An Overview Of The 3 Most Common Dog Training Methods

You know that training your dog is important to securing the safety and happiness of you and your dog but you've heard of so many different methods. How do you choose which one? Let's look at the 3 most common methods to better help you decide which one is right for you and your dog.
What are the different methods?

Let's take a look at three methods today:
  • Traditional Dog Training
  • Positive Dog Training
  • Mixed Training
Traditional Dog Training
Initially developed to train war dogs during World War I, after the war, civilian trainers adopted the technique and it quickly became the standard dog training method.

Colonol Konrad Most was the founder of this technique but William Koehler helped make it famous through his book "The Koehler Method of Dog Training".

Negative reinforcement and punishment are the main components of traditional training.

Negative reinforcement is the process that strengthens a behavior because something unpleasant, or negative, is avoided as a consequence of that behavior. For example, pushing down on your dogs rear-end is an unpleasant feeling for your dog. As soon as he sits down the pressure is released. You are teaching him to sit through negative reinforcement. When he produced the desired behavior, the unpleasant feeling went away.

Punishment is an unpleasant consequence of a particular behavior whether physical or verbal. Hitting or yelling angrily at your dog for climbing on the furniture or stealing food off the table would be punishment.
Although it can (and usually will) weaken that behavior, it may only weaken it when you are present and may have undesired collateral effects.

This method can be a very effective one (as shown by William Koehler) but for the experienced trainer. This is not a desirable method for new dog owners because of how easy it is to abuse it. This is definitely not a desirable method for shy/timid dogs. In general, be very wary of this technique.

Positive Dog Training

Positive dog training is based on Skinners operant conditioning. It is not a new technique, but it wasn't until the 1990's that it became more popular and widely used.

Positive dog training uses positive reinforcement as opposed to negative reinforcement. One thing to keep in mind, positive reinforcement is not the same as a reward. This is a common misconception by the general public.

Positive Reinforcement is exactly the opposite negative reinforcement. It is the process that strengthens a behavior because a pleasant consequence occurs because of that action. For example, if every time your dog lays down you give him a treat or lavish him with praise, he will tend to lie down more frequently to receive that delicious treat or wonderful praise. In this way, you will be teaching your dog to lie down through positive reinforcement.

In general, this is a very good technique for teaching dogs new things. It builds up the relationship between dog and owner in a very positive way. It is also a very "simple" method for new dog owners. It can also be a very enjoyable time for you as the owner/trainer. Shy and timid dogs thrive on this method of dog training but the more head-strong breeds tend to not respond as well to the treats and praise.

There is one main problem with this method. It is that some dogs after being trained in this way won't do anything without a treat in front of them. That is why it is best to mix in praise and treats so they don't become reliant on the food treat.

Mixed Training

Mixed training techniques use both positive and negative reinforcement. This method of training is nicer to the dog than the traditional method but gives a firm foundation from the use of the positive and negative reinforcement.

This method is frequently used in sports that include attack/protection training such as Schutzhund, Belgian Ring, Police K9, tec.

One of the main reasons for this is because certain behaviors, such as biting an attack sleeve, are very difficult to train without negative reinforcement.

Mixed training methods usually avoid using treats as positive reinforcement. Instead, they use games and praise. This gives them the assurance that the dog is going to perform even without the treat.

This is a very good way to train almost any dog. The positive reinforcement helps the bond between dog and owner to be a very friendly and enjoyable one and the negative reinforcement gives the reliability that a dog needs to have when in a dangerous situation.

As a last note I would like to say this: Whichever method you choose, be consistent. Consistency is the key to good dog training. Choose either of these three methods and if you aren't consistent, you will fail, if you are consistent you will go far.

Evan Tuuk is the webmaster of . There, he helps to educate young dog owners on the care, training and history of canines through the online forum and blog .

Resources/Further Reading:

I would recommend the following books. Some are on positive training, some are traditional training, and some are mixed training. I would still suggest reading them all and getting the perspective each one takes. Be open-minded and learn...

“The Koehler Method of Dog Training” - William R. Koehler “The Power of Positive Dog Training” - Pat Miller “Culture Clash” - Jean Donaldson
Read all you can about the different methods of training and the pros and cons of each. That will help you greatly in deciding what is best for you and your dog.

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