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Since our founding in 2009, we have gone from being dog training generalists to specialists, our expertise and focus shifting towards difficult dogs in difficult environments. We also have evolved from being novices to national leaders in one of our specialties – positive gun dog training. Thus, our approach to training dogs has also been refined over the years.
We are proud of the contributions we have made to bringing a much more positive approach to the difficult dogs and demanding training niches we specialize in. In striving to keep discomfort-inflicting equipment and overly harsh methods out of our training protocols, we have raised eyebrows around the country, and we frequently travel throughout the states to teach other trainers about our methods.
This page represents the current state of our training philosophy and our guiding principles for dog training.
To understand our training philosophy, and why we make the choices we do, it helps to understand the nature of our specialties. While we work with clients to solve many canine behavior problems, we really shine in two areas:
Given the difficulties presented by high-distraction, prey-infested environments, and the challenging personalities of the dogs (often independent-minded sporting breeds) we have become well-known for loving and training, we have striven to maintain the following guiding principles:
Over the years, people have given various designations to our training style. Some of those designations are:
These designations usually are given to us by other trainers who adhere to philosophies and manifestos that use these terms. This is because they see commonality in our training approach. However, we try to avoid the use of these terms, as we have not been able to find any training manifesto, philosophy or term that clearly describes our approach.
So, we simply call ourselves “Positive Trainers.” We feel this term accurately describes the following:
However, we avoid attaching the suffix “only” to the word “positive.”
We believe any dog trainer who says they do anything-only is either inexperienced and limited in their abilities, limited in the types of dog personalities they can succeed with, limited in the types of training goals they can achieve, limited in the types of training environments they can succeed in, or being dishonest. We do not want to fall into any of those categories.
While we are overwhelmingly positive in our approach, our use of the term “positive” does not mean that all we do falls into the Positive Reinforcement quadrant of canine learning theory. Such a guarantee – to use only positive reinforcement – is idealistic and theoretical, and we doubt that it is possible with all dogs in all environments. However, we do our best to get close to this ideal within reason.
Following is an explanation of what “positive training” means to us, and what you can expect from us if you hire FetchMasters to train your dogs.
We believe animals are hardwired to use their behavior to obtain the things they want or need. While nature may punish an animal for doing something wrong (for example, getting too close to a porcupine), punishment is not the primary driver for animal behavior. Most of what an animal does of its own volition at any given moment is to obtain some sort of reward: food, safety, a mate, a desirable social interaction, a resource, etc.
Some trainers espouse the Do-As-I-Say-Because-I-Said-It approach to training dogs. However, just as humans do not like to work for free, dogs (and other animals) grow weary of working without reward.
Summarized, we believe a rewards-based approach (and the reward may be something other than treats) is the most biologically/psychologically correct way to pursue training dogs.
The topic of punishment is a difficult one amongst dog trainers. Many passionate disputes are waged in our circles about which punishments are acceptable and which are not, and there are many opinions about whether punishment is necessary at all.
In truth, even the trainers who claim to be positive reinforcement-only or force-free often have instances of punishment inadvertently (sometimes unwittingly) mixed into in their training, as a punishment technically is something a dog does not like. For example:
So, avoiding punishment altogether is a tricky (if not impossible) thing to do. And sensible people would agree that the above examples of punishment are not abusive.
Our specialty is developing highly functional obedience in high-distraction environments. It is rare to find trainers who can achieve the level of reliability we do without eventually resorting to using shock collars to “proof” the dog. However, as good as we are at avoiding the use of punitive equipment, we have not found it possible to train every dog personality type in strenuous environments using strictly positive reinforcement (rewarding the dog for doing what you want).
While striving to stay as positive as we can and avoid the use of the aversive tools and techniques listed above, here are the things we have found to be true in our specialties regarding punishment.
In addition to making life with a dog much more pleasant, good training can also save a dog’s life. So we consider training to be very serious business. Because of this, we bring several attitudes to our dog training that we feel increase our odds of solving tough real-world problems and creating reliable obedience in difficult environments.
Here are a few of those attitudes:
Some dogs are happy to do whatever you ask of them. Others, If they are to cooperate with us in difficult environments, must learn that what is being asked of them is not optional. This process of teaching this is called “proofing.” We typically do not proof a behavior (an obedience command, for example) until the dog fully understands what we want and that what we want is rewarding.
Once the dog has been trained to perform an obedience command to a pre-defined performance level, we will begin teaching the dog that it is not his job to decide when the command (a sit-stay for instance) is over. We will do this by quickly bringing a dog back to the exact spot we placed him when he leaves that position.
This process can be positive-ish. But, while we try to do this as nicely as possible, it can sometimes be a struggle to pull a dog from his own agenda and get him back on ours. This is especially true if the dog is too driven towards his own agenda to be distracted, lured or called back into position with a treat, which is often the case with very determined dogs – the kind we specialize in.
This process can sometimes temporarily stress a dog, as the dog is in essence being compelled to leave his own agenda and return to ours. Just as a large portion of human stress is caused by not getting what we want, dogs can feel stress when they are prevented from pursuing what they want. So just as humans must patiently forego what we want from time to time, a well-behaved dog should have this ability too.
That said, the stress usually melts away as soon as the dog realizes that doing what we ask results in reward, sometimes even getting to pursue its own desires. In the end, dogs who are never inhibited from pursuing their own agenda run the risk of becoming pushy, intolerable and lacking in meaningful impulse control. Such dogs rarely have obedience that rises above the level of a parlor trick.
We feel our approach to proofing a dog’s training is both humane and necessary for some dogs in some environments. While our process for proofing dogs cannot always be defined as positive, we do feel it is humane, quickly understood by the dog, and worth whatever temporary stress it causes the dog, as it eliminates the need for using shock collars, choke chains, pinch collars and physical violence towards dogs to solidify their obedience.
Frankly, our approach to proofing a dog’s training is largely what makes us feel uncomfortable committing to designations such as “force free,” “positive-only,” etc. However, when we consider alternative ways of accomplishing the difficult job we do, we are proud that we have been able to shake off so many of the aversive tools and techniques that are common in this industry.
If anyone is able to train high-drive, high-strung dogs in high-distraction, prey-infested environments using gentler methods than we do, we stand ready to learn from them.
We hope this helps you understand our approach to, and our attitude towards, training dogs. If you have further questions, please do not hesitate to call us.