1.3 Positive Dog Training


Dog training has evolved very much in the past ten years, moving from traditional aversive training methods to positive reward based training methods. Scientific studies have shown that aversive training methods can jeopardize both the physical and mental health of dogs. As such, the buzz of positive dog training in Singapore has made well-informed dog owners scramble to look for positive dog trainer.

At the heart of positive dog training are the following principles:

  • The use of positive reinforcement to makes a behavior more likely to happen again
  • Building a relationship that makes a dog want to work for you
  • The use of science based approach to condition behaviors
  • Avoid the use of pressure, corrections, fear, intimidation, dominance theories
  • Understanding dog behavior from a dog’s emotional and mental states

The result is a safer, more effective and humane to teach animals using the overarching concept that if you reward a behavior you like, it is more likely that that behavior will be repeated.

Recognizing aversive training methods

Positive dog training is not a scientific term and the lack of a clear definition to the term has led to its misuse by balanced dog trainers and even aversive trainers. Aversive methods common methods:

  • Angry authoritative commands
  • Choke chain, prong collars, shock collars
  • “Bonking” the dog, carrying a stick
  • Correcting the dog
  • Removing food bowls while dogs are eating
  • Alpha roll to show dominance

Dog is focused on avoiding punishment and loses enthusiasm for performing the behavior. The relationship is based on dominance and fear. Dogs that have been trained using aversive often have poor relationship with owner and do not recall when unleashed.

While some of these methods have been popularized on tv and social media, it is good to know that they are hardly suitable for any dog. They are suitable for dog owners who want a:

  • quick and easy fix to a dog’s misbehaviors. 
  • regimentally obedient dog whose motivation is to avoid pain
  • without regard for emotional consequences for their pets

Is positive dog training the solution to get a perfectly behaved dog? 

The answer to this might is not straightforward and may require a mindset shift in some people. For many people, the idea of a perfectly behaved dog is one that heels beside you all the time, can sit/down/recall/stay/leave it without being rewarded, can do agility courses. This idea is probably romanticized from watching performance dogs or competition dogs and little do they know how rewards have been structured behind the scenes or the genetic personality of the dog. People who train dogs with jobs know that not all dogs are suited to be a service dog, competitive dog or a military dog. Examples are reactive dogs or dogs with low motivation. Most pet owners do not get a dog from a specialized working line and hence there is a wider range of genetic personalities in pet dogs. When we are training a pet dog, we need to understand the dog and be able to determine the potential of the dog, in terms of its emotional, mental and physical capabilities.

What positive dog training does is it brings out the potential in your dog by working with his emotions, finding his motivations and structuring a progressive learning plan that focuses on reinforcing the behavior and makes learning fun. 

Challenges of positive dog training

Compared to aversive methods which is relatively simple to apply and is rule-based, positive dog training does require more thought, repetitions and patience.  For example, if a dog doesn’t offer a learned behavior like Lie Down outdoors after learning it indoors, an aversive trainer will apply stronger pressure by shouting louder or pulling harder on the leash. In positive dog training, we assess and manipulate the antecedent (e.g. environment and fluency) to get the desired behavior outdoors without social or physical pressure.

Because positive dog training caters to the individual character of the dog, classes are often smaller and cost more. If you want the best education for your dog, this is a small price to pay as you are setting your dog up for the rest of his life.