Sunday, March 6, 2016

How Do You Train A Dog: Distilling The Basics

How do you train a dog when techniques seem to be changing all the time.  Do you need to understand positive only training.  What is R+ and P-?  Do I need to be the alpha dog with calm assertive energy?

People have been training animals for a very long time.  Dogs, horses, and hawks have been trained for millennia.  In reality, for all time, the essence of  training has not  changed.

How do you train a dog?  It boils down to a very simple concept:
There are things our dogs like and things our dogs do not like.  Dogs will work to get what they like and dogs will work to avoid what they do not like.

That's it.  But the art and devil are in the details.

You can look at Cesar Milan.  You can look at Victoria Stilwell.  You can look at any trainer and break everything down to one of two categories:  Things a dog likes and things a dog does not like. 


Here is one I hear all the time, from the world of training bird dogs: "Don't train with treats because you won't have treats in the field.  Train with praise."

Praise Depends On The Dog
What if your dog is not motivated by praise?  From the dog's point of view, praise is certainly a good thing, but there are other things that are even better, like that chicken on the counter, or that deer he wants to chase.

I don't train my dog with praise alone.  You know what I use?  Raw beef.  Cheese.  A chance to chase a bird.  I can get a much bigger effort using rewards the dog likes more than he likes praise.


Consider the dog that jumps up on people.  Owners scream and holler and express displeasure.  But the dog keeps jumping on people.  Why?  Again, from the dog's point of view: he dislikes getting yelled at, but the reward of jumping and greeting new people outweighs getting yelled at.

By OakleyOriginals (Dog Day Afternoon) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Not All Dogs Hate Water In The Face
I don't yell at my dog, because all it does it makes me hoarse.  Instead, I spray a stream of water in the dog's face.  He really does not like that and will adjust his behavior accordingly...much faster than yelling would ever accomplish.

How do you train a dog?  It does not matter what *you think* the dog likes.  What matters is what the dog actually likes.  It does not matter what *you think* the dog dislikes.  What matters is what the dog actually dislikes.

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  1. So, so true. I ventured into the dog training work two and half years ago. I had watched animal training before but this was my first time doing it myself. I have found exactly what you said -- it depends on the dog. My dog gets bored with treats - but sometimes he likes them. He knows a treat is a reward. I use an e-collar - he can blow it off at the low setting if he really wants to chase the deer. But mostly his recall is good without even using the collar. Overall, I think he knows I give him what he wants most of the time so he does what I ask. The worst situation is battle of wills. It is an interesting journey!

    1. Yah! When I train (with treats), I have to do it before his dinner. If he is full, he just doesn't care. And if the work is taxing (retrieving), I need to be all happy and squeaky and excited otherwise the treats (by themselves) won't do the trick.

    2. Yep, when I do agility or something hard the happy, excited voice is mandatory. My dog can be a picky eater so even when he hasn't eaten, treats don't always do the trick. (He will spit them out!) But just when I think he could care less for the treats, he then wants them!