Positive Dog Training
Dr. E. Kathryn Meyer, VMD
Veterinary Behavior Clinic
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior
President (2008 - 2010)
There has been much discussion about which dog training methods are the most appropriate for our dogs. We think that a quick overview may help clarify the issue.
Traditional dog training has evolved from military dog training used in World War I and II. Through the 1980’s, punishment-oriented training using choke chain collars was typical. Subsequently, modern learning theory has been applied to dog training, and progressive trainers use non-aversive techniques, such as positive reinforcement with treats, praise, and play as their primary tools. Because dogs are so easily trained, these approaches are overwhelmingly more effective as well as less stressful for both owner and dog than punishment-based training.
Recently, some high profile celebrity trainers and well-marketed training franchises have reversed this trend toward humane training. Training dogs by scaring or hurting them through physical intimidation using choke, prong, or electric shock collars, “alpha” rolls, muzzle grabs, or throwing things (chains, water balloons) at dogs can slow training, damage the human/dog relationship, and contribute to the development of aggression as self-defense for the dog.
The Humane Society of the US, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers all promote positive dog training as the most effective and humane way to train dogs.
- Positive methods, unlike harsher ones, are not known to create fear or anxiety issues in dogs.
- Positive trainers look for the root of a behavior problem, rather than just suppressing a behavior. Suppressing a behavior doesn’t mean that the problem won’t re-emerge later in a different form.
- Dogs enjoy training, instead of complying out of fear.
- Training is based on how dogs learn. Strength isn’t required to train a dog.
- Dogs learn to trust their owners. While this is important for all dogs, it is particularly important for shelter and rescue dogs.
- Positive training is unlikely to cause injury to people or animals. Both have been hurt when owners try to imitate unsafe punishment techniques.
- Positive training will not have the unintended consequence of creating a negative association between the punishment and whoever or whatever is there at the time.
- Positive training allows dogs to use their brains during training. Mental stimulation is as important as physical exercise to the welfare of a dog.
- Positive training includes management methods that permit dog parents to set their dogs up for success – for example, no-pull harnesses to help with polite leash walking, baby gates to separate dogs from visiting children, and interactive toys to help occupy and provide mental stimulation for dogs.