Positive Dog Training Reaps Rewards, Love, and Happiness


I often refer to Mr. N as my “guinea pig” dog because he is my first dog and he gets the brunt of my training mistakes. One mistake I’m glad I’ve never made though is using aversives to train. I’ve always trained him positively from the beginning.
I didn’t really have a training philosophy when we first got him. Nor was I really aware of different training philosophies or tools. I just knew that I didn’t agree with using corporal punishment as a learning tool for children or for dogs and I wanted my relationship with my dog to be one based on trust and affection and not fear.

Journey to Positive Dog Training

Maybe it’s because he’s generally well-behaved or because he’s tiny but no one has ever suggested I use a prong or shock collar on him or alpha roll him either. Although one woman did suggest debarking him when I mentioned he had separation anxiety…
Mr. N has a really soft temperament. I’ve never even raised my voice at him and yelling at him might break his tiny little heart. I yelled at the screen once during a soccer match and ever since then he has been super wary of us watching soccer. Using force on him would be pointless and unnecessary.
Portland has numerous positive reinforcement classes (unlike many other places) so I didn’t have any trouble finding positive-based training classes. Mr. N has taken a couple of training classes (basic manners, a reactivity one and some sports workshops) but the bulk of his training I have done myself using various books and DVDs and Youtube videos. I also take classes through Fenzi Dog Sports Academy which is online, positive-based and has classes for almost every dog training issue or sport.
He gets rewarded for good behavior and making good decisions. We use his preferred reward medium (mostly food and some life rewards like chasing squirrels and going for walks, we’re slowly trying to add play into the mix). He does not believe in this working solely for praise thing. He is pretty biddable but he is a terrier and he wants a good reason to work!
I try to set him up so he doesn’t fail. And when he does something he’s not supposed to, he gets redirected or removed from the situation or misses out on the fun.
And all this creates a dog who wants to work with you. After a few minutes of acclimation at the park, he decided to ignore the squirrels and the birds and the kids and we worked on his latest trick. We did a few repetitions working in the new distracting environment and then as a reward, we went off to go chase some squirrels.


How did your journey to positive training begin?Welcome to First Monday’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below.  Our theme for this month is my positive training journey but any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are also always welcome. The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop goes all week long. Our next hop will begin October 3rd and continues for a week.




54 Responses

  1. Beth

    September 12, 2016 11:23 am

    Barley doesn't believe in working for only praise, either. It's okay every now and then, but she wants the treats 😉 I'm sorry soccer has been ruined for Mr. N1! My foster pup is very sensitive, too. Barley doesn't care how loud I am–but when foster pup Sal went for the kitty litter and I said "no" firmly like I do with Barley, he looked like I kicked him, so I'm making a conscious effort to be quieter and calmer with him. I keep forgetting not everyone is on Barley's level of crazy 😉

  2. Janet Keefe

    September 12, 2016 7:42 pm

    You've done so great with Mr. N, and I'm even more impressed since he's your first dog. I didn't learn about positive reinforcement until after I started the blog and we were 6 dogs in. Not that we used anything super aversive like prong or shock collars, but we definitely used more raised voices and did a few other stupid things. I'm so glad I found out about PR once Luke came along, because negative stuff might have made him even more reactive than he is.
    Jan, Wag n Woof Pets

  3. Lindsay Pevny

    September 12, 2016 8:13 pm

    Matilda is also my guinea pig, I have big regrets on shouting "no" at her when she had accidents, it took a very long time for her to feel comfortable pooping and peeing around me. I also used a water squirt bottle.. oh god, why. So now she doesn't trust me around flea sprays and stuff like that, I'll need to slowly condition her to tolerate that again. I'm so glad I discovered positive training before she was a year old, isn't it amazing how it changes your mindset, too – instead of seeing dogs as misbehaving, understanding how they learn has made having dogs so much more fun. R+ has gotten to be more popular in the past 15 years or so, and I'm so glad the dog world is changing. Great post!

  4. Kari Neumeyer

    September 12, 2016 11:08 pm

    What a great smile on that boy! That's so great that you've never been pressured to try aversives. So many of us made that mistake after foolishly assuming that a "trainer" knows more than we do! My positive training journey began after Isis bit someone… so I guess that was our rock bottom. Before that though, I drew the line at shock collars. Thanks for hosting the hop!

  5. Hannah

    September 13, 2016 12:34 am

    Mine started before I had a dog to journey with; my Casey dog was too old (serious dietary restrictions and some cognitive decline; his only job at that point was being happy) and i didn't have Lilo yet. I met some folks who were training positively and thought, "That's really interesting!" and, "Looks like FUN!"

    It also turned out to be exactly what Lilo needed, when she came along, and a better fit for my skills and temperament than Koehler method ever was. But the start of it was seeing it work well and look like FUN. I remember that often when trying to convince somebody to give it a try…

  6. Princely Paws

    September 14, 2016 9:14 am

    Its so sad that someone suggested debarking when you can train your pup to speak and go quiet on command. All it takes is a little patience. im so glad you took the road to positive reinforcement training techniques

  7. Edie ThePug

    September 14, 2016 11:42 am

    I took Edie for basic training as a puppy and found I got more from her by rewarding her good behaviour. To this day I give her positive reinforcement whether it be in the form of telling her "good job!" or rewarding her with a pet, or treats. The results are a happy dog that enjoys doing what they are asked to do.

  8. Three Chatty Cats

    September 14, 2016 1:02 pm

    I cannot believe someone suggested debarking Mr. N! I hope that person is not a dog owner (or any kind of pet owner). It sounds like you did (and are doing) an awesome job with training. I'll admit that our dog, or basically me and my hubby, could use some re-training.

  9. Amber Ketchum

    September 14, 2016 2:58 pm

    Mr. N is crazy adorable! I love positive training. It builds a solid foundation of trust and respect that can take the human/dog duo anywhere. I love that you're teaching him to speak in that video! I've been trying to teach Gremlin to howl when my husband gets home, but all I've managed to do is teach our toddler how to howl LOL!

  10. Saddle Seeks Horse

    September 14, 2016 4:25 pm

    What a cutie! I too like positive reinforcement. However, with a 70 pound Doberman who is over-reactive (I've been to multiple training classes including the Canine Good Citizen classes–we've flunked the test 3x, I've read Control Unleashed and also taken a series of classes with that philosophy), I've come to terms with the fact that this strong dog requires a prong collar for safe walks through the neighborhood. Honestly, I have a horse too and he is easier to walk. I've done calming circles with my Dobie, tried the Gentle Leader, turn into her to cut her off when she tries to get out ahead of me, used the supposedly "no-pull" harness. She still can pull me off balance (and I am not a small person and I go to the gym and lift weights). I have placed the prong collar on my own neck to see how it feels. It is not as harsh as you might think and doesn't inflict pain–just a quick pressure.

    As a horse person, I place a bit in my horse's mouth to control him. I don't think that is cruel or a punishment. So for my situation with my strong, working breed dog I have to use a prong. I am okay saying that publicly. Just as not every type of bit works for every type of horse, not every training method or collar will work for every dog. My last Doberman was fine without a prong. Just as with people, all animals are individual.

    • Tenacious Little Terrier

      September 14, 2016 5:26 pm

      Oh Mr. N is reactive too although he is quite a bit easier to handle than a Doberman. Reactivity can be so frustrating and hard to deal with and train! Prongs can make reactive dogs worse though.
      I'm not familiar with horses so I'm not exactly sure how bits work.

  11. Cathy Keisha

    September 14, 2016 4:47 pm

    I don't understand shock collars and torturing dogs. I also don't understand debarking as that's as cruel as declawing cats if not more-so. Cats cannot be trained—we train them—but our humans still try and reward us with treats.

  12. Bryn Nowell

    September 14, 2016 7:01 pm

    Hurrah! I'm always encouraged when I hear of folks implementing positive training methods. Bean and Yoda don't really oblige with training for praise alone either…I don't think I would 🙂

  13. Emily

    September 14, 2016 8:02 pm

    What an adorable little dog. I also use positive methods only with my dogs. There is no reason to use aversive techniques when they respond btter to a good reward system.

  14. Pawesome Cats

    September 14, 2016 8:31 pm

    I'm a big believer in positive reinforcement training and you've done great with Mr N. I found it interesting that your yelling at the TV during a soccer match has made him wary of it – it makes you think twice doesn't it?

  15. Raising Your Pets Naturally

    September 14, 2016 9:58 pm

    Wonderful way of training….the only way. 😉 Debarking because of anxiety, what a nutcase! It's a shame that there are so ill-informed folks out there, especially when they are the "professionals". Good for you and doubly good for Mr. N.

  16. Daily Dog Tag

    September 14, 2016 10:03 pm

    Maybe because I'm pretty tender hearted and overly sensitive, but I prefer positive rewards for myself and those I interact with. I think it comes down to thinking "what if that was me?" and the Golden Rule of treating others the way you want to be treated.

  17. Rosa Doodle

    September 14, 2016 10:44 pm

    Working with dogs is very similar to working with your kids, plus being a teacher positive reinforcement is the best way to go by far. Mr N is an amazing pup, I love the photos you take of him. He seems very well behaved!

  18. The Daily Pip

    September 15, 2016 12:14 am

    I agree about positive reinforcement. Ruby is so sensitive that she shuts down even when someone gives her a funny look. We are taking things slowly and lovingly and she is making progress and gaining confidence.

  19. FiveSibesMom

    September 15, 2016 1:31 am

    Oh, my, Mr. N. you are so adorable! I so agree about positive reinforcement. It's something I learned years ago in my youth from my parents…whether it was with our dogs or horses (or rehabilitating a baby fox), using praise and treats always yielded such positive results. With my Huskies, they are very different from my dogs of past as they like to be part of a conversation – and that is a new training method for me as opposed to "commanding" them to do something, we "explain and ask!" Plus, they get bored with repetition. So I have to keep it interesting, be quick, and oh yes, treats are a must for a command performance reward!

  20. Cathy Armato

    September 15, 2016 8:14 pm

    I cannot imagine someone suggesting you "debark" a dog for any reason – that's totally inhumane! What an ignoramous! I'm so glad you discovered positive training methods from the start, it's the best and most humane way to train. Mr. N. is so good, you two have done a great job training together.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  21. Alix Mitchell

    September 18, 2016 11:14 pm

    I'm happy to see someone else mention Fenzi. I love love love all things Fenzi related. It's also nice to see someone mention acclimation at the park! Seems like you're doing a great job! How lucky that you get to learn with him and got it right from the get go!


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