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Debunking Dominance Myths: Why Force-Free Training Works Best

Debunking Dominance Myths: Why Force-Free Training Works Best

The Upside-Down Vacuum Analogy

I’ll admit it – I’m a force-free dog trainer. And I can assure you that I have high expectations for dog obedience, which I achieve using positive reinforcement training. It works, plain and simple. But I’ve seen a lot of posts online, mostly from balanced or correction-based trainers, claiming that force-free training doesn’t work. Why would they say that?

Honestly, it’s probably true for how they’re trying to use it. Force-free dog training won’t work if you approach it the same way you do correction-based training. You can’t simply substitute rewards for punishment and expect the same results. Why? Because at a base level, the concepts might sound similar, but they aren’t.

Let me use a silly analogy to illustrate my point. Imagine I put you in a quiet room by yourself and asked you to say your ABCs – an easy task. I then told you one of two things: “If you say your ABCs, I’ll give you a $1,000 reward” or “If you don’t say your ABCs, I’ll shock you with this collar until you do.” Both would likely make you say your ABCs! But only one of them would make you want to work with me again.

The Importance of Progression and Timing

Now, what if I asked you to say your ABCs on a stage in front of 5,000 people? You’ve never done public speaking before, so you mentally freeze. The balanced trainer then waves the world’s best donut in front of your face to motivate you. But you’re so stressed that you have no appetite – the donut doesn’t work. The balanced trainer then straps a shock collar on you and increases the pain level until you finally comply and say your ABCs to make the pain stop. “See?” they say, “Positive reinforcement failed, but correction-based training worked!”

Did positive reinforcement really fail, though? Or did the balanced trainer just use it backwards? Instead of training in a fair setting and progressively increasing the difficulty, they started with the most difficult scenario and tried to train. This is like holding a vacuum cleaner upside down and expecting it to clean the floors – it’s not going to work.

A force-free trainer would approach this differently. We’d start where you can perform, maybe just in front of a mirror or your family, and then very slowly increase the audience size, being careful not to cause unnecessary anxiety. We’d make sure every time you said your ABCs, you were well rewarded and had a positive experience. Eventually, you’d be able to say them in front of 5,000 people without crippling stress, and you’d be willing to do it again and again.

Understanding Your Dog’s Communication

But force-free training doesn’t just work because of proper progression – it also requires an understanding of your dog’s communication. If you can’t read the signs of stress, fear, or aggression in your dog, you won’t be able to use positive reinforcement effectively. You need to know when to back off or leave a situation, rather than pushing your dog past their comfort level.

Imagine again with the ABCs example – if I never told you that you’d get $1,000 for saying them, and then just randomly gave you the money a week later, you’d be confused. But if I paid you the second you finished, you’d quickly realize the connection. Dogs are no different – the timing and clarity of the reward is crucial for them to understand what behavior they’re being rewarded for.

The Time and Effort of Force-Free Training

So, why do some trainers claim that force-free training doesn’t work? It probably doesn’t work for how they’re trying to use it. Force-free training takes time, skill, and an understanding of your individual dog. You can’t just substitute treats for punishment and expect the same results. You have to work the dog in front of you, at their ability level, on that particular day. It’s about changing how the dog feels, not just suppressing behaviors.

But I believe that the extra time and effort is worth it. Humane, force-free training may be slower, but it leads to a happier, more willing partner in the end. And isn’t that what we all want for our dogs? So, the next time someone tells you that force-free training doesn’t work, remember the upside-down vacuum – you can’t fault the method if it’s being used incorrectly.

If you’re ready to give force-free training a try, be sure to check out the resources and articles on They’ve got tons of helpful information to get you and your furry friend on the path to successful, positive-reinforcement based training.

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