MY DOG TRAINING METHODS
People always ask: What type of dog training do you do? Do you use a clicker? Do you use food rewards?
The answer is: It depends. I follow a simple philosophy that combines dog psychology, repetition of positive reinforcement, and as gentle as possible, yet as firm as necessary, corrections. I teach the owners to become the pack leaders their dogs want them to be.
Every dog is an individual, and the best results are achieved when the training method compliments the dog's natural instincts. For example: a dog with a good food drive will respond well to treat rewards. An excitable and/or dominant dog with a high food drive can overreact to treat rewards and may be more difficult to control than if a non-food form of praise was used.
A dog must first be taught what is expected of him, without the use of corrections. It is unfair to correct a dog for failing at a task he has not learned yet. There does come a time, though, when the dog knows exactly what is expected of him but refuses to perform the task anyway. I believe that at times like these a small number of assertive corrections now is much preferred to allowing the problem to escalate out of control. Unfortunately, many dogs who do not receive proper discipline end up in shelters for simple issues and problems that could have been addressed and prevented early on.
We must also remember that dogs are pack animals. Whether the owners realize it or not, their dog's behavior is partially ruled by his pack mentality. That is why I teach the pack dynamics to owners and how they can fulfill their dog's inborn needs. Training is not summer school for "bad" dogs. Training is a life-long working collaboration between dogs and their owners.
A few words about claims that correcting a dog is the same as punishment. I disagree. An appropriate correction, administered at the appropriate time, communicates displeasure of an action in a language our dogs can understand.
Think of this: A good friend of yours drives 35MPH over the speed limit near a playground and receives a speeding ticket. Do you think that a speeding ticket is cruel to the driver? Do you think that giving your friend $5 every time he drove by the playground without speeding will prevent him from speeding ever again? I believe that there should be a balance between rewards for doing the right things and consequences for doing the wrong ones.
It is the same with our dogs. Using only positive reinforcement and food treats (whether combined with a clicker or not) works wonders when teaching a dog the general obedience commands and how to perform certain tasks (roll-over, fetch the slippers, play dead, etc.). However, the same techniques are not as effective when your dog gets startled, over-excited, or protective and decides to charge that Chihuahua or the 5-year old girl across the street. There must be a consequence to an unwanted or dangerous behavior that the dog is familiar with and wants to avoid. To paraphrase one of my teachers: "What flavor of treats would you use to stop a dog from pulling your arm out of its socket when he charges another dog?"
As usual, no single method is superior in all cases. It is always best to use the proper tool for each task.