Best Way to Train a Dog – 4 Examples of Behavior Methods

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While some owners are looking for ways to train a dog they’ve had for a while, many dog owners are sifting through websites to guess which training method might be best for their new furry family member. This highlights one of the challenges with choosing the best way to train a dog: often times dog owners are still working to establish a relationship with their new pet and might not know what training technique will be the best fit. 

Our team of dog lovers spent hours looking at the pros and cons of several dog training methods. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ option, but we’ve compiled a list to help you decide what method will work best for your lifestyle with your pet. As many dog owners will tell you, the best way to train a dog is the method that you are able to use the most consistently. Not only will consistent training help the dog respond faster, but it can also help establish expectations and trust between you and your dog. 

In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the main types of methods from an animal behavioralist perspective and provide examples of how each method can work in a training scenario. Keep in mind, the best way to train a dog, might not be the first technique you try!

We hope you find this list helpful to guide you towards the best way to train a dog.

#1 Positive reinforcement
#2 Negative reinforcement
#3 Scientific method
#4 Dominance theory or dominance training

Positive reinforcement 

Positive reinforcement requires rewards!

Using positive reinforcement to train your dog can be a fun and successful way to teach your dog boundaries and desired behaviors. Many dog owners and trainers find positive reinforcement training to be their favorite method – dogs love learning new things and earning rewards (like treats and praise) so training can come quite naturally. 

Positive reinforcement training uses rewards to encourage behaviors you want to see in your dog. There is no negative consequence for undesirable behaviors. The dog is just rewarded, often with praise, a toy, or treats, for the good behaviors. 

For example, a trainer who uses positive reinforcement to train a dog to come back inside the home when called might have a container of treats by the door. If the dog comes inside when called, the trainer gives the dog a treat and praise. If the dog doesn’t come inside when called, no treat is given. The trainer does nothing negative as a consequence for not listening to the command, but the dog is simply not rewarded. 

Some dog owners say they find this kind of training to be less stressful and a bit more fun. Positive reinforcement training can work well to teach a dog tricks or behaviors you want, but it may become a little more challenging to limit behaviors you don’t want. 

Negative reinforcement

Negative reinforcement is taking something away – not a negative punishment.

Training a dog using negative reinforcement means you are taking away something to help encourage your furry friend to behave in a certain way. Using this method, the trainer takes away something that appears to the dog as a negative response.

One of the more common examples that uses negative reinforcement is to teach a dog to sit. The trainer can apply gentle pressure to the back of the dog while saying the word ‘sit’ to encourage the sitting position. When the dog successfully sits, the trainer takes away their hand and praises the dog. The dog views the gentle pressure as negative. The trainer takes their hand away when the dog does the desirable behavior, in this case, sitting. Removing the negative (gentle pressure) encourages good behavior (sitting).

This method differs from negative punishments because the trainer isn’t applying a punishment.  Negative reinforcement is a training strategy and should not involve discomfort. Force or aggression should never be a part of training. Whatever method you choose should be a time to play and build a trusting relationship with your dog. 

Scientific method

Tug toys are often a favorite reward.

The scientific method combines both positive and negative reinforcement training. Trainers use treats or a favorite toy, along with verbal praise, to reward good behaviors. Bad behaviors aren’t punished or rewarded. 

For example, if your dog wants to play with their favorite tug toy, the trainer can reward the dog for bringing them the toy or letting go of the toy when commanded. However, if the dog jumps on the trainer or refuses to let go of the toy, the toy will be put away and playtime is over. This method shows the dog that one behavior results in a fun game with a tug toy, but the other behavior doesn’t get them what they want. 

In other words, this approach looks at consequences. Your dog can successfully learn what behaviors will result in the outcome your companion is hoping to get from you.

Some dog owners find the best way to train a dog is by using a few different techniques. The National Library of Medicine has published some research about dog training methodologies.

Dominance theory or dominance training

Dominance theory relies on gaining control over the dog’s behaviors.

This approach is often viewed as an older, traditional way to train a dog. Instead of relying on treats to reinforce behaviors, this training style assumes the dog is trying to prove dominance and that the trainer’s job is to gain control over the dog’s behaviors. 

For example, if the trainer is working on leash training, the trainer might pull the dog’s leash in the desirable direction. Instead of using rewards/treats, the training will often include verbal praise. 

In recent years, this approach to dog training has been controversial as animal behavioralists have increasingly been learning more about the best way to train a dog without suppressing the dog’s more natural tendencies. When the dominance training method is successful, some dog experts have concerns that the dog is more likely only to respond to the trainer instead of consistently being successful with the desired behavior. In addition, this training style can be viewed harshly as it depends more on the dog being controlled by the trainer instead of working with the trainer-dog relationship to modify behaviors. As always, health and safety should be the top priority in all interactions. 

For additional guidance, some dog owners hire a trainer or attend training classes. Other dog owners choose an online training option to allow them the flexibility to choose when in the day to work on dog training. There are many different choices for online training experiences. We’ve compiled a separate guide that outlines questions you may have about online training programs.

We hope this information will help guide you to the best way to train a dog that fits your lifestyle. 

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As a parent, dog owner, dog foster caregiver, and writer, I strive to create a loving home environment for all two and four-legged creatures. My background also includes research analysis and journalism. I work closely with animal behavior experts, trainers, and staff at Dog Training Boss to provide clear information that helps dog owners make the best decisions for their canine.