By Brianna Dick, J.D. Dog Trainer, Owner of Pack Leader Help: Rehabilitation & Training
There are endless blog posts that do their best to persuade owners, dog lovers and even dog trainers that there is one methodology and approach to training. I wish it were that simple but unfortunately, it's not. Dog training isn't as binary as some might attempt to make it. It's not Positive Only Vs. Alpha theory. Dog training is a spectrum and should be tailored to dog, owner, environment and life style. That's the great thing about training and behavior modification for your dog, you have almost endless ways of teaching them behaviors you do want and limiting the behaviors you don't.
So, what's the best type of training?
The best type of training is the one that fits your dog, the one that garners results the one that makes you and your dog feel better and improve behavior. You might say "Brianna, that's a bit ambiguous don't you think?" and I wouldn't disagree with you. To frame things plainly, someone who says they used "science based methods" are usually referring to "Positive reinforcement training" which is not exactly what it sounds like. Positive reinforcement is referring to one of the four quadrants of operant conditioning. It means they are limited to attempting to teach behaviors but not necessarily at stopping behaviors (e.g. reactivity, running around, separation anxiety, aggression). It's essentially treat training for teaching tricks, which can be extremely fun and helpful but doesn't fully address behavioral problems in dogs. Balanced training uses all four quadrants of operant conditioning. What does that mean? It means they are not limited to any specific tool, technique or methodology. They use things like food, toys, praise, different styles of leashes, off leash collars and more. Balanced training tends to be lumped in with "alpha theory" training which is not the case for most balanced trainings. Like we discussed-
Dog training is a spectrum
What's most important is the trainer is using the least aversive method possible. If your dog is acting out with dangerous behavior like jumping, pulling on walks, reacting aggressively there will be a time when using different tools and all 4 quadrants are necessary and that would be a time to get a balanced trainer or LIMA trainer focused on relationship building.
How do I find a good trainer?
Relationship based dog training
In-home training is the BEST option for puppies to aggression cases
Aren't married to any specific tool and allow owners to use what they're comfortable with
Are focused on teaching the dog what they should be doing and aren't focused on correcting via ecollar
Have a solid social media presence showing their work
Offer to have you chat with other or former clients about their approach
They welcome questions about tools and methodology
They say they're "positive only" when this is physically impossible. It's a great marketing gimmick to make it seem like all rainbows and butterflies. Look for things like "force-free" but if someone says "science based positive only" they're pulling your leg
Their primary service is a board & train ... RUN! This is a huge revenue builder for training companies and you'll waste 3k only to have to hire another trainer
If you see an e-collar and prong collar on every dog in their social media
If you see them only using only style of tool (e.g. above or dogs only wearing harnesses)
Trainers who bash balanced training by using hot words like "abuse" or " we don't use fear or intimidation" (who is using fear and intimation to train dogs anyways?)
Any "my way or the highway" vibe you get likely isn't a good fit and won't be adaptable
Ask friends, neighbors, family members what their experience was with different trainers and don't limit yourself to one approach!