Dog Training Philosophies

Spectrum of Dog Training Philosophies

The multitude of dog training styles can be divided into 2 general training camps or philosophies that are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. On one end is the “positive reinforcement” or “reward-based” training camp. On the other end are the trainers who use “confrontational methods” like “negative reinforcement” or “positive punishment” training. Unfortunately, using these charged terms immediately sets up a bias that “positive” is good, “negative” is bad and “punishment” is cruel. No one wants to be considered bad or punishing their dogs, so many novice trainers will gravitate to the “positive” end of the spectrum without much understanding that “positive” does not necessarily mean better. Also, the confusion with “positive discipline” for raising children feeds into the idea that dogs also need similar positive discipline.

Training Philosophies – Polar Opposites

These diametrically opposing training philosophies have caused much polarization and reproach in the dog training community that has created a lot of hype and discontent, but has not helped the individuals training was meant to help – our canine companions. To take the edge off the names of these training philosophies, the 2 general training camps will be referred to as the “Human’s Perspective” and “Wolf’s Perspective“. The objective is not to provide an exhaustive analysis of these two training philosophies; for those wanting a more thorough analysis, please see additional sources like Bradshaw (2011). The purpose of discussing the Human’s Perspective and the Wolf’s Perspective is to distinguish between these popular training camps and lay the groundwork for comparing them to a science-based training approach, the “Dog’s Perspective“.

Facets of Dog Training

In his 2011 national bestseller book Dog Sense, John Bradshaw identifies four specific facets about dogs that trainers and dog experts vehemently disagree. These facets are: (1) the social groups dogs naturally form, (2) ethical and philosophical issues of physical “punishment”, (3) different beliefs of dog’s cognitive functions or intelligence levels, and (4) the value of dogs other than just worker or tool. Each of these training facets will be addressed for the different training philosophies: Wolf’s Perspective, the Human’s Perspective and the Dog’s Perspective.Kathryn Walking Behind - Calypso Lolly Cognac - Image Post Logo

Corrections Versus Punishment

Before reviewing the main training philosophies, the difference between training “corrections” and “punishments” needs to be clarified. This relates to the 2nd facet of dog training – the ethical and philosophical issues of physical punishment. When dogs need to be re-directed from one behavior to another, they need to be “corrected”. Using the term “punishment” labels the correction as being “bad”, creating a polarizing view right from the start, which is misleading. Here is a simple example for comparison: Imagine a small child is about to stumble directly into a campfire. Rather than scream at and potentially scare the child, it is hoped that someone will physically redirect the child away from the fire, without forcefully hurting the child. And, redirecting the child is not punishing the child at all, even though they were redirected from their original intent. So, when a dog is redirected with a physical correction, why is it referred to as punishment? Even if the redirection is a instantaneous correction with a training collar to keep the dog out of harm’s way, some would describe the action as punishment. Once again, terminology can be loaded and misleading. Throughout this discussion of different training philosophies, special care will be taken to not bias opinions by using misleading or inflammatory terminology.

Next up is Wolf’s Perspective

Wolf - Nature Center - crop - Logo High

Bradshaw, J. 2011. Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet. New York: Basic Books. 324 pp.


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