Yes, the training helps no matter what your dog’s breed. While different breeds certainly have their predominant traits and idiosyncrasies, we must remember that all dog breeds still have the same underlying basic instincts and drives. All dogs are driven to associate with you and your family as “pack” members; thus developing a clear and proper relationship with them is just as effective whether you are living with a toy poodle or an English mastiff.
Most of my clients begin commenting at the end of the first lesson that they have noticed a change in the demeanor and behavior of their dog. By the second week of training, many people notice a substantial shift in their relationship with their dog. Of course, the time at which results are achieved and noticed is always dependent on the issues being dealt with and the consistency and commitment of the client in doing their homework.
I may handle your dog on occasion to demonstrate techniques; however, the goal is to have you handle your dog most of the time. This is a crucial cornerstone to the success of the program. Dogs know when they are working with a leader or a follower. My goal is to train you to be a good leader for your dog and to teach you techniques to communicate clearly, fairly and precisely, so your dog will see you as their clear leader and understand what it is you are asking them to do. In most cases, it is of little relevance if your dog sees me as a leader because I don’t have to live with your dog – you do. Further, if you become a competent “handler” and “leader” for your dog, then you have the foundation of a proper, long-term relationship for your dog’s entire life.
This question really goes to the heart of the generic term obedience. Obedience, for dogs (or people for that matter) isn’t doing something when you have nothing to distract you, when have nothing better to do or when you really wanted to do it in the first place anyway. Obedience is doing something because it is your duty (even if you don’t feel like it). Many clients have told us that it is most important to them that their dog is obedient in precisely those situations where there are distractions. I doubt that anyone really cares if his or her dog can hold a sit-stay for 60 seconds in the middle of the living room when there’s no one around. It’s precisely the distracting environment that requires solid obedience and that’s what we’re working for in our program. If your dog can function well in distracting environments then your stress level goes down dramatically. Consequently, your dog can go more places and do more things with you and you will enjoy having them around again. So, yes, if you have trouble with obedience when your dog has more interesting things to keep him occupied, then I would suggest doing more training that aims to give you long-term results in your relationship with your dog.
The reality is that balanced leash and collar training is not inhumane at all. I’ve never seen a dog hurt and I’ve seen hundreds helped with consistent, balanced training that involves both positive and negative feedback to a dog. Could someone, if they are inconsistent, unfair and unbalanced, abuse a dog with a leash, or any other object or piece of equipment? Well … yes. I’ve seen people be cruel to dogs that aren’t wearing any training collar or leash at all and I’ve seen people be completely fair and consistent using a prong collar. It usually has more to do with how you use any particular piece of equipment.
This is certainly a very emotionally charged topic, and there have been many controversial statements made about dog training methods involved a balanced approach of using positive as well as negative feedback. I frequently hear “positive only trainers” say things like, “you should never use negative messages with your dog, and certainly don’t physically stop your dog from doing anything, because it’s abusive!” The thing that is confusing to me about this sort of statement is that well-socialized dogs don’t even follow that advice when interacting with each other. When dogs interact with each other, they use both positive and negative feedback all the time. Why would we remove half of the communication style that dogs healthily use with one another in order to train them?
I think some of this controversy comes down to the wide variety of opinions about how to define certain words. For example, I’ve even heard some trainers say that you shouldn’t even “look disapprovingly” at your dog because that constitutes “psychological abuse”. Without being presumptuous, I think I’d be safe in saying that’s probably not most people’s definition of “psychological abuse”. I would simply say that I respectfully disagree with these sorts of definitions of “abuse”. I’m very happy to have people try anyone’s methodology of dog training. I don’t demand that everyone train dogs in the way that I do. Further, I’d recommend trying the positive only approach and assess for yourself how effective you feel it is. I frequently say to my clients (even using any of my methods), “don’t take my word for it – assess the results for yourself.” The bottom line for me is that I am a big fan of people thinking, and assessing, for themselves.
This question is akin to the one above. It is a form of criticism of “non-food treat oriented” training and trainers. Sometimes, you’ll hear the slightly more finessed and stealthy criticism framed this way, “Well, you see food treat (positive only) trainers are ‘modern’ dog trainers and everyone that doesn’t train our way is old fashioned.” It’s a clever framing of the issue, to be sure. It’s designed to depict people who train with food treats as; good, smart, humane, scientific, new etc. and people who don’t use food as a primary part of their training as; bad, dumb, inhumane, unscientific, and old fashioned (and I almost forgot – abusive).
THE GOOD STUFF ABOUT OPERANT CONDITIONING
Now, let me say that operant conditioning (that’s the fancy name for what has become ‘positive only’ food treat training) certainly has a scientific basis to it. It was developed by a researcher named B.F. Skinner, who popularized this form of conditioning decades ago. Also, I should say, that I’m not “anti”-operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is a very useful tool in many venues. Use of this sort of conditioning has transformed the zoo keeping industry by allowing keepers to condition zoo animals to feeding times, enclosure cleaning procedures, as well as many veterinary procedures. In addition, there is a lot you can do when training some dogs (and cats and rats or gerbils for that matter) with operant conditioning. Further, I use operant conditioning with puppies under six months old as a primary form of training. It’s only once a puppy gets to that 6-7 month stage of development that we start to form a more mature social relationship with the pup.
THE WEAKNESS OF POSITIVE ONLY OPERANT CONDITIONING
In any “scientific” approach it’s important, if you’re careful, to not over-state the conclusion. It’s important to know what the weaknesses, and limitations are on any conclusion. With regard to operant conditioning, the weaknesses are two-fold:
- The effectiveness of the conditioning is proportional to the motivation that the “reinforcer” (or food treat) provides. For example, I have many clients that simply say, “We were told our dog isn’t trainable because they’re just not interested in food treats or toys.” This is solved in dog training classes by telling clients to “get better treats” or “ don’t feed Sparky on the day of class” This sort of advice comes straight from B.F. Skinner himself. To solve this “motivation issue”, Skinner kept the rats and pigeons that he did his studies with at ¾ of their normal body weight, literally starving them, to ensure when he brought a subject out for an experiment that they would be “consistently motivated” by the reinforcer. Since most of us feed our dog regularly and aren’t willing to keep them at starvation levels to improve training, this solution becomes problematic for most people.
- How motivating the “reinforcer” (food treat) is, or how solid the conditioned response is, when compared to other environmental stimuli (distractions around your dog). Another set of clients that come to me have said things like, “Our dog could do the obedience command in our house or in the training room by himself but if there were other people around or noises or any sort of distraction (like on a walk), none of the food treat conditioning or food luring worked!” This problem was dealt with by Skinner as well. In fact, he became famous (or infamous, depending on who you talk to) for his Skinner box. He conducted his experiments on rats and pigeons in highly controlled enclosures or boxes. In this way, he could control outside (distracting) factors and ensure an animal’s focus on the structured task in front of them. Skinner became intrigued with this idea of a highly controlled environment and even extended his ideas to child raising. Skinner raised his own daughter in a Skinner box ( which was a sort of rolling crib) that was completely enclosed with a glass window as the child’s only interaction with the outside world, with the exception of the several times a day where a child would be changed and fed. He marketed these “boxes” in the 1940’s as “baby tenders” to “alleviate the inconveniences of mothering young children”. They didn’t sell very well because many mothers weren’t willing to keep their babies in a box 90% of the day.
There’s no doubt that some dogs can be trained to some level of “functionality” using a food treat based “positive only” methodology. It’s probably important to define the word “functional” too. I’ve had many clients that competed in agility, competition obedience, rally, and other “sports”. They came to me because, while they were able to be “conditioned” to the tasks of their “sport”, they couldn’t perform very well when going to the beach, picnic, and park or be sane when someone tried to use a vacuum cleaner. So, I’m not saying don’t do “positive only” training. In fact, my first exposure to training was in these types of methods. If that training works for you, then I’m happy for you. Again, I’m not on a mission to make everyone train dogs the way I do. I just don’t want people, who are continually frustrated living with their dogs, who have been told that their dog “doesn’t learn very well”, to believe that they have no other option. In my experience, using my method that takes a balanced approach to training and takes into account a dog’s natural communication style, works well for the vast majority of dogs.
Yes, we have a two or three payment options.
For puppies, I’ll only do the three lesson puppy starter course, as it really does take at least 3 lessons to get you going on a good trajectory. For dogs over 7 months old, I will sometimes do just a lesson or two depending on the issues and goals a client has. Individual lessons are $125.00 each. Purchasing the basic course brings the per lesson price down by 25%.