Dog training basics for dog walkers

Dog training basics for dog walkers

As dog walkers, we deal with the same basic training issues daily.

I wasn’t a dog trainer when I started my dog walking business, so having a basic knowledge of how dogs learn and how I could apply that to the issues dog walking presents would have been helpful.

How dogs learn

In its simplest form, dogs learn through consequences.

If a consequence is good the dog will repeat the behaviour that produced the good consequence.
If the consequence is bad then the dog will be less inclined to repeat the behaviour that caused it.

When we train dogs we decide what behaviours we want to be repeated and which ones we want to be reduced. In order to do that we manipulate the consequence for the dog by providing a reward (good consequence) or a punishment (bad consequence).

If we repeat these scenarios enough through constant repetition then the dog eventually provides the behaviour automatically.

For example. If we provide a treat every time our off lead dog comes back to us then we have created a scenario that provides a good consequence (reward) for a behaviour we want (come when called).

Types of training

There is a multitude of training methods out there, but most fit loosely within one of three types of training.

  • Traditional /compulsion
  • Balanced
  • Reward based

Traditional Training.

This training style has been used for decades and relies heavily on being your dog’s leader, keeping your dog in a lower place in the pack and ensuring he does not become dominant towards you.

Through research, we’ve since discovered that these approaches, which are based on our understanding of wolf packs, are simply wrong. But the style of training persists because it works, even though we’ve been interpreting our dog’s behaviour incorrectly all this time.

It works because punishment works. It reduces those behaviours we don’t want to be repeated. Kneeing a jumping dog in the chest will stop that dog from jumping up again, but it’s not kind to the dog, and if there are kinder methods that work, why not use them?

Balanced Training.

This is based on using both punishment and reward in training. Often claiming to be science-based because in science, punishment based training works AND reward based training works. But the differences in training styles was never about efficacy or how well it worked, it was always about ethics and how you were willing to treat your dog.

Reward Based Training

This is where rewards are primarily used, but in reality, minimally invasive punishments are also present on occasion. For example, having a dog on a lead and stopping it from moving away from you can be seen as punishing (having a bad consequence) by the dog.

This is why terms such as ‘purely positive’ or ‘force free’ are technically incorrect, although most people know that they’re just a shorthand way of saying that this trainer/training will be nice to your dog.

Why I use and recommend reward based training.

Most of the time, as dog walkers, we work for owners who see their dogs as part of the family, and as such would be inclined to stop using our services if we engage in punishment style training.

Example; A Dog who pulls on the lead.

Traditional training.
This would involve a swift jerk on the lead, causing discomfort in order to stop the dog from pulling.
Punishment is added to reduce the behaviour.

The swift jerk would still be used but a reward might be added if the dog came and walked by their side instead of pulling.
Punishment is added to reduce behaviour and reward is added to increase a behaviour.

Reward based
The dog is encouraged without force to walk by the person’s side without pulling but either stopping forward movement or changing direction.
The stopping removes the reward the dog is giving itself for pulling without resorting to making the dog feel physically uncomfortable, and we reward the dog for walking close to us.

So even though we’re not trainers, dogs are always learning and our responses to dogs pulling on their leads, or dogs who don’t come when called, or the way we respond to dogs barking in the van, all teach something to the dog.

I choose to teach with kindness and hope you will too.

If you’re interested in applying some basic training techniques for your dogs, your own or clients, you might like to check out my book over on Amazon – 7 Simple Skills for a Well Trained Dog where I cover sit, stay, crate training, recall, jumping up, biting/mouthing and pulling on the lead.


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