One of the most important decisions we make for our dog, is which obedience training method to use.
This choice will affect the happiness and well-being of our dog, as well as shape our long-term relationship with our furry best friend.
Dog training is an area where emotions run hot, and we will hear many strong opinions or judgments from just about anyone and everyone.
The key to dog obedience training is not to be overly influenced by any one source. Gather information on a variety of methods, from a variety of sources, then judge which is the best one for you and your dog.
Some people may tell us that, “Obedience method X will never work for our dog, because he is too dominant, stubborn, fearful, or aggressive“.
Simplistic statements like these are never true. It is better to research the training method ourselves, and form our own opinion.
Basically, there are two classes of dog obedience training:
- Reward obedience training (give/remove something that our dog likes), and
- Aversive obedience training (give/remove something that our dog dislikes).
Reward Obedience Training
With reward obedience training, we first identify what our dog likes. Then, we encourage or discourage various behaviors by granting (positive reinforcement) or taking away (negative punishment) access to these rewards.
For example, when our dog sits, he gets a dog treat. If our dog is calm, he gets to interact with other dogs. We stop our dog from chewing on shoes, by redirecting him onto a Kong toy. Which rewards work best, depends on our dog’s personality and on his breed.
My Shiba Inu, for example, is a hunting breed and he is very motivated by chasing games. He also likes to explore new environments, and interact with other dogs. I will often use these as rewards while training him.
One common misconception is that we will not be an effective pack leader if we only use reward obedience training.
This is FALSE.
Pack leadership is most effectively achieved through the control of resources. We teach our dog that he gets the things that he wants most, such as food, toys, access to locations, and access to pack members, by following our lead.
Reward Obedience Training – The Good
1. Reward training helps to build a strong relationship based on trust.
Reward techniques teach a dog that all good things come from us. To get what he wants, he must first do what *we* want. Since we are viewed as a source for all of his needs, our dog will naturally gravitate toward us.
In addition, a dog learns that he has to work for his own keep. This engages him in interesting activities, helps him stay sharp, and helps to build confidence.
2. Reward training will not damage our dog either physically or mentally.
With reward training, the worst that happens is the removal of a reward. In contrast, physical aversive methods can cause damage to a dog, especially when not implemented properly.
Long term use of leash corrections may cause harm to our dog even when properly applied.
3. Reward training helps to create a dog that is happy and eager to work.
When we only use reward methods, our dog will be eager to work because work time means reward time.
Reward Obedience Training – The Bad
1. Reward training may not always solicit a prompt response to our commands.
For some dogs, a reward may not be as strong a motivator as an aversive stimulus, such as pain or fear.
2. . Reward training may sometimes require us to think outside the box.
With reward techniques, we may need to get creative and come up with our own strategies for motivating our dog. This is especially true when we are trying to stop bad behaviors because our dog may derive more enjoyment from the bad act.
3. Reward training may require that we bring along some treats or toys when on walks and outings.
This can be an inconvenience. However, we can also use the environment, and the objects around us as incentives. All it takes is a bit more imagination, and a bit more understanding of our dog.
4. Reward training may cause our dog to gain weight.
Obesity can sometimes become a problem if we give our dog too many treats. I easily avoid this by using my dog’s regular food rations as part of his training rewards.
Aversive Obedience Training
I divide aversive obedience training into three classes:
- Pain based (e.g. leash correction, muzzle slaps, ear pinch, shock collar);
- Dominance based (e.g. alpha rolls); and
- Other – which includes making loud noises (e.g. shaking or dropping a can of pennies, loud horn, clashing pots), using unpleasant smells (e.g. spraying bitter apple on furniture, spraying citronella on muzzle), using unpleasant sensations (spraying water on muzzle, dumping water on body) or anything else that our dog dislikes.
Different aversive methods may place more or less stress on our dog. In general, pain and dominance based methods are the most stressful.
With aversive obedience training, we encourage or discourage behaviors by applying (positive punishment) or stopping (negative reinforcement) an unpleasant stimulus.
For example, if our dog breaks from his stay before we release him, we give him a leash jerk. If our dog starts biting on the leash, we give him a leash jerk, or spray water on his muzzle until he stops. If he jumps, we give him a leash jerk or knee him.
Cesar Millan, one of the most popular dog trainers on television, uses mostly aversive obedience training. Millan has a lot of confidence, as well as a natural talent for reading dogs. This is very important when applying aversive techniques because if they are not implemented properly, they may cause physical and mental harm.
There are a variety of other trainers that use a combination of both reward and aversive techniques, such as The Monks of New Skete.
Aversive Obedience Training – The Good
1. Aversive training may get more consistent and prompt responses to commands.
Many dogs will perform a Sit, Down, or Stay, consistently and quickly because they do not wish to face the stress of an aversive stimulus. Once we get consistent and prompt responses from our dog, we can give him more freedom and let him participate in a wider range of activities.
2. Aversive training may show results in a shorter time-span.
As described above, dogs can be very motivated to avoid pain and threats. We will probably start to see results in a shorter period of time compared to reward training.
3. Do not need to carry around rewards such as treats or toys.
We always have what we need.
Aversive Obedience Training – The Bad
1. Aversive training may cause loss of trust.
One of the most dangerous aspects of aversive techniques is losing our dog’s trust. If we over-correct our dog, he may start to associate us with the painful aversive stimulus, and lose trust in us.
2. Aversive training may encourage aggression and other unwanted side effects.
If we do not implement an aversive method with the proper timing, force, and redirection, our dog may develop aggression toward us and other people. A recent University of Pennsylvania study shows that if we are aggressive to our dogs, they will be more likely to develop aggression issues.
3. Aversive training may injure our dog if not implemented correctly.
Incorrect implementation of some of these techniques may cause physical harm to our dog. It may also cause physical harm to us and others, when the dog responds to the aversive stimulus with aggression.
4. Aversive training may become ineffective once our dog gets habituated to the stimulus.
If we overuse an aversive method, it is very probable that our dog will become habituated to it (e.g. he becomes used to the pain). Once this occurs, the dog will be less motivated to respond to our commands because the pain or aversive stimulus is no longer a strong enough deterrent.
Dog Obedience Training
Carefully consider which techniques are most suited for you and your dog. Be flexible and do not be afraid to change approaches if the current methods are ineffective, or start to cause aggressive dog behavior.
There are four dog obedience training choices:
- Mostly aversive training with little praise and few treats (Cesar Millan).
- Only reward training (Suzanne Clothier, Patricia McConnell, Ian Dunbar, Victoria Stillwell).
- Mixture of aversive and reward training (Monks of New Skete);
- Only no-pain and no-dominance aversive methods, combined with reward training.
A nice over-view, though the adversive-reward chart presentation needs to be stretched, and it needs to clarify why the examples used fall on the bar where they do.
I think that there is a lot of confusion about canine dominance, something that dogs practice among themselves, and generally maintain with minimal violence – usually limited to gestures and vocalizations -unless people have intervened and/or reinforced aggression.
Though his basic premise is to first establish dominance, in reviewing Cesar Milans videos and books, I couldn’t find an example of him intentionally using physical violence, unless you consider restraining an already-aggressive dog until you have his attention/cooperation to be violence. I do think he is too casual in his TV show in using “reversed leashes” as improvised choke collars, something that is potentially dangerous and harmful to a dog, when a properly sized and fitted martingale collar would accomplish the same thing safely with no pain to the dog.
Here are a list of Cesar Millan’s positive dog training techniques, a list of Millan’s aversive based techniques, and the risks involved.
I was wandering the interwebs and stumbled upon your site, which I have enjoyed reading.
Not sure if you’ve ever heard of her or not, but Susan Garrett of “Say Yes” dog training is someone whose information I’ve found invaluable as I’ve trained my dog. She is on the rewards side of dog training, but reminds readers that “positive is not permissive”, meaning you can be positive (reward) average or better to get the response you want, and positive training isn’t about shoving so many treats/toys/rewards down a dogs throat that they stop listening and train their owners!
You may want to check out her blog (and video!) called “Transitioning to Do-Land” here http://susangarrettdogagility.com/2011/07/transitioning-to-do-land/
I definitely agree with that!
Thanks for the link. I read through several of her articles and definitely enjoyed them.
Hi, we have a nine month old Shiba named Stella. Stella was really easy to train and keeps us smiling every day. Recently, she has been jumping and nipping at us if we are not giving her full attention. Nothing really has changed in our home over the last two or three weeks for her to be acting so different. We have tried ignoring her behavior, changing the experience to positive by finding a toy and playing catch, getting down on the floor to spend some quality massage time with her etc. This works sometimes but now she is butting us with her nose and actually nipping at noses, faces and legs. I can’t imagine why this has become an issue to the extent that she is making us all very angry. In fact the only difference is that it has gotten noticeably cooler out. Do you have any suggestions to help us here. She goes on walks and has a large backyard she loves to run in. What do you mean when you refer to time outs? I don’t really want to put her in her kennel when this happens as this is where she sleeps when we are away. We have a sun porch and we have been putting her there for time outs for 15 minutes or so when this happens. Can you help us?
Yeah I agree. In general it is best to do timeouts in an area that is different from the kennel or crate which, as you say, should be a safe and restful place for the dog.
I do my timeouts in the laundry room because it is boring, extremely low stimulus, and there is nothing in there to do, see, smell, or chew on. Shiba Sephy really likes his freedom so timeouts are very effective on him.
I start with really short timeouts maybe 30 seconds or so. I also get Sephy to Sit before I let him out. If he goes back to his biting right away, I calmly say timeout and put him back into timeout for a longer period of time (usually a couple of minutes), and so on.
With Sephy, he is always testing his boundaries. If he finds that he can get away with something, he will try to get away with it. It sounds like Stella may also be testing her boundaries. Shibas are such rebels. 😀
If she is already jumping and biting, I would not give her a massage or play with her. This would reward and reinforce the jumping and biting behavior.
One way to redirect her, is to ask her for an alternative positive command, e.g. Sit or Down. When she is doing this alternative behavior, she is no longer jumping or biting. If she stays calm we can reward and reinforce that new good behavior with play and/or a massage.
Sephy started his biting phase with us really early. I did a lot of bite inhibition exercises with him when he was young. I still continue with bite inhibition training even today. It helps him control the force of his bites, and is really helpful for a mouthy breed like the Shiba.
Once Sephy learned that jumping and biting to get attention only got him a trip to the laundry room, he gave it up. Shibas are stubborn though, so it may take a fair number of repetitions. Consistency is also key. If Sephy senses any weakness, he will definitely exploit it. 😀
Here are a few other things that may help with puppy biting.
Hugs to Stella. Let us know how it goes.
Very good information as always.
Everybody makes mistakes. I made the same mistakes when I started out with Sephy. I actually did a whole training program with a traditional trainer who did leash corrections. I also did alpha rolls on Sephy at the recommendation of my breeder and vet tech.
I think you are already way ahead of me because you stopped after one class with Kameron. It is also great that you are doing so much research. Haruki is a lucky Shiba to have an owner who cares so much. Making mistakes is natural, I think. What is important is realizing our mistakes and taking steps to fix them 🙂
Based on my experiences with Sephy, he really did not respond well to any physical techniques and became more aggressive. Alpha rolls especially, made him very sensitive to handling. After I switched to purely reward based training, his behavior improved significantly – not overnight – but over time.
If you are interested here is an article I wrote about dog psychology and dog behavior modification.
Are you starting a training program with this new trainer? Let me know more when you get the chance.
I know Haruki’s aggression is not a thing that happened over night, out of no where, and out of a sudden.
I feel like crap.
I tried my best in providing a loving home, quality food and quality time. I never raised a hand on him. I always thought that he was just tough and stubborn.
After consulting a very reliable trainer about aggressions and behaviours, I realize that I had been practicing some methods taught to me by that trainer can promote aggression.
What I can say is that… I was glad that I stopped with Kameron after one class and it was out of the worst luck that I even started with Kameron.
I have a lot of work with Haruki now and it breaks my heart to know that I had practiced bad training methods that had hurt Haruki.
Yeah, I ended the class. The street safety method didn’t bother me, I think some of their practice works nicely. Haruki followed me closely when he was on leash. It was just like when Brad Pattison had showed on TV. Yeah, treats are not allowed, since it was explained as a method similar to bribery.
But it was just that one particular method which bothered me. Um, I’m not sure if it is CET or just the trainer that uses this method where they would pat the face of a dog with both hands until it doesn’t jump on you anymore. I rather not practice it, to me that action is just the same as slapping or hitting the dog in the face even if it’s gentle pats. Haruki’s eyes squinted when that action was applied. I can’t afford to bring aggressions out of Haruki, especially not flight or handler. But over all, I think the martingale that they uses works the same as a choke chain but just looks gentler to the human eye.
Haruki is tough and falls into a lot of the aggression issues that I was researching about. As much as I like to enforce lots of positive and more gentle training, I sometime need to enforce some aversive methods. I know it does not look to sound nice, but I strongly believe that I must commit to some methods in order for Haruki to understand growling – teeth showing and actual disagreeing bites are not allowed. Currently, I only know of one way to correct Haruki when that happens, it is to pin him on his sides… until he calms.
For Haruki, it’s not the sit, hand, stay and come that I worry about. I guess it’s called Behaviour Modification that he needs? I have been reading into a lot of books to understand about dog aggressions and see what I can do….
Good to see you again!
I am very glad to hear that you decided to stop with the CET class. After watching some episodes with Brad Pattison, his methods seem like extreme traditional training which tends to not work well with Shibas. What was the questionable method btw.? I always like to keep up with everything that is out there 🙂
“I finally realize that it is me who is having problems.”
Yeah – after I realized this with Sephy things improved dramatically. Most of my problems came from >me< not having the right energy. After that improved, things really took a very positive turn 🙂"I guess owning a dog is like a parent, you get judged a lot. ... If I go positive, I’m too soft and weak. If I go aversive, I’m too tough and abusing. Sigh." lol - I so agree with this. I had a hard time with that too. My old neighbors always looked at us cross-eyed. Nowadays I just try to do what I think is best for Sephy and Shania, and the other people can judge whatever they want because Sephy and Shania matter a lot more to me 🙂"I’m still learning and lets hope I am going towards the right track." You are definitely on the right track. Learning, keeping an open mind, and putting Haruki's welfare first sounds like a really good track to me!Would like to hear more about the CET class when you have the time. Is it mostly collar corrections? Or were there other things? Are they very much against the use of food?Thanks!
Tsuki & Haruki says
It’s been a while since my last post.
Sorry, I’m posting all over the place!….Heh ^_^
Well Haruki and I had started training with the CET trainer.
It worked okay for the first class, we practice some of the methods, mostly street safety issues. There were one questionable method that I hold off on. Than I decided not to practice on the method mentioned by the trainer.. because no matter how you think about it, the method just doesn’t bode well. But I stopped furthering with the training with the trainer. I just wanted to see what else is there. It’s tough, I finally realize that it is me who is having problems. It’s me all along and I know it’s not easy being a tough person and having the right kind of common sense as to what to do if Haruki does this or that. I guess, it’s all about understanding your dog. I’m starting to read into a lot of books, to see if I can pick up some training methods that works well with me and Haruki.
I guess owning a dog is like a parent, you get judged a lot.
I didn’t realize that until I got my pup. I think the toughest part is this than the actual training. There’s always someone who has their own opinion on how a person should train their dog. If I go positive, I’m too soft and weak. If I go aversive, I’m too tough and abusing. Sigh.
But like you said, we know our dogs best and we know what works and what doesn’t. Aversive or positive, I guess we all aim for a dog that is has a happy life and a life happy to have with a dog.
I’m still learning and lets hope I am going towards the right track.
Thanks! Feel free to visit more of Haruki images on FLKR. He looks much bigger now!
Tsuki & Haruki
“Reward” training for me with my dogs has never been with food, but always about praise and affection (calm praise with particularly high energy dogs so they don’t take it as an “okay” release but continue to heel, etc.). Likewise, voice disapproval is much more effective than a leash jerk or some such. Of course, it seems I have been blessed with dogs who actually CARE whether I approve or disapprove of what they do and wish to please me.
I did have one particularly independent “student” this did not work with so well initially–a JRT/Aussie mix–and I realized that he needed more of a reason to care about what I thought (it also took him several months before he came to feel that I and my other shepX were his pack to stick around with). Trying reward treats when you’re trying to enforce recall or a “50 yard radius” range around me while hiking together in the woods is pointless, and he’s the one who needs to pay attention to where I am and stay within the “zone.” I admit I resorted to an electronic collar. He learned the meaning of “too far” (the first warning, 2nd was a tone from the collar, only then came a short zap) and he learned to orient to where I was. He probably wore the collar a total of two dozen times, got zapped (on the lowest setting) maybe 5 or 6 times, and hasn’t needed the collar since. Oh, his hearing also improved dramatically! “Too far” now has him wait up for us to catch up. And as coming back toward me was always greeted with high praise, he also learned joyful recall as a by-product. He is smart enough to know that he’s not wearing the shock collar anymore, too, it just helped him change his thinking about being with the pack.
I wouldn’t recommend “pain aversion” for someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. I’ve been training dogs for over 30 years now…