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Dog Training – What Works and What Doesn't

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

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.

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

In our politically-correct world, "positive only"  or "purely positive"  dog training has become popular nowadays.

With that philosophy, you use food to encourage your dog to do something. If he does the desired behavior, he receives the food. If he doesn't do the behavior, nothing happens.... even if he knows how to do the behavior but is choosing to blow you off.

You don't even say "No" to him if he does a behavior that you don't want – like barking too much, jumping on people, lunging at other dogs, and so on. No matter how bad his behavior is, you don't do anything that would make him feel uncomfortable or unhappy – even for a split second, and even if doing so would completely solve a really bad behavior.

Imagine if we raised our kids that way.

The problem with "positive only" dog training

Well, that's easy. It doesn't work. Oh, it's fine 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 act politely (rather than aggressively or fearfully) toward strangers or other dogs.... for teaching your dog to stop jumping on people, stop barking, stop chasing the cat....

....positive-only dog training doesn't work.

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 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.... or even more importantly, to STOP doing something.

An old 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 does not teach your dog to respect you. And it is RESPECT that motivates a dog to be well-behaved even at times when he doesn't feel like it.

Why Respect Training  makes more sense to dogs

Respect Training is a balanced philosophy of dog training. "Balanced dog training" means both positive and negative consequences for one's behaviors.

Real life for ALL living creatures 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 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 getting 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.

Does Puppy become depressed and never play with another dog again? Of course not. He is happy to play – only more gently.

Dogs learn best from balanced  dog training, where their behaviors can result in positive OR negative consequences.

  • Positive consequences  means you reward desirable behaviors with praise, petting, toys, games, and yes, treats.
  • Negative consequences  means you correct undesirable behaviors with a corrective word, tone of voice, body language, hands, collar, or the leash. Negative doesn't mean abuse! You can absolutely correct your dog without being cruel. Don't ever let the "purely positive" folks tell you otherwise.
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 what you want – not only when he's in the mood for a reward/treat, but also when he might not care a hoot about the reward/treat but he still controls himself because he doesn't want a correction.

All of life works this way – "cause and effect."

And here's the best part....

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 respectful toward you.

And once your dog respects you, he will listen to you. He will pay attention to you. He will do whatever you ask, and stop any misbehavior upon a single word from you.

You might like my article on Respect Training.

Or just let me guide you with the complete, step-by-step Respect Training program in my books:

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

To help you train and care for your dog

dog training videos Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.

The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy. For puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
If your dog is over 18 months, you'll want book coverRespect Training For Adult Dogs: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved dog. Again your dog will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life.
book coverDog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams will help you find a good-tempered, healthy family companion.