Dog training takes time, patience, and an understanding of how your dog learns. Using the force-free dog training method reinforces positive behaviours that will build the bond between you and your dog, and improve your dog’s quality of life.
It’s not easy, and there is no quick fix for bad dog behaviour. Training your dog is a commitment that you will need to maintain for your dog’s entire life. Just like any skill, you need to practice it every day, and so does your dog.
We connected with Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Joanna Scott from For the Love of Paws Pet Service Dog Training (FLOPPS) in Edmonton, Alberta, to talk about the benefits of Professional force-free training services.
What is Force-Free Training?
The best method of dog training is called force-free dog training. Many professional trainers practice only force-free training and discourage the use of force and punishment-based correction methods.
Force-free dog training uses humane techniques to instill positive behaviours and routines. This rules out any methods that use tactics to scare, startle, intimidate or inflict pain on a dog.
Tools like bark collars, chain or prong collars, slip leads, e-collars and citronella sprays are all designed to punish, not reward.
The force-free training method has been backed by the support of dog psychologists and certified animal behaviorists that understand how your dog processes different types of reinforcement.
When we talk about reinforcement, we refer to the concept of operant conditioning. It is a method of teaching new behaviours through the use of either reward or punishment-based techniques. There are four quadrants of operant conditioning:
1. Positive Reinforcement | R+
Adding a desired stimulus or reward. Treat training is a form of R+. You ask your dog to sit, and if he does, you would reward him with a treat or praise.
2. Negative Reinforcement | R-
Removing a harmful or unwanted motivation or punishment. This is paired with positive punishment, like the use of a shock collar or choke chain. The P+ is pain or punishment from the collar, and the R- is the release of that punishment when the unwanted action stops.
3. Positive Punishment | P+
Adding a punishment. This means punishing your dog for unwanted behaviour, like yanking on their leash when they pull or rubbing their nose in an “accident.”
4. Negative Punishment | P-
Taking away or denying an expected reward. Ignoring your dog when you enter your home is a good example. P- will teach the dog that jumping, barking, or other signs of over-excited behaviour will not be rewarded with attention.
You may have noticed that the words positive and negative in the chart do not refer to good or bad, but instead, they refer to the act of adding or removing.
Force-Free Training at Home
Can you guess which one of these is considered force-free training?
If you guessed positive reinforcement, then you’re right! Positive reinforcement is the core concept of force-free training. When using positive reinforcement techniques, your dog will learn to connect a positive action with a reward or praise.
Negative punishment also applies to force-free training. This is the process of correcting unwanted behaviour in a force-free manner.
An example would be when your dog jumps at you to get your attention. Force-free correcting would involve you turning your back to your dog and ignoring him. This tells him that his behaviour will not get him the attention or reward that he is looking for.
Applying this training style at home is easier than you think. You may already be using force-free training methods, and you just don’t know it.
Simple tasks like treat training are a great way to teach your dog good behaviour. Start small, and work up to more challenging behaviours. Here are some simple lessons you can start with to help you build a trusting bond with your dog:
1. Basic Treat Training
This is the foundation of most training. Simple one-word commands can be used in many situations, and can help to keep you dog safe and attentive to your commands.
Start with easy commands like sit, stay, or paw. Reward quickly for each successful attempt. Once your dog is confident demonstrating these commands, you can start to apply them to new situations.
For example, using the sit command when guest come over will be challenging for excited dogs, but it will help to keep them calm and prevent behaviours like jumping. In time, that behaviour will become second nature, and your dog will start new interactions with this action.
Make sure that you continue to praise for this behaviour well after it is learned. A simple good dog, or a pat on the head will let them know that they are doing the right thing.
To make treat training fun, you have to have fun treats. Find your dog's favourite in The Best Training Treats for Dogs.
2. Good Walking Behaviour
Teaching your dog to walk beside or at least very close will give you more control over your dogs safety. This is called loose-leash walking.
Whether you are at a dog park, on a walk, or in a pet store, you can keep your dog safer if they are close to you and paying attention to your movement.
Directing them by not letting them lead is a great way to teach this. Force-free training methods for loose-leash walking use both positive reinforcement and negative punishment.
When your dog pulls, stop and casually walk in a different direction. By taking away their control over the direction of the walk (P-), and then reinforcing and rewarding when they turn to follow you (R+), you are telling your dog that following your movements and directions is correct.
For more tips on good walking behaviour, check out How to stop Your Dog From Pulling on Leash.
It’s very common for dogs to be excited when you come home. Teaching them to stay calm until you are ready to give attention can be tricky, but with some repetition, not impossible.
Using the P- technique, ignore your dog. He may jump, bark, roll, or do anything to get your attention. Don’t look at him, speak to him, or pet him.
Once he calms himself, sits, or otherwise stops the unwanted behaviour, then you can reward. For some dogs this can be a minute or two, for others it could be an hour. By not reacting to them, and only rewarding the good behaviours, your dog will learn that calm, quiet behaviour is correct.
Do You Need a Professional Trainer?
No one said that training your dog would be easy. The fact is, some dogs require more training than others. Whether you are handling a new puppy, a fearful rescue, or an easily excitable dog, working with a professional trainer will get you there more efficiently.
When asked about what to look for in a dog trainer, Joanna recommends doing some research about the trainer and the classes they offer.
“If you are looking to hire a dog trainer, it’s important to make an informed decision to keep your dog safe and make sure they’ll be treated humanely. To do this, look for a Certified Professional Dog Trainer.”
Look for a trainer with these letters behind their name to tell you if they have the proper certification:
- CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed)
- CBCC-KA (Certified Behaviour Consultant Canine - Knowledge Assessed)
- IAABC (International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants)
What is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT)?
This refers to an experienced professional dog trainer that must stick to the highest codes of conduct and must be committed to only giving the highest levels of dog training education.
To obtain this certification, trainers must complete hundreds of hours of training under the supervision of a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, as well as taking an intensive exam to test their knowledge.
Here are some helpful resources to find a certified trainer near you:
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the type of classes available. Finding the course and trainer that best suit your dog will ensure a more successful training experience. You may have options for group classes, one-on-one, or even at-home visits to make sure that your dog is set up for success.
Tools for Success
Once you find a trainer and a class type that suits your dog, make sure that you ask about what you need to bring or do to prepare for your training classes. There are some important tools that you should bring to every class. Your trainer may also recommend specific equipment to help you and your dog learn.
These items are on the “must-have” list for the team at FLOPPS:
- A Flat Collar
Not a martingale, slip lead or choke chain. A flat well-fitting nylon collar. Avoid anything that tightens or pinches. This type of training technique is not compatible with force-free training.
- A 6-Foot Leash
Not a retractable lead, just standard nylon. This gives you more control and keeps your dog safer.
Make sure they are treats that your dog loves. Opt for small treats, or treats that you can cut into tiny pieces. This will prevent overfeeding them during training.
- A Toy
If your dog is not very food motivated, then bring a toy that will hold your dog’s attention. If you are in a group setting, avoid toys that will be disruptive to other dogs. A ball or a stuffy will do the trick. Even if your dog is food motivated, a toy is a nice change of pace when your dog starts to lose focus.
- A Treat Pouch
A Ziploc bag in your pocket will work, but a treat pouch is the best for quick and timely rewarding. You will be doing a lot of rewarding, so come fully stocked. Extra picky dogs may need something out of the ordinary, like hot dogs or cheese, to keep them attentive.
- A Harness
Harnesses are a good idea if your dog tends to choke themselves by pulling. If you are not familiar with dog harnesses, ask your new trainer what style they would recommend for your dog.
- A Positive Attitude
Go into training classes with the mindset of success. Your dog will feel your stress, anxiety, and frustrations. Don’t let yourself get bogged down if your dog requires more time or attention. Every dog is different, and your trainer will ensure that your dog gets the most out of their classes.
Ask the Expert
To further help you succeed in your dog training goals, we asked Joanna about the do’s and don’ts of working with a professional dog trainer:
1. What can dog owners do to prepare for their first class?
All vaccinations records should be reviewed before class to ensure the health and safety of all dogs in the class.
2. What are some positive routines that pet owners should incorporate at home to help maintain lessons from class?
Look for positive behaviours in your dog and be diligent about rewarding them. When they get something wrong, show them the correct way and then praise them for it.
Implement the Learn to Earn Rule around the house by asking your dog to do something in order to get what he wants.
Stick to routine things, like asking for a sit before meals, or before greeting guests. This instills and helps maintain polite puppy behaviour. This is a fun activity that is simple but effective for training and bonding at home.
3. What are some of the top mistakes that pet owners make that are more harmful than helpful when it comes to their training?
Punishing a dog verbally or physically not only damages the bond between a dog and it’s owner, but it causes the dog to avoid doing those behaviours in front of the owner. It doesn’t teach the correct behaviour. Without teaching correct behaviour, your dog will continue to make mistakes.
4. What should a dog owner expect from your services?
FLOPPS promises effective dog training with lasting results. We offer force-free and humane training techniques by a certified trainer that has experience dealing with everything from puppies to fear and reactivity cases.
Our classes are unique because they are kept to a small number of dogs so that you and your dog get more help and attention from our trainer.
Flopps also offers one-on-one training sessions. Depending on your dog’s needs, we can make it easy by coming to you. Giving you and your dog their undivided attention will provide extra support to handle more severe cases.
Beyond your typical training, FLOPPS also offers classes during the winter months to help you continue your dog’s training with indoor activities. Try out a Scent Detection or the Trick Class to keep your dog mentally and physically active, even when the cold weather limits outdoor activities.
Are You Ready to Make a Change?
There is no shame in needing help. That’s what professional dog trainers are for. They share their extensive knowledge and experience to make a difference in your dog’s life. No judgement for you or your dog.
Training should be a fun and enjoyable experience for both you and your dog. It will strengthen your bond with your pet, build trust, and help you build a safe and healthy routine in your home.
Whether you are a new pet owner, or just trying to teach an old dog new tricks, investing in professional dog training services will help you to reach your goals.
It’s never too late to train your dog. Have you had success with force-free dog training? Share your story with us in the comments below!