Know Your Trainer

When potential clients contact me for the first time, I walk them through my training philosophy.  I have learned over the years that many pet parents are unaware that there are three different types of trainers.  Each type of trainer has different training philosophies and use different training techniques.  In this blog, I want to briefly describe each type of trainer.  I believe it is critical for all pet parents interested in training to know their trainer.  It matters.

When I attended one of my first national dog training conferences, a world renown trainer, Ken Ramirez ( ), gave a room full of experienced professional dog trainers a bit of very good advice.  He told us not to criticize other types of trainers.  Instead, trainers should understand why other trainers train the way they do. 

On to the types of trainers:

Positive Trainers use positive reinforcement and negative punishment to motivate dogs to “think” and “choose” the appropriate behavior over the inappropriate behavior.  Positive reinforcement can be treats, praise, toys, etc.  Some positive trainers will not use any form of punishment because they do not feel it is necessary.  The reality is that many trainers still consider themselves positive trainers if they use positive reinforcement and negative punishment.  It is important to note that negative punishment means that the opportunity to earn something of value is taken away when the dog chooses the inappropriate behavior.  For example, the dog in training values the pet parent’s attention a great deal.  When that attention is removed, the dog notices and quickly understands that when it chooses the inappropriate behavior, the pet parent leaves the room or ignores the dog for a short time.  The dog loses the opportunity for praise and attention. This also motivates the dog to make good decisions.   

Positive training is a relatively new concept, believe it or not, in comparison to compulsion training.  Positive training continues to evolve.  More and more organizations and certifications require trainers to subscribe to positive training methods and use the LIMA (least intrusive and minimally aversive) framework. 

I consider myself a positive trainer.

Balanced Trainers are positive trainers that may incorporate mild forms of punishment into their training program.  For example, balanced trainers may incorporate shaker cans or squirts of water into a training program.  Typically, balanced trainers will not incorporate mild forms of punishment unless (1) they are convinced the dog fully understands what is expected but continues to choose the inappropriate behavior; (2) the dog is at risk of losing its home. 

Compulsion Trainers use positive punishment and negative reinforcement in their training programs.  A few examples of positive punishment would be the use of shock collars, choke collars, ear pinches, leash jerks, etc.  In this case, “positive” means that something the dog finds uncomfortable is added – a shock or ear pinch, for example.  “Negative” would mean that something the dog finds unpleasant is taken away.  Notice that positive means something is added, and negative means something is taken away.  An example of negative reinforcement would be that the human stops pulling hard on a choke collar.

Compulsion training is the oldest form of training.  There are still many compulsion trainers to this day.  As I mentioned in the second paragraph of this blog, trainers should not be critical of each other. They should understand each other.  It is also very important for pet parents to understand the different types of training methodologies and choose because positive trainers will not cross into compulsion training theory and compulsion trainers will not cross into positive training theory.  Positive training uses positive reinforcement (treats, praise, toys, etc.) to motivate a dog to think and make good decisions.  In compulsion training, the dog chooses the appropriate behavior to avoid pain or something uncomfortable.  With that said, one of the reasons that a pet parent may choose compulsion training over positive training is that compulsion training often has immediate results.  Positive training often takes time to achieve the desired results.

In this blog, I was only able to share information at the highest level.  Hopefully, I provided enough information so pet parents can know their trainer!  If you have any questions about the information I shared, I would love to hear from you! 


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