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How Dog Trainers Do Their Job

Updated on January 28, 2010

Dog trainers are more than just glorified pet store operators. They are very adept at knowing what it is that makes a dog work, how they learn, why they act as they do, and what you can do as the owner to advance the good behaviors and stop the bad.

Dog trainers are basically extremely good at understanding and observing the details of your dog's activity. By taking behavioral science, as outlined in psychological studies, they can apply real life activities and training methods to the ways in which canine brains operate and turn them into well behaved pets.

Methods Of Dog Trainers

The term most often used to refer to the methods dog trainers call "training with consequences" is operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is essentially offering a consequence for an action repeatedly that eventually teaches the dog to associate a certain thing with an action they perform.

Positive reinforcement for example is used by dog trainers to reward good behavior. If a dog is asked to rollover and a treat is given to them, this is positive reinforcement. By repeatedly giving the dog a treat when they rollover on command, the dog associates good things with complying and will learn to rollover.

Inversely, negative reinforcement operates by removing an unpleasant aspect from the dog when they comply. If you pull on their collar and ask them to sit and they comply, you would then release the collar. They would then learn to sit by following your command.

The Skills Of Dog Trainers

Positive punishment is used to describe whenever dog trainers or owners do something unpleasant to decrease an activity for the dog. If the dog is chewing on a shoe and you make a loud noise that scares them from the shoe, this is positive punishment.

Negative punishment is the act of actually removing something from the dog's possession to limit a bad behavior. When a dog is outside and not behaving on the leash, if you were to bring them back inside or shorten the leash, this is negative punishment.

There are times when certain behaviors are ignored or let go and they eventually die away. If your dog gets food whenever he whines, and you stop giving him food on command, he will eventually stop whining. You might notice however that the behavior becomes sharply worse before it ever gets better. This is the natural process, no matter how obnoxious it might seem.

Different Approaches By Dog Trainers

When dog trainers approach a new dog, their methods vary depending on the personality of that dog. Each of these methods is effective in some instances and less effective in others. Generally, praise is considered the most effective method, but if a behavior does not increase as a result of praise, it may not be working.

However you approach the process, most dog trainers will tell you that reading a dog is not as simple as thinking of them as an animal. Dogs are complex creatures with differing methods of thinking. While conditioning in general works, it takes a trained mind to read and know which of these methods will and will not work.

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