There is a trend brewing in dog training, and it is all about being positive.  Owners understandably want what is best for their dog; they want to avoid causing unnecessary pain and distress.  Newspaper headlines of trainers charged and convicted of animal cruelty have many people concerned.

To avoid unnecessary suffering, owners go in search of a positive and humane trainer.  It just may be the worst thing they can do.

How could these things represent anything but good?  It boils down to legalities and semantics.

Pet training is unregulated in most of North America.  As long as an animal is not physically harmed or in obvious distress – anything goes.  If anything goes, then not much is abusive.  It is all humane until someone’s pet is hurt or someone is charged.  No business savvy trainer on the planet is going to admit to being inhumane.

Searching for positive methods is not much help in screening either.  Here is where the semantics come into play.

The word “positive” has many definitions.  Webster’s defines it as, “having a good effect…marked by optimism.”  Most people are familiar with this meaning.  It is all warm, fuzzy and full of goodness.

In pet training, it has completely different meaning altogether.  It means add, like the math symbol.  (+).  Trainers are positive when they add something to a situation.  It does not mean necessarily mean good at all.

Treat trainers add a cookie.   They add something the dog likes, something good to the mix.

Trainers can also add something distasteful.  Jerking on the leash adds pain, as do other techniques like swatting, shaking, poking, slapping and pinning the dog to the ground.  As horrible as it sounds, a trainer can tell owners to hit or kick a dog and honestly claim to be positive because it fits the technical definition.  Heck, hitting a dog with a 2×4 is technically considered positive with this definition.

When push comes to shove, the majority of training techniques are positive because they add the proverbial carrot or stick to the mix.  That means trainers can honestly claim to use positive methods.  If they smile, they might even fit the Webster’s criteria of happy, cheerful optimism.  Although I personally find it disturbing and creepy that anyone can smile while meting out discipline.

Now I get that not all trainers and owners agree on training techniques.  I personally use treats and lots of them.  I do not use physical corrections based in pain or fear.  Research shows they can trigger aggression and are less effective than food based training.

Some people will disagree.  Under the law, everyone is entitled to choose techniques that fit their own moral compass.  At least, here in North America these products and techniques are legal.  In other parts of the world, many are banned or heavily regulated.

What I do take issue with is trainers who use words like positive to mask which techniques will and will not be used in training sessions.  Clients have a right to know what they are buying.  So let’s call a spade a spade.

A choke collar is a choke collar and not a training or slip collar.  A leash correction is a jerk not a tap.  A shock collar is not an e-collar.  A slap is a slap.  And yes, treats are treats.

Do not ask about positive or humane training.  Instead, owners should get down to the nitty gritty and ask for specifics.  Ask, “What products and techniques will you possibly use on the dog?  How will you correct the dog when it is doing something wrong?”

If you get the run around and claims of “positive discipline” and other clever but evasive answers – run in the opposite direction.   Trainers who have nothing to hide – hide nothing.  Hiding methodology behind a veil of jargon and misleading and misrepresented terminology accomplishes one thing and one thing only.  It takes money out of your pocket and puts it into theirs without an honest and clear indication of what you are buying into.