Our training program has five phases with each succeeding phase being built after the prior phase is solidly trained. Most trainers jump directly to our third and fifth phase (training commands and adding corrections) which results in dogs with weak foundations for training.
The first and most important level which is the very foundation of our training is to create a desire and ability in a puppy to focus on a handler.
The second phase of our program is to build in puppies the desire and ability to think instead of merely reacting.
It is not until we have puppies with these first two foundational elements built that we begin teaching actual behaviors and adding commands to those behaviors. This is our third phase.
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).
It is only after behaviors are taught so thoroughly that dogs understand without doubt what they are being asked to do or not to do that our final phase of training is added when it is needed. That final phase involves what some might call punishment. However, what we call punishment is not the type punishment historically used. It adds just enough discomfort to a behavior to make it no longer rewarding enough to do it and it is ONLY used to stop self-rewarding behavior.
Self-rewarding behaviors are those that dogs enjoy. For example, pulling on a leash is fun for a dog. Therefore, the dog is being rewarded for pulling on the leash by the good feeling that leash pulling gives. Pulling on a leash is rewarding in and of itself.
What we call punishment is simply taking the reward out of self-rewarding behavior. We do not use punishment to teach a dog to DO something (such as sit or down) but limit our use of causing discomfort to stopping self-rewarding behaviors (such as pulling on a leash, an activity that almost all dogs enjoy). Positive training is always the preferred teaching method, but there are times when positive training will only work when substantial life changes are made by a family, some of which might be unreasonable to do.
Trainers must be very careful with corrections and they must be used with extreme care. An inappropriately used or badly timed correction can move a dog's training backwards far more than many realize. Corrections should only be used after handlers have determined why their dog is misbehaving. Corrections are never the answer when dogs are fearful or unsure as to what is being asked. They are ONLY beneficial when a dog is choosing a self-rewarding behavior purely for the sake of enjoying it. The level of the correction should be just enough to take the reward out of the behavior. There is no reason for corrections to be painful.
Corrections only need to be administered when these 5 things are thought through. (1) A correction needs only to be uncomfortable. There is no need for it to be painful. (2) The dog must understand the expectations. (3) A handler must never administer a correction while angry. (4) And most importantly, a handler must be able to immediately pull his/her dog back into a happy state of mind with a desire to please after the correction is over. After a correction has refocused a dog, it's time to go back to positive reinforcement for good behavior.
Positive training along with control and limited corrections give incredible results. Corrections can enhance your training when administered properly and under the right circumstances, but punishments should never be the basis of training. Positive reinforcement and control must be the foundation.