Transparency in Dog Training

How your dog is treated during training has an ongoing impact on their future behavior and emotional state.




Your dog depends on you to be a smart consumer of dog education.

Be leery of anyone who isn’t willing to be transparent about how they work.  Many dog trainers don’t openly disclose how they train, which leaves you in the dark about what will happen to your dog.  If you come across someone like that, keep going.  There is no reason to keep things hidden unless there is something to hide.

Unfortunately, dog training is an unregulated, unlicensed profession.  That means that anyone can claim they are a dog trainer and take your money.  And potentially make a problem situation worse . . . even dangerous.

At Canine Behavior Science, we welcome your questions.  We want you to become a smart consumer of dog education.

The Dog Trainer Transparency Challenge.

This challenge was established by Jean Donaldson, author of “Culture Clash,” and someone who was one of my mentors.  Here are our answers to the challenge questions:

What will happen if my dog gets it right?

If your dog gets it right, good things will happen:  your dog will be reinforced for doing the right thing.

Dogs have many reinforcers—food, toys, play, attention, petting, etc. One of the things we’ll work on is understanding what is actually reinforcing for your dog.

Likely, we will work with food as a reinforcer a lot. So much, that you will likely need to replace some of your dog’s mealtime food with training food. Food is the easiest reinforcer to use for a variety of reasons:

  • A dog has to eat to live. That makes food quite motivating as a reinforcer, and the dog doesn’t have to learn that food is reinforcing.
  • When learning a new behavior, we want to give the dog a ton of opportunity to perform and get reinforced for that behavior. The more times the dog does the behavior and gets reinforced, the more the dog will do the behavior joyfully.
  • Food is the easiest and fastest reinforcer to deliver to get the most repetitions in.

Worried that using food is bribery? Or that it’s too distracting? Come back to read more about the use of food in dog training.

What happens if my dog gets it wrong?

The short answer is:  your dog won’t get reinforced for that behavior.

The simple, but not easy reality of dog training is that we reinforce right behaviors, and don’t reinforce wrong behaviors.

First, we need to look at why the dog is doing that behavior. For example, if your dog is jumping on people, most likely it is to get attention. And what happens when your dog jumps on people? “Off Fido, Down, Now!” Which is . . . you guessed it!  Attention. Exactly what the dog wants.  So you may actually be reinforcing your dog for behaviors you don’t want.

If while you are training, are you sometimes give your dog a treat for sitting politely and other times saying “Off, Fido” when he jumps, what you get is something known in behavior science as “Matching Law.”  If you reinforce 60% of the time for sitting politely, and reinforce by giving attention (even if it is yelling) 40% of the time, then what do you think happens to a dog’s behavior?

If you guessed that you will get sitting 60% of the time, and jumping 40% of the time, you are correct! That’s the not-so-easy part of dog training: being very aware of how you might be inadvertently reinforcing your dog. But like any skill, with practice and coaching, you can get great at it.

We work on setting your dog up for success, so that doing the right behavior is the easiest thing to do. Perhaps that is having your dog behind a gate when people come into the house so she doesn’t jump up. Perhaps that is avoiding walking your dogs around other dogs if your dog is aggressive to them.

This science term for this is called “changing antecedent events”—setting the environment up so that both you and your dog can be most successful.

Finally, what we work on is replacing an unwanted behavior with a behavior we’d like to see. This is called “Fair Pairs”—if you remove a behavior you don’t like, then it’s only fair to be very clear and train a behavior you do like. Have you ever had a boss who only told you what you were doing wrong and didn’t tell you what to do instead? Feels really bad, doesn’t it?

So if we don’t want a dog to jump up on people coming into the house, we can teach them to really love going to their mat and waiting politely with positive reinforcement. Now the dog has a behavior they love to do when people come in the door that eliminates the behavior of jumping you don’t want. This is called “differential reinforcement of an incompatible behavior.” 

Is there a less invasive alternative to what you propose?

None known at this time. But we keep up on the current science to practice evidence-based approaches to training and addressing behavioral challenges. If or when there is something new added to the current body of science that is replicated, we will use it.

At Canine Behavior Science, we use what’s known as LIMA—the Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive approach to developing training plans and approaches to working with your dog.

This approach is based on the same ethical guidelines that are required for education and behavior modification for humans.

This is why the company’s name is Canine Behavior Science. Everything we practice is steeped in deep knowledge and fluency of the science of behavior. The approach is customized to make sure you and your dog can be successful together.

Want to learn how we can work together? Call, email, text, or fill out our Get In Touch! form and we can discuss the best way to get started.