Positive reinforcement is the cornerstone of our training philosophy.
Our training program has four phases. The first 2 phases are skipped by most trainers, but is the foundation for our program. We build each succeeding phase after the prior phase is solidly trained. Most trainers only train behaviors and use corrections. This type training results in dogs with weak foundations for training.
Phase 1 – Training Focus
The first and most important phase is creating a desire and ability in a puppy to focus on a handler. Without focus, dogs can only go so far.
Phase 2 – Training a Desire and Ability to Think Rather Than to Merely React
The second phase of our program is to build in puppies the desire and ability to think . We train our puppies to actively use their minds to figure out what we want them to do. We want puppies to think rather than to react.
Puppies trained with our methods grow up to be dogs with such a huge desire to work that they actually ponder their training sessions while not in training. All of my older dogs come back doing better at the start of a subsequent training session than they did at the end of the prior one. If they were having a problem understanding something in a session, they will often figure it out before the next session. It is very obvious that they have been thinking about their training during their “time off”. Our dogs love their training sessions! We can’t emphasize the importance of training a puppy to think. This skill will impact a dog’s life more than learning any command.
Phase 3 – Training Behaviors
It is not until we have puppies with these first two foundational elements built that we begin teaching actual behaviors. After this, we begin adding commands to those behaviors. This is our third phase.
Phase 4 – Proofing and Generalizing Behaviors
Our fourth phase is a very important phase and is something that many people tend to skip. It is proofing and generalizing behaviors. Proofing is simply adding distractions including those things that would entice a dog to not perform. Generalizing means training in a big variety of places and under many different situations (including stressful ones).
Reward-Based With No Painful Corrections
The question of whether or not to use corrections is THE MOST emotionally charged topic of conversation among dog trainers. I know trainers (very successful ones) with opinions on both sides. Almost all trainers have strong opinions one way or the other. It is a very heated topic.
We were initially introduced to dog training by punishment based trainers. There were no reward-based competitive trainers in our area. I, Karen, became very interested in AKC competitive training in 2012 with my first competitive obedience dog, Jack. We trudged along with punishment based training.
After a few months of training, I began questioning some of the punishment based methods that I was learning. I wondered if there was a better way. So, I started buying and studying all of the training DVD’s and books I could get my hands on. I currently own over 50 sets of dog training DVD’s and about the same number of books. About half are punishment based. The other half, are rewards-based. By nature, I am very creative and enjoy coming up with my own ways of doing things. Learning from a wide variety of people and gleaning ideas from all sources is fun for me. I experimented with training ideas from both traditional trainers as well as positive only trainers.
As I began to explore different training methods, I began to see huge differences in Jack’s performance when I used reward-based training. More importantly, I began to see an even bigger difference in his attitude. People took notice of his happy disposition in the obedience ring. He loved to work! Jack enjoyed training so much more when I made a game out it. He enjoyed performing. So did I.
A Controlled Environment Instead of a “Pack Leader” Mentality
Our training system has no room for the “pack leader” mentality. We train primarily with rewards instead of punishments. However, we do not allow our puppies or dogs to “rule the roost”. A big focus of our training program is on control of our puppies as well as their environment. Pain is not a part of our program, but neither is permissiveness.