What Type of Trainer Am I?
"Great dog trainers have broad skills, not inflexible ideologies."
As a professional who works with dogs on a regular basis, I have had many people ask me the following: “what style of trainer are you?”, “what methods of training do you use?”, “are you a positive only trainer, or do you do harsher methods?” When I tell people my answers, I seem to get mixed reviews. Some show relief, some show confusion, and some are completely thrown back as they believe so strongly in one style of training.
When people come to me for help with their dogs, some are even afraid to start training because they don’t want to “ruin” or make their dogs “worse” by training. Some even ask me if their dog is trainable or “fixable”. Yes, dog training can damage or ruin a dog if done improperly. BUT, so can lack of it! Here’s a news flash for you; training is happening whether you like it or not. That’s right folks. Training is happening daily and there is no getting around it. Whether you are training them or they are training you, it is happening, all day, every day. The trick is to be aware that this is happening and use it to encourage the kind of behavior that you want. You don’t have to turn your dog into an obedience champ or trick machine, just learn some basic handling and leadership skills. From there, you are the one in control and can maintain the level that you want. I always tell my clients that training can actually be, and should be fun and your dog will still have plenty of personality. It’s all about maintaining that special balance.
My response to people is this: this is never a question of to train or not to train, this is a question of how-to train. I am a firm believer in letting the dogs tell me how go about their training. I will often tell people that my methods of training are based on their dog and them and how they learn and operate. Many people tend to over think dog training and are so concerned with which is the most popular method/tool instead of which is the best method for their dog. Just like with everything in life, dog training needs to be balanced and despite all the conflicting ideas out there these days, is not actually that difficult.
There are styles of training that are very physical and dominant and there are also styles that are very gentle and treat based. Is one right and the other wrong? Nope. Do I believe I have to choose sides in this “us or them” media blitz? Nope. In my opinion, I think that they are both right and both wrong, depending on what the individual circumstances may be. Is that the ultimate cop out? No, not at all, I just believe that they both have value in some situations and can both be harmful in others.
Avoiding the extreme’s in training your dog is the key to balance. Positive reinforcement should be the foundation of training a dog but your dogs also need to learn to “give to pressure” which, believe it or not, can be done without harm to the dog or your relationship. In fact, done properly, this will develop and strengthen your relationship and make your dog safer around children. Some dogs are very touch sensitive and others not so much. Some dogs really want to please you and others really want to please themselves. There are a lot of things to consider when working with your dog, but it is always about balance. A good balanced dog will happily accept physical pressure as well as a treat, but these things need to be conditioned properly and according to each dog’s individual temperament.
Dog training is not a one-size-fits-all, cookie cutter endeavor; it is something that requires versatility and I believe that the best trainers know how to use both in the proper ratio, for a particular dog, at a certain time and in given situations. So my answer to which type of trainer I am is simply this: I consider myself to be a balanced dog professional.
If you feel your dog could benefit from some group obedience training there are always upcoming classes. I also offer private in-home sessions for those who need additional assistance with any behavioural or training issues.
Keep calm, and train on!