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When people first learn about training dogs, many of them initially think only of teaching basic obedience.
But there’s a lot more to dog training than just the commands sit and stay! Dog training also has to do with teaching your dog how to be polite, how to interact with other dogs and people, and how to be respectful overall.
Dog training can also be used as a preventative measure against behavioral problems like destructiveness and anxiety!
There are lots of different methods of dog training, some of which are more effective than others. Here are the 7 most common types of dog training that you’re likely to encounter.
7 Most Common Types of Dog Training
We’ll first go over the 7 most common types of dog training types and then I’ll show you how to chose the right method for you and your dog.
1. Positive Reinforcement
In short, positive reinforcement training means rewarding your dog when he shows behavior that you like, and ignoring behavior that you don’t like.
So, for example, if you’re trying to teach your dog to self-settle, every time he goes somewhere to lie down quietly on his own you reward him with a treat. The most important thing about positive reinforcement training is timing. You want to reward your dog as soon as he does the action you like, otherwise he might not understand what he’s being rewarded for.
Positive reinforcement training is often force-free. This means that you don’t give your dog any physical punishments if he does something you dislike. Punishing a dog might seem like the right thing to do—after all, how are they going to learn otherwise?
But research has shown that force-free, positive reinforcement training is actually one of the most effective methods of training. Your dog learns that to get tasty treats he has to up the good behavior and tone down the bad one.
2. Clicker Training
Clicker training is often combined with positive reinforcement training. A clicker is a little device with a button that makes a loud clicking sound when you push the button.
Clicker training can make positive reinforcement more effective. This is because the clicker allows you to be more precise about what you’re rewarding your dog for.
The first step to clicker training is building an association with it. Every time you click on your clicker, you give your dog a treat. Over time, your dog will associate the sound of the clicker with the happiness of getting a treat. You can then use the clicker to mark behavior that you like.
For example, if you’re working on calmness with your dog like in the previous example, and he goes to lie down quietly, instead of fumbling for treats you take your clicker and click. Since positive reinforcement depends on rewarding at the right moment, a clicker can make the process much easier and more effective.
3. Model-Rival or Mirror Training
This training method operates based on the idea that dogs learn by observing. The mirror portion of this method means that the dog watches you as an example of what to do. When the dog performs the same action you did, he gets a reward.
The rival portion refers to introducing the idea of competition into training. If a treat is the reward for something, the dog’s “rival” begins performing the action that you’re training. The idea is that in response, your dog will try to perform the action faster so that he can be the one to get the reward.
This training method does require a lot of work and expertise. If you have the time and a very strong bond with your dog, however, it could be an effective way of training your dog to perform certain tasks.
4. Scientific Training
Scientific training is extremely broad. Animal behaviorists are constantly coming up with new research and ideas that change the way we think about things. For this reason, it’s difficult to define what exactly scientific training is.
The best way to put it is that scientific training means relying on what recent science tells us about dogs’ cognitive abilities. The good thing about scientific training is that it helps people fundamentally understand their dogs, which is incredibly helpful!
The downside of course is that our ideas about science and dogs are always changing. It can be challenging to stay up to date on the newest research.
5. Relationship-Based Training
This training method often combines several different training methods into one. It operates based on the idea that both you and your dog are individuals. Certain things that work for some dogs won’t work for others, and the same is true for humans!
Essentially, relationship-based training means using the bond between you and your dog that already exists as your foundation for training. It also means working with your dog to determine the precise reasons why he’s unable to do certain things.
Relationship-based training can be a great way to build on the pre-existing bond between you and your dog. It’s often used at the same time as positive reinforcement, and many consider these two methods to essentially be the same.
This particular method can be time-consuming, however. It also doesn’t always work best with multi-dog households.
This kind of training involves using a tool called an “electronic collar” or “e-collar.” You use a remote to make the collar give the dog a buzz or shock whenever he does something undesirable.
This type of training is often used in situations where there is a lot of distance between you and your dog, or a leash is not available. While it can be considered an effective training method, there are many issues surrounding e-training.
E-training is fear and punishment-based. Training that uses physical punishment can often damage the relationship between you and your dog. Also, e-collar training only teaches your dog what he shouldn’t do, and not what he should do.
Fear and punishment-based training methods can also result in your dog feeling very anxious. Most dog trainers today agree that better and more effective dog training involves using methods like positive reinforcement and relationship-based training that build trust.
7. Alpha Dog or Dominance
Alpha dog or dominance training was at one time thought to be the most scientifically-backed way of training dogs. The idea is that in packs of wolves, there is a dominant or “alpha” wolf that keeps the other wolves in check by using positive punishment.
Positive punishment is the use of introducing punishment rather than ignoring bad behavior. So, for example, in alpha dog training you would pin your dog to the ground when he does something you don’t like. This works as both a punishment, and shows you to be the alpha.
This type of training was for a long time thought to be the best kind. However, we know now that it is probably one of the least effective methods of training, and can actually be very harmful.
We also know that the study that encouraged the idea of alpha wolves has itself been debunked. In fact, the author of the book who coined the term “alpha wolf” himself has explained that he no longer believes this term to be accurate, and regrets the publication of his book.
How to Choose the Right Dog Training Method for You
So now that you know the different methods of dog training, let’s talk about how to decide which is the right method for you.
Focus on the Positive
All too often, people forget to reward positive behavior when training their dogs. Instead, they focus on punishing behavior we don’t like.
That can have some unintentionally very negative effects on your dog. These days, we also know that positively reinforcing behavior is a much more effective way of training overall.
So, when you’re trying to choose the right method for you, it’s best to go with one that focuses on positive behaviors. Not only will it work better than punishment-based methods, it’ll also strengthen the bond between you and your dog.
Consider Your Dog’s Personality
Often, the best training method just comes down to your dog as an individual. All dogs are different and have different histories.
If you have a naturally anxious dog, for example, you’ll want to avoid alpha dog training completely. Not only has it been debunked as a good training method, it can also make your dog’s anxiety even worse.
Instead, go for positive reinforcement to build confidence. Relationship-based training is also really helpful, since it encourages you to really get inside your dog’s brain and relate to him.
Talk to a Professional Dog Trainer
If you’re feeling lost, it’s a good idea to go to an expert! Take a look at dog trainers near you, do a little research, and start asking questions.
Preventative Vet has a list of questions you should ask a dog trainer before hiring them. These questions will help you determine whether the trainer is the right fit for you and your dog.
You should also remember to look up reviews of the dog trainers you’re looking at. If the trainer offers different classes, look into those too. And when you’re working with a trainer, always remember that you are your dog’s advocate! Pay attention to your pup, and if something feels off or wrong, it’s okay to get a second opinion.
Common Dog Training Sports
Dog sports are fantastic ways to exercise your dog. They’re also really good ways to train and build confidence! Here are a few of the most common dog training sports.
Obedience training is all about teaching your dog how to listen and be respectful. With obedience training, your dog will learn basic commands like “sit” and “stay” that will be useful for day-to-day life.
As your dog progresses through his obedience training, you may also get to teach him more complex commands! It’s a great way to work his mind, and an especially good sport for super smart dogs who get bored easily.
If you have a high energy dog, agility training might be the sport for you! It involves your dog racing through and around obstacles with you guiding him. It’s a really great way to burn off your dog’s energy. Even better, it’s a great way to strengthen your bond!
Agility training requires a solid knowledge of obedience, so you’ll want to start there. But if your dog is good at listening to you and you think agility might be a fun thing for you to try, you can start practicing at home!
Dogs have incredibly keen senses of smell. That’s why it’s so important to get your dog working his nose!
Tracking is a great way to do it. It uses your dog’s natural ability to track down a scent. Watching your dog become super focused as he zeroes in on a scent is also a really amazing thing to see!
Tracking is another fantastic sport to get your dog into if he’s a really smart pup. You can practically see the little gears in his head turning as he hunts down the smell!
The world of dog training can seem overwhelming at first. There are so many different ideas of what effective dog training is, and it can be hard to navigate and choose! When it comes to deciding the right method for you, the most important thing to consider is your dog’s individual needs. Not all training methods will work for all dogs, so make sure to consider your dog’s past and personality!
It’s also a really good idea to talk to a dog trainer if you’re feeling lost and overwhelmed. Do some research, read some reviews, and arrange for a meeting if you can! Remember to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to ask what you think might be silly ones. It’s important that you and the trainer are on the same page, and that your dog gets the best training possible.
So take a look at all the different training methods, remember to focus on the positive, and start training your dog!
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Please note that I'm not a professional dog trainer. Everything I know is from my own experience with my hyper Mini Poodle Baloo and hundreds of hours of research.