Dogs are like children. No matter how much we love them, they never behave exactly the way we want them to 100% of the time; but, you can train your dog to behave, which is sometimes more than you can say for some children.
Nobody wants an over-trained dog, right? Part of the reason why we love our dogs is that they have individual personalities and quirks, just like people. No pet owner would want to “train away” his or her dog’s personality, if such a thing were possible. Some behaviors, however, like howling at the moon or chewing the leg of your grandmother’s Chippendale chair (or worse yet, chewing the leg of your grandmother herself), can be so bothersome that training becomes an attractive alternative. The question is, which training method is best? For the most part, dog trainers – amateurs and professionals alike – are split into two philosophical camps: reward-based trainers and aversive trainers.
Reward-based trainers believe that dogs can be trained using only rewards as an incentive, i.e. – treats, toys, praise. Reward-based training doesn’t involve physical correction. When your dog does what you want it to, or stops doing what you don’t want it to, you praise it or give it a small treat. In reward training, it’s important that the reward follow the desired action as closely as possible. This helps build an association in the dog’s mind between the desired behavior and the possibility of getting something fun or tasty. If such reward training is performed consistently and reinforced through intensive repetition, it can eventually yield positive results.
Aversive trainers, however, believe that although rewards have a legitimate role in dog training, results are obtained most quickly and simply through a combination of reward training and aversion training. “Aversive” in this sense can be loosely translated as “something the dog doesn’t like.” Thirty years ago, the most common “aversive” was the rolled up newspaper. Today, however, we’ve progressed well beyond such primitive and violent training tools. Good thing, too.
Aversive training immediately follows bad behavior with a negative response. For example, if you see your dog stealing the Thanksgiving turkey off the dining room table, you holler, “No! Bad dog.” This scolding technique is a simple form of aversive training, since no dog likes to get scolded. Down in the dark, doggy recesses of his mind, something like this is going on: Hmm … Pulled the turkey off the table…boy, do I love turkey…got yelled at …hmm …guess I won’t pull any more turkeys off the table … maybe I better stick to dog food … yuck … but it’s better than getting yelled at…oh, well…
Of course, spoken commands don’t always get the job done because you’re speaking “Humanese” while Fido is speaking “Dogese”. You can try to make your point with a gentle tap on your dog’s nose, which won’t hurt him at all but is guaranteed to get his attention.
The problem with scolding and tapping on the nose is that your dog may associate the correction with you personally. Some pet owners don’t want their dogs to fear them and this is where remote electronic trainers come into play.
Electronic training is habit-forming. That is, it uses electronics to teach a desired behavior through repetition until it becomes automatic. After all, isn’t automatic behavior all a habit really is? And electronic training is a two way street; it can habituate a dog to do something (e.g., go to his kennel when you say “Kennel!”), and it can habituate a dog not to do something (e.g., steal food off the table).
Remote electronic trainers usually consist of a hand-held transmitter and a collar worn around the dog’s neck. When a button on the transmitter is pressed, a mild electronic correction is delivered via a small probe on the collar. Stop. I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t that cruel?” The fact is that most reputable remote trainers deliver corrections that range from a barely noticeable tickle to a rather distinct (but totally harmless) stimulus. The key is to use only the lowest level of stimulus that it takes to get results. Bumping your funny bone on a door is much more uncomfortable to you than a low-level stimulus is to a dog.
The advantages of remote trainers are that 1) they work; 2) since they operate at distances of up to 1/3 of a mile and more, the dog doesn’t associate the correction with its owner; and, 3) once the dog learns the desired behavior (or learns not to perform the undesirable behavior), it’s seldom necessary to correct the dog anymore, but if need be, you can. For example, if your dog is chasing a rabbit toward a busy six-lane interstate highway, no amount of reward training is going to stop him. But a remote trainer might.
Remote trainers use the same technology used in no-bark collars and in-ground fences but are self-activating. A no-bark collar delivers an electronic correction only when the dog wearing the collar barks. An in-ground fence delivers correction only when the dog ventures too close to its boundaries. Some sophisticated systems combine remote trainers or no-bark collars with in-ground fences.
Most trainers recommend a balanced approach combining reward and aversive training measures. Others favor one methodology or another. Yet no one can deny that electronic remote training has helped many a dog learn good behavior – and that’s great news for both the dog and the owner.