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How to Choose the Right Training Method for Your Dog’s Personality

How to Choose the Right Training Method for Your Dog’s Personality

The first step in choosing the right training method for your dog is to take some time to objectively assess your dog's personality traits. Dogs have a wide range of individual differences, just like people. Some personality factors that can impact how your dog will respond best to training include:

  • Energy level – Is your dog very high energy and restless, or more calm and laidback? High energy dogs may need more active training methods that incorporate more movement.

  • Motivation – What really motivates your dog? Is your dog extremely food motivated, or more toy/play motivated? Use whatever most incentivizes your dog for rewards.

  • Sociability – How social is your dog towards other dogs and people? Social dogs do better with training classes and public training sessions. Shy dogs need more private, controlled settings.

  • Confidence – Is your dog bold or timid? Bold dogs need firm leadership, timid dogs need patience and encouragement. Match training style to build confidence.

  • Distractibility – How focused is your dog? Easily distracted dogs need more repetition and structured training environments without disturbance.

  • Sensitivity – Is your dog more sensitive or tough? Sensitive dogs require positive reinforcement and gentle guidance. Tougher dogs respond better to corrections.

  • Excitability – How aroused does your dog get? Excitable dogs need targeted impulse control training to learn settling skills. Calmer dogs can handle more stimulation.

  • Reactivity – Is your dog reactive to triggers like other dogs or people? Reactive dogs need progressive desensitization training. Non-reactive dogs can train in real world settings.

The ideal training approach will complement your individual dog's personality traits. Observe your dog objectively to determine their unique characteristics.

Consider Your Dog's Breed Background

Along with your dog's individual personality, their breed background can also give you insight into which training methods they may respond best to. While every dog is unique, different breeds were selectiv

Use Positive Reinforcement for Most Dogs

For the majority of modern pet dogs today, positive reinforcement is the ideal training method to employ. The concept behind positive reinforcement is to reward desired behaviors and largely ignore undesired behaviors. This helps teach the dog what TO do instead of what NOT to do.

To implement positive reinforcement:

  • Use highly motivating rewards like treats, toys, praise, play. Food is often the most effective reward.

  • Immediately reward the exact behaviors you want to reinforce every time they occur. For example, reward sit immediately when they sit.

  • Reward voluntary actions and behaviors you like versus commanding them. This builds initiative in your dog.

  • Reward small approximations toward the desired outcome. Don't wait for perfection, reward progress.

  • Provide rewards liberally at first to capture desired behaviors, then phase out over time and reward intermittently.

  • Avoid punishing or correcting unwanted behaviors as much as possible. Simply ignore them and reward alternates.

  • Create a fun, engaging atmosphere with lots of positivity and encouragement.

Used properly, positive reinforcement alone can accomplish most basic pet dog training goals. From simple manners to cues to tricks, rewarding generously sets most dogs up for success.

Incorporate Corrections for Hardheaded Dogs

For some dogs with more stubborn, dominant personality traits, relying solely on positive reinforcement allows too much self-determination. Hardheaded dogs may push boundaries if not given adequate structure. In these cases, adding fair corrections can help train more precisely. Corrections should only be used selectively and to reinforce commands that are already well-established through positive reinforcement.

Correcting methods that can be utilized sparingly:

  • Verbal corrections like a firm "no" or "eh-eh". Do not intimidate or yell.

  • Make an interrupting sound like a "bht!" to disrupt unwanted behavior.

  • Brief physical corrections through leash pops or taps. Never hit or harm the dog.

  • Time-outs for repeated behavioral issues remove the dog from rewarding stimuli.

  • Withholding rewards by not giving treats or attention. Do not take away necessities.

  • Using head collars or training tools to guide the dog into proper positions. Do not leave on unsupervised.

  • Block access to problem areas or remove rewards for unwanted behaviors. Manage the environment.

  • Practice calm, assertive energy. Do not engage in angry, tense confrontations.

Applied judiciously and consistently at the right times, Adding corrections can fine-tune obedience when positive reinforcement alone is not enough. However, positive methods should still be the primary focus.

Try Clicker Training for Eager-to-Please Dogs

Clicker training is a positive reinforcement method that uses a clicker device to precisely mark correct behaviors. The quick, distinct sound allows you to pinpoint exact moments of correct response. This is especially effective for highly food motivated dogs with biddable personalities.

Here's how clicker training works:

  • Load the clicker by repeatedly pairing treat rewards with click sounds. Dog learns click = treat is coming.

  • Click during the precise moment the dog displays the exact desired behavior. Do not wait to reward.

  • Immediately follow the click with a food treat within 1-2 seconds. This creates the association.

  • Once the behavior is learned, phase out the clicker and give intermittent rewards just for the behavior.

  • Use the clicker for new behaviors, skills in progress, or anytime you want precision marking.

Clicker training excels for teaching incremental steps, chained behaviors, tricks, discrimination, and impulse control. The instant information helps intelligent, people-focused dogs understand when they are doing things correctly. Avoid overusing the clicker too long though, so the dog does not become clicker dependent. Use as needed.

Try Luring for Food-Motivated Dogs

Luring techniques are very effective for training dogs who are extremely food motivated. Using treats in hand as lures shows the dog the physical position you want them take and guides them into behaviors. Luring capitalizes on your dog's desire to follow food.

Luring methods:

  • Hold a treat at the dog's nose, then move it in a way to guide their head, face, body, paws, or tail into position. Mark and reward.

  • Lure over the top of the dog's muzzle and down between the front paws to teach "down", for example.

  • Fade the lure over time by briefly showing it, then hiding, then just gesture, then verbal cue.

  • Pair verbal cues with luring so dog associates the word with following the treat into positions.

  • Keep sessions short to avoid satiating your dog. Hungry dogs lure better.

Luring sets dogs up for success by letting them easily follow the food into correct behaviors before putting those behaviors on verbal cue. It is very effective for puppies, shy dogs, and other highly food-driven personalities.

Consider Marker Training

Marker training uses distinct verbal cues like "yes!" or "good" to precisely mark correct behaviors at the exact moment they occur. This tells the dog they earned a reward. The reward is then delivered immediately afterwards.

Marker training advantages:

  • Lets you mark specific moments of correct response from a distance.

  • Dogs learn behaviors through cause and effect instead of lures.

  • Can improve speed and precision comparable to clickers.

  • Easily incorporated into everyday life without tools.

  • Words become conditioned reinforcers that can reward on their own.

Effective marker words are unique, sharp sounds that are not commonly used in day-to-day speech. They must be said with perfect timing and consistency. This training style is especially helpful for dogs at a distance in real world settings.

Try Relationship-Based Methods

For sensitive dogs who thrive on companionship over food rewards, relationship-based training methods can be highly motivating. The focus is on strengthening your bond with the dog and using that as the reinforcer.

Relationship methods:

  • Make training more like a game with lots of encouragement and positivity. Avoid drill-like repetition.

  • Incorporate play, touch, praise, and relationship building instead of just food treats.

  • Motivate by withholding your attention. Reward behaviors with your presence and attention.

  • Use your energy and body language vs verbal cues. Sensitive dogs respond to how you feel more than words.

  • Focus on respect and trust-building. The dog wants to please you.

For dogs who care more about you than the food, strengthening your bond and using your presence as the reward can be highly effective training. Avoid over-correcting these sensitive dogs. Harsh methods can damage your relationship.

Try Habituation Training

For fearful, timid, or anxious dogs, habituation training can help build confidence. Habituation means gradually exposing a dog to something mildly scary in a slow, controlled way. With repeated exposures, the dog habituates and becomes desensitized to the trigger as they learn nothing bad happens.

Habituation training process:

  • Identify your dog's fear triggers. Other dogs? Loud noises? New environments? Determine exactly what causes anxiety.

  • Start exposing your dog to very low levels of their trigger from afar. Let them observe and overcome fear while staying below their anxiety threshold.

  • With each exposure, get slightly closer to the trigger. Use treats and encouragement to build positive associations.

  • Work up to normalizing the trigger at reasonable distances where the dog remains relaxed. Do not flood them by forcing close proximity too quickly.

  • Practice this grading process across many contexts and environments. Use medication if needed to help keep under threshold.

Habituation training allows fearful dogs to safely face their fears from a comfortable distance. This builds confidence over time by systematically desensitizing the dog to triggers. For severe cases, seek help from professionals.

Use Corrections Minimally for Fearful Dogs

Harsh corrections can worsen behavioral issues in soft, fearful, or anxious dogs. Yelling, leash pops, spray bottles, or physical intimidation can damage trust and sensitise dogs to future handling. While positive reinforcement alone is ideal, if correction is needed for dangerous behavior:

  • Use the minimal amount of correction needed to interrupt the behavior. Do not over-correct.

  • Redirect to a desired alternate behavior immediately after correcting to end on a positive.

  • Make sure dog clearly understands the rules and has been taught properly beforehand. Only correct known behaviors.

  • Correct in a calm, firm manner without anger or frustration. Your energy impacts them.

  • Immediately rebuild trust and confidence after correcting with praise and affection.

  • Never correct fear responses directly, like startling or cowering. Only correct clear disobedience.

  • Contact a professional if behavior is dangerous and positive methods are insufficient. As a last resort, medication may reduce anxiety and increase trainability.

While aversives should be avoided, if used correctly in moderation they can clarify rules. Counteract with positives to maintain a good relationship and avoid damage.

Try Lifestyle Dog Training

For laidback pet dogs, formalized training sessions may be less productive than simply incorporating training into your daily life. Lifestyle dog training focuses on:

  • Casually rewarding desired behaviors as they happen naturally throughout your time together.

  • Setting the dog up for success by managing situations, using preventative cues, and reinforcing good choices.

  • Desensitizing dogs to triggers and disruptions from a safe distance during walks and play time.

  • Using real world "teachable moments" to reinforce cues and manners naturally.

  • Practicing impulse control during normal interactions with food, toys, guests, doors, leash walking, car rides, etc.

  • Building a mutually respectful relationship through clear communication, routine, and trust over time.

Lifestyle dog training creates a solidly trained companion without needing regimented sessions. Simply by living together and communicating clearly, dogs assimilate into family life and adopt your preferences and house rules. This gentle approach can work very well for already easygoing dogs.

Try Structure-Based Training

Bold, dominant dog personalities can benefit from more structure-based training approaches that establish clear rules, boundaries and limitations. Structure-based training:

  • Uses "Nothing in life is free" philosophy – dogs must "earn" all privileges like food, affection, play.

  • Implements strict rules, schedules, and obedience expectations from the outset. Highly consistent.

  • Rewards calm, polite behaviors. Does not reward demanding behaviors.

  • Provides strong leadership on walks, during play, and when meeting new dogs/people. Requires deference to owner.

  • Uses more corrections from the start for rule violations like mouthing, jumping up, pulling on leash, barking.

  • Rewards absence of unwanted behaviors. Releases dog from confinement calmly and only after settling.

  • Provides plenty of positive outlets like chews, exercise, training sessions, scentwork.

  • Avoids dangerous behavior like guarding, biting through careful management. Gets professional help if needed.

Providing this level of consistent structure prevents dominant dogs from taking advantage and becoming spoiled. Clear boundaries, limitations, and leadership enable harmonious relations.

Try Management Techniques

For difficult dog behavior problems, management techniques are about avoiding situations that trigger unwanted behaviors instead of trying to train them directly. Management training:

  • Uses baby gates, crates, tethers and leashes to restrict access to problem locations and prevent rehearsal of problem behaviors.

  • Uses head halters, basket muzzles or other tools to prevent dangerous behaviors like biting, lunging or excessive barking.

  • Avoids exposing dog to situations they are not ready for yet like dog parks, children, crowds. Tightly controls environment.

  • Refrains from punishing or correcting reactive behaviors which can worsen them. Simply prevents the behavior from occurring.

  • Recognizes genetic limitations in severely anxious or aggressive dogs. Does not put dog in situations it is genetically unprepared for.

  • Identifies and avoids subtle triggers like sounds, sights, proximity and stimulus intensity.

  • Uses desensitization and counterconditioning to gradually improve behavior at threshold over significant time.

Management training is often most realistic for intense behavioral issues. While not resolving the problem completely, it helps keep everyone safe and allows incremental progress.

Hire a Dog Trainer For Extra Help

If you feel your dog would benefit from more personalized guidance, don't hesitate to hire a professional dog trainer. Trainers can provide:

  • Customized evaluations of your dog's needs.

  • Instruction on proper technique for your dog's issues.

  • Professional insight on your dog's behavior problems.

  • Hands-on coaching during training sessions.

  • An objective perspective to enhance your own efforts.

  • Experience handling dogs requiring special approaches.

When selecting a qualified trainer:

  • Ask about their methods and ensure they emphasize positive training.

  • Request references from past clients with similar needs.

  • Opt for certified trainers who invest in continuing education.

  • Check reviews and complaints to the Better Business Bureau.

  • Meet first before committing to ongoing sessions.

With their skills and expertise guiding you, a professional trainer can take your dog's training to the next level. Be picky in your selection process to find someone who is truly qualified.

Choosing the Right Method Matters

There are many schools of thought on dog training, but the most important factor is choosing a style that complements your unique dog. Be thoughtful about who your dog is at their core, then select training techniques that work with, not against, their personality and instincts. With an open mind, patience, insight and the right approach, you can custom tailor a training plan to bring out the best in your dog and enhance your relationship in the process. Proper training is a partnership based on mutual understanding and respect.

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