There are many people and companies out there offering to take your dog in to train them for a period of usually 2 to 4 weeks. So how do you choose?
The purpose of this article is not to tell you which is good or bad, but to educate you in your decision. Keep in mind, no matter which program you choose, you MUST continue using those methods in your daily life with your dog in order to maintain the training.
Probably the most common service advertised, most often these programs start with the use of e-collars and prong collars from day one. The dogs are taught commands with the use of aversive stimulation. When they perform the right behavior, there is no punishment, when they perform the wrong behavior, there is a punishment. Some rewards may be worked into to the program to reward some good behaviors.
EXAMPLE: a dog is taught to walk next to the handler by learning that any place away from right next to the handler means a correction will come. As long as they stay in the “safe zone” they will not be punished.
Results: What you will usually see in dogs trained by these methods are stress behaviors such as panting, licking of the lips, and pinned back ears. When the dog is walking, the head is often down, the ears are back and the tail is down. The flip side is yes, the dog is very obedient. The dog understands that there are negative consequences for behaving incorrectly. These dogs, however, do not really enjoy training nor will they voluntarily offer behaviors and think independently. The relationship in this scenario is the owner is “dictator” and the dog must submit.
Is this for you? Force based training works well for people who are looking for an easy “just push the button” approach to training their dog. These owners often do not notice the change in their dog’s body language, are not aware what the change means, or don’t care as long as the dog is being obedient. Many people like the results of this training as it only requires that they learn how to push a button when the dog behaves incorrectly. If you want a partnership with your dog and do not want to damage the trust in the relationship, this method is not for you. If you just want your dog to obey and want fast, transformational results, then this may fit your needs.
Motivational Only Training
The far other side of the spectrum is motivational only training, also known as “purely positive” or “force free” training. For some people and some dogs, this can work. It is absolutely possible to train almost any behavior using force free methods. You can also counter condition bad behaviors into good behavior with lots of repetitions, consistent rewards, and patience. If done well, motivational training also has a huge benefit of teaching dogs to offer behaviors. This give you the opportunity to reward good behaviors your dog offers without ever giving a command!
EXAMPLE: a dog is taught to walk next to the handler by being rewarded many many times with treats in that position, making that position very positive and valuable to the dog. The dog starts to stay in the position much more in the anticipation of more great treats.
EXAMPLE 2: A dog taught to think and offer behaviors on its own may offer a "down" or "sit" to get attention and treats without being commanded to do so.
Results: Dogs trained with positive methods will not show the stress behaviors and fear that the force trained dogs show. They tend to be happy learners and enjoy training. They will often offer behaviors to try to figure things out, and be independent thinkers. Their ears will be up, tails wagging, and have a happy disposition. Results aren’t transformational because with this method the personality and spirit of the dog is preserved, so it’s the same dog with more knowledge.
The flip side of this is some dogs are more difficult than others. While yes, it is possible to train purely positively, the time commitment, dedication, and consistency required to maintain this training results in failure for many dog owners. They are often made to feel like failures and bad dog owners for not succeeding with these methods and may even quit trying and rehome their dog. In a board and train program, the most common complaint about this method is the training doesn’t “stick” well when the dog goes home. Often this is because the owner does not have the same skill, timing, and consistency as the professional trainer.
Is this for you? This method of training is great for people dedicated to not using any corrections on their dog, and who have the patience and ability to do so. Also, the type of dog you own often plays a big role in how successful people are in these programs. If you opt for a purely positive training program, you must be committed to the program long term. Additionally, using rewards will never permanently damage a dog’s spirit and personality, so owners do not have to worry about badly done corrections.
A more middle of the road approach requires trainers that are knowledgeable and skilled in both motivational training and the use of corrections and tools. These trainers still want the dog to be happy, motivated learners who learn to enjoy training and offer behaviors to try to get their rewards. Skills are taught with motivation and corrections are used primarily to block unwanted behaviors and to proof the skills the dog already knows. This method is good for people who have tried purely positive training, but for whatever reason have not succeeded. And that’s ok! That doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dog or have to punish him into submission. Learning to properly use corrections can make the world of difference in the relationship between some owners and their dogs and still maintain a happy, well-adjusted dog.
EXAMPLE: a dog is taught to walk next to the handler by being rewarded many many times with treats in that position, making that position very positive and valuable to the dog. The dog starts to stay in the position much more in the anticipation of more great treats. However, if the dog breaks the position to charge at a rabbit, the dog is given a correction for doing that.
Results: A happy learner that loves to train and interact, but understands there are consequences for bad decisions. This requires that the owner does not overuse corrections and continues to reward good behaviors. This responsibility remains with the owner, so learning is required!
Interested in learning more about board and train? Contact us for more information. We will talk to you about your goals and the methods best for you and your dog. If you prefer the force-based training, we are not the right place for you, but there are many other businesses in the area that can provide that service.