Positive Training

Training can generally be grouped into two kinds: Positive and Negative. And if you have ever seen a choke or pinch collar, you’re probably familiar with negative training. If you’ve ever given a dog a treat, you’re familiar with positive training. Not many people think about the consequences of each kind of training, or evaluate which will work better for them and their dog. So, here is a very simple comparison.

With negative (punishment) based training, your dog is always deciding. You might call it scheming or plotting. “If I steal the steak, I’ll get punished. But it is a yummy steak. Maybe, when he looks away….” “If I chase the squirrel, I might get away, I could go on a nice run and he’d never catch me…”

If you’ve ever seen someone chasing their own dog around screaming “come” or “sit” or “No” (the most useless command ever) you’ve seen a dog that is either untrained or trained with negative methods. Here’s what the dog is thinking: 1. “This is fun!” and/or 2. “If I go back I am going to be punished, but if I keep running, no punishment. Run! Run! Run!” If you are considering training with punishment or choke collars, please read this before you start. I do not condone or endorse these methods, but it is where I mistakenly started.

With positive methods, the dog is making very different decisions. The dog is part of a team (you and her) and the dog is thinking “I love my family. Ooooo! A squirrel! Hey Mom! It’s a squirrel! Oh, mom says we should keep walking. Ok, Mom! I’m on it. Walking with my mom, Walking with my mom, Walking with my mom. Mom is awesome!”

Many people who don’t understand positive methods have criticized these methods as “bribing” a dog into doing a behaviour. If the dog sits, he gets a treat. At first, it does look like bribing. But if you’re bribing your dog, you’re doing it wrong! With positive training, YOU ARE THE TREAT! Over time, the treats are phased out, but not the rewards.

Positive methods teach the dog that your love and affection and attention are the reward. With positive methods, your dog doesn’t run away because he would prefer to be with you. Your dog doesn’t chase the squirrel because maybe you’ll give him something fun to do.

You can think of it like math (or any thing you don’t enjoy or quite understand). At first, it’s difficult. But if your teacher gave you a cookie (or something you enjoy) every time you did a math problem, it might not be so bad. At least the cookie is nice. And if you have a good teacher, that teacher can figure out how to make math fun and interesting so that eventually you might find math rewarding in itself. So, you don’t need the cookie any more because math is now the reward.

Be a good teacher to your friend. Use positive methods.