Can You Train Your Dog to Be 100% Reliable with Positive Methods?

Posted on July 28th, 2017 by FetchMasters in Positive Dog Training

Last night, after an exhausting day of training dogs in Denver, I was slumping on the sofa watching television. On the floor by the sofa was my German Shorthaired Pointer, Rooster, who is one of the most talented and reliable dogs we have ever trained. Rock-solid in the field and a pleasure in the home, Rooster is the official travelling FetchMasters demo dog and the living proof of the effectiveness of our Positive Gun Dog Training Program — the envy and awe of every client who sees him perform.

And he was taught early and thoroughly to stay off the furniture.

As I drifted into a barely conscious state, giving in to weariness, I sensed something quietly working its way onto the sofa beside me, one paw at a time … gently, slowly so as not to attract attention.

It took me a few seconds to register what was happening. When I gathered the will to look, I saw Rooster laying beside me on the sofa, staring at me with an unsure look.

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One of the most common questions we answer at our workshops around the country is: Is it possible to train a dog to 100% reliability using positive methods and without the use of e-collars?

Since our audience typically consists of people who either believe in positive training or want to, our answer usually catches them by surprise: Heck No! But it also is impossible to train any dog to 100% reliability using any methodology … e-collar training included.

Trainers who claim that dogs can be made perfectly reliable are misinformed, exaggerating, or selling something. Although the notion of training dogs to 100% reliability makes for good marketing copy, it is nonetheless a myth – the unicorn of dog training.

A dog is a creature governed by its biological needs, psychology, emotional state, instincts and a host of other drivers of behavior. They are complex, living beings, and as such they have strengths, weaknesses and limitations.

As my wife and partner, Linda, likes to point out in our workshops:

Despite your education, religion, political beliefs, cultural norms and all the laws and rules that govern your day-to-day life, YOU are not 100% reliable. So why would you expect your dog to be?

Years ago I wrote an article entitled When Your Dog Teaches You He’s Not a Robot. It was about my well-trained coonhound mix who decided to defy my commands in favor of eating a dead, rotting racoon. The experience taught me that, regardless of how much effort you put into training a dog, there is always something that will make your dog pursue its own agenda over yours.

There is always something out there that is more rewarding than the best treat, more tantalizing than an e-collar is forbidding, more terrifying than a punisher is prohibitive, more fun than an owner’s giddy demeanor, and more desirable than your tone is restraining. Sooner or later, you will encounter your dog’s Achilles heel regardless of how you train your dog, and regardless of how well you train your dog. When it happens, rather than getting angry, rest assured that robotic pets will be available soon enough.

I have seen my own positively trained dogs fail, though they succeed the vast majority of the time in very difficult circumstances. And I have seen other dogs blow through their shock collars, bark collars and invisible fences to pursue their own will or to escape some real or perceived danger. Nothing is perfect. No person is perfect. No dog is perfect.

But in our pursuit of positive dog training, here is what we have learned: There is a way to be positive, rewarding and motivating without crippling your dog’s performance with incessant bribery; there is a way to be firm in your expectations without being hurtful or damaging; there is a way to bond with your dog without being domineering; there is a way to be friends with your dog while insisting on healthy behavioral boundaries; there is a way to have your dog in an environment without him thinking it is his duty to interact with everything he finds interesting in it, there is a way to have your dog be an extremely reliable a companion …

And there is a way to do all of this without the use of overly harsh techniques and punitive equipment.

And THAT way is a heck of a lot more fun for the dog, owner and trainer, which is why we choose it.

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Despite all of Rooster’s training, and despite his thorough and time-proven understanding of the rules of our house, there he was … on the sofa with me … not being a Robot.

I muttered to Rooster in a tired voice: No, it’s still not allowed.

He seemed to understand and tip-toed off the sofa and walked softly back over to his dog bed and went to sleep. I guess he thought it was worth a try.

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