How does one train a dog? What are dog owners doing right or wrong? New insights into dog training were the topic when I recently had the opportunity to interview a professional, Colleen Pelar, a published author and professional dog trainer. Full of insights on how to raise your dog, Pelar knew many tips and tricks for maintaining a healthy relationship with your pets.
Pelar strongly supports positive reinforcement. Pelar firmly believes that using negative reinforcement (like shock collars, harsh words, physical punishment) is very detrimental to the dogs mental health and strongly disagrees with it. On the other hand, positive reinforcement (speaking softly, encouraging good behavior, using treats) is very beneficial not only towards the dog’s health mentally and physically, but also for strengthening the dog-owner relationship.
Positive reinforcement has significant advantages over negative reinforcement. Pelar emphasized her point when she told me about one of the most aggressive dogs she ever met. This dog would attempt attacking anything that approached. Pelar thinks the aggression developed because the dog’s owner’s overused their electric shock collar. Every time the dog greeted a stranger, he would race over, and the owners would shock him. As a result, the dog associated strangers with shocks and became very aggravated whenever he saw someone unfamiliar.
As a field expert, Pelar highlighted common misconceptions people have when training their dogs, pointing out that dogs will not always obey 100% of the time. People think their dogs are stubborn and refuse to obey out of spite, but Pelar says that this is not the dog being stubborn (though there are exceptions). This is actually simple miscommunication. Dogs are very specific creatures. If you train your do to sit while in the kitchen, then the dog associates the command “sit” as “you should sit in the kitchen.” When the dog is told to sit when not in the kitchen, it becomes confused as it is not in the kitchen, but is being told to sit there. Another thing Pelar pointed out was that dogs are not necessarily reflections of their owners. However, dogs can be similar, often because the owner will choose a dog that fits their needs/ standards. Pelar, for example, likes cute, cuddly things, so she has a dog to fit what she needs. Her husband on the other hand, likes strong, big dogs and jokingly calls her dog a wimp.
Whether big or small, aggressive or friendly, compliant or stubborn, dogs are among the most common pets in America, yet we don’t truly understand them fully. Pelar hopes society will come together and realize how important dogs are and research more into understanding them better; so we can continuously improve our relationships with dogs. After all, they aren’t called man’s best friend for nothing.
See the rest of the interview: