Dog training methods

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

There is a lot of controversy and myths about dog training methods.  The methods used have a profound effect on how the dog learns, their attitude to training and their relationship with you. You could be doing more harm than good to your dog.

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.

Four dog training methods

  1. 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

2. 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

3. 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 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!

4. 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

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

Find a trainer near you that uses positive dog training methods

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.

Dog training methods sources

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