Warning! Positive Training May Harm Your Dog

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.

35 thoughts on “Warning! Positive Training May Harm Your Dog

  1. Fact:
    Choke collars DO choke. They work by pressure being applied by the trainer and released when the dog assumes the correct position. Or in a snap-jerk to stop the forward momentum. BUT, if a dog does “take off” towards another dog, that is a continuous choking pressure until the dog stop lunging forward. It is a collar designed to choke.

    Prong collars are designed to hurt. When applied as above, put on the most sensitive part of the neck, they are painful, if only for an instant – unless the dog does lunge.

    Shock collars do shock. What they distribute is electric impulses which are perceived as anywhere from discomforting to extremely painful. The degree depends upon the dog, the setting, the length of repeated shock and the conditions under which it is used. Having put a TENS units on my neck and a shock collar, I know the difference as does the doctor who used the TENS unit on me who also tried the shock collar on her neck, who was thinking of using a shock collar on her dog. And is now working with a clicker trainer.

  2. Just a quick update in case you’re following. Our problems are largely solved. We took our dog to an off-leash trainer who uses the e-collar and positive reinforcement (praise, mainly). The trainer was highly recommended by a friend whose rescued dog also had serious behavioral issues. Also, the trainer we chose has well over a hundred glowing reviews at various consumer sites (far more than any other trainer in our area). It was a difficult decision for us, but having gone through the process we are absolutely thrilled. Our dog now walks beautifully on a leash and is very obedient in virtually all situations, goes for 3+ hours of walks and spends about 45 minutes at the dog park every day, joins us for long weekend hikes, is far more confident and less anxious, and is very happy-go-lucky, affectionate, and playful.

    Turns out our dog did not need Prozac and was not fear aggressive. She just needed some rules, discipline, exercise, and socialization. And, as we suspected, the reactivity on the leash was due to barrier frustration, which has also gone away. She is also very good indoors, and stops barking when asked. We can’t make a blanket endorsement of any training tool but, based on our experience, we can recommend keeping an open mind when it comes to training your dog and dealing with behavioral issues, and to research your dogs issues and any prospective trainers thoroughly. Also, the training we used was not an instant cure-all; we spend a lot of time working/playing with our dog every day. It’s a pleasure when you are making progress, though, and it’s motivating to see your dog transition to a full, happy, healthy life.

    • I don’t think that the concerns people have over shock collars relates to “do they work.” They relate to the side effects that can be triggered. It’s like taking Vioxx. Could help your pain. Or it could give you a heart attack. With pain pills, you get a side effect page for that reason. That’s what some organizations want to see with confrontational methods. They want trainers to get a signed waiver saying that clients are aware of the risks. I agree with that idea.
      The following is a link to a marketing piece by a shock collar manufactuer. On page 5, they list the risks. It states the product should not be used on dogs with behaviour problems. So any shock collar trainer that used it on a dog with “serious behaviour problems” is going against the manufacturer’s recommendations. And it also states that it can trigger aggression and anxiety.
      As for 3 hours or walks and 45 minutes a day at the park. I’d wonder if the dog is just tired rather than trained. I personally like to know that my dog behaves even if he’s full of beans. I don’t know many people that could actually do almost 4 hours of exercise per day with a dog. I know that I certainly do not. But I applaud your dedication in giving that much attention to your dog.

      • Any method you use to train your dog could have unintended, undesirable consequences and/or fail to achieve desired results. Our dog’s behavior actually got worse when using nothing but avoidance, treats, and praise. The +R-only trainers we used didn’t help us make any progress with our dog, but that does not mean that they aren’t successful with other dogs. In fact, we still recommend one of them. My experience tells me that every dog is different and the same training approach or tool is not the most effective for every dog and/or every behavior. My impression from reading your posts is that you view training as black and white: either +R-only or “confrontational”, physically and/or psychologically abusive. To me, trainers who keep an open mind with regard to tools and techniques and tailor their approach to each dog individually, and all well within the bounds of safe and humane treatment, are much more likely to achieve good results for a variety of dogs than those who adhere to a single, one-size-fits-all approach.

        I enjoyed reading the article you posted but it does not state that “the collar should not be used on dogs with behavioral problems.” To the contrary, it lists many behavioral problems that can be successfully addressed through training that incorporates an e-collar. The article singles out aggression and fear/anxiety-related issues when cautioning against the use of e-collars. No argument from me there. The portion on page 5 you refer to is citing the Delta Society’s “Professional Standards for Dog Trainers,” which also cautions against the risk of overweight when using treat-based methods and is honest about the fact that rewards-based programs can and do fail to achieve desired/required results in some cases. I applaud the Delta Society’s efforts at education and highly recommend their Professional Standards (it’s freely available online), which goes through the benefits, limitations, and risks of ALL training tools.

        And as for the dog just being tired rather than trained, that’s a laugh (you would laugh too if you met her). She’s got plenty of excess energy. Most dogs need and crave lots of exercise, and for owners to impose their sedentary, indoor lifestyle on their dog is selfish and far more cruel than an occasional correction. And, regardless, what could possibly be wrong with promoting psychological stability and emotional well-being through healthy exercise? Now, our dog usually behaves well in all situations and any lapse is not correlated with whether she has recently had a lot of exercise. She is also far less anxious and more patient and relaxed on leash, and gets to safely visit the dog park and hike in the woods off leash (perfect recall, so far, w/o using the collar). To return your jab, perhaps dogs that appear trained with treats are really just malnourished, out of shape, dyspeptic and lethargic from overindulging in junk food and lack of exercise.

        Balanced training with the e-collar worked wonders for our dog and gave her a chance at a full and happy life, but you seem incapable of accepting that possibility. Our dog often enjoys obeying her commands and receiving praise, seems proud to show off her skills, is safer because we have much better control on and off leash, and is much more relaxed and confident as well. We spend so much time exercising and socializing our dog because that is what our dog wants out of life and we enjoy the experience as well. Though very affectionate, our dog would no doubt rather go for a walk, hike, or to the dog park than curl up on the couch being caressed and eating snacks with us. When her behavioral issues began to surface after we had adopted her, and +R methods failed to improve the situation, we could have taken the easy way out and either returned her to the rescue group or kept her isolated at home, but these would be among the cruelest, most inhumane fates for her.

        My sense is that your attitudes about training have been shaped more by your experiences with bad people who mistreat dogs than by seeing salvageable dogs caged up or put down because their behavioral issues made it too difficult to place them in loving homes. The reality is that +R-only methods can be ineffective and even have adverse effects on a dog’s behavior and health; and when they don’t work and nothing else is tried the dog may be euthanized or, perhaps worse, be relegated to a dreary life devoid of physical activity, mental stimulation, socialization and emotional bonding. If the goal is really to help all dogs by informing dog owners about the possible benefits and potential side effects of different training methods, why don’t we fully inform them rather than just extolling the virtues of one approach while only exaggerating the risks of all others?

        • Actually, I agree that all warnings should be made available.
          Please note: On Page 6, the manufacturer states that their product is suitable for, “NON-aggressive” and “NON-phobic” dogs who have owners that are capable of following instructions. So, can’t use it on aggressive dogs. Can’t use it on dogs with anxiety. That doesn’t leave much except obedience.
          I’m a big believer in research, and research shows that although shock collars might not physically harm, it presents a welfare issue. This study did not compare any positive reinforcement based training. Just typical corrections and shock collars. And you’ll notice one of the big conclusions was that dogs associated the shock with their person.

          As for food and obesity – absolutely I think people should be cautioned about making healthy choices. I’ve read the one study that keeps getting cited. A pet food manufacturer did their own study (which is bad form in research BTW) and found that feeding treats INSTEAD of a meal is tied to obesity. So was homemade diets, table scrap and neutering. It did not find that Positive reinforcement based training was tied to anything because they didn’t look at it. But if you have another study – please post it. I would agree that owners should take care that food treats don’t replace meals to ensure dogs have a healthy diet. No argument from me there. Easy fix. Choose healthy treats that are actually balanced food and use as portion of the dog’s daily rations.
          So long as we’re on this fair warning subject – we should also add that dogs under 18 months (20 months if neutered) should not engage in repetative exercise because the growth plates aren’t closed. The strain of repetative exercise can lead to very painful joint problems that can require surgery to correct. I find most dogs with behaviour problems are under that 18 month age – so this “exercise more” starts to be another option that is very limited. Or I’d be very negligent if I didn’t warn people of the possible negative impacts.
          And yes, flat collars can do damage too. Pressure on a dog’s neck can lead to eye problems.

          So the big “But think of the shelter dogs.” I suppose you have research on that? Because the research I have shows that positive reinforcement helps keep dogs out of shelters.

          I don’t make my decisions on bad apples. I make them based on research. And if I place all the warnings out on the table – age limitations, manufacturer’s warnings and research starts painting a picture where it’s not really appropriate for most dogs.

          I’d love for you to post the research you have. Peer reviewed, and not funded by a party that has a financial interest would be great.

  3. Originally I said that I don’t resort to corrections that were physical and based on fear or pain, and it was something you quoted.
    And I’m guessing 4 to 5 blogs from now I’ll go into how I tell a dog that they were wrong. Thanks for waiting for that.

  4. Who said anything about hitting? Does correction only equate to hitting or slapping? If you define it that way then I find no room for corrections. But I don’t define corrections that way. To me a correction can be anything — not necessarily frightening, painful, or harmful — that communicates that a certain behavior is inappropriate or undesired. People correct their children all the time without resorting to violence. Dogs communicate to their owners that certain interactions are unwanted. And you only answered my question partially by adding the stipulation that the behavior is anxiety based. What if the dog occasionally wants to chase or otherwise bother the cats (even after carefully socializing them)?

    The answer to your question is that I just put myself in situations where I was in front of audiences, sometimes in excess of 300 people, and got up there to talk. I was very scared, but not only did I eventually get over my fear of public speaking, I now enjoy it. This has also improved my career and made me much more confident in other areas of my life. I didn’t really have time to take it slow (I was finishing up my PhD and needed to present my work and interview for jobs). When things went badly (usually due to a lack of preparation on my part) I sulked about it and chastised myself for a day or so and then just moved on. As I said before, though, everyone is different and what I did might not work for everyone.

    I’ll wait for your answer regarding an obedience problem in a different posting.

  5. You really didn’t answer my questions: How do you correct inappropriate behavior when you are training problematic dogs? And how do you communicate to your dog that certain behavior is inappropriate and should stop?

    I understand that dogs, and people, cannot control their feelings in certain situations, but they can exhibit different behavioral responses, some more appropriate than others.

    By the way, I overcame most of my anxieties/fears (public speaking, heights, etc.) by confronting them and putting myself in positions where I just had to face them. Avoiding scary situations just set back my life and career by years. But I guess everyone is different.

    • No, I answered it. If it is anxiety based, you don’t correct the dog. The human needs to get corrected.
      Confronting fears. Yes. That’s what needs to be done.
      So, tell me, when you were confronting your public speaking fears, did people spank you when you were nervous and trying? Did they book you into a venue with 500 people for your first attempt before you worked on your fear?
      Or, did you do your best, try to listen to people who encouraged you and maybe practice in easy environments like business luncheons?
      What did you do when it went badly? Regroup. Not correct. You didn’t have people slap you.
      You don’t need a physical correction to know it wasn’t good. You probably felt crappy enough as it is. You might have asked for advice from someone. They might have told you to use square breathing or something similar. I really doubt they hit you.
      If I push a dog past what it can handle – and the dog freaks out – I go home. I chastise myself for screwing up. I promise to not ever do it again if I can ever help it.
      What do I do to prepare for a screwup or a crisis? Same thing that a fireperson would do. Prepare on how to get out. I work on an emergency “Get out of this situation” so when an emergency happens, I’m cool and ready.
      I don’t plan to screw up. I don’t plan to correct the dog. Actually, I don’t plan to ccorrect myself either. I plan to do it right.
      How do I correct an obedience problem rather than an anxiety problem. Different altogether. Another blog post. Promise.

  6. If the dog has an anxiety disorder, the “correction” for failure goes to the human. It’s like throwing a kid who is afraid of water into the deep end of the pool.
    Which ironically is one of the few times my dad managed to “get” it eventually. I was terrifed of swimming as a child. Initially he threw me into the gravel pit and I freaked out. Yes, I could swim, but I did not trust him around water after that. You don’t correct a kid for freaking out when afraid and in control. You say, “Why did I throw them in the deep end.”
    Here’s where my dad got it. After I freaked out he re-thought things. He took a life jacket, removed the stuffing and cut it into strips. He let me wear the jacket while swimming. Over the course of a sumer, he pulled a strip out once in a while and did not tell me. Eventually, I was swimming with a life jacket that had no stuffing. At that point he told me “You know you’re swimming on your own?”
    I think, what you’re not hearing is that when you have a dog with an anxiety problem, and I suspect given the history that is what you have, you don’t deal with “bad” behaviour. You deal with the anxiety. If you push the dog too fast/too far, you go look in the mirror and say, “I screwed it up.”
    The same way my dad (who was very much into corrections and discipline) actually understood when it came to swimming.
    Obedience – that’s another issue altogether. One I don’t think you’re dealing with.
    I’m sad that the experts you are seeing – and I suppose me – are not explaining this well enough that you understand that if there is anxiety, the person in charge is the one that screws up or not. Otherwise, the dog is just being thrown in the proverbial deep end.

  7. Update: The behaviorist is another bust. Lot’s of talk, no direct work with our dog to evaluate her behavior (depends on us to explain it), and just suggestions about how to deal with the problem behavior (more treats and lots of patience with the lack of results). Oh yeah, and hundreds of dollars for more analysis and no solution. Seems like there are plenty of people to take our money to talk about our dog’s behavioral issues but no one that will really help fix them.

    So I’m back to my original question. You state that “I do not use physical corrections based in pain or fear.” And, you council that we ask a prospective trainer “How will you correct the dog when it is doing something wrong?” So, I’m asking. How do you correct inappropriate behavior when you are training problematic dogs? I understand about reinforcing proper behavior, but how do you communicate to your dog that certain behavior is inappropriate and should stop?

  8. Thanks for the advice and recommendation. We have ordered the book and companion DVD and will pursue that avenue. The water sprayer is losing its effect as anticipated (we spray ourselves more than the dog in the DC heat). We’re trying the Gentle Lead head collar and that seems to help keep the dog by our side, which calms her down a bit…but maybe it’s just the novelty of the head collar that has her temporarily distracted.

    Most importantly, we spoke with our vet, who examined our dog when we adopted her and observed some of her behavior. Our vet recommended two veterinary behaviorists in the area. (We’re in the metro DC area so we are fortunate to have two nearby.) We plan to make an appointment soon. They can evaluate our dog both physically and psychologically, can give us guidance on working with her, and prescribe medication if needed.

    The original, self-styled “behaviorist” we consulted with was not certified or accredited, and really was not a help at all. The two veterinary behaviorists mentioned above are doctors of veterinary medicine with extensive training in behavioral issues. One is board certified as a behaviorist. Our vet has worked well with both and our vet’s opinion/recommendation means a great deal to us.

    Thanks again.

  9. Thanks again for your reply. My sense is that almost every dog-related problem has a solution that preserves (or enhances) a wonderful relationship between you and your dog…but some situations require a lot of out-of-the-box thinking, and that can be mighty frustrating and stressful. I think our situation is quite common, though.

    Our dog is a rescue and we’ve had her for about two months. She received almost no outdoor activity or socialization with her previous family, who gave her up when the dog snapped at one of the children. There are signs that the children mistreated the dog (one ear tip cut off and the other limp). The dog is sweet as can be with people if she is introduced properly (just let her sniff for 20-30 seconds without interacting and her concerns are usually laid to rest). When out for a walk, however, she goes bananas when she sees a dog, bike, or jogger…at almost any distance. I wouldn’t say she was aggressive, just frenetic.

    When we first brought her home she did not have that problem. She seemed enthusiastic about the many long walks we took during the day and fascinated by all that was going on. She did fairly well with other dogs and people and checked with us visually every few seconds. She gradually started having negative reactions to things, though, and it kept escalating. We just tried to remove her calmly from any incident (like a nearby dog) but afterward she would be wound so tight that she couldn’t calm down.

    Sometimes we could barely get her out of the house before she went nuts over something. We felt we needed to get her attention somehow in order to try whatever “training” we were after, but we just couldn’t divert her attention with treats, verbal commands, nudges, etc. We tried to get a bit more physical and vocal but that only made things worse so we mostly just slinked back home, embarrassed and frustrated. We consulted a trainer and a behaviorist but neither helped. I should mention that our dog is really smart, not defiant at all, and eager to please when she is not jacked up about some other dog, or whatever.

    We were desperate. We thought about using an e-collar. Our dog is pretty sensitive so the vibrate mode, I’m pretty sure, would get her attention, but we just didn’t want to go that route without trying everything else first. We finally called in another dog trainer who specializes in difficult dogs. He did not get all mushy with our dog, and our dog was never quite at ease with him, but he had our dog walking around the neighborhood without reacting by using very subtle leash corrections. Great. She even walked beside and just behind him.

    But that didn’t quite work for us. Our dog paid attention to the trainer in large part because he was unfamiliar…and right at the other end of the leash! She wanted to keep track of his every unexpected move so she didn’t move ahead of him. He was more compelling than whatever else was going on further away, but our dog was not so disturbed as to be frightened (uncertain, maybe). My wife and I were not of any concern to our dog, so she continued to focus on everything else in view and ignore us, and gentle leash corrections failed to make us any more interesting.

    While leash corrections didn’t work, I think we put two-and-two together. Somewhere we had heard that spritzing your dog with a water mister would get its attention, so we took one on a walk…it was dangling from my pocket. Our dog kept watching it and us. When she would start to flip her lid I would hold the bottle and usually she would redirect her attention to the bottle, and me…then I could usually interact with her (have her sit or something). If she starts to bark and carry on, I would make a “sshht” noise (our “no” sound). If that didn’t work and she started to lose it, I would spray and the noise/mist would snap her out of it.

    Then it dawned on us. What really made the leash corrections work for the trainer was that he was new and unfamiliar, and our dog is curious but a bit cautious about new things, so it didn’t take much for him to get our dogs attention. Just a jingling of her tags, really. The spray bottle is just new and weird enough to get our dog’s attention and it has allowed us to work on other things. I’m sure the bottle won’t be interesting for long, and our dog will probably realize that the mist feels good in the summer heat, but then we’ll just bring some other strange item. Maybe I’ll wear a big sombrero and flutter it to redirect her attention.

    Fortunately, our dog is a fast learner so we just need the ability to get her attention to move forward. Desensitization to the environment will take a while, I’m sure. Getting back to my previous point, though, we want a way to tell our dog: “No, that’s not allowed. Period. Or else…” For example, no chasing the cats. I don’t want to redirect her with “stop doing that for the moment and do this instead.” That’s not the message I want to send. We would never get physical with our dog, but we want her to imagine the worst will happen if she ever goes after the cats, especially. We keep her on the leash at all times around the cats for now, and we’re making slow progress towards socializing them, but eventually we need them all to get along or, at least, leave each other alone.

    • What you’re describing is one of the main 2 problems with punishment.
      1 – Results are usually temporary. Looks like it works, but it comes back.
      2 – Mild punishments aren’t really effective. Rules state that punishment needs to be severe. That bring ethical questions to play. Never mind that if you’re dealing with anxiety, severe punishment is not going to be too beneficial for that.

      There’s a book by Leslie McDevott called Control Unleashed. Might not be a bad book to read. Once you read it, then I’d suggest screening for trainers having that knowledge in place.

      All this bouncing around from one strategy to another is probably not in the dog’s best interest.

      So, while I agree that a dog must learn not to do certain things. I haven’t met too many people that used an actual behaviourist. There are only 3 on Ontario. The term is Certified Applied Animal Behaviourist. But maybe you did get a real one! Just saying that a lot of people use the term behaviourist, and they aren’t a behaviourist on paper. (Messy and complicated to explain…will leave for another post/day.)

      In a nutshell, I’m looking at what you wrote and I’m thinking, critically undersocialized. Needs to work in tiny, baby steps. Second, make sure there isn’t an underlying medical issue. Hearing loss? Pain issues? Hard to detect some of those. But if that dog has signs of head injuries, one can only wonder if this is a dog that startles easily because something is impacting its hearing. Or if something is causing it pain.

      No one who refuses to use pain disagrees that these problems need fixing. Rather that they see a solution as being something more permanent. Part of that means treating the whole dog.

      The book I mentioned is available at http://www.dogwise.com. Give it a read. But remember, everything is about staying at the right level, and making absolutely sure there isn’t something physically bothering the dog. Far too often I’ve found that health problems are missed.

  10. To pawsforpraise: When you say, “Balanced” is nothing more than a euphemism for “I use punishment” which is often a euphemism, from the dog’s perspective, of “Do it or I will hurt you.” The positive trainer says, “Do it and I will make it worth your while.”

    You are assuming that you are trying to elicit the desired behavior. What do you do if your dog is exhibiting undesirable behavior? In other words, how do you day “Don’t do it”? How do you correct bad persistent bad behavior?

    • You get out of the situation with the dog – and go decide to teach at an appropriate level the next time. It’s a little like taking a toddler to a 4 star restaurant and getting made the todder is throwing food. You decide to go home, practice and teach table manners. Then you go out to a 2 star restaurant and practice. Then 3 star. Then 4 star. When ready. What doesn’t make sense is to keep going to a 4 star restaurant and correcting the kid.
      A lot of dog training falls into that category. You keep putting the dog in a position it can’t handle…yet. And correct it. You don’t actually have to do that. You can make it a little easier (or a lot) and then work your way up.
      So, for example, I pushed my dog hard today and he was a little hyper for the first 5 minutes. Made things a little easier for him and built up his tolerance.
      Teaching is a tough skill. The the best teachers always take the blame in themselves if things aren’t going right.

      • I understand that, and agree as long as there exists an appropriate environment/situation to put your dog in that is practical. But what if, for example, your dog insists on chewing the legs of furniture? You can redirect it while you’re there, but as soon as you turn your back the dog is chewing the legs again. What if your toddler throws food equally uncontrollably no matter where you are? In your response you are assuming that there is a level where the unwanted behavior can be made not to occur, then wave the magic “teaching” wand.

        But that is the crux of the issue: How do you teach the dog/child not to do something if it is so fixated on doing it that it is oblivious to you? How do you say “no, stop doing that” only with rewards and no reprimands? What if the behavior turns on and off like a switch rather than gradually increases and decreases like a dimmer in response to the intensity of the stimulus?

        I appreciate your answer, by the way. We have a difficult situation with our dog and are extremely frustrated that we cannot find a situation where the stimulus is low enough not to cause a problem. Our dog readily responds to positive reinforcement when we are trying to teach her to do what we want, so long as she is completely isolated from the world. Put a person, bicycle, or dog anywhere in the picture and our dog goes hysterical and is completely oblivious to us and our little bits of chicken or steak.

        We live in the real world and other beings exist almost everywhere we go, and we can’t drive to some isolated field every time the dog needs to go out. Reasonable “corrections” would not work, so I’m not advocating that. Meds perhaps, but we would like to avoid that route as well.

      • Hi Tom,
        Fair questions. I’m not going to comment on your situation, because there just isn’t enough information there for me to answer that question. For example, tell me exactly what is going on. But if you feel like sharing it, then there are a lot of good trainers that have posted here, and I’m sure they can all give you some ways of handling it.
        As for the chewing dog or food throwing kid, I’m not opposed to interrupting behaviour. You don’t let unwanted behaviour get rewarded by the environment.
        For the dog, you could spray taste deterrent spray. You could get the dog addicted to other chew items. You can use a crate when you’re not out and able to supervise. You can use a tether and have the dog next to you when doing things around the house. You can increase exercise. You can eliminate teeth issues if a bad tooth might be causing problems. There are so many things to look at first. From an obedience standpoint, you can teach an automatic leave it.
        Where the kid is concerned, throwing food all the time. Interesting. Why? Are people laughing and rewarding it? That needs to stop. Is the kid ill and not wanting food? Can the adult cook. (I swear that’s at the root of most food throwing from my experiences with my son.) Don’t believe me? Look at the way people steam broccoli. They steam it until it’s mush. At that point, it releases bitter compounds and kids have very sensitive taste buds and will revolt. I can cut up the food and give it one piece at a time, only giving a second piece when the child eats the first. I can look at all the ridiculous snacks kids get and figure out if they are stuffed with snacks and not hungry for real food. Have I taken my son’s food away, wrapped it up and put it in the fridge and said, “I’ll heat it up for you when you’re hungry?” Absolutely. Have I taken a plate of food away and said, “We don’t do that.” Yup. Did I spank? No. And yes, he’s 11 now. He’s been going into fancy restaurants since he was 4.
        I think there is a difference between a spanking and a condition. My problem is going to the physical without first looking at all the other stuff.
        Again, where your dog problem is, I’m not sure what exactly is going on. Feel free to share. Or if you want, go to my facebook page, and share there. Lots of trainers on that list that can start discussing and giving suggestions.

    • I think it’s silly. That you think us balanced trainers are forceful and only use pain to get a Behaviour. When really it’s silence and body language that does most of the communicating. I can assure you. Touch is the ultimate punishment. Its the last correction in a belt of thousands we ‘balanced’ trainers are equiped with. And ONLY in cases where the dog has physically touched you as a challenge or someone or something else that you disagree with. A friend, a dog, a mailman. It is purely instantaneous and split second to break the focus. JUST like a correction on a leash. I’ve had amazing triumphs with my calm assertive leadership, I can take my pit mix to community functions and by the end of it they trust him and me enough to stop seeing the breed and see a calm, confident happy o lucky dog and an owner IN CONTROL of it. The purpose of balanced training is to teach you a deeper connection with your dog. Teach you to communicate and relate based on body language and energy. There’s really VERY little touch or YELLING involved. I highly recommend you research more then just the negative outcomes to one side of training. ‘Dog training’ is one human, one dog. THATS NOT THE REAL WORLD UNLESS YOUR AN AGILITY FREAK OR COMPETETITOR. the average dog owner needs t understand ears, tails, eyes, stance, those are things they’ll see everyday. They won’t see a situation where their dog needs to run through a hoop or dance in order to survive. Or avoid dog-dog conflict. Their both AOUT building and establishing a relationship with your dog. Balanced training just goes a bit deeper then you positives are willing to go. If you want to slap ‘aggssive’ on a dog just because you don’t nderstand body language or pack structure, fine. But DNT convince every owner their dog can be fixed with sit down up stay.. Those are simply commands to better improve your communicating with your dog is situations where BALANCED training should come into play.

      • Could you please advise where I have ever wrote that “balanced” trainers ONLY use pain to get a behaviour? To my knowledge I have never stated that. What I have done is referenced the code of conduct put out by balanced training organizations which often say that anything legal goes.

        If you have a research study I should read, why don’t you just link to it? It’s not really helpful or informative to say, “You should read other studies,” and then not link to anything.

        What makes you think that I WANT to slap an aggression label on a dog? That’s quite an assumption that not only do I slap aggression labels on dogs, but that I somehow WANT to do it??? Wow, that makes it sound like if you’re R+ you’re some kind of crazy psychopath that WANTS to label dogs as aggressive and fail them, and the way to show that one WANTS to label dogs as aggressive is to not use the methods you use….

    • What is “bad” behavior? Not doing what you asked? Do you really know that the dog understands what you’re asking? How many times does he have to do it right before you say he is “bad” when he does it wrong or doesn’t do it? Have you checked his medical records recently to see if that “stubbornness” is a thyroid issue? or parasites eating his liver?

      Do you consider jumping, barking, digging, etc BAD behavior? I don’t, it’s normal dog behavior when left to their own devices. Train an alternate, challenge them mentally and physically and they won’t have to resort to boredom behaviors and you won’t have to tell them “DON’T”.

      Aggressive? Why? What’s behind it? It’s not BAD behavior. The dog isn’t refusing to do something, the dog is most likely terrified and trying to chase scary things away. Or the dog has been threatened with “death” too often or once with enough force, that they are fighting for their survival when triggered. How is that “bad”? Why would you punish or correct a dog who is terrified of dying?

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  12. One way for pet owners to choose a good trainer is to check the listings at Pet Professional Guild. Unlike other professional organizations, they have a set of guiding principles, which clearly states that their trainers are NOT to use choke, prong, or shock collars.
    Another thing that prospective clients can do is to ask where the trainer got their education. Those with degrees in behavioral science, or education at leading schools such as Karen Pryor Academy, Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers, or Companion Animal Sciences Institute will at least understand the science of training and behavior modification as it is applied to dogs. Those schools teach a model of force free dog training, and do not advocate tools which deliver pain to dogs. If marine mammal and zoo trainers can teach large, dangerous, wild animals to perform desired behaviors by using the positive reinforcement and negative punishment quadrants of operant conditioning then dog trainers should be able to do it with a cooperative species such as canis familiaris! “Balanced” is nothing more than a euphemism for “I use punishment” which is often a euphemism, from the dog’s perspective, of “Do it or I will hurt you.” The positive trainer says, “Do it and I will make it worth your while.” We consider our dogs our partners and “employees” perhaps, but never our slaves. They are sentient beings and deserve respect and fair, humane treatment. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior is on record as saying that they do not want vets to refer clients to anyone who uses dominance (aka pack theory) to train dogs. Dominance training often involves the tools we have been discussing, and an attitude of coercion, rather than cooperation. As Kathy Sdao points out in her new book, “Plenty in Life is Free” – what if it’s better to be a feeder, not a leader. Having trained dogs both ways over a span of decades, I’m firmly in the Sdao, Donaldson, Pryor camp. It works, the dogs like it better, and so do I. I haven’t said the word “no” in years, and my dogs are absolutely willing to do all the things they have been lovingly, and scientifically, taught to do.

    • Animal Behavior College dog training certification is also a reputable part of the dog trainer’s resume.

  13. @Brent, you illustrate a good point: a “purely positive” trainer uses positive reinforcement and positive punishment, hence they do represent the “balanced” trainer. So tell us again why you are NOT a “balanced” trainer. Just shows that we must be wary of who we choose to train with.

  14. There was recently going around a You tube video of a lecture by Dr. James Ha. The lecture talked about the psychological, damage that can be done by so called “balanced trainers” . I can well see how this might happen. One minute all is lovely and positive and the neXt – punishment.

    I am a purely positive trainer and I make sure on my website I point out that I am NOT a “balanced trainer” I explain the reasons why. The public can eaily be fooled by the “balanced” description.

    @sclosser. You are using semantics as anyone who uses/approves of aversive training usually does. A shock collar does exactly that. What on earth does the word “tap” mean in this context? A “tap” is touching lightly with a implement, finger or hand. A choke chain collar again, is exactly that. The chain is used to either choke the dog into submission or jerk sharply on the dog’s neck, thereby causing pain. It wouldn’t work if it didn’t and that is why trainers and dog owners use them.

    I have never had to use semantics to disguise that I use a clicker and treats.

  15. And here lies the problems of not having a “Level of Standards and Education to be able to call yourself a “Professional” Dog Trainer and Charge others for a service you are providing.” The only way we are going to be able to save the animals from any abusive, adversive types of training in the United States is to have an association that adheres to strict standards about what types of training tools are acceptable measures to train an animal. I for one think it is necessary now in this business to have one and everyone has to have education and training to call themself a “Professional Dog Trainer”. Signed “Treat Me Right, Inc. Positive Canine Training” and I mean Positive in a Good Way…. 🙂

    • Spanking children is still acceptable. Positive punishment does work. It has its risk, but happy dogs have been trained for decades using positive punishment. I agree with you, we have improved methods today and there is little excuse for not using them, but we can scientifically prove both work when used properly. So, who gets to decide what is acceptable and what is not? You?

      That said, I hate all these collars. I love your name.

      • “So, who gets to decide what is acceptable and what is not? You?”

        The dog.

        You can say positive punishment works; fine. But why bother adding anything unpleasant, when it’s easier – and less stressful – not to? As a whole, not using positive punishment on my dog – or my child, for that matter – has made me a MUCH happier person, and it’s made them much happier.

        You say spanking a child is still acceptable. Why? If it’s unacceptable to spank a dog, why is it acceptable to spank a child?

  16. Wow. I always thought electric collars gave an electric shock. I’ve been tapped before and I’ve been shocked before and they’re not interchangeable.

    And I always thought that those choke collars, when constricted, choke the dog. Maybe they’re called choke collars because the inventor’s last name was Choke?

    Keep up the fantasy. Maybe you’ll eventually convince yourself the more times you say it.

  17. Wow. I always thought electric collars gave an electric shock. I’ve been tapped before and I’ve been tapped before and they’re not interchangeable.

    And I always thought that those choke collars, when constricted, choke the dog. Maybe they’re called choke collars because the inventor’s last name was Choke?

    Keep up the fantasy. Maybe you’ll eventually convince yourself the more times you say it.

  18. Well this is a perfect example of semantics and euphemisms…choke collars don’t choke, e-collars tap and communicate. Continuing with the word play theme, the best way I can think of to describe so called balanced trainers is to use the word unbalanced.

    • I’ve always wondered why people who use shock say it’s just about communicating and “getting attention” at a distance. If that is really all it is about, there’s no need to use shock at all. Use a vibrating collar. Or a whistle. But those options aren’t used because it really is about the shock.

      I am laughing though, at the stretch to find a misuse for a clicker–it can be thrown at a dog! Okay, sure, when used not as designed or intended. But shock collars and choke collars are aversive when used as intended. They’re designed to “work” by adding something unpleasant.

      • I see clicker abuse all the time. In fact that is what clicker abuse is, timing. If your not clicking to mark the behavior, your not clicker training. Your confusing the dog. However at worst the dog just enjoys free treats when a clicker is out. Unless the trainer is using Positive punishment in conjunction with the clicker. Then you have a very confused dog who will probably shut down at some point. There you have it clicker abuse.

  19. I do wish unbalanced trainers on both sides would get over this battle. Just because a tool can be used incorrectly doesn’t mean it will be. A clicker can be thrown at a dog in place of a shake can. Used correctly an electronic collar is NOT used to shock but to tap and communicate at the distance. Choke collars are not used to choke a dog and depending on the trainer are used in a variety of ways. Using treats in training is not an invention of the devil. The best way I’ve found to find the right trainer is to watch a lesson or three and see how their students’ dogs behave. It doesn’t matter to must people if the instructor is all sunshine and fairy farts if the dogs are still pulling on the leash and it takes six months to a year to pass a CGC test. And the trainers that can never manage to have true off lead control, well, don’t get me started.

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