After ending up with three new puppies in our household within a year, I started doing a little research on some of the best (and fastest) methods for training our dogs. There are so many popular dog training methods out there, it can be frustrating to determine what methods work the best, especially for my three rambunctious babies. I found we were definitely not alone! There is even a great deal of disagreement within the professional dog training community about which methods are effective and ethical. Several methods overlap or are used in tandem for the best results. Here are some of the most popular training methods used by dog trainers today.
Alpha Dog or Dominance
Alpha dog or dominance training relies on a dog’s instinctual pack mentality to create a relationship of appropriate submission and dominance. The theory suggests that dogs see their family as their pack and follow a social hierarchy like wolves in a pack. When dogs see themselves as the alpha, they need to learn to instead respect their human as the alpha and submit. Some methods used in this technique include understanding dog body language and responding accordingly, projecting confidence and authority, and going first when it comes to eating, entering or leaving rooms, or walking on leash. If your dog wants to go out, then they have to sit before you open the door. If they want to eat, then they have to wait calmly while you prepare food.
Generally with alpha training, you don’t allow your dog on furniture with you, including the bed. You also don’t get down to your dog’s eye level. That’s because these are signs that your dog has equal standing in the relationship. You are in charge; you are dominant.
Although dominance training can curb unwanted behaviors, modern dog trainers often find it antiquated. It can fail to address the underlying causes of bad behavior and leave dogs feeling anxious or fearful. The dominance struggle becomes constant and needs consistent reinforcement, which can be difficult or even dangerous for children or the elderly.
Purely positive reinforcement is a method popularized by trainers like Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz, who trained the Obamas’ dog, Bo. The theory behind it is fairly straightforward. Dogs will repeat good behavior when it’s followed by a reward. Bad behavior does not get a reward or acknowledgment. If punishment happens, it comes in the form of removal of rewards, like a toy or treats being taken away. Harsh reprimands or physical punishments aren’t necessary.
This training method begins with rewarding the desired behavior immediately, within seconds, after it happens. That way the dog comes to associate the behavior with the reward. In the first couple of weeks of training with our dogs, I used a pouch that velcroed to my belt loop and had treats available at all times. We used our Portable Dog Waste Pouch that can hold treats or pet waste, but something similar would work. Commands also need to be short and to the point. Sit. Stay. Come.
Positive reinforcement requires consistency. Therefore, everyone in your household needs to use the same commands and reward system. My husband was using down when our puppies jumped on the couch and I was using off! It took a week to get on the same page, as not to confuse the dogs. Start with continuous rewards every time your dog does the right thing. Then, gradually move to intermittent rewards as the behavior becomes consistent. Sometimes beginner trainers accidentally reward bad behavior.
Only wanted behaviors are to get a reward, which can include treats, toys, praise, and pets. It can also be easy to overfeed when your dog is learning, so use small treats when you are rewarding with food. This method is great for learning commands, but you need patience for correcting unwanted behaviors.
Clicker training is also based on operant conditioning and relies heavily on the same principles like positive reinforcement. In fact, clicker training may be grouped in as a method of positive reinforcement, rather than as its own form of training. It relies on the use of a device to make a quick, sharp noise, such as a whistle or, as the name suggests, a clicker to signal to a dog when a wanted behavior is accomplished. We put our puppy Molly in basic training at a local facility and they used clicker trainer. It went well for us, however, it was difficult to always have a clicker on your person at home for training moments.
The advantage of using clicker training is that it signals the exact moment the desired behavior is finished and exactly what is being rewarded. Trainers can then use the clicker to shape new behaviors and add verbal commands. First, the dog needs to be conditioned to know that a click means a reward is coming. Then the dog can associate a behavior with a click and a reward. Finally, a verbal command can be introduced to form a new association.
This is a great method for learning new tricks, and it can help shape the basics into more complicated tasks. Many professional trainers use this method. While it is great for learning new behaviors, clicker training isn’t necessarily well-suited for curbing unwanted behaviors. When used alongside other training methods, it can be very effective in making sure you have a well-trained, well-behaved pooch.
Electronic training relies on the use of an electric collar that delivers a shock or a spray of citronella when a dog is not performing the desired task. It’s mostly used for training at a distance when a leash can’t be used. For example, shock collars can train a dog to stay within the boundaries of an un-fenced yard. A remote collar can teach dogs to work in fields or do hunting work. People who use these devices claim that there is less risk of a dog getting hurt by a choke collar or other mechanical devices. We use electronic training collars on our dogs while on walks. However, we very rarely use the shock setting and usually the desired behavior is accomplished through the vibrate/sound mode.
Some trainers do not like this training method. This training method relies on punishment for bad behavior instead of rewards, meaning a dog learns what it’s not supposed to do, rather than what it is supposed to do. Another problem is that it can create a great deal of stress and lead to permanent anxiety issues for dogs. The devices are often used by inexperienced owners, and therefore are overused. This can cause a lot of unnecessary pain, both physically and psychologically, for dogs.
Professional dog trainers may see desired results from electronic training, but it is definitely not for use by average owners. There are many alternatives that put dogs under far less stress and pain. If you are going to use an electronic device, consult a professional about the proper use.
Prong collars are another form of training your dog while on the leash. The size of the prong links should be appropriate for the size of your dog. The collar should sit high up on your dog’s neck, just behind their ears. The fit should be snug, so the prong links can’t shift to the front of your dog’s neck where they might pinch your dog’s trachea. As with other training devices, when used under supervision and in combination with proper behavioral training, these collars can be quite effective. However, these collars should not be left on an unattended animal (such as one tethered in the yard) or to train by negative reinforcement/inflicting pain.
Another collar option for leash training includes the Gentle Leader. Halters are used on horses to give people more control, the same principle applies to dogs and head halters! Not only does it give you more control of the snout and “biting area” of the dog, but it also gives the owner increased control over pulling, lunging, and other naughty leash behaviors. When your dog pulls and he is wearing the Gentle Leader, the pressure is applied behind his head and ears. Dogs dislike being pulled and when you pull on his collar or leash, he wants to pull back by pulling you forward…the Gentle Leader uses the same principle by placing the “pull” on the back of the head making your dog not want to continue to pull you forward when he feels this pressure.
We use a combination of all of these techniques and have had moderate success. The most important thing is consistency in the training method. Regardless of the techniques used, we here at Poo Doo Leash have the supplies you need for training. From our 20 foot leash to our Hands-Free leash, or our Portable Dog Waste Pouch (that can also hold treats) we have you covered. You can also check out Nashville K9 University for online training! We proudly supply their training leashes.
This month’s giveaway for loyal Poo Doo Leash customers includes 10% off our website with coupon code “Friendsgiving”. If you spend more than $50 you will also get free shipping! Also, with this coupon code, we will donate an additional portion of the sale to a legal charity of your choice. Just write in the comment section which charity you would like the contribution made.
Please follow us on Facebook (@poodooleash) and Instagram (@poodooleashnashville) to see a list of upcoming Arts and Craft shows we will be attending. Most are dog and family-friendly. Happy Thanksgiving from Poo Doo Leash and State Paws!!
Rhonda Pinkerman, Founder