Dog Training Methods - All Positive or Do I Use Corrections

There are many different schools of thought on dog training.  Thirty years ago, most, if not all the top dog trainers trained primarily by using corrections and punishments. Today, more and more successful trainers are abandoning these practices in favor of more positive methods.  After trying a lot of different methods over the years, we’ve found that positive methods get better results and that corrections are helpful only when certain specific criteria are met.

We recommend 100% positive training methods in the teaching phase of dog training and with puppies under 4 - 6 months of age.  It is only after a dog is thoroughly trained in a behavior that training can be enhanced by the use of FAIR corrections.  We only recommend corrections when a dog is over 4 - 6 months of age, when a trainer is more than 100% sure that a dog understands what he is being asked to do and still refuses, and when a trainer knows how to give a correction while at the same time still maintaining drive and a happy desire to work in a dog.  I’ve listed in our FAQ on how to use corrections what I consider to be absolute rules in the use of corrections and also the circumstances when I believe corrections might be necessary.  We never recommend a correction for a young puppy because their learning is not solidified enough for a correction to be fair.  It is only after a dog has learned a command thoroughly and gone through all stages of learning that a correction might be helpful.  These stages of learning include proofing a behavior which means making sure that a dog has learned how to do it even in the midst of distractions and generalizing a behavior which means making sure that a dog has learned that a behavior is required in all locations and under all necessary circumstances.  Dogs are very in the moment and situational.  For example, if you teach a dog to sit in the kitchen, he won’t know until he’s been taught that he also needs to obey the command to sit in the living room or to sit to be petted.  Dogs need to practice commands in all the different situations that they will be expected to obey it.  Until they understand what is expected of them no matter where they are and no matter what unusual circumstances might have occurred, a correction isn’t fair or helpful.

Positive training does not mean letting a puppy or dog be in charge or get everything he wants.  Our methods involve teaching a puppy correct pack structure in a home by limiting the freedom a puppy receives until after he is trained well enough to choose appropriate behaviors on his own.  We believe that families need to establish a good pack structure within a home, but instead of teaching leadership with corrections, we teach pack structure to young puppies with the use of crates, pens, and leashes.  Controlling a puppy's environment is key.  A puppy learns that his people are in charge because he has no choice but to go where they lead him to go.   We believe that young puppies need to start their lives with very little freedom in the house until they show that they are responsible when given that freedom.  See our question on crate training and the use of a pen and leash for more information.

Using harsh methods to establish that you are the pack leader of your puppy will make a puppy fearful, but using crates, pens, and leashes to control what a puppy does teaches him in a gentle way that he must be under your authority.  He will learn to be a confident happy puppy at the same time that he is learning to respect your leadership.

See our next questions on positive training and corrections for more details.