What You Must Know About Dog Training Methods Before Hiring a Professional to Train Your Dog by Niki Tudge Copyright 2011

What are the key training methods?

There are hundreds of dog training books in the market place and even more dog trainers, all suggesting that their methods are different, unique or customized to meet the needs of the individual dog. In reality there are only a few ‘types’ of dog training methods and just as few philosophies.  Effective and efficient dog training and dog behavior counseling methods are based on science and the principles of learning theory. Within this scientific arena there are opposing approaches, those that rely on compulsion and those that rely on praise. In other words, do you want to teach your dog what to do by teaching them new and more acceptable behaviors or do you want to punish them for the wrong behaviors, risking your relationship with your dog and the level of trust you share?


The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT),  a professional organization of dog trainers who are committed to becoming better trainers through education, describes the three key methods as:

  1. Lure-Reward Training — the trainer entices the dog into the desired position by typically using a hand-held food lure, like a treat.  For example, the trainer lures a dog to sit by placing a treat in front of its nose and moving it backwards over its head. The dog follows the treat or ‘lure’ into the desired position. Reinforcement is generally giving the food reward along with verbal praise at the completion of the desired behavior.
  2. Compulsion-Praise Training — the trainer manipulates the dog into a position by using physical placement or training equipment. For example, the dog may be physically manipulated into sitting by applying pressure on its bottom or brought into heel position with a head halter or collar correction. Reinforcement may be verbal praise and/or a food reward.
  3. Marker-Training — the trainer uses a sound, word, or clicker to ‘mark’ or immediately indicate the moment a dog is correct with a behavior. For example, the moment the dog’s bottom hits the floor in a sit, a trainer would use his desired marker to tell the dog that was the right behavior. A marker is followed by reinforcement with food and/or verbal praise. The marker creates a brief separation between food or touch and the performance of the behavior, so food is a reward, not an enticement. Behaviors can be shaped, captured or lured using a marker.

It is our recommendation that a good dog trainer will utilize both lure-rewards training and marker-training. It is far more effective to teach students to teach their dogs more acceptable and appropriate behaviors. If their dog is exhibiting a problematic behavior then helping them to find and teach an incompatible behavior is very efficient.   This makes the problematic behavior ineffective and inefficient for the dog and as such the dog chooses to do the new behavior and is rewarded for doing so. For example if a dog has a jumping problem (its goal is to seek owner attention), we teach the dog to sit/stay instead.  The dog earns the same reward, the owner attention, and the jumping ceases.


The scientific basis for this is the reinforcement of the behavior. If a behavior is reinforced then it is more likely to reoccur in the future.  Reinforcement can take place in two ways:

  1. If the dog’s behavior evokes the presence of something good then the behavior has been positively reinforced. For example if a dog sits rather than jumps and it is given a treat then the sit behavior has been positively reinforced and is more likely to occur in the future.
  2. The other side of this is negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is when bad things stop. An unpleasant situation is removed the minute the dog engages in something more desirable. So if a dog is on a walk and pulling badly on their leash and the owner stops still and then only moves forward when the dog stops pulling, the ‘not-pulling’ behavior has been negatively reinforced.

The difficulty with negative reinforcement is that to remove something bad, something bad has to be presented and this can cause severe fallout with your dog. It is also easier to teach a more appropriate behavior in a more positive manner.


What are reinforcements in Dog Training?

Reinforcement is something a dog seeks to obtain, something they will work for.  This could be a toy, a stroke or a piece of food. Reinforcers that animals innately like (they do not have to learn to enjoy), are called primary reinforcers.  Reinforcers that dogs are conditioned (learn) to enjoy like toys and balls are called secondary reinforcers. Dogs are natural predators and are energy efficient. Dogs, like most animals, do things (exhibit behaviors) to access something they consider of value. Contrary to popular belief dogs do not exist and are not just waiting to please us. When teaching any student, human or animal, we first need to understand how to motivate them and make their learning worth their while. Not all behaviors are worth the same reinforcement. Complex behaviors need us to pull out the big guns - the really yummy treats, whereas a simple sit may just warrant a small treat.

Using food in training is very motivating for the dog and is also a powerful reward. During the training process we use food to encourage and reward new behaviors. Food is then very quickly replaced with life rewards, such as petting, toys, access to the outside, dinner, going for a walk or anything the dog considers valuable.

It is a valid concern when people express concern about not using food in training because they consider it bribery.  Incorrectly using food in training can create a dog that will only behave when food is present. This can happen if food is used as a bribe rather than a reward.  The goal is to make sure that food is being used as a reward and not a bribe.  There’s a big difference between the two and a professional trainer will understand this.