Dominance Training and Positive Reinforcement: Understand the Differences in Dog Trainers

Philosophy “The Pack Leader” (Domination Theory)

The American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior (AVSAB) has issued an important Position Statement on the Dominance Theory. To make its position short, dominance training assumes that animals act because they want high status or a higher position in the pack. This often leads trainers to believe that force must be used to bring the dog back into line and remove status-seeking behaviors from her.

People who use dominance theory to train their pets may routinely threaten them with aggressive displays or physical force, such as an Alpha Roll (turning the dog onto its back and holding it). Pets that are subjected to repeated threats or force may not offer desired and submissive behaviors. Often, they react instead with aggression. This is not because they are trying to dominate the human, but because the human threatening them makes them fearful and scared.

How do you know if you are dealing with a dog trainer who uses the dominance theory? Typically, trainers using the dominance theory use phrases like, “Be the leader of the pack,” “Show the dog who’s boss,” and “Dominate the dog out of respect.” “Because the use of punishment can exacerbate problem behaviors by increasing an animal’s fear and anxiety, the AVSAB recommends that veterinarians not refer clients to trainers or behavior consultants who train and espouse dominance theory.” To learn more about dominance theory or to read the formal position statement on dominance theory, visit his website. The address is at the end of this article.

Positive reinforcement:

Positive reinforcement theory is a reward-based theory of training. The AVSAB supports this theory because it motivates the dog to perform or change behaviors in the face of techniques that focus on fear, pain, or punishment. Simply put, the dog offers desirable behaviors because something good happens to them (your praise or attention, treats, etc.) when they do so. Dogs naturally repeat behaviors that they find rewarding and usually self-extinguish with behaviors that are not rewarding.

Are you still the dog leader? Yes! But a true leader does not dominate to gain respect; she is followed BECAUSE she is respected and admired. Every dog ​​needs guidance and limits. As her leader, she provides clear instructions to the dog, in a language HE understands. Once your dog understands what is expected of him, he will offer the desired behaviors because he wants to please you…not because he is afraid of you.

Selecting a dog trainer

Choosing a dog trainer can be one of the most important decisions you will make for your pet. The techniques a trainer uses can strongly affect how you interact with your dog and the subsequent relationship for years to come. Training should be a fun and rewarding experience for both you and your dog.

Many trainers claim that they are positive reinforcement trainers when in fact they are not. Some trainers use a combination of Dominance (Pack Leader) Theory and Positive Reinforcement Theory. They may refer to themselves as “Balanced” coaches. It is important to note that this is not a recognized training theory.

When interviewing a potential coach, ask probing questions that require a detailed answer. For example, if you tell a trainer that your dog is dragging you down the street or growling at you when he’s in your bed, ask him what methods he would use to correct the problem, and listen carefully to his response. Ask questions if you don’t understand the trainer’s response. The AVSAB warns you to “avoid any coach who advocates methods of physical force and punishment.”

Additional questions you may want to ask include: How will you motivate my dog ​​to teach you something new? How will you motivate my dog ​​to change a problem behavior? What tools do you recommend and use to prevent dogs from jumping or pulling on the leash? What tools do you use and recommend to deal with aggressive behaviors such as growling or biting? How will you correct or punish my dog ​​if he needs it?

Education and Certification

Most people don’t realize that there is no regulatory or licensing requirement for dog trainers. Anyone can say that he is a dog trainer. Buyer beware! Significant harm can be done to your pet if misdiagnosed or improperly trained.

While there are numerous “certifications” available for dog trainers, these only “certify” that a person has attended a program. They do not “certify” or validate ability, skill, experience, or education.

There is only one nationally accredited body that certifies education, skill, and experience, the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CPDT). To achieve this certification, trainers You must already have the required education, skill, and 300 hours of documented training experience. In addition, a veterinarian must sponsor them. Applicants must pass an independent, CPDT-issued, knowledge-based written exam and a practical training exam.

Locate a Certified CPDT Trainer

Natural persons are certified, not companies. To locate a Certified CPDT Trainer, obtain the first and last name of their trainers and the city in which they reside. Then go to: and see if they are listed.

Don’t take risks with your pet’s education, hire a CPDT trainer!

Resources for additional information

© Paws in Training, 2010

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