We, humans, tend to want our dogs to take on our lifestyle. We want them to like the things we like and do the things we want them to do. If we are a social person, we expect our dog to handle strangers approaching/reaching towards them with ease. We expect them to want to play and interact with other dogs because we like to interact with humans. We expect them to like our friends and family just as much as we do. So, when challenges arise – do we choose dog training or behavior work?
Dog training is teaching dogs new skills. Behavior work is impacting the way in which an animal reacts in response to a particular situation or stimulus. Based on definitions alone, you can see how these two differ. Training is GOOD. All dogs need training. However, if training isn’t working, then you are likely dealing with a behavior issue.
There are two main philosophies in traditional dog training: Positive-based trainers and Compulsion-based trainers. These are two very different styles and both with the same goal in mind, training the dog by introducing new skills. In fact, there are a small percentage of trainers that cross over and will use a combination of these methods.
What most people don’t know is that traditional dog training doesn’t fix behavior challenges. It teaches dogs new skills. A few examples of dog training skills range from sit and stay, agility, scent work, obedience, and herding. New skills can be incredibly beneficial for all dogs on so many levels including dogs with behavior challenges. However, traditional training will not fix real world behavior challenges that many of our canine companions face such as fear, reactivity, separation anxiety, resource guarding, biting and aggression. Dogs cannot overcome these behaviors with just training.
The idea behind traditional dog training is to consistently work with the dog to make positive associations with the things we humans want our dog to like and to stop doing the things we humans consider unwanted behavior. The positive based trainer will offer treats at just the right time so the dog will make a positive association to the “stimuli.” The compulsion style trainer will typically use a tool i.e., the shock collar or choke chain. The reasoning here is to suppress or submit the dog to pain or pressure. These techniques are administered for teaching a basic task like “sit” or it could be something more challenging such as stopping reactivity.
Challenges arise when the dog makes a different association than we think they are making (which is not only likely, but very common). Additional challenges can arise when the individuality of the dog comes into play. What works for these 10 dogs, may not work for those 10 dogs. One method will never work on every dog. Ever. They are living, breathing beings with different genetics, different breeding histories, living in different environments, they have made different associations from their past experiences (both positive and negative), they have individual temperaments… and they have different relationships with the people with whom they live and work. One training approach won’t work on every dog just like one approach doesn’t work on every human. We are all different.
We always say that the most respectful way to communicate to any being is to communicate to them on their level, not ours. With that in mind, we have techniques that are utilized by our behaviorists to communicate to the animal in a way they already understand- through energy, body positioning, movement, scent, and tone followed closely by touch and hand signals.
For you left brainers, here is the cut and dry comparison.