In my experience, the critical requirement for successful training is access to numerous techniques, combined with the knowledge of how to properly integrate them. This is called “Combination Training,” and the best trainers use a combination of methods.
Most trainers lack education and experience in Combination Training. It takes formal education, excellent mentoring, years on the training field, and access to a lot of dogs to become proficient in Combination Training.
Therefore, Single-Method Training is the most commonly employed method and is used by novice trainers. Single-Method Training frequently fails and results in worse behavior and a defeated dog that is lifeless in spirit.
Commonly used training aids include:
- Remote tone, vibration, shock collars
- Pinch collars
- Body harnesses
Single method training employs one of these specific training aids to obtain a desired behavior. Each of these training aids may alter certain behaviors—as long as you are using the training aid.
A single method is not always going to work to give you control over your dog. Motivating your dog with a treat is not appropriate if you don’t have a treat. Tones from a collar are less effective if you lose the remote or if your dog develops neck sores from wearing the collar too long. If your dog is tired and irritable, he may just ignore your clicker. The biggest drawback to single method training is the creation of dependence on the training aid, with the potential to overcorrect behavior and dampen your dog’s personality. Single method training fails to adapt to your dog’s personality and to changing circumstances.
Because they don’t know any other way to train, single method trainers often push you and your dog into using their specific chosen training aid, such as a tone|vibration|shock collar, without regard for the appropriateness of that training aid for your dog’s size and temperament.
My biggest concern about most trainers is that they do not divulge to owners that their training will be single method, and the dog will develop dependency on the training aid. Sometimes owners allocate a lot of money for training that ends up wasted because the owner does not gain the immediate control over his dog that is necessary for basic safety in changing situations.
Combination training uses multiple methods and includes a variety of aids, if the specific aid is appropriate for your dog. Combination training accounts for changing environments and circumstances, distractions, and dog-dependent moods. It develops corrective options for all situations—understanding that shifts in personality of your dog require shifts in training strategy.
Combination training gives you the tools to accomplish control of your dog in all situations, without relying on a specific device. The number of required training hours to achieve a controlled dog is numerous, but the hours do not necessarily have to be done with me. Because I am skilled in many different training techniques, I can create a strategy for training your dog that uses multiple methods, the least amount of trainer time, and gives you the skills to train your dog yourself. This saves you money in the long run.
Unusual Methods of Training
Some trainers employ unusual methods to attempt to “dominate” dogs into good behavior.
One local training group advocates getting on your hands and knees or standing and growling at dogs, which is dangerous with people-aggressive dogs. Another group uses heavy chains tied around the necks in an attempt to keep the dogs from meeting the eyes of people, thus, theoretically “inducing submission.” A well-regarded national figure throws cans of coins at dogs to startle them into ceasing misbehavior.
In my experience, some of these methods are akin to aggressive force. Others are just ridiculous–when you understand how dogs actually think. In their basic state, dogs react instinctively. They learn by association and repetition, and they learn good behavior when training occurs in a relationship with a person to whom they are bonded in trust. These “dominating” methods can create dispirited dogs, and possibly even skittish and aggressive ones.
Books and DVDs that advocate these methodologies might be cheaper than individual training in the beginning. But skittishness and aggression are not inexpensive in the long run, and the resultant consequences may cost your dog his life.