Positive Only Training?

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How I Train Dogs:
 A Holistic Approach, Not Just Commands

(from my "How I Train" article written 2014 in viewpoint of the modern "positive-only training")
     I train dogs with an individualized approach specific to each animal's temperament using rewards as the cornerstone to teach and strengthen communication, while also using management and corrections to imprint self-control and reliability in behaviors. My balanced teaching style makes training easy for your dog, reliable, and thorough. My goal is to form educated dog and handler teams while fostering a better understanding of the human-dog companionship. With my help, you'll have the ability to live life with your dogs to the fullest.

        Anyone can duplicate the handling and dog training skills that I use. There are no hidden secrets or magic energy; just a mixture of science, art, and experience that I'll show you how to use. Even children 5 years old can understand the simple techniques. I have developed this system based on The "Hot or Cold" Game we played as kids that lays out how to communicate with your dog in response to his behaviors. By collecting useful skills from the different colors of the dog training spectrum, my unique mixture of expertise provides dog owners the help and results they desperately seek for their pets.

Dog Training Methods Matter. Here's What You Need to Know About the Choices. 

     You've probably heard some buzzwords like "positive reinforcement", "dog-friendly methods", "force-free" or "reward-based". There's a recent trend that overemphasizes one sector of communication (giving feedback when your dog does something desirable) and overlooks it's valuable counterpart (giving feedback when your dog does something undesired). On the surface, it sounds like a good thing- a land of rainbows and butterflies, where dogs happily obey for praise and treats, while never doing anything "bad" as long as you are willing to just ignore it.  Back in the real world, though, pet owners don't have time to join a narrow-minded "cult of ideas" promoting warm and fuzzy fun but delivering very little practical application. I offer results, not ideals.

    I don't intend to engage in a spitting match between two opposing sides but it is my job as a professional trainer to help you understand your choices and get your dog to behave better for you. Dog training is nothing new and trends will come and go.  Not only do I have the book-knowledge but I have the experience to give you the tools you need for your dog, nothing less and nothing unnecessaryHow do I know? Because I was once fooled into believing that using positive-reinforcement-only, gimmicky equipment and "never using punishment" was THE modern, cool way to train. I quickly became very proficient with puppies but was limited to only about 20% of adult dogs that were super-willing to obey naturally. The rest had behavior problems that required what common sense would prescribe...something was missing. After a few years, I was confused about certain behavioral issues that I couldn't seem to solve with "just treats". Fed up with letting clients down and I decided to learn how to really help dogs with methods that were fair and just, but also effective. The rest of the communication equation came into the picture; It's okay to tell your dog "No!" I studied my mentors (competitive performance dog sport champions) to learn how to to deliver properly timed and dosed aversives, paired with rewards, to begin successfully solving real behavior problems in 2007. 

    I've found that the clarity in this communication boosts my student-dog's confidence and respect for their handler. It will give you many ways to promote the goal behavior, as well. A dog trained with balanced methods is focused, motivated and is comfortable with obeying the commands because he knows the potential consequences and what is expected. You'll almost see a certain pride and assurance in how your dog behaves- because he's doing his job he learned, not just performing tricks for bribes.

"By definition, operant conditioning is "behavior that is determined by its consequences." ... That means pleasant consequences for success, and unpleasant consequences for failure." - Gary Wilkes, one of the pioneers of clicker training.

Real World Dog Training Requires Something Other Than Just Positivity...

    Don't be fooled- purely positive-reinforcement training will have you feeling enamored at all the lofty ideas, but leave you only frustrated with how your dog responds, long term in real life (especially when the treats run out...). I've found that it's crucial to use both rewards and punishments when training dogs or else things can get one-sided real fast.  You see, when you tie your hands behind your back and dedicate to give only one kind of consequence for your dog's behavior, he learns to manipulate this unbalanced situation for his own interests.  I can help you find balance and respect from your dog using my system of "Hot and Cold" game communication.
    Often dogs that are trained with an incomplete, positive-only method are without the necessary discipline to regulate their desire to get what they want and are simply prompting owners with cute, "obedience" tricks for food treats or else taking over the household with obnoxious, unrestrained self control and impulses- the EXACT problems that dog training is supposed to channel and control! This is not "effective dog training". I've helped many folks that have spent hundred of dollars and months of training time when really all they needed was just a little handling guidance early on. If your stuck in this situation, I can help reverse the damage. I'll show you how to avoid treat-spoiling your dog (by using treats correctly) and ensure reliability so your dog doesn't end up pushing you around for rewards. 

"The real test of any knowledge or ideology is whether it works or not. If you cannot replicate the results proposed by an expert then it’s simply high-sounding fluff and a waste of your time." -Gary Wilkes

    Don't get me wrong- I use the power of positive reinforcement, clicker training and food for rewarding but this isn't the ONLY way to train. Its just ONE of the ways I teach a dog a behavior. My training programs are NOT *punishment-based*. But what's most important to me is that your dog will obey when he doesn't want to or when he's distracted. That's my job as a good dog trainer.  After treats and rewards, its time to put the behaviors to use by testing, proofing and strengthening it through both rewarding and corrective consequences. 

  The purely-positive methodology has been known to throw around pseudoscience and biased-studies that try to convince you that the only, morally-acceptable-way of dog training is to ban the use of {corrections/punishments/aversives} from your instruction. This simply isn't true, natural or even scientific.  Many of the studies purely-positive-reinforcement trainers point to are only used to prove their points, while studies proving how the effective use of punishment shapes behaviors are denied to exist. To me, it's a total disservice to dog training and pet owners everywhere.

  Trainers that misuse positive reinforcement training will say often say that "positive is not permissive" as they integrate "discipline" by merely withholding food rewards until the dog discovers the correct path or by just ignoring a dog's bad habits. This is hardly enough discipline for MOST dogs and won't meet a clients' demand for quick, reliable solutions. Besides- there's a better way! Clearly, some positive-only trainers just aren't informed on how to train dogs that need more discipline, or they just aren't willing to. That's where I come in.

Want a dog with a reliable stay? I can help you with that. And it won't take 6 months.
Want a truly reliable offleash recall? On a trail? At the lake? Lets do this- You and your dog will love how it works!
Have a dog that barks, lunges, pulls, jumps, that you can't take anywhere? Yep, I can handle that. No magic involved.
Is your dog doing something you want stopped, NOW!?  I'll show you how to reliably stop it, sometimes without food rewards. 

Let's Get Real. Real Results. And Respectful Dogs.

        My methods and skills are highly advanced in both the science of operant and classical conditioning, dog psychology, and the application of effective punishment. I use clickers,marker words,  A LOT of food treats, rewards, positive reinforcement and praise. I ALSO use verbal corrections, training collars (helpful for leash pressure release and to neutralize the power balance of a strong dog), leash corrections, and low/high remote collar corrections in a way that teaches. I show your dog how to "turn off" the eventual correction when it's not being used as one - and what to do as a result of being corrected - so that he always knows that the correction is a consequence to behaviors that he CHOOSES. This gives your dog the control to choose the right behavior without the continual use of food past the initial learning phase. (Thank goodness! 'Cause who wants to carry dog treats bribes around forever?!) 

    I complete a dog's education with real life applications, replacing food rewards with life privileges and using vocal tones to replace leash corrections and advancing offleash with the "safety net" of remote collar. Even the remote collar is faded out as he generalizes his commands in real life, only to be used in a new, tempting environment just in case you need the extra communication. I always work at your dog's level, pushing him gently to grow and better himself but never crossing the line of respect and trust for my canine student. No time frame is ever a reason to risk breaking a dog's confidence down. The goal of my approach is to build a dog up with realistic expectations and achievable objectives.

Just Watch My Videos... What Do You See? Can you imagine me training your dog? Can you imagine your dog as my student? Can you see the willing attitude of the dog, the training progress and the relationship that is built? 

  For some, the idea of punishing or correcting, even using a prong training collar or remote collar on their dog, seems scary. Some wonder if a correction will hurt their dog's feelings. It can be uncomfortable and confusing unless you are properly introduced to the way to use these tools of training properly. The unfortunate tales of those that have misused or abused certain tools of dog training have created negative associations or emotional trauma related to the tool. But just because a tool has been abused, doesn't mean it isn't a useful tool! And as long as it's used properly, there's no need to throw it out. If you desire more understanding or have concerns, I'll show you just how gentle a correction can be, how much correction your individual dog may need, and how I teach your dog about boundaries, remote collars, and leash pressure. These are all included in your handler education and I'm confident you'll be able to lead your dog in a new, effective way.

Dogs are Happy. Clients are Happy. And I'm Happy to Help.

    I can handle the strong dogs, stubborn, under-socialized, misunderstood, resistant, fearful, aggressive, and previously abused dogs. I can also improve simple, social, friendly dogs that have a great foundation and just need an education for the real world or a little touching up on a few commands. Some dogs need more rewards and less punishment; others need more punishment and less rewards. I find the balance that works with your dog best. Now, that's "dog-friendly training," if you ask me. 

    And my clients agree! They are satisfied with my honesty and my experienced approach. Plus, they love their dog's new skills. They do MORE with their dog because of my training and they tell their friends too! Half of my business is from happy clients that have referred others. I passionately enjoy teaching dogs to be a good dogs. I'd like to show you how your dog can be better and help you live life with your dog to the fullest.


Alison Swift
Your Dog Trainer

If you are a dog trainer interested in expanding your knowledge and skills to become more effective in helping people and their dogs, feel free to contact Alison, for scheduled educational seminars for trainers.