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Positive Reinforcement and Domination Training – Understand the Differences in Dog Trainers

Positive Reinforcement and Domination Training – Understand the Differences in Dog Trainers

“The Pack Leader” Philosophy (Domination Theory)

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) has issued an important Position Statement about Domination Theory. To abbreviate their position, dominance training assumes that animals act out because they want elevated status or a higher position in the pack. This often leads trainers to believe that force must be used to bring the dog back in line and eliminate their status-seeking behaviors.

People who utilize Dominance Theory to train their pets may routinely threaten them with aggressive displays or physical force such as an Alpha Roll (rolling the dog on his back and holding him down.) Pets who are subjected to repeated threats or force may not offer the desired, submissive behaviors. Often, they react instead with aggression. This is not because they are trying to dominant the human but because the human who is threatening them makes them fearful and afraid.

How do you know if you’re dealing with a dog trainer who uses domination theory? Typically, trainers who use Domination Theory use catch phrases such as: “Be the Pack Leader”, “Show the Dog Who’s Boss” and “Dominate the Dog for Respect”. “Because the use of punishment can exacerbate problem behaviors by increasing an animal’s fear and anxiety, the AVSAB recommends that veterinar­ians not refer clients to trainers or behavior consultants who coach and advocate domi­nance theory.” To obtain more information on Domination Theory or to read the formal Position Statement on Dominance theory, visit their website. The address is listed at the end of this article.

Positive Reinforcement:

Positive Reinforcement theory is a reward-based training theory. The AVSAB endorses this theory because it motivates the dog to perform or change behaviors as opposed to techniques which focus on fear, pain or punishment. Simply put, the dog offers desirable behaviors because something good happens to him (your praise or attention, treats, etc.) when they do. Dogs naturally repeat behaviors that they find rewarding and typically self-extinguish behaviors that are not rewarding.

Are you still the dog’s leader? Yes! But a true leader doesn’t dominate to gain respect; she is followed BECAUSE she’s respected and admired. Every dog needs guidance and boundaries. As his leader, you provide clear direction for the dog, in language HE understands. Once your dog understands what’s expected of him, he will offer the desired behaviors because he wants to please you…not because he’s afraid of you.

Selecting a Dog Trainer

Choosing a dog trainer can be one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make for your pet. The techniques that a trainer uses can strongly affect how you interact with your dog and the subsequent relationship for years to come. Training should be a fun and rewarding experience for both you and your dog.

Many trainers claim they are Positive Reinforcement trainers when in fact they are not. Some trainers use a combination of Dominance (Pack Leader) Theory and Positive Reinforcement Theory. They may refer to themselves as “Balanced” trainers. It’s important to note that this is not a recognized training theory.

When interviewing a potential trainer, ask probing questions which require a detailed response. For example, if you tell a trainer that your dog is dragging you down the street or growling at you when he’s on your bed, ask them what methods they would use to correct the problem and listen carefully to their response. Ask questions if you don’t understand the trainer’s response. The AVSAB warns you to “Avoid any trainer who advocates methods of physical force and punishment.”

Additional questions you may want to ask include: How will you motivate my dog to teach him something new? How will you motivate my dog to change a problem behavior? What tools do you recommend and use to stop dogs from jumping or pulling on-leash? What tools do you use and recommend to treat aggressive behaviors such as growling or biting? How will you correct or punish my dog if he needs it?

Education and Certification

Most people don’t realize that there is no regulatory requirement or licensing for dog trainers. Anyone can hang a shingle that they are a dog trainer. Buyer beware! Significant damage can be done to your pet if they are misdiagnosed or trained improperly.

While there are numerous “certifications” available for dog trainers, these only “certify” that an individual attended a program. They do not “certify” or validate capability, skill, experience or education.

There is only one, nationally accredited body that certifies education, skill and experience, The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CPDT). To achieve this certification, trainers must already have the required education, skill and 300 hours of documented training experience. Additionally, a veterinarian must sponsor them. Applicants must pass an independent, CPDT issued, knowledge-based, written exam and a hands-on training exam.

Locate a Certified CPDT Trainer

Individuals are certified, not companies. To locate a certified, CPDT Trainer, get your trainers first and last name and the city they reside in. Then go to: http://www.ccpdt.org and see if they are on the list.

Don’t take chances with your pet’s education, hire a CPDT trainer!

Resources for additional information


© Paws in Training, 2010