What training method do we use?
We use the natural approach. We guide the dog toward the behaviors we desire and reward lavishly with verbal and physical praise and play. We believe that a healthy, natural relationship in the DOG WORLD is based on cooperation and rank (dominance/subordination), as well as the drives for social bonding (pack drive), and physical interaction (play drive). When you use a treat based training system you do get a conditioned response from your dog, but only under “training conditions” – not when you have no treats, the situation is different from class, and you’re not in “training mode” – in other words, not in real life. This is because that kind of system does not address the social dynamic that is so crucial to a dog. Our training produces a dog that works for you because you are the leader and what he wants is your approval, affection and guidance, not just a cookie.
Why don’t we only use treats?
We believe it’s the lazy way to train. We give the dog what it craves the most – our love and affection – and we always have it with us! The foundation of all real obedience lies in the positive relationship between you and your dog; praise, play and affection reinforce and strengthen this bond, being a human “treat dispenser” does not.
Why aren’t we all positive?
In the long run it just doesn’t work on all dogs. You can’t build the all-around affectionate and obedient companion we all want with just one tool. It just isn’t natural – no mother in nature, human, dog, or any other animal, uses this one-sided approach. While behaviors are strengthened with positive reinforcement, you must use some form of correction if you want an undesirable behavior to go away. Were you (or your children) raised without ANY consequences?
So, where does compulsion come in?
Once a dog has learned a command and has clearly demonstrated that he understands that command, we believe that a refusal should be dealt with by consequence. The consequence can be as minor as a stern look, a verbal correction such as “No” or it can escalate into a leash correction. There is a level of correction that is appropriate for each dog and each situation. In fancy terms it’s called the escape reaction threshold. Knowing when to use corrections and using them properly takes experience, patience and finesse. The correction appropriate for a 6 month old lab that refuses to sit is light years from that required by a five year old pit bull that is trying to fight. In order for a correction to be effective, it must be just enough and never too much. Dogs learn from the beginning to accept physical corrections from their mother and other pack members. They are “hardwired” to learn through consequence. It’s what has allowed them to survive as a species.
We use both positive reinforcement and corrections in order to get cooperation from your dog. Why limit ourselves to only one tool when dogs can benefit from both to have a natural relationship with you as the pack leader.
Our philosophy is that a dog should be approachable, socially well-adjusted and willing to work on a first command basis under any level of distraction. The key to the relationship is communication, cooperation, and mutual respect. We believe that the handler should be dominant but not intimidating and that the dog should have a crystal clear understanding of the rewards and consequences of its behaviors.
We believe in motivating behavior whenever possible, especially when building new behaviors. Once a behavior has been learned it must be controlled and proofed. Controlling the behavior means to get a first command response from the dog rather than having to tell the dog a command repeatedly. This can be done through repetition, reinforcement, and correction for refusals. Proofing is then done to get this first command response even under extremely distracting conditions such as those an owner might encounter on the street. Proofing is a long process and is the cornerstone of our system. By the time we are ready to proof a dog it completely understands what is expected of it when it receives a given command. We set up a situation that will put the dog into a conflict of some sort. It will want to do something other than what it is commanded to do. When the dog makes the wrong choice, it will be corrected appropriately for the circumstances. This will make the dog fall back on the correct behavior (which it has learned is always safe) and it will be rewarded profusely. As the training progresses, the level of distraction increases to incredible levels. Over time and repetition, it is possible to get extremely reliable cooperation with a very positive attitude from the dog.