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Are You Part of the Solution, Or Part of the Problem?

There are a variety of differences between modern training (clicker training) and traditional or "balanced" training. To me, one of the primary differences between the...

Casey Lomonaco  |  Jul 6th 2010


There are a variety of differences between modern training (clicker training) and traditional or “balanced” training. To me, one of the primary differences between the two methodologies is how unwanted behaviors are addressed.

Traditional training focuses on stopping or suppressing unwanted behaviors through providing aversive consequences. It is a reactive training methodology. If a dog chases a cat, shock him to stop the behavior. If a dog jumps up, knee him in the chest. If a dog growls, poke him in the neck to show him “he can’t get away with that.” If a dog tries to bite you, jerk up on a choke collar until his air supply is cut off. I call this “problem-based” training – the goal is to stop the problem behavior. If a dog fails to respond to a command, punish him. My business partner calls this “dead dog” training – training a dog to just stop doing anything, leaving a behavioral void where the unwanted behavior used to be.

Modern training focuses on replacing unwanted behaviors through training desirable behaviors, on teaching the dog how to do the “right” thing instead of the “wrong” thing. It is a proactive training methodology. If a dog chases a cat, teach him the critical life skill of impulse control. If a dog jumps up, remove attention for jumping and reinforce the desirable greeting behavior of sitting. If a dog growls or tries to bite you, use scientifically supported behavior modification techniques to teach him a different response. If the dog fails to respond to a cue, evaluate where the training broke down and use that information to modify your training plan so you may be more successful in your next session.

I always tell my clients, “Don’t tell me what you want your dog to stop doing. Tell me what you want your dog to do instead – we can train for that.” It is always easier to teach a dog to do the right thing than it is to teach the dog to just stop doing anything.

For example, my Saint Bernard Monte had a penchant for leg-humping. The trigger for this behavior is hugging – whenever people hug in my home, Monte wanted to get in on the fun. This behavior is socially unacceptable and Monte, being a very large dog, could very easily hurt someone. I could punish the humping behavior (reactive training) or I could figure out what I wanted Monte to do instead of leg humping and train for that (proactive training). I chose to go with the latter.

What did I want Monte to do instead of humping? I wanted him to go lay down on his bed, so I trained for that.

The big difference, in my opinion, is that traditional training sets dogs up for failure and then punishes them when they fall into the trap the trainer has laid. Modern training sets dogs up for success and then reinforces them when they succeed.

Your dog doesn’t intentionally stress you out or want to make you frustrated. He just wants to have fun with you. If he is misbehaving, it is not because he is spiteful but because he is waiting for someone to teach him the right way to behave. Using modern, dog-friendly training techniques to teach your dog the right thing to do will reduce your stress and his and improve your relationship.

So the next time your favorite pooch misbehaves, think to yourself, “What do I want him to do instead?” Once you know the answer, start training!