Mar 3 / Teresa Tyler

Thinking About Dog Training

There is so much debate at the moment particularly on social media about types of dog training. Well I say debate but often it varies from polite debate to angry mud-slinging. It is an incredibly emotive and divisive topic. In simple terms there are two extremes. On one side we have the ‘positive’ trainers; the force free people who claim to never do harm to a dog. On the other side we have the ‘traditional’ types, who believe that being the boss or ‘alpha’ is crucial and like to demonstrate how dominance over the dog is the way to go. In the middle there are those who call themselves ‘balanced’ but appear not to know which camp they would rather be associated with, so place themselves somewhere safely between the two.
So how as dog professionals and guardians do we steer a ship between the maelstroms?   
Social media slanging matches aside (how you respond to those is up to you), I believe we need to delve a little deeper into the ethics of our interactions with dogs, or animals per se. Afterall this type of debate exists across the board of animal training. Let’s consider the common perceptions of each approach:   Positive Training: Positive trainers are those who do not use punishment or aversive methods. They use positive reinforcement to teach dogs in a variety of ways. They have a fluffy, enlightened, ‘nice’, reputation who shower dogs with treats and never shout at them.   Traditional Training: Think Barbara Woodhouse if you can remember that far back, or even some TV personality trainers like Cesar Milan. They like to dominate dogs, assert their misguided place as pack leaders, and make dogs submit to their demands. They have a reputation as being bullies.   Balanced Training: Balanced training is the combination of both; reward wanted behaviours and punish unwanted ones. These trainers have a reputation as being the common-sense ones who use what works, that sit on the fence, that use both arguments when it suits and stick firmly to Skinner’s quadrants and Most’s ideas about training military dogs from decades ago.  

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