There are many different schools of thought on dog training. Thirty years ago, most, if not all the top dog trainers trained primarily by using corrections and punishments. Today, more and more successful trainers are abandoning these practices in favor of more positive methods. Even many writers of the most popular books written 15-20 years ago are coming out against some of their own punishment based training methods. After trying a lot of different methods over the years ourselves, we’ve found that positive methods get better results and that corrections are helpful only when certain specific criteria are met. We never recommend corrections with puppies under six months, rarely in puppies 4-6 months, and only occasionally in very specific circumstances in puppies and dogs over 6 months. These circumstances that might warrant a correction are spelled out on our WHEN TO USE A CORRECTION PAGE. Our page entitled HOW TO GIVE A CORRECTION is also helpful if you think your older puppy or adult needs a correction.
Positive training does not mean letting a puppy or dog be in charge or get everything he wants. Our methods involve teaching a puppy correct pack structure in a home by limiting the freedom a puppy receives until after he is trained well enough to choose appropriate behaviors on his own. We believe that families need to establish a good pack structure within a home, but instead of teaching leadership with corrections, we teach pack structure to young puppies with the use of crates, pens, and leashes. Controlling a puppy’s environment is key. A puppy learns that his people are in charge because he has no choice but to go where they lead him to go. We believe that young puppies need to start their lives with very little freedom in the house until they show that they are responsible when given that freedom. See our question on crate training and the use of a pen and leash for more information.
For very young puppies, I only advocate positive and gentle training methods. On the other hand, I don’t spoil puppies and do suggest allowing puppies to learn from mildly stressful events. I do recommend physically controlling puppies for a large percentage of their waking hours and I don’t give into all their desires. I control them by having them spend time in crates and pens and by extensive use of a leash. But, I try to make those experiences as pleasant as possible with toys and bones and by making leash times happy fun times. I expect obedience from my puppies, but I use positive motivational techniques to achieve that obedience. I want my dogs to obey me because they respect me, not because they fear me.
However, as puppies mature, I do believe that there is a place for what trainers call adversives or punishments or corrections. I incorporate as much positive training as possible with raising my dogs but in my opinion there are times when a dog must obey just because I said so. See our page entitled WHY USE CORRECTIONS PAGE to see why we believe that there are times that corrections can be beneficial.
Using harsh methods to establish that you are the pack leader of your puppy will make a puppy fearful, but using crates, pens, and leashes to control what a puppy does teaches him in a gentle way that he must be under your authority. He will learn to be a confident happy puppy at the same time that he is learning to respect your leadership. Corrections can be detrimental to training if they are harsh or unfair or if a dog doesn’t know what he is being punished for, but if they are used appropriately and fairly, corrections can enhance training. Balance is the key.