Owners are often flooded with information on how to train their dogs. Should you use an all positive method, should you use a negative approach or should it be balanced?
The key is to be fair to your dog – if your dog does not understand what is required of it, rethink how you are communicating with your dog on what you do want.
Dogs are a different species and us humans, need to remember this.
Bottom line is, whichever method you use, everything that you teach your dog is based on the consistency of the rules, along with whether the consequence mattered to the dog.
Positive reinforcement needs to mean something to your dog. If you are luring your dog into a particular position using food and your dog is not food motivated, then you may either be training your dog at the wrong time (eg – when it is full from a meal) or the treat you are using is not tempting enough for your dog. For example, trying to use a carrot stick to lure a lion would be a pretty redundant excercise.
Learn how to read your dog. If it does not appreciate being given affection as a positive reinforcer, it would get bored of training quickly and lose motivation. Common positive reinforcement come in the form of food, toys and affection.
Giving these things to your dog without having to work for it, will devalue the reinforcements. Also, leaving it out all the time also means that the dog would have access to it on it’s terms and not yours. Therefore, if a type of positive reinforcement does not seem to work for your dog, try making it scarce to increase the value. Like us, dogs tend to value things when it has to be earned or it is scarce in nature.
On the flip side, saying NO to your dog is not necessarily a bad thing. Imagine going through your entire life and never being told no for undesirable behaviours. Dogs (just like humans) are opportunistic and will test the boundaries whenever they are given inconsistent messages.
Negative consequences will also need to matter. If you are constantly talking to your dog and telling it off verbally does not seem to have an effect, the dog is never going to learn that it is being told off for an unwanted behaviour. It is like how we tend to ignore someone that has been nagging us for weeks!
Akin it to speeding whilst drink driving, but the consequence is a measly $10 fine for the offence. You are quite likely to repeat that irresponsible and undesirable behaviour due to the lack of consequences. However, if the consequence was jail time and a revoked driving license for the offence, it is quite likely that you will vow not to repeat this unsavory behaviour. Why? Because the latter consequence was effective enough to ensure that you understood that it was wrong, and there are consequences for not playing by the rule book.
Every dog is different and will respond differently to various methods. Even at different stages of it's life and learning stages, learning methodologies for a dog can change. Be flexible with the methods you use, and as long as it’s effective, your dog would start to understand what is expected of it.
If you are ever in doubt or confused about the different methods, hire a professional dog trainer or dog behaviourist to advise what may work best for you and your dog.