As much as I love dogs, and as much as it pains me to say this ….no dog is perfect. There, I said it! (But don’t tell my dogs, because they are told that they are my perfect angels). Bring a puppy into your family without giving them any guidance and your life and home can become a bit of a tornado.This is why most of us train our dogs to some degree. You might not take your dog to a professional trainer, or teach them to skateboard (yes that’s an allusion to the picture above) but most dog owners at least attempt to teach their dog to pee outside,or maybe even sit and stay if they’re feeling adventurous!
So here’s the age old question: what is the best way to train your dog? There are many different tricks and tools that have been in vogue over the years, but all dog learning can be boiled down to two concepts that scientist and behaviorist have been studying for over a century: classical and operant conditioning. Classical and operant conditioning describe the ways I which our dogs learn things about the world, with or without our being aware if it. By understanding these concepts we can better understand how our dog is interpreting our efforts at training as well as their world in general.
As you will learn in the articles below, not all conditioning is equal. The use of aversive methods, often called corrections by those that support them, have been proven not only to teach less effectively, but also to increase the likelihood of fearful and aggressive behavior in dogs. Instead, training should focus on positive reinforcement with a bit of negative punishment added in. (Be sure to read the article on operant conditioning as these words mean slightly different things to scientists than they do to the Average Joe.) As a helpful visual, check out the graphic below. When working with your dog, try to stay in the green column and avoid the red column. I promise that you and your dog will be better off for it!