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Which Dog Training Method Is Best?

Having a well-trained dog or puppy adds quality to both your lives. Training that is done well and increases trust, bonding and safety in your relationship with your dog is what everyone wants. But not all training methods are equal, and in dog training, the technique is just as important as the end result. Using the wrong approach can result in stress, trauma, and unwanted behaviour in your dog down the road. There are a few well-known methods you may run into when searching for a dog trainer.

Before we get into these, I'll say this now, I HATE LABELS.

There are so many variations, and quite honestly, it's the issue with the dog training world - we want to focus on methods that increase dogs welfare in each individual case - it's that simple. However, when you are searching for a dog trainer, you are bound to come across some labels, so this blog will go into what they are.

Force-Free, Fear-Free

The gold standard, science-based, training method is known as force-free, fear-free dog training. Similar techniques may also be referred to as “Purely Positive” (I hate this term), although, in my experience, it's rare to find a behaviourist that categorises themselves as Purely Positive. This is what all trainers should aim for, however, personally, I feel LIMA (see below) is more realistic. What all these techniques share is that the training interactions between trainer and dog are positive, do not use force, and do not rely upon fear or punitive action to get results. Force and fear-free training methods rely on positive reinforcement and conditioning, although they do also use other methods and management techniques (which is why purely positive is an incorrect label). Rewarding your dog when they exhibit desirable behaviour establishes that action as positive and increases the likelihood they will do it again. Methods of “correction” in this type of training rarely involve adding force or fear but instead setting dogs up for success and helping them make the right choice. When searching for dog training in Newcastle, look for someone who strives to practice this method.

LIMA (Least intrusive, minimally aversive)

LIMA training stands for least intrusive, minimally aversive.

Essentially, it will look at the whole situation and what out what is the kindest method that can be used while still getting the effectiveness required.

LIMA starts by looking at the function of the behaviour and seeing what it is that the dog is actually trying to achieve. This is broken down into 4 categories:

  1. Access

  2. Escape

  3. Attention

  4. Sensory.

LIMA takes into consideration that dogs may have underlining health or mental health issues, which must be looked at to achieve the desired result.

The aim of LIMA is to help the dog understand what is being asked and change any unwanted emotional state that is there.

LIMA usually follows the Humane Hierarchy, which is a systematic approach to dealing with a behaviour problem. It looks like this:

  1. Health, wellness and ability of the dog

  2. Change the environment to help the dog

  3. Reinforce the desired behaviour with something positive

  4. Teach an alternative, mutually exclusive behaviour

  5. Counter condition a new emotional response

  6. Remove the result that the dog is looking for until they give up

  7. Punish the dog by removing something they want/have

  8. Punish the dog

  9. Put the dog to sleep

Although LIMA suits my methods best and we always want to train using methods that are positive and build relationships, the Humane Hierarchy has some issues with it, which I will talk about in a blog at a later date.

Aversive Training

Aversive training methods are the oldest, and most certainly the least desirable. Aversive refers to the opposite of positive reinforcement: conditioning your dog’s behaviour through pain or punishment when they make the wrong choice. While this method is still prevalent, more and more evidence emerges that suggests its harmful effects. Studies have linked physical punishment like shock collars, sharp yanks of the leash, water sprays, and alpha rolls/restraints to increased aggression and fearfulness in dogs, in much the same way children have been shown to respond negatively to corporal punishment. While some believe this method effectively “fixes” bad behaviour, fixing behaviour and suppressing it by adding stress and fear are not the same things. Many people are unaware of the detriment this causes their dogs, if you are searching for dog training in Gateshead, be sure to question whether the trainer uses punitive methods.

Balanced Dog Training

The name of this final method is misleading as a "balanced dog" means that the dog is comfortable in all situations. Balanced training, however, often refers to yet another outdated technique that incorporates punitive action from the get-go, often this is not actually required to get the desired result. This type of training can include positive reinforcement when your dog demonstrates a desirable action but also attempts behaviour modification using positive punishments (the word positive here refers to adding something to reduce the likelihood of the behaviour happening again). Despite what the name suggests, it is not safe to “balance” out the positive reinforcement with aversive techniques, as physical punishment can undo all the work of the positive responses when done badly or create a negative association to something that wasn't intended. Puppy trainers who use the balanced approach may consider their aversive corrections more moderate, such as using a prong collar to apply pressure to the dog’s neck until they comply. However, this type of punishment, while not only causing negative associations and possible behavioural changes, can also physically harm your dog’s oesophagus and larynx. As mentioned above, using physical punishments in training increases the likelihood that your dog will resort to aggressive behaviours. Balanced training, however, is on a sliding scale depending on trainers - there is a scale between LIMA and Aversive trainers, so there are some very good balanced trainers out there who sit nearer the LIMA type of training and don't use punishments at every opportunity or use minimally aversive punishments.

When searching for puppy training in Sunderland, or any area, it’s essential to familiarise yourself with the above methods so you can be confident your dog receives the healthiest and most effective training.

A good, general dog trainer (not a specialist, sports trainer etc - that's a different conversation) will have these 3 things:

  1. Accreditations, qualifications, certifications and other elements of academic learning.

  2. Practical training with other trainers, in-person hands-on courses, rosettes etc

  3. Experience - for example, how long they have been training, examples of their work with similar dogs and plenty of good reviews!

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