When Training, Choose Positive

Posititive dog training dog with apple in mouth

In order to achieve your dog’s maximum potential, all training should be positive and motivational – never intimidating.

Erin Wigginton is the founder of the Saint Louis-Area Dog Training Organization, Helping Hounds. Erin is dedicated to learning the most modern, scientifically sound training techniques in order to help all pet-companions and their dogs. She specializes in “bully-breeds” and difficult dogs.

Let’s be honest, training is hard. The choices in training methods and techniques are confusing at best and overwhelming at worst. An online search for dog training information is guaranteed to offer many thousands of pieces of conflicting information. How can a pet-companion decide what’s best for her dog? What technique is most effective?

As advocates for humane training, it is our belief that methods which use positive reinforcement(1) and not positive punishment(2) are the most effective and humane choices available to pet-parents and their dogs.

Because humane methods do not rely on coercion they have been dubbed “force-free” training. In order to understand the shift to force-free methods it is important to understand the reasons to avoid what is known as “traditional training”.

In traditional training the dog is set up to make mistakes so that the trainer can “correct” those mistakes. It can take hundreds of corrections to achieve a reliable behavior and in the process can damage the guardian’s relationship with his dog.

By changing our perspective and setting the dog up to succeed and then rewarding those successes we can radically decrease the number of repetitions required to achieve reliability. A happy side effect of this is that the dog enjoys a relationship of love and trust with the owner rather than enduring one of fear and doubt which is often a side effect of traditional training methods. The dog that is trained using force-free methods learns quickly, enjoys the process, and becomes reliable in a much shorter time frame.

Another tremendous benefit of force-free methods is that they can be used with great effect to modify fearful or aggressive behavior in dogs. Traditional training almost always creates more problems than it fixes and also tends to exacerbate existing problems to a crisis point. Once a dog is traumatized (which can occur in a single correction), it can take months or years of intensive rehabilitation to undo the damage. When force-free techniques are implemented by an experienced trainer, fearful or aggressive dogs can learn how to handle with calm and grace those same situations which once caused them stress and anxiety.

Regardless of breed, size, gender, or age; force-free training can be used with great success. Of course, it is easiest to start training with a young puppy but the adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is utterly false when it comes to our four-legged friends. Our mission is to change minds through education, science, and demonstration. Our hope is that every dog would be able to enjoy humane training and a life-long bond of love and trust with their human companions. As we take advantage of the wealth of knowledge that science has provided, practice our trade, and educate others on its finer points, we are slowly but surely gaining ground; one dog and one owner at a time.


1. the offering of desirable effects or consequences for a behavior with the intention of increasing the chance of that behavior being repeated in the future

2. the presenting an unfavorable outcome or event following an undesirable behavior with the intention of decreasing the chance of that behavior being repeated in the future.

For more information on force-free training and resources, visit www.clickertraining.com and www.drsophiayin.com.


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