Our goal is to create a strong bond between pet owners and their dogs that will last a lifetime, whether they play competitive sports or just want a well-behaved family companion.
How we bring out the best in your dog
There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to dog training, so naturally, I do not have one single training method or approach to dog training.
You’ll here me say it time and time again: “it depends on the dog”.
I am flexible on training methods depending on the dog I am working with. And in most cases, the human I am working with as well (taking into account their lifestyle, schedules, physical abilities, etc). Through the past 8 years of training dogs, working with many different breeds and many different personalities, I have learned that all dogs thrive differently. Some dogs need cheerleading and encouragement, some dogs need you to stay the f*** out of their way. Some dogs are rock solid if you raise your voice, some dogs would rather you be quiet and calm, please and thank you. These may seem like very obvious lessons to many, but yet I see many trainers and owners not suiting the training to the dog.
I love the saying “train the dog in front of you”. This is what I do and what I hope you will strive to do too!
Only the learner (the dog) can determine what is reinforcing and what is aversive. This makes sticking to one set training style next to impossible. I follow the LIMA principle (Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive). This allows me to use a combination of many methods, depending on the dog (there it is again!).
Saying that, my aim is to use mainly positive reinforcement and reward based, scientifically proven methods. I use whatever the dog likes in life (food, toys, life rewards like sniffing, etc - depends on the dog!) to reinforce behaviours we want to see again. I use management and boundaries to prevent unwanted behaviours from happening in the first place, and consequences (withholding rewards for example) and redirections to interrupt the dog if they make a mistake.
Instead of thinking how to make behaviour stop, I try and think of how to teach the dog to do what you WANT them to do instead. Dogs are very black and white in the way they learn. If you always so "no", or "stop that", or "hey don't do that", the dog will keep trying things, and most likely get it wrong time and time again. However, if you say "stop that" then SHOW the dog what they should be doing and reinforce it, the dog will be more likely to do that in the future!
My goals are to respect the animal and have the animal respect me in return. Through this mutual respect will come trust, relationship building, and joy! And of course, I want both the human and the dog to be involved and truly enjoying the learning! I want to create dogs who are well adjusted, happy, hardworking, and healthy. Dogs who aren’t afraid to make mistakes, who are naughty and “misbehave” sometimes (because they are, in fact, dogs, not robots), and who respect and trust their humans. Dogs who are a joy to take anywhere and everywhere, who are trustworthy off leash in appropriate situations, and dogs who have a joy for life.
Photo by Sara Carson
Positive Reinforcement - what is it really?
SPOILER ALERT: Positive reinforcement training is NOT just about saying "oh whatta good dog!" and feeding your dog cookies.
It is NOT about always being nice to the dog and letting them get away with everything.
It is NOT about rainbows and butterflies and everything nice.
So if you thought that, sorry to burst your bubble, but educate yourself and keep on reading.
The positive reinforcement method is a way to tell the dog exactly what they did was correct and that they should repeat it again. Things that are rewarded (intentionally or not) are repeated.
This happens by using something the DOG finds reinforcing, to make some behaviours happen MORE OFTEN. It is an optimistic way of training.
All dog training happens with some kind of motivation. This is either something the dog WANTS (aka reinforcement - food, toy, attention, etc), or something the dog wants to AVOID (aka aversives - pain, being yelled at, collar popping, etc).
AND contrary to popular belief, dogs can be motivated by a lot more than just FOOD.
Most dogs are motivated by things in LIFE - sniffing, going for a walk, playing with another dog, swimming, running, whatever the case may be.
As I teach my students: use life rewards to your advantage!!
But even with positive dog training, it isn't ONLY about the rewards. It is also about the CONSEQUENCES of the dog's actions.
Sometimes we need to interrupt "bad" behaviours, so the dog doesn't accidentally reward himself.
Or withhold the reinforcement until the dog does what we want.
Or remove freedom if we can no longer trust the dog in a situation.
The moral of the story is: POSITIVE IS NOT PERMISSIVE.
We don't let our dogs get away with crap.
They have boundaries. There are rules. And if they break those rules and boundaries, there are consequences.
Dogs living without rules and boundaries will soon have problems.
We aren't afraid to tell the dog what they have done wrong.
But we don't leave it at that - we make sure to follow it up with something for the dog to do RIGHT.
I want a dog to make mistakes. I want a dog to be confident trying new things. I want a dog to trust and respect their handler.
I want the dog to make their own choices - GOOD choices - without being micromanaged by the handler.
Allowing the dog to CHOOSE empowers them, and in turn creates more good choices, allowing more freedom.
And as a bonus, the behaviours that the dog learns through the choices and consequences, turn out to be the strongest and most reliable behaviours, which will last the dog's entire lifetime.
Sure, maybe they will need a reminder here and there. But that is because dogs are living, breathing creatures - NOT robots.
Freedom for dogs should be EARNED. Rewards for the dog should be EARNED.
The dog should be learning to work for a living - everything they like in life is their paycheck.
Dogs who are bribed instead of rewarded, who don't have to work for their "paychecks", or who are thrown into the real world before the reinforcements are appropriately reduced - those are the dogs who will have problems.
By using positive methods incorrectly, you can create a monster of a dog, and spread false beliefs about the methods.
Used correctly, positive training is an extremely powerful tool that will create honest, respectful, confident, and hard-working dogs.
There are pros and cons to ANY training method. Choose the one that makes YOU feel good, and that makes your DOG happy ♥