Why I Dig Positive Training

I’m not a dog trainer. I don’t have any aspirations to be a dog trainer. I’m just your regular old run-of-the-mill, nothing-special-about-me dog mom.

However, when my husband and I adopted our first dog Ranger, we knew that he needed to at least have some basic obedience under his belt…er…collar. So right away, we signed him up for a class and, armed with treats and good intentions, off we went.

It was clear from the first few minutes that we had a lot to learn. Not Ranger. Us. With our trainer’s patient instruction, we learned how in-tune our dog is to our body language, how we talked way too much, how important one’s tone is when asking our dog to do something, and how very smart (perhaps a little too smart) our little Rat Terrier is. Through hard work, lots of happy talk and praise, and oodles of treats, Ranger passed the course with flying colors.

Since then, I have taken both my dogs through multiple classes, including rally obedience and canine choreography. They’re happy, well-adjusted and (mostly) well-behaved. I attribute this to the many benefits of positive training:

It creates a partnership. Whether it’s herding livestock or guarding the homestead, humans have worked collaboratively with dogs for centuries. That’s why it just makes sense to me to work with my dogs as a team. Through positive training, we have learned to communicate with each other. Sure, I’ve trained them to do many things. But because the communication is reciprocal, rather than just one way, they’ve taught me works best for each of them, making training sessions easier and more enjoyable.

It builds trust. Our dog Mayzie was fearful of many things when we adopted her. During our training sessions, she learned that we were predictable. She also discovered that we were never going to get mad or yell or yank on her leash, and that we were never going to put her into a situation she can’t handle. She is now willing to step outside her comfort zone and try new things because she trusts that we’re going to keep her safe.

It creates confidence. Positive training is great for fearful dogs like my Mayzie because it shows them that they have some control over the world at large. In our training sessions, Mayzie knows if she sits or spins or does a down-stay, she’s going to get rewarded. Cause and effect! It’s been amazing watching her blossom as she has gained confidence. By the same token, I’m a much more confident dog handler now than when I first started.

It places the emphasis on the human. Sure, it can be frustrating when my dogs aren’t “getting it” but I know that it’s not because they’re trying to dominate me or spite me. It’s most likely because I’m not doing something correctly. Once I fix me, the problem usually resolves itself.

It’s just plain fun. I’ve watched TV shows that featured dominance-based training and, apart from any other feelings I may have about it, it just doesn’t look like fun. Positive training is fun for all of us and doesn’t assume that my dogs are trying to gain “alpha status.” For example, on our graduation day from intermediate obedience, Mayzie had to perform a “leave it.” I felt confident because she was rock solid on that command. When it was our turn, I placed the treat on the floor and said, “leave it.” Well, she immediately gobbled up the treat and looked at me like, “You said ‘eat it,’ right?” I, along with the rest of the class, burst out laughing. I knew she wasn’t trying to dominate me. She was just being a dog.  And a very funny one at that.

Your turn: What do you enjoy most about training with your dog?

Amber Carlton is a freelance blogger and business writer specializing in the pet industry. Owned by two dogs and two cats, she is affectionately (?) known as the crazy pet-lady amongst her friends and family. Connect with her at Comma Hound Copywriting, on Twitter, on Facebook or at Mayzie’s Dog Blog.

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