The behavioral sciences (the science of how animals learn) and canine ethology informs how I train dogs and implement behavior modification plans. Here’s how this approach differs from the traditional/ “leader of the pack” approach.
The leader of the pack model, and “balanced” methods, interpret what a dog is doing, and its motives, concerning its status within the “pack.” Suppose you are working with a traditional or balanced dog trainer, you might be given explanations as “The dog is feeling guilty because he peed in the carpet,” or “He is dominant, alpha because he growled at the removal of a bone.”
In contrast, the behavioral model emphasizes the dog’s actual behavior. For example, it reminds us that dogs are not moral beings: they don’t know the difference between right and wrong, so they don’t feel guilty. But dogs do learn very quickly the difference between what is safe and what is unsafe. A dog that does not feel safe might warn us (growl), fight (bite), or flee. These three possible reactions are actual behaviors that can we can observe and be modified by teaching the dog a different response.
Observing Dogs’ Behavior
The first step in modifying behavior is the observation and quantification of what we can observe the dog doing. We are after the facts and not an interpretation of why we think the dog behaves in a certain way. A dog might growl because he is sore and was touched on a sensitive area—and not necessarily because he wants to assert himself as the ruler of your home. Of course, these are just speculations about why the dog behaved in a particular manner. However, we can make factual observations as to what the dog is doing and look at the conditions surrounding the behavior. I love to speculate about why a dog might be behaving in a particular way. Still, the fact is that our interpretations of what the dog might be thinking are not very helpful in modifying behavior. What is useful, though, is careful observation of the dog’s actual actions and the context where the behavior took place.
Dog & People Friendly Training
The techniques that I use are dog-friendly. They are not coercive. There is no hitting, leash corrections, yelling, startling, or forcing the dog in any way.
Instead, I reinforce the dog in a variety of ways for desirable behaviors. I might motivate a dog by using food (one of the most potent motivators!), toys, or other privileges, such as a walk, playing a game, etc. There is no reason to use coercive & cruel methods. Our goal is to develop a safe relationship of mutual trust and cooperation between you and your dog.
These methods are also people-friendly and safe: even a supervised small child can interact with a dog by using this methodology.
A people and dog-friendly approach require setting and teaching (fair) rules and boundaries for the dog. It also requires that we learn about dogs’ ethological needs and how to employ consequences for behavior.
Some people view positive reinforcement methods as lax, or that we employ bribes to achieve results. However, this view reveals a superficial understanding of learning theory.