Training Methods to Use

Introduction

This List will be updated occasionally to cover the most current dog training methods.

There will also be further explanations for dog training concepts in the future.

Overall Methods to Use

Positive reinforcement training – rewarding dogs for desirable behavior in order to increase the probability they will perform that behavior again.

Reward-based training – this refers to using primarily positive reinforcement, but also takes into account trainers may remove rewards or opportunities to perform a behavior for incorrect responses.

When training in this manner dogs learn very quickly via discrimination learning. They get rewards for correct responses, and no rewards for incorrect responses. It’s not aversive or harmful to dogs and it actually speeds up learning when they get some incorrect responses as it allows them to pinpoint what was correct.

Desensitization – exposing a dog to stimuli (things/events) at a level below his fear or upset-threshold, and increasing access or intensity towards the stimulus always under-threshold as the dog becomes comfortable at the current level.

Counter-conditioning – training a dog to accept something he has a negative view of by pairing the scary thing with rewards to create a positive association or emotional response towards it.

DRI (differential reinforcement of an incompatible behavior) – this is a concept for teaching a dog with rewards to perform a behavior that is incompatible with an unwanted behavior. Some examples include:

  • Sit-stay at the front door, instead of rushing through it.
  • Pick up and hold a toy, instead of barking.
  • Walk calmly on leash, instead of pulling.
  • Stand next to people, instead of jumping on them.

Specific Training Techniques to Use

Each of these are positive reinforcement methods:

  • Luring (or lure-reward training) – holding a treat (or a toy) to lure the dog into positions like sitting, lying down, standing, etc. Lures are usually faded or removed, so they are not required to do the behavior at the end of the process.
  • Capturing – marking a behavior correct as the dog does it (with a clicker or other marker) and giving a reward. For example, a dog lies down, you mark it correct with a click, and reward with a treat.
  • Shaping – rewarding behaviors in small steps, gradually working towards the final behavior. If the dog won’t lie down all at once, for example, you can reward him for sitting, then sliding feet out, then feet further out, until he finally lies down completely. This can be used with prompting (luring or targeting) or as a free-shaping technique (where you simply mark as correct and reward behaviors until you get the final one without any prompting or encouraging the dog to do the behavior).
  • Targeting – teaching a dog to touch an object or thing, such as a target stick or your hand, which then can be used to teach other behaviors. Dogs will follow the target like a food lure. Targets are faded/removed so they are not required to do the behavior at the end of the process.

Types of Rewards and Equipment to Use

  • Food
  • Treats
  • Toys
  • Allowing dogs access to sniff something or
  • Greet another individual
  • Play with people or other dogs
  • Providing a chance to go outside
  • Walks
  • Praise
  • Gentle petting
  • Marker or clicker training – to time correct behaviors with the mark/click and follow up with a reward to positively reinforce the behavior
  • Using harnesses attached to leashes for walks – since these won’t (or are less likely) to damage the dog’s neck/trachea compared to other types of collars.
  • Teaching dogs with rewards to accept veterinary or body handling procedures and grooming, baths, etc.
  • Socializing puppies and dogs – pairing neutral or scary stimuli/things with treats to make them positive.
  • Etc.

By Dan Raymer, CTC, BS

Training Methods to Avoid

Introduction

This article consists of a list of dog training techniques to avoid using. It will be updated as needed to cover new training methods.

The word “aversive” is a scientific concept from the psychology field. Aversive stimuli (or things) are anything dogs want to avoid because they are startling, scary, or painful.

When a dog is exposed to something aversive until he does a desired behavior and the trainer ends the aversive thing, that behavior can increase by negative reinforcement. The dog will do it again to end the aversive (scary or painful thing).

Or if a dog does a behavior and an aversive is applied to him, he will do that behavior less. This strategy uses positive punishment to decrease unwanted behaviors. Positive in this case is not a good thing, it simply refers to adding or doing something to the dog that is scary or painful to him. Whereas in the situation mentioned above, negative refers to removing the aversive thing.

Force training refers to using aversive methods. The trainer forces a dog to comply or do a behavior.

Overall Concepts to Avoid Using

  • Negative reinforcement (because it uses aversives)
  • Positive punishment (because it uses aversives)
  • Force training (sometimes also called compulsion training)
  • Balanced training (which means using aversives sometimes and good techniques like positive reinforcement sometimes)

Specific Techniques to Avoid

  • Hitting
  • Kicking
  • Startling
  • Yelling at
  • Thssst, or other sounds (used to scare the dog or are paired with a harsh correction)
  • Stomping near
  • Pressuring with your body – for example leaning over until it backs the dog up into a sit or down
  • Choke chains
  • Prong collars
  • Pinch collars
  • Shock collars
  • Remote collars
  • E-collars (electronic)
  • Pulling/jerking on leash with any type of collar
  • Slip leads used to correct dogs
  • Pinning Down
  • Alpha rolls (forcing the dog to roll onto his side or back and holding there)
  • Scruff shakes
  • Forcing to hold position (for example, multiple people pinning a dog down at a veterinary exam)
  • Hitting with newspapers
  • Throwing objects at dog
  • Spraying with water bottles
  • Drowning dog – dunking head into pool of water
  • Spitting on or in dog’s mouth
  • Jabbing dog in neck with hands/fingers
  • Ear pinching
  • CAT (constructional aggression treatment) – is a negative reinforcement method
  • Forcing dog over upset threshold
  • Flooding (forcing a dog into a scary situation until he submits)
  • Rubbing dog’s nose in house-training mistakes
  • Forcing dog to bite a spoon (to decrease taking treats hard)
  • Using airhorns to startle dogs
  • Using air cans to startle dogs
  • Using citronella spray as a correction
  • Using bark collars of any kind (citronella, etc.) as a correction
  • Using molding/modeling to force a dog into a position, like pushing on a dog until he sits or lies down
  • Electronic/invisible fences (that shock dogs when they get near the barrier)
  • Etc.

Note:

You may have tried some of these in the past, possibly even at the recommendation of a professional dog trainer, which could be upsetting. This article isn’t intended to make anyone feel bad. It’s basically a do-better-when-we-know better type of situation. The good news is it is very easy to switch over to reward-based training methods, and help your dog learn in a happy, fear-free way.

Additional note:

Some of these techniques are used in emergencies by professional dog trainers to stop dog fights. These are not training situations, where you let two dogs play and punish them for bad behavior, but legitimate emergencies where you have to get the two dogs to stop fighting and injuring each other.

So for example, normal training would never involve setting dogs up to fail so you could blast their ears with an airhorn or spray water in their faces, but in an actual emergency may use an airhorn or dump a water bucket over the dogs heads to get them to release their bites. And then the situation would be assessed to prevent the situation arising again in the future.

By Dan Raymer, CTC, BS

Raymer Family Dog Training News: December 2019 – New Dog Training Class!

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– Dan Raymer

Clicker Training

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Clicker training is a type of reward-marker training. A clicker at first has no inherent meaning to a dog, unless it scares him. It’s usually a neutral or meaningless sound. For this reason, trainers charge the clicker by pairing its “click” sound with treats. The click will result in two outcomes –

  1. The click marks the behavior the dog is doing at that exact moment as correct, and
  2. The click lets the dog know he has earned a reward for the behavior.

So the clicker’s function is to aid in timing. Normally when we reward a dog with a treat, the behavior the dog is doing when he receives the treat is the one that is positively reinforced, and therefore, will increase its probability of being offered in the future (it worked for the dog to get what he wanted, so he’ll do it again).

Some behaviors occur quickly, and it’s difficult to deliver the reward immediately. The clicker solves this problem. We can mark fleeting behavior correct with a clicker (or another type of marker, like a specific word designated for this purpose, such as “yes!”), and then deliver the treat. The dog will learn it is the behavior that earned the click that is the one that will be rewarded. And it allows us more time to deliver the treat for the behavior we desire.

For many of the typical foundation behaviors, we can simply reward the behavior while the dog is performing it – sit, walking by your side while on leash, down, stay, etc. You can still use a marker, but it’s not necessary. The power is the primary reinforcer, the actual inherent reward/treat, as opposed to the thing signaling it is coming (secondary/conditioned reinforcer or clicker).

Some behaviors that tend to happen quickly include targeting behavior (dog touching his nose to your hand), eye contact, picking up an object (like for a retrieve/fetch behavior), etc., so in these cases a clicker can be helpful.

A marker/clicker is also useful for marking behavior from a distance.

Does Using “No” Work?

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One of the more common questions I get asked is about whether telling your dog “No” works to train them.

Do Dogs Speak English?

It’s worth noting that when we speak words to our dogs, they do not inherently know what each word or phrase means. Over time they start to associate words with events if they are relevant to them.

“Do you want to go on a walk?” will usually elicit a dog’s super-excited jumping around and running back and forth between doors to outside the house and the person getting the leash.

“Treat!” will lead to a dog licking lips in anticipation of a tasty morsel, and perhaps looking toward the location food normally arrives from – a treat pouch, a countertop, or refrigerator.

Dogs will also zero in on words that are important to them because they predict something unpleasant is about to occur.

For example, for dogs who don’t like to take baths they surely do not want to hear “bath time.”

This learning process is classical conditioning, where dogs learn tip-offs to what will happen in the near-future.

This is also how dogs learn to spell. When “P-a-r-k” predicts a trip to a dog park, dogs learn to quickly associate the combination of each letter’s sound with the fun activity.

Understanding of Emotion/Intonation

Dogs can pick up on our body language, the emotions we express while speaking to them, and the way we say words (the tone we use).

Dogs tend to enjoy happy-talk, high-pitched voices, and praise. In contrast, words said angrily or harshly in deep, threatening voices are naturally disliked.

The Meaning of “No”

Therefore, “No” starts out as a meaningless word to dogs. If the word is used harshly, it will either be intrinsically off-putting to dogs, or they can learn it predicts something unpleasant.

When used in this type of way, “no” is used as a punisher and could have negative side effects (and therefore I wouldn’t recommend using it to train dogs).

What To Do Instead

Rather than focusing on what our dogs get wrong, and responding with a loud “NO!” – we can…

  1. Capture dogs doing desirable behaviors in the moment, and/or
  2. Preemptively teach dogs behaviors we want them to do, and

reward those behaviors.

It’s much more fun to teach by saying “Yes!” and providing rewards for good behavior, then it is to focus on each wrong response, and when we train this way our dogs will start to perform desirable behaviors more often.