Updated: Oct 11, 2022
It’s a difficult thing finding a dog trainer that suits you. You either look for one because you want to work on general obedience, or because there is a behaviour issue that you need to work on. But, which trainer will you go for? How do you know which training style suits you (and your dog)? There is generally 2 types of trainers.. but in between that there is a world of difference.
In general there are the:
- Positive Only Trainers (Force Free).
- Balanced trainers
To know a bit more about that there is the 4 quadrants of Operant Conditioning. So we have:
- Positive Reinforcement (R+) (We add something to make behaviour happen more often)
- Negative Reinforcement (R-) (We take away something to make behaviour happen more often)
- Positive Punishment (P+) (We add something to make behaviour happen LESS often)
- Negative Punishment (P-) (We take away something to make behaviour happen LESS often).
Positive means you’re adding something. Negative means you’re taking away something. So negative doesn’t mean = something bad. A few examples:
R+ = Treat rewards, praise, toy.
R - = We are taking something away to make something more enjoyable. For example: When you gently push down on the dogs bum to make them sit you add pressure and take away the pressure when they obey. Or even easier example: You sit in the car and don’t put your seatbelt on. To relief the ‘pressure’ of the continuous beeping of your car, you put your seatbelt on. That’s R-
P+ = We are adding punishment. A tug on the leash, a flick on the nose, making a loud noise.
P - = Taking away something the dog values. That could be something like your attention (when they’re jumping up on you) or taking away his ball/toy or not giving a treat if the task isn’t performed properly.
Now, here it is. What trainer fits you?
1. A positive only trainer will only use Positive Reinforcement (R+) and won’t use any of the other quadrants (on purpose).
2. A balanced trainer uses all 4 quadrants when necessary.
I’m a balanced trainer, or I like to classify myself as a ‘Positive First’ Trainer. I will attempt everything first with positive reinforcement but will use the other quadrants where necessary. Especially R-. Dogs need boundaries and clear communication. In my opinion it’s not right to raise a dog on R+ only. Each to their own of course, but I like to compare it to children.
Would you raise your child without them learning the meaning of no? Of boundaries, restrictions and knowing what a consequence is? We teach them these things to keep them safe and become responsible adults in later life. For our dogs it’s much the same in my opinion. And don’t get me wrong, you can get some amazing results with R+ only, but what do you do if that one time your dog doesn’t recall or not listen… you have nothing there except the ‘hope’ that they come back. Something to think about. Each ‘Camp’ of trainers has amazing (and not so amazing) trainers and you need to do a bit of research there. I’m more of the type that if the trainer tries to convert you so badly to their camp (doesn’t matter if it’s balanced or R+) then it’s more about their ideology than the actual care for the dog.
Tools in dog training
There is tons of different tools out there, some are used by both sides, some strictly by one side only. Here’s a few of which you will see the most regularly.
- Clickers are always good to work with the establish clear communication and it’s a positive way of training. It’s used by both sides.
- I’m a fan of slip leads (which works with R- (pressure until they release)). But correction chains are also an option. (only used by balanced trainers).
- E-collars are the positive only sides most hated enemy, whilst we on the ‘balanced side’, know it is an incredibly useful and nuanced tool if used correctly.
- Haltis, I used to hate them. Now I think they’re great although I prefer the ones I sell myself due to less strain on the neck.
- Any no pull – front connecting whatever harness is usually a Positive Only tool. They seem great, but it teaches your dog nothing and in the end you end up with me for a dog massage because your dogs shoulders, trapezius and triceps are not doing great.
The beauty of being balanced is that the whole world of tools is open for you and sometimes you use something on one dog but would never think of using that on another dog, making every situation unique and tailored to your dog. Being able to rock up somewhere with several different methods means you have a higher chance of success, which is ultimately what we all want: for the dog to be successful.
What to look out for:
- Trainers that say ‘No tugging, it makes your dog aggressive’. Completely untrue.
- Trainers that claim that balanced training is just a quick fix but not a kind fix. Put things in perspective: do you rather have your dog choking himself out for 6 months whilst you click and treat sporadic moments, or will you walk on a sliplead and have your dog walk nicely with you, without any pressure on his neck in 1 hour? What is the most friendly option there?
- Trainers that train every dog with the exact same tools. Not every dog needs ecollar work for example. Make sure to go that route only if the trainer really deems it necessary and make sure you work with a really good trainer on this, not someone who watched a few videos on the internet and ordered a cheap ecollar from ebay.
- Trainers that use punishment on a fearful dog. You can’t punish fear. It’s like slapping a child who is afraid of the bogeyman under his bed. You slapping the child won’t make him less frightened. It doesn’t work! (Quote by Larry Krohn).
- Trainers that have no experience in a certain area. Don’t go to a trainer that has no experience in aggression with your severely aggressive dog. Don’t go herding with a trainer that has never had a dog together with a sheep (or a duck/cow/whatever).
- Have a good look on their social media. Do they post any videos? Photos? What are their reviews like? Look up their training philosophy. Do they fit your style?
- Don’t skimp on trainer. $25 or $50 an hour probably sounds real good, but hey, you get what you pay for. That trainer won’t be able to stop your dog from attacking other dogs. They may be able to help you teach your dog a few tricks… but for expertise, you pay. Feel free to ask lots of questions once you’ve found somebody. Don’t forget, we all want the best for our dogs. If we work as a team, we can make sure all dogs will live a happy life with their families.