Positive training sets you and your dog up for success and safety. It makes positive associations so the dog looks at life as something friendly, thereby removing the need to be competitive or aggressive. Finally, positive training increases behavioural reliability through a strict but scientifically proven leadership programme. You begin training at the point your dog is successful and step-by-step build to the point of reliability you have set as your goal.–by Paul Owens

Having trained thousands of dogs with both positive and negative methods, I have concluded that positive methods are not only more effective, they are safer, more humane and far less stressful for both dogs and humans.

The gentle touch
Over the past two decades, leading behaviourists and experts all over the world have been practicing a kinder, gentler approach to training even the most severely aggressive and frightened animals. Positive trainers use treats, praise, life rewards and affection almost exclusively. None of the physically aversive methods of traditional or negative training are ever used. But can positive training be effective, especially with difficult dogs and severe cases of aggression? I stopped using negative methods over 15 years ago, and 50 percent of my practice deals with moderate-to-severe cases of aggression.

Science supports positive training
Science seems to agree. A study by the Department of Clinical Veterinary Science at the University of Bristol is one of several that strongly supports the value of positive training over punishment: “Because reward-based methods are associated with higher levels of obedience and fewer problematic behaviours, we suggest that their use is a more effective and welfare-compatible alternative to punishment for the average pet parent.”

Why does positive training work?

1. Nonviolence works
How we train and interact with our animals is directly linked to how we interact with each other. Numerous studies have connected violent behaviour toward animals with human-to-human violence. The reverse is also true. Positive interactions with animals promote physical and emotional health and safety in human relationships.

2. Compassion, Patience, and Consistency
These three qualities are used in the educational process. Positive trainers understand that every dog is different and learns at his own speed. They formulate programme to suit the physical and emotional limits of each dog. Various factors affect a dog’s behaviour and reliability – breed, age, history, health, the trainer’s consistency and skill, etc.

3. Discipline
Discipline is the key to the effectiveness of positive training. Positive trainers all use the NILIF leadership model: Nothing in Life is Free. Reliability is the goal, and training is strict, but is also fun. The message to the dog is this: I will never hit, kick, shock, shake or otherwise abuse you. But, if you want anything, you must do something for me first. Want to get petted? Sit. Want to go outside? Lie down. Want to say hello to another dog? Stay until I release you. Want to chase a ball? Go to your bed until I say “okay.”

Step-by step process of positive training
1. Setting you and your dog up for success and safety

2. Making positive associations so the dog looks at life as a nice place to be, hence removing the need to be competitive or aggressive

3. Increase behavioural reliability through positive training and a strict leadership programme.

You begin training at the point your dog is successful and build to the point of reliability you’ve set as your goal. Physical punishment and aversive training methods are not necessary. It just proves to be a hindrance to promote or foster safety, patience, kindness, and compassion. A gentle, positive approach will make life much richer and happier for you and your dog.

(Paul Owens is the author of the bestselling book ‘The Dog Whisperer; A Compassionate Nonviolent Approach to Dog Training’ (Adams Media) which has sold over 300,000 copies all over the world. He also authored the acclaimed ‘The Puppy Whisperer’ and ‘The Dog Whisperer Presents: Good Habits for Great Dogs’. He began training dogs in 1972. He is the director of the nonprofit educational organisation ‘Raise with Praise, Inc’ and the founder/director of the children’s after-school, violence prevention programme ‘Paws for Peace’).