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Positive Reinforcement Training and How I Discovered It!

By Laura Rescoe


At Positive Way Dog Training we pride ourselves with using the most current and up-to-date training methods available.

Training of all species of animals has evolved greatly over the years and given way to what Animal Behaviorist and Trainers now commonly call Positive Reinforcement Training Methods.

This positive approach relies on telling animals that they "got it right!" by rewarding their behavior with things that they find enjoyable.

These positive reinforcement methods are now used around the world to train animals at zoo's, aquariums, animal sanctuaries as well as the vast majority of "animal actors" that you see on movies and TV commercials.

Many Dog Trainers, myself included, began training dogs using "Traditional Training Methods" which made use of choke chains, prong collars and even electronic shock collars. Dogs were taught mainly by being corrected when they did something wrong.

While I never used prong or shock collars on my dogs I did rely heavily on Traditional Training Methods, correcting my dogs with the choke collar if they broke a sit stay or pulled on leash instead of being in heel position.

Traditional Trainers may also use other ways to punish such as yelling, smacking, scruff shaking, alpha rollovers and other harsh corrections that positive reinforcement trainers find to be unnecessary. Harsh corrections such as these can be very damaging to the relationship that the owners have with their dogs.

I began switching my training methods in 1997 when my Lab mix Dusty came into my life. Prior to getting Dusty I had been training my Springer Spainiel named Pepsi for the past 10 years in 4-H and AKC obedience competitions.

Pepsi learned how to Sit, Down, Stay, Come, Heel, Finish, Drop on Recall, etc using these traditional methods but when it came to teaching her tricks it was all about fun, fun, fun! She learned how to Shake, Rollover, Sit Up, Catch Treats off her Nose, Jump though Hoops and other tricks all while receiving, praise, petting, treats and play (AKA. positive reinforcement)

Can you take a guess as to which set of behaviors she enjoyed doing more?

When Dusty came along I decided to try training her at a different facility rather than the one I had trained Pepsi at for years. This is where I was introduced to Positive Reinforcement Training.

After taking a Beginner and Intermediate class with Dusty I started to become hooked on this "new way" of training. I decided to go out and purchase some books on the subject. The first few I read were "Don't Shoot The Dog" by Karen Pryor, who was a former dolphin trainer at Sea World; "Dog Friendly Dog Training" by Andrea Arden and "The Culture Clash" by Jean Donaldson.

Wow! I thought. Why hadn't I known about this method before! I was hooked! Dusty was learning not only her Tricks using positive methods but also the regular obedience exercises as well. It was around this time that I realized that the "Obedience Commands" that I was teaching could be taught the same way that Tricks are taught using lot's of fun, fun, fun! Because, Sit, Down, Stay, Come and all the rest are essentially just more tricks!

It was because of these Positive Reinforcement methods that I chose to become a dog trainer! I saw such a change in the way my dogs worked and interacted with me using these dog friendly techniques that I really wanted to train others how to train their dogs in the same way!


A large majority of dog trainers are now using Positive Reinforcement Training Techniques these days (I applaud them all!) However, there are many who are still using the more traditional training methods, many of them, most likely, believing that dogs trained using positive methods will only "work for food". This is simply not true, if done correctly, training with positive reinforcement teaches dogs to be happy, enthusiastic workers regardless of whether or not food is present!

If you are looking for a trainer who uses Positive Reinforcement Training don't forget to ask him or her questions about their methods! Some trainers who say they are Positive Reinforcement Trainers may not actually be using positive methods so make sure to ask many questions and go observe their group classes whenever possible!

Here are a couple of links that will give you more information on choosing a trainer:

APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers) offers an article on "How to Choose a Dog Trainer"

The Delta Society has a book (available on line) titled, "Professional Standards for Dog Trainers" that discusses effective, humane principles.

Also, be sure to check out the article "Ready, Set Click!" to learn about clicker training!


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