6 Most Common Dog Training Methods

Before you dive into this read, I want to provide an outline to the foundation of every dog training method you are soon to read about. Also, keep in mind that there are many more training methods out there, so do your research and pick what works best for you and your dog. There is no one size fits all model, a good dog trainer will get to know you and your dog before making a training plan.

The 7 Essentials for ALL Dog Training Methods:

  1. Motivation
  2. Body Language
  3. Simple commands (keep it short)
  4. Tone & Volume
  5. Shaping
  6. Consistency
  7. Patience

Pro Tip!

Dog’s need both mental and physical stimulation. Giving them exercise first thing in the morning  will help them to be able to focus on learning new skills and practice what they already know throughout the rest of their day. This will not only benefit your dog, but also make your life easier too!

Training Method #1: Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a method that teaches your dog that their good behavior is followed by a reward. The reward depends on what motivates your dog (food, belly rubs, a toy, verbal praise, etc.) and is referred to as the reinforcing stimulus. However, if your dog does not perform the desired behavior (sit, stay, etc.) the reward is then removed or your dog is simply ignored for not following your command.

The punishment in this type of training is simply having the rewarding stimulus withheld. The main focus here is the reward and positive verbal praise when your dog listens to your command. Your dog will quickly begin to associate them following your command to obtaining their reward (treat, toy, toy, etc.) resulting in them repeating the desired behavior.

*This method does not implement any physical or overly harsh verbal reprimands.

*Remember, your commands must be short and should be implemented and responded to in the same way each time from everyone in your household.

*Be careful not to unintentionally reward your dog for unwanted behavior

Examples:

  • Owner says “sit.” (command) Dog sits. (behavior) Owner gives the dog a treat and says “good girl.” (reinforcing stimulus)
  • Owner says “sit,” the dog does not sit, the owner puts the treat back in the bag and waits a moment before repeating the command.

Clicker training is a form of positive reinforcement and is also referred to as mark and reward. It is used to communicate the precise moment that your dog follows your command, every click being followed by a reward.

Essentially, it is the anticipation of the reinforcing stimulus (reward) that highly motivates your dog to learn, while also supporting the bond between you and your dog.

Training Method #2: Negative Reinforcement Training

This training method is used to shape your dog’s behavior by removing an unpleasant stimulus. The “negative” term refers to the taking away of the unpleasant stimulus once your dog does the desired behavior. The desired outcome is that the continued removal of something unpleasant will train your dog to be compliant. Negative stimuluses can be many things, but essentially it is removing something that the dog views as unpleasant. Here are some examples:

  • You push/hold your dog’s bottom down until they sit on their own
  • Holding your dog’s leash tightly to keep pressure on their neck until they stop pulling and then the tightness subsides.

Electronic training is a great example of negative reinforcement. With this method, an uncomfortable shock, spray, or sound is activated until your dog complies with the command.

Training Method #3: Scientific Training

Scientific training is a broad overarching concept that is intertwined with many other forms of training. This method is based on the ever changing new information that behaviorists and psychologists learn about dog behavior. The aim with this method is to better understand the psychology of dogs through conducting studies where extensive observations and data are collected.

At this point in time, the best way to implement this method is by staying up to date on what the latest research shows to be the best way to train your dog. Scientific training is not one specific method of training, rather the awareness and commitment to training your dog based on what the most recent evidence based research shows to be the most effective way to train your dog.

Two common science based training methods are classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Let’s take a closer look at what each of these are.

First discovered by Ivan Pavlov, a Russian psychologist, classical conditioning is an involuntary learned association with a neutral stimulus. For example, when you pick up your dog’s leash your dog responds by immediately running to the door in excitement, knowing that you are about to go on a walk. They have associated the sound that the leash makes with going on a walk. When the stimulus (the leash) is responded to in the same way enough times, the behavior is conditioned.

B.F. Skinner is considered the father of operant conditioning, which is what happens when your dog associates their behavior with a consequence (good or bad). This method can be used in both positive and negative reinforcement. Within this method there is what is called “The Four Quadrants of Operant Conditioning,” each quadrant playing a vital role in training a well balanced dog:

  1. Positive reinforcement
  2. Positive punishment
  3. Negative punishment
  4. Negative reinforcement

Training Method #4: Model-Rival or Mirror Training

This model requires two trainers who demonstrate or act out the command followed by the desired behavior. For example, if the desired outcome is that your dog will bring you a particular toy the two trainers would model how to correctly execute the desired outcome. In this scenario one trainer would ask the other to “get toy” and the other trainer would follow through by retrieving the toy, followed by praise. Once the trainers have modeled, it would be your dog’s turn to respond to the stimulus in the same way. If your dog does not, the modeling would continue until your dog was able to repeatedly demonstrate their desired behavior.

Training Method #5: Alpha Dog or Dominance Training

This method, commonly referred to as both alpha and/or dominance training practices the pack mentality in relation to the canine’s wolf ancestors. Just as there is a leader or alpha in a wolf pack, you (the owner) would be considered the pack leader who holds the highest authority and respect.

While the essential training methods still apply, this style requires the owner to take on strength in leadership. Your dog should understand clearly that you are to be respected and even feared. Not only is your dog expected to follow your commands, they are also expected to ask permission to do things like enter your personal space, eat, and receive praise.

When your dog follows a command they are immediately rewarded with verbal praise and (at least initially) paired with a reinforcing stimulus (treat, toy, etc.). However, if your dog does not follow your command, the reward is removed immediately. Commands or expectations that are not followed are often paired with harsh tones and/or gentle physical reprimands (a tap on the nose or bottom). In this method, pinch collars are a common leash training tool, used to reprimand your  pulling/tugging on their leash.

In theory this method may sound a bit barbarrick, but the truth is that it is also highly misunderstood. The goal is to not punish your dog, rather, to establish a hierarchy in order to establish the roles in the owner/dog relationship. This method has shown to work well in dogs with aggressive tendencies.

Training Method #6: Relationship-Based Training

Relationship-based training is exactly what it sounds like, an emphasis and central focus on the relationship between you and your dog. You might think of this style more closely to a parenting style, we don’t train our children, rather, we teach them. This method starts with building trust and love as the core foundation. This foundation gives your dog a strong desire to make you happy (a reinforcing stimulus).

Much like being in school, you would teach your dog gradually, making sure to pay close attention to their every response in order to determine how to adapt or modify what you are teaching them in order to make it more accessible. Using this method, your dog is treated much like your child would be treated, ensuring to consider all of their needs (mental, physical, and emotional). Relationship-based training is a whole dog approach that also incorporates positive reinforcement.

In conclusion, there is no one size fits all approach to dog training, rather it is up to you to get to know your dog. Remember, as long as you have built a strong foundation with the essential elements of training (determining what motivates your dog, learning and understanding how to learn from your body language and the body language of your dog, keeping your commands simple, unsig tone and volume sparingly, using behavior shaping, being consistent, and having patience) you will do just fine! Good luck!

*Remember, you have a strong foundation before you select any training method. To learn more about the essential foundations of dog training, check out my article titled, The 7 Essentials for ALL Dog Training Methods.  In the article, I break down the absolute foundations of every training approach.

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