough.

So do dogs. When a puppy plays with his mother, if his style of play is reasonable, she responds in a positive manner. But if he gets too rough, she is quick to correct with a growl or bite. Does Puppy become depressed and never play with another dog again? Of course not. He is happy to play – only more gently.

Positive only dog training is well-intentioned, but it doesn't match real life or how dogs learn best. Simply withholding a treat is not a negative consequence to most dogs. Especially not when they're happily occupied with pestering the cat or chewing up shoes or digging through the trash. They don't care a whit about your treat.

No, dogs learn best from balanced dog training, where their behaviors can result in positive OR negative consequences.

  • Positive consequences = YOU rewarding desirable behaviors with praise, smiles, petting, games, and treats.
  • Negative consequences = YOU correcting undesirable behaviors with your voice or hands, or with the leash or collar. Now, I don't mean hitting, yelling, choke collars, or shock collars – I can show you how to correct your dog without being harsh or hurtful.
respect training teaches your dog to follow your leadership
Be realistic and fair with your dog. Show him positive AND negative consequences so he can make an informed choice.

By showing your dog both positive and negative consequences, he can make a conscious choice to do a behavior (or refrain from doing a behavior) – not only when he's in the mood for a positive consequence (reward, treat) but also when he might not care a hoot about the positive consequence but he controls himself because he doesn't want the negative consequence (correction).

All of life works this way – cause and effect.

When YOU become the arbiter of your dog's behaviors – the one who gets to say yea or nay about what he's allowed to do – your dog feels secure and respectful. And once your dog respects you, he will listen to you, pay attention to you, do whatever you ask, and stop any misbehavior upon a single word from you.

You might appreciate my article on Respect Training.

Or just follow the complete, step-by-step Respect Training program in my book, Teach Your Dog 100 English Words. You can download it and start reading immediately, or you can have the printed book mailed to you.