Dog training methods, the old and the new

Dog Training Methods

Harsh methods of animal training based on a master-servant 'do-it-or-else' relationship have been around for thousands of years and always will be. Why? Because they work!

However, nowadays a number of animal trainers worldwide are finding that newer teaching techniques enable their students - dogs, dolphins, elephants, horses, pigs, parrots and people - to learn willingly in ten minutes what traditionally used to take ten days.

As a result an increasing number of ‘command based’ traditional dog trainers - some of whom have already reached the highest standards in obedience competitions - have changed over to positive reinforcement training methods.

To their surprise they have discovered them to be equally if not more effective and certainly more time efficient. Their enjoyment of the new training processes, their approach to learning and their philosophy and vocabulary have changed. 'Command' and 'obedience'  become 'cue' and 'good manners', while 'correct' and 'dominate' change to 'show' and 'motivate'.

Leash c

These cross-over trainers have reached new heights that they never previously dreamed possible. Often with initial reluctance, scepticism and surprise they have come to realise, that:

  • Dogs that are compulsively trained often offer minimal compliance. Some dogs that appear to work brilliantly in reality just do enough to get by to avoid a correction. These same dogs, if trained differently and encouraged to use their initiative and make mistakes, would undoubtedly learn faster and perform even more brilliantly.
  • It is unnecessary and unfair to teach a new behaviour by eliminating all unwanted behaviours through harsh words, reprimands, punishment and negative reinforcement. It is fairer, and far quicker, to eliminate guesswork by teaching the right behaviour in the first place.
  • Punishment, such as pulling on a check chain or giving an electric shock and the negative reinforcement - i.e. when the pressure is released or the current is turned off - teaches a dog how to learn by avoiding something that, depending on the level of the stimulus, can be either mildly unpleasant or highly aversive.
  • The correct use of a marker signal, such as a clicker, followed immediately by a food treat, pat or praise teaches a dog what is desirable behaviour (e.g. an eight week old puppy peeing in the right place). It considerably speeds up learning and reduces significantly the time taken to train a new behaviour.
  • There are preferable ways of interrupting undesired behaviours, such as pulling on lead or jumping up on visitors, than continuously nagging and shouting "No", which by definition is negative, comes with a lot of emotional body language and does not teach a dog what behaviour to do instead. 
  • People often confuse lack of response with disobedience, rather than with lack of understanding. So in frustration they increase the frequency and intensity of the punishment by shouting louder, pulling harder - sometimes both - or turning up the voltage. A great deal of dog training has more to do with an owner's ego than with education of the dog and, in reality, much of it is abuse.
  • If dogs are punished for incorrect behaviour, they often become stressed. When pain or fear is introduced into training an animal starts to wonder what is going to happen to it next. Its mind is elsewhere and so it does not - and cannot - concentrate properly.
  • When they are frightened, unclear and confused as to what is required of them some dogs give up and shut down completely in order to avoid futher potentially unpleasant consequences. (Some popular TV trainers mistakenly believe this state of learned helplessness is being “calmly submissive” and that all the dog's behavioural problems have been cured!)

    Temporary supression

  • Dogs, like people, learn best when there is a relationship based on absolute trust between teacher and student. When there is a war of wills trust quickly evaporates often to be replaced by fear and resentment.

Correction based training at group classes is often not much fun or motivating for either the owner or the dog. It can become a chore for the owner and dreaded by their dog and consequently the drop out rate is high. All efforts at 'training' cease and the unfortunate dog has no option but to amuse himself and self-train for the rest of his life.

Without a job to do, without enough companionship and without enough mental stimulation and without adequate daily exercise he often ends up in the back yard being nagged at and continuously scolded. It is little wonder that so many dogs are confused, unhappy and end up in all sorts of trouble?


When dogs learn because they HAVE TO, they learn unwillingly and often soon forget. However, with positive reinforcement training - especially when used in conjunction with a marker signal that pinpoints the precise required muscle movement before the delivery of the reinforcing praise, pat or food treat - dogs look forward eagerly to training sessons as one of the highlights of their day.

They learn willingly, they remember what they have learned and their repertoires of reliably performed ‘on cue’ behaviours is large because they WANT TO learn.

© Nov 2006, Oliver Beverly, C.L.E.A.R. Dog Training, Brisbane


Click HERE for Essential Training Tip #4: 'Undertand what positive reinforcement training is and is NOT;