In the previous post, I discussed “Pack Leader” vs “Pack Parent” and why being a “Pack Parent” is a more natural and helpful concept for your dog. Here I examine the different ways we, as people, teach our dogs, and which way is best understood and accepted by our dogs.
There are many “methods,” but they mostly fall within three main types of dog training:
This blog addresses mainly the training of pet dogs. Working dogs, especially police or military dogs, are trained differently to fulfill a different need, although the same general concepts do apply.
Authoritative – This is the training model that has been used in dog training for a very long time. The idea is: “do what I tell you, or you will suffer consequences that you will not like.” Failure to obey is punished, many times harshly. The justification for the harsh punishment is that you want the dog to fear the punishment enough that the need for more punishment in the future is reduced or eliminated.
My take: Dogs do not use this method to teach their pups. Dogs that attempt to force another dog to their will are bullies and their actions inevitably result in a serious, and potentially life-threatening fight. As a human who claims to love our dogs, I do not justify using force and fear to teach our pet dogs to be nice, pleasant companions.
Friendly/Rewarding – This is the current, in-vogue, method being pushed by the dog trainer community. Clicker training, positive reinforcement, and operant conditioning are some of the terms used to describe this type of training. The idea is that we reward the dog when he performs the requested task correctly, and withhold the reward when he refuses, or if he performs it incorrectly. The only punishment the dog experiences is the lack of a reward.
My take: First, this is a powerful method to teach the dog a task. When properly motivated, a dog will work hard to obtain a reward he desires. With much work, time, and dedication, a dog can be trained to only perform the desired behavior, to the exclusion of others. For example: a dog can be taught to sit and wait in response to the ringing of a doorbell ring, instead of barking and lunging. There are two main problems with this method. First, it requires skill and time that most dog owners don't possess. The second problem, although it is excellent at teaching a dog mechanical skills, it does little to establish a relationship of parent/puppy. The parent/puppy relationship is needed to teach the dog the proper way to live among humans, without the need to be commanded at every step. Also, it does not lend itself well to dealing with “bad” behaviors that may place the dog or others around him in danger (destructiveness, aggression, and other mischief.)
Parental – This method combines our dog's natural way of learning with the more useful parts of the above two methods. A dog is placed in many situations that require him to make choices, is guided gently towards making the correct choice, and rewarded for it. Once the dog learns the correct choice for a specific situation, he will start being corrected for making a different choice. The corrections are gentler, usually taking the form of “oops, let's try it again” instead of physical force/pain and/or fear. And just like in a real canine family unit, the more assertive and urgent corrections are reserved for occasions where the dog's behavior places him, or those around him, in harm's way.
My take: The parental method is the only method by which a proper relationship is established between the pet dog and his human companion. A dog is guided through his natural journey of discovering what works for him in order to obtain what he wants, what does not work, and also, what behaviors are and are not acceptable. The learning is guided by the dog's “parent,” which establishes a good relationship and a desire in the dog to please his “parent” and conform to the rules.
In part three of this blog, we consider the different behaviors and commands we teach our dogs, and which method works best.
Boris Katzenberg is the owner of Behave Dog Training, LLC, a dog training company located in Trumbull, CT. He can be contacted through his website, at www.behavedogtraining.com.