How do we train dogs & change behavior?

Positive and effective dog training techniques

Woof! San Diego uses a positive reinforcement dog training philosophy.  Force and punishment are never used in training and are not necessary for effectiveness.  Using positive methods, Erin helps her students teach their dogs how to behave appropriately and follow the rules of living with humans (and other dogs!) 

Lessons strongly emphasize the building of good habits that your dog will enjoy and that you can ask  your dog to perform in real life situations. Using positive reinforcement training is more than just giving the dog treats when they do a behavior we like! It requires us to be aware of many factors that lead to successful training, such as:

  • Developing sustainable training plans that help us reach our goals in a way that can realistically be implemented in someone’s home
  • Strategically preventing the dog from practicing undesired behavior 
  • Giving them alternative behaviors that they can receive reinforcement for
  • Motivating and reinforcing the dog appropriately
  • Increasing the criteria in our training to continue to improve our results
  • Slowing down when the dog is not ready to move forward
  • Teaching the behaviors fluently so the dog can respond when cued consistently

We teach dogs to listen to cues consistently when asked, and we teach people how to set their dogs up for success throughout their lives. During training, you will build a happy, healthy relationship with your dog, focusing on mutual trust and clear communication. You and your dog will work cooperatively to learn and have fun, together. 

Have you heard that you need to be your dog’s “pack leader” in order for your dog to listen to you? Click here to read the AVSAB (American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior)’s position statement against dominance theory (teaching via establishing a “pack leader”) in dog training. 

For more information about current ethical standards in dog training, check out the Humane Hierarchy and statement by Dr. Susan Friedman on “Why Effectiveness Is Not Enough” that it is recommended professional dog trainers adhere to. This Humane Hierarchy has also been adopted by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

Changing unwanted behavior

Past consequences drive future behaviors. Antecedents set the stage and signal the behavior choice ahead.

So, how do we change unwanted behavior? We change behavior by using a functional analysis that can be applied to any learner (dog, person, bird, dolphin… you name it). This means, we describe the behavior in the following way:

  • A (Antecedent) – What happens before the behavior? What is the stage that is set that causes the behavior in question? For example: “A man walks by across the street.”
  • B (Behavior) – What is the behavior we want to change? This should be described in terms of what can actually be observed. For example, “The dog barks, growls, lowers his body, and pulls on the leash.” is a much more helpful description than “The dog gets aggressive.”
  • C (Consequence) – What happens immediately after the behavior? This is the thing that is presumed to be maintaining the behavior. For example: “The man continues walking and ignores the dog.”

This setup gives us insight to understand the function of the behavior the dog is doing. Once we have described the behaviors as they occur in terms of these ABCs, we can decide how to approach behavior change and form a training plan.

We can better understand why the dog could be doing this behavior, and we can give her some new tools she can learn to use instead that will fulfill the same function/need that is causing the current problem behavior.

Three questions to ask when interviewing a professional dog trainer or behavior consultant

When you’re interviewing any dog trainer, you should always ask two questions:

  1. What happens to my dog if he gets it right?
  2. What happens to my dog if he gets it wrong?
  3. Is there a less invasive alternative to what you propose? 

Be sure you’re very comfortable with the answers before you proceed. If anyone tells you you have to hurt or scare your dog in order to change behavior, walk away. Be careful of euphemisms for hurt or scare, such as “correct”, “reprimand”, “balance”, “establish dominance”, etc. These phrases are red flags that there is a less invasive way to train. [credit: Jean Donaldson for this list]

It’s also a good idea to discuss the trainer or behavior consultant’s dog training qualifications, and ensure those credentials require continuing education.