Canine Training Cultures

Just like most things in the canine world, you have lots of choices when it comes to training cultures.

When you are making decisions for your dogs education, it is best to read about the options before you involve your dog. You as the owner need to make these choices based off of what you have learned, what feels right to you, and what you hope to gain. Please do not use your dog as an experiment by going from one training culture to another, that never works well for either end of the leash.

This list is not definitive, I am pretty sure there are people doing things with dogs in the name of education I am totally unaware of. Suffice to say, these are the most common cultures.

AVERSIVE TRAINING – This is correction based training, based on positive punishment and negative reinforcement. When a dog does something wrong in the handlers eyes, a correction is delivered.

  • Considerations – This style of training, if done correctly, needs a handler that has meticulous use of timing and observation, and a steady temperament. The correction stops the unwanted behavior but does not harm the dog, and is immediately followed by proactive education.
  • Downside – This style of training in the hands of a novice handler can be abusive and cause serious damage both physically and emotionally to the dog.
    • There have been a great many studies of how this style of handling damages the bond between owner and dog, and the lack of real trust in team.
    • While aversive training can seemingly achieve a desired behavior more quickly, it is a mirage and short lived, with very little actual fluency.
    • There isn’t a lot of education involved.
    • Dogs trained with aversive can become reactive to person, place, thing, or other dogs.
    • Aversive training to a sensitive dog can caused learned helplessness.
  • Common Tools For Corrections – pinch or prong collar, choke chain, electric shock collar, slip lead, hand, correction stick, squirt bottle, physical handling (pinching paws, knee to chest, scruffing, ear pinching, etc

REWARD TRAINING – This is mark and reward based training, based on positive reinforcement. When a dog does a behavior the handler wants or asked for, a reward is delivered

  • Considerations – This style of training, if done correctly, needs a handler that has meticulous use of timing and observation, and a steady temperament. Marking a desired behavior with a verbal tone, or clicker, and then rewarding the dog creates a learned pattern of wanted behaviors with fluency, this is called pro-active training. Marker/Reward creates willingness, desire, and a working relationship on both ends of the leash.
  • Downside – This style of training for a novice handler can be seemingly easy and enjoyable, but it takes an incredible amount of repetitions, with daily consistency, for a great deal of time, to lay a real foundation of reliable behaviors.
    • Some dog owners are not compliant with the amount of time it takes to train a dog with this style of training.
    • Some people use rewards permissively, for anything, and accidently build a permissive household which can create behavioral issues.
    • This is an education heavy style of training – starting a behavior, growing a behavior to fluency, and maturing a behavior to reliable.
    • Using rewards for everything all of the time can cripple behaviors over time. Owners need to learn and understand how to use rewards purposefully and effectively, and when to use them randomly and variably. This takes investing in an education.
    • Lots of people want a quick and easy training solution for their dog, this is not it.
  • Common Tools For Rewarding – food, toys, access to environment, access to activity, touch

DEFINITIONS – just so we are all on the same page!

POSITIVE – mathematical term in training – to add something. This is never used as an emotional term in dog training.

NEGATIVE – mathematical term in training – to take something away. This is never used as an emotional term in dog training.

AVERSIVE – training designed to make a dog give up an undesirable behavior by causing them to associate it with an unpleasant effect

REWARD – what a dog perceives as rewarding, not what you want them to perceive as rewarding.

FOOD – something that is enjoyable for your dog to eat.

TOY – appropriate object to play with, tug, or fetch. Ball, disc, teaser pole, fleece tug, long rope, plushy, stuffed sock, etc.

ELECTRIC SHOCK COLLAR – known also as – remote collar, tap tap collar, signal collar, or hunting collar. With variable settings from tone to lift you off the ground – an electric shock collar delivers an electric shock to the artery on the dogs neck to stop an unwanted behavior or deliver information from the handler remotely. While some behaviors can be achieved with an electric shock collar on, once it is off the behaviors are weak or don’t exist at all. Association with the device is strong.

PINCH OR PRONG COLLAR – a collar made of hard plastic or metal, with spikes every inch or so, that when tightened grab a chunk of neck skin and pinch it hard, an aversive correction. The theory is that it feels like a mama dogs correction. I have raised litters and never once seen a mama dog do anything like this, so…

CHOKE CHAIN – a chain with a slip with tightens when a dog pulls or the handler pulls. An aversive correction tool.

LEASH – a length of webbing/leather/rope that usually attaches to a dogs collar or harness, and connects the handler and dog.


BALANCED TRAINING – usually a blend of aversive and light positive training. Electric shock trainers use this term often.

FUNCTIONAL TRAINING – usually a blend of aversive and positive training. Sometimes it is also used by competition based trainers, and service dog trainers.

AFFECTION BASED – Sounds good and fluffy but it is used by correction based trainers and follows abusive patterns. Do what I want and I will gift you affection, don’t do what I want and I will deliver a correction. Affection is withheld as a reward. Personally, I have dogs because I want them and love them, working with them is not a condition of loving them more or less, that foundation is always there.

INTEGRATIVE – usually used by reward based trainers, sometimes wholistic trainers – focusing on the whole dog – socially, emotionally, physically, and nutritionally.

NATURAL – who knows? A human teaching a dog is so far from natural, but I think it appeals to some people and makes them feel good about the training choice. Just as in the food industry it is a word that can emotionally hijack you and persuade you because natural is associated with, well the natural world. Lofty.

QUICK AND EASY – this will always be aversive based, especially if you are promised a time frame with specific behaviors. Behavior is something an animal does not something an animal has, there is no way, no matter the species, that a time frame can be guaranteed. This is the most common marketing promise, usually high dollar, and comes with temporary fixes if not outright regression in behavior and most certainly the relationship.

POSITIVE REIFORCEMENT TRAINING – reward based, you would want to know if it is clicker or verbal based. Note – nothing is 100% positive, 100% of the time. That is impossible and not what this style of training is about. This is a time intensive style of training that comes with lots of education to both ends of the leash.

PERFORMANCE TRAINING – competition based training, based in both aversive and positive.

SCIENCE BASED TRAINING – who knows? Hopefully we are all learning how dogs learn so we can be the least confusing people in our dogs lives. This is mostly used by positive reinforcement trainers, and is ever changing. The science most often referred to is steeped in research by Pavlov’s classical conditioning, and Skinner’s operant conditioning.

MODEL TRAINING – learn by observation, the theory is your dog will follow your lead or your desires by mirroring your movements or gestures. Used mostly by clicker trainers. This is a cool thing to work on but not practical for everyday training, this is for more intricate education at a higher level.

ALPHA TRAINING – this is ego based training where the human puts themselves in the dominant role and their dog in the submissive role. Do as I say. This style of training is often used by aversive trainers.

RELATIONSHIP BASED TRAINING – who knows? Usually a blend of spending time together, working together, exploring and having experiences together. Hopefully we are all doing this anyway? I think it is a feel good word, made to make you, well, feel good.

PLAY TRAINING – used by aversive and positive trainers, usually in high-end sports. I refer to this as play with a purpose.

So I said all of that to say this – for me, well my heart and education were shaped from a young age. I was surrounded by animal loving people, animals of all species, and animal professionals that worked without ever harming an animal. They taught me from a young age that relationships with animals were normal.

I started to work professionally with search dogs in the mid 1980’s, working with a handler that trained through play and observation, and that still remains my foundation.

I went through a formal education in Applied Behavior Analysis, and then years later became a professionally certified trainer.

Competition in all forms pulled at my very fiber and I went head first into dog sports for almost two decades. Working with dogs is the least confusing part of my day, and hopefully I create that for them as well.

I have observed dogs professionally for nearly four decades, my skills grow every year, and there is always one dog that comes my way that teaches me something new, about dogs or myself.

And while I use corrections to stop serious unwanted behaviors, I have never had to harm or hurt a dog to do it.

We all have the power to make choices and to stand in the power of these choices, whatever they are.

You know your dog more than anyone else, so stand in that power and make the choices that will serve you and your dog best.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Nikki Brown says:

    Thanks for this very informative article. Most of what I see around here is the easy, quick fix being promoted everywhere. Fortunately because of you and my very first trainer, I was given the gift of gentle connections with my animals and am so very grateful for this.

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