Which Method of Dog Training is the Best?

Andy Ramshaw with a Standard Poodle dog
At Venture Dog Training, we use training methods that are known as Positive Reinforcement and Reward based. These are methods that don’t cause dogs any physical or mental discomfort while teaching them different behaviours. When training like this the dog is rewarded in some way for doing what we’d like them to do. A lot of times the reward is food.  This isn’t the only method trainers use to teach dogs. Trainers use methods where they apply pressure or discomfort to a dog and the dog does what the trainer wants in order to relieve the pressure or alleviate the discomfort. These are known as aversive methods because the dog is behaving in a certain way to avoid something unpleasant.  A common argument against Positive Reinforcement training is that it’s not effective in the real world. It’s often said that Positive Reinforcement training has a high degree of efficacy but a low degree of effectiveness. Mostly because we take time to set up the environment to give the dog the best chance of being successful. Other methods use the method of punishing or adding an aversive when the dog behaves in a way the trainer doesn’t want. This method seems to be faster and more effective in the ‘real world’ because environment and distractions aren’t as important to the dog when they are avoiding something.  But, by gradually changing the environment for the dog until ‘real world’ situations and repeating and rewarding the behaviours it knows, they become habits. So, creating effectiveness.  Positive reinforcement or reward training is about far more than food treats. The rewards start the learning process for the dog as they work out what they need do to get access to the most and best rewards. Rewards can be games, activities, situations, praise and petting or food. A trainer will help you discover which types of rewards suit your dog. Over time we build up a repertoire of rewards to suit different behaviours, environments and situations.   No method is 100% effective 100% of the time though because as trainers we are humans who aren’t perfect and we are teaching dogs who are also sentient beings who make mistakes.   I like to use methods that are fun and that I want the dog to enjoy. I have seen punishment used to train dogs too. I grew up in the 1980s when information wasn’t as readily available as it is now. I saw my Father growl at our Labrador, Sam to show his displeasure. I saw my Grandfather’s Labrador Meg pee from fear whenever she saw him. Both were beautifully trained, working gundogs. The most effective method of dog training is always going to be the one that people want to replicate at home.  If the owner enjoys the training method and the dog enjoys the training it leads to more repetitions which ultimately leads to habits being formed.  The purpose of dog training is to create habits via repetition and to be able to communicate with our dogs by having some useful behaviours on verbal cue. We need to be able to ask our dogs to do certain things at certain times to make our lives easier.  Your choice of training style ultimately comes down to your personal ethics and how much you enjoy the training methods.    

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