What’s Your Dog Training “Philosophy”?

How do you describe your “training philosophy”?  Do you think it’s important to have a brief description of your perspective on how best to modify or train specific behaviors?  Why or why not?

When Suzanne first started training dogs professionally (and she’s both proud and reluctant to admit how long ago this was) in the late 1970’s, the only “philosophy” she ever heard at the time was the importance of being “dominant” over your dog and being “the pack leader”.  In those days as well, the use of food in training was strongly discouraged and very few people routinely incorporated treats or toys into training programs.

In the ensuing years, great debates have erupted over training techniques as the field in general has moved more toward using treats and toys to both elicit and reinforce desired behaviors.  Clicker training has gained a huge following as well.

The terminology used to describe this shift in focus however has often become inflammatory, confusing, and upon careful analysis usually inaccurate both from a lay and scientific sense.  Some claim to not use “punishment” at all.  Yet if one is using positive reinforcement, by default negative punishment is also being used. 

And who hasn’t stepped in front of their dog to block his movement, said “no”, or delivered a threatening stare?  Any or all of those consequences could be defined as punishing.  We recently explored the confusion surrounding punishment in several recent articles all of which stimulated good discussions (Adult Discussion About Punishment a Guest Post by Dr. Frank McMillan, and Punishment and "Corrections")

But we have another purpose for this article, from a business perspective.  Who wants to know about your training philosophy?  Pet owners who might hire you? Other pet professionals who want to refer people to you? Are you attempting to position yourself in your promotional and marketing materials as adhering to particular methods and avoiding others? 

You might first ask yourself what the person asking the question really wants to know.  Perhaps the person asking believes a choke chain is the best tool to teach a dog to “heel” and hasn’t been able to find a trainer who uses one effectively.  Maybe the pet owner has gone to someone who uses an abundance of treats and now is frustrated because the dog “won’t do anything” unless there is a treat involved.  Or possibly the owner wants to be sure you aren’t going to use physical “corrections” because the last trainer was entirely too harsh with the dog. 

If you are having a direct conversation with an individual who asks about your “training philosophy” you will be able to give a better answer if you first ask in return what the person’s concerns are.  Knowing the person’s concerns allows you to target your answer and also provides an opportunity for discussion to see whether you and your services can be a good fit for the pet owner.  

In your answer, you’ll want to use words and terminology that make sense to the pet owner.  Talking about positive and negative punishment probably won’t be helpful to anyone but other professionals.  You might instead want to get across that you prefer to give dogs the most feedback about what TO DO, so they do more of it.  And at the same time make it more difficult for dogs to do what isn’t wanted – whether that’s with response prevention, environmental management, or substituting a new behavior for the unwanted one.  HOW all that gets done is what the owner pays you to discover.

By the way, if you are looking for additional creative ways to promote and grow you dog training or behavior business, you’ll be interested in our new Pet Pro Behavior Guide.  While providing effective services which meet the needs of customers and clients has always been important, in the tightening economy, you must also be able to communicate the value of your services AND know how to spend your time (your most important resource) wisely.  The Pet Pro Behavior Guide shows you how. 

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