Dog training methods

Beware of dog training methods! 

Dog training methods

Dogs trained positively are less likely to present behaviour problems. (Hilby, Rooney & Bradshaw 2003)

Dog training is unregulated in Australia, anyone can call themselves a dog trainer and set up classes.  Trainers do not have to be transparent about how they describe their methods.

Barry Eaton says in his book Dominance in Dogs – Fact or Fiction? – ‘It’s so easy and convenient to pop along to the nearest dog training class without giving too much thought about the training methods they use.  If it’s a training class, they must know what they are doing, right? Well, not necessarily!’

The dog training methods used have a profound effect on how the dog learns, their attitude to training and their relationship with you.

It appears that aversive training methods have undesirable unintended outcomes and that using them puts dogs’ welfare at risk (G. Ziv 2017)

Do I have to be the pack leader?

No, you don’t have to be alpha, dominant or pack leader to train your dog!

In the 1980s and 1990s, it was widely accepted that dog behaviour mimicked wolf behaviour, and this theory formed the basis of aversive dog training techniques.  In the last 15 years or so, canine science has exploded and moved on significantly.  Canine science has proved that while dogs evolved from wolves, they are now significantly different animals, and dogs are not pack animals. They live in a social unit.

We now know the ‘pack leader’ theory is flawed but some high profile trainers continue to promote the idea that dogs are pack animals and can be controlled only through the application of ‘dominance’ and use of physical punishment.  Force free trainers consider aversive (punishment) methods are outdated and inhumane.

Four dog training methods

Negative Reinforcement – not recommended

This method involves the initial application of something unpleasant enough for the dog to want to avoid or escape, which generally means pain or discomfort. Choke chains also known as check chains are used primarily as negative reinforcement.  The choke chain is released when the dog stops pulling on the leash. This method is not recommended because:

  • Choke chains can cause immense physical harm including oesophageal and tracheal damage, laryngeal nerve paralysis and injury to the ocular blood vessels
  • Timing is crucial to be effective
  • It can destroy a good relationship with your dog

Positive Punishment – not recommended

This method involves the addition of an unpleasant consequence to decrease the change of a behaviour being repeated.  Examples include squirting a barking dog with a water bottle and an electronic dog collar which automatically delivers a correction whenever your dog starts to bark. This method is not recommended because:

  • Timing is crucial to be effective
  • There is the potential of the dog associating this experience with people or other animals or objects in the immediate vicinity
  • It may destroy the relationship and trust between you and your dog

Positive Reinforcement – recommended

This method is force free and uses positive reinforcement techniques. It teaches an animal that performing behaviours on request is rewarding. It involves the addition of a pleasant consequence to increase the chance of a behaviour being repeated.  The most common form of positive reinforcement used in the initial stages of dog training is food treats.  Other resources that dogs may consider to be pleasant include toys, games, playing with with a tennis ball, praise and a run in the park etc.  Like us, each dog is different and what motivates one does not necessarily motivate another.  This method is recommended because:

  • Training should be fun for you and your dog
  • Training sessions help to build a bond with your dog
  • Most humane method of dog training
  • Research has shown that dogs trained with positive reinforcement are less likely to develop behavioural problems in the future

Check out ABC’s Catalyst program ‘Making Dogs Happy’ part one and part two and see positive reinforcement training methods in action!

Negative Punishment – recommended where appropriate

This is a force free training method. It involves taking away access to things the puppy or adult dog wants,  in order to decrease the chance of the unwanted behaviour being repeated.  This method is less aversive than negative reinforcement and positive punishment.  The concern with this method is that it does not teach the dog what is required.  It is recommended to be used appropriately on a minimal basis.  A few examples:

  • If your dog barks for his food, take his bowl of food away until he stops barking
  • If your dog barks when he sees his lead come out, don’t clip on the lead until he is calm
  • When your dog jumps up on you, turn your back to ignore them, so they learn that jumping means removal of attention

Find a trainer near you

It’s important to note that dog training is not quick.  Teaching house etiquette and basic obedience will take time, so be patient.  Puppy school is just the foundation for further training your dog.

Find a force free positive reinforcement dog trainer near you.


Reviewed by Louise Newman, Let’s Go Fido, Delta-accredited instructor and Member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers Australia

Barry Eaton author of Dominance in Dogs? Fact or Fiction?
Delta Accredited Instructors and Delta Teachers Derell Sayer, Kathy Wilson and Kerrie Haynes-Lovell (Delta Society of Australia)
Karen Pryor author of Don’t Shoot the Dog.
John Bradshaw author of In Defence of the Dogs
Dr Gaille Perry, Delta Institute

Join our Bark n Purr newsletter and receive the latest pet news, tips and competitions directly to your inbox.

Thanks for subscribing!