Which Type of Trainer Will You Be?

Puppy running with girl

This is Part two in my “Discovering Training” series. Be sure not to miss parts one and three

You Are a Trainer

If you own a pet dog then you are a trainer. If you own any companion animal, for that matter, you are a trainer. You may not be training consciously, but you are training your animal and in many ways your animal is even training you! That is wonderful! You both get just what you want or need from the other (when the relationship works well). Dog with man is a perfect example of symbiosis.


Since you’re a trainer (or you plan on owning a dog, so you’re planning on being a trainer) it is a really good idea to decide now which kind of trainer you are going to be.


I don’t mean decide exactly which method (meaning specific style and procedures you will use), which book you’ll buy, which famous trainer who’s style you’ll follow. You will have plenty of time to read and ponder and you may even switch between styles or combine some and make your own. I mean specifically which “type” of trainer you will be. There are, in fact, only two types of animal trainers. All animal trainers fall into one of two categories (whether they know it or not).


You can be in the Force-trainer category. This is also called ‘traditional’ or even just called nothing. If someone says they train dogs but omit which type of trainer they are they are likely using traditional force-training methods. These methods have been around since man started domesticating animals. By and large it is the most common “type” of training in the world.


You can also choose to be in the “non-force” trainer category. This is also called positive or it can be called by the specific methodology used in the training (clicker, marker, motivational, relationship and so forth) and it is rapidly becoming recognized as the best way to train animals successfully. But that is a whole topic on its own. At any rate most trainers that are non-force trainers tend to emphasize or advertise that fact in one way or another. If you’re looking to hire a pet care professional of the non-force type there are organizations like the Pet Professional Guild that help you find a dog care expert and they are all force-free (or supposed to be, anyway).


Now I am breaking this whole animal training business into seriously simplified ideas. That is ok. You don’t have to be an animal behaviorist to train your pet. But if you have a basic understanding of training it will help you choose a method that is right for you and your pet (and will work best for you) and it will help you choose a trainer and/or facility that is going to guide you in the method that you decide is the right method for you.


Many people are not really sure which method is right for them. This is where trainers can be seriously helpful. But before you can begin interviewing trainers to decide who you’d like to use and what method you’ll follow you need to decide what kind of training you will do and what kind of trainer you want.


The Bare Bones


I’m going to break down the two basic types of training into bare-bones basics and the science behind them so that we can understand the facts. Remember that there are lots and lots of methods of training which use a combination of things and this is really breaking it down to the bare-bone basics so you can get a good idea of where you want to start. You can’t plan out your trek without a clear starting point and at least a good idea of which type of direction-giving technology you’ll use.


Traditional or “force” methods of training have been around since man has existed and decided to domesticate animals. If this was a type of direction-giving technology it would be akin to using the sun and moon and landmarks as guides and some of the methods could even be as good as those accordion folded maps you used to cram angrily in your glove box (oh, come on, I know I’m not the only one who did that).


These methods have gotten the job done (with a handful of some animal species) and have failed with others. Probably the animals selected as the ancestors to all our modern day domesticated animals were those animals that happened to “break” the fastest (or at all) with the earliest force training practices.


The same as early man graduated past following herds of animals as their direction-seeking technology and moved on to charting the stars, so have force-training methods evolved. Well, some of them. Just as there are still some tribes and cultures in the world that use animal migrations and big pointy rocks to tell them how to get where they are going there are still people that beat their animals stupid to get what they want (or to sort of get what they want). But most force-methods used today are much more sophisticated than this. If you choose this type of training it is likely that you will not be abusing or indeed even harming your dog in any way physically.


Basically what it boils down to is what you use to explain to the animal that they didn’t do what you wanted them to do.

  • Force-training methods include the use of physical force or fear or pain to explain to the dog that they aren’t getting it right.
  • Non force-training methods do not.
  • Force training methods always use some kind of negative reinforcement to train and so do many non-force training methods.
    • There is a prevalent misconception that non-force training methods are extremely permissive and wholly unrealistic because they do not incorporate any kind of “punisher” (or negative reinforcement) to aid in the learning process.
    • There are certainly non-force methods that do not use any kind of punishment, and some trainers in these methodologies are extremely successful.
    • Other non-force trainers use punishments that do not include fear, intimidation, “dominance”, physical manipulation or force, physical corrections, discomfort or pain whatsoever.


And that, my friends is the very basics. Which type of trainer do you want to be? Well in order to decide that you may have to learn a little more about each type. Although many people know right away which type they would like to use it is perfectly acceptable to consider the types more carefully before making your decision. After all, this is the super stripped-down version of what these training methods mean.


Important Definitions

To recap we have covered:

  1. “Force trainer” = a type of training where the punishments used may include pain, discomfort, fear, intimidation, stress, physical force or manipulation of any kind.
  2. “Non-force trainer” = a type of training where punishers are either never used or do not include pain, discomfort, fear, intimidation, stress, physical force or manipulation of any kind.
  3. These two “types” of training do not refer to the specific “method” of training as all training “methods” are subdivisions within one of the two training types.


As a final note: the word “punishment” does not have to make you squirm in discomfort. To keep things clear “punishment” does not equal “abuse”.


If a child gets an “F” in a class it is a punishment, but it is not “abusive” to the child. If an employee is docked pay for stealing it is a punishment, but it would certainly not be considered cruel. If a child gets a swat on the rear end for breaking a rule… well that is about the point when things go grey for people, or lines are drawn firmly on one side or the other of the word “cruel” or “abuse” (since those words are largely subjective).


This website is not meant to be a platform for me to spout off my personal thoughts; I am here merely to educate with unbiased facts so that you can make a fair decision for yourself. I will give fact-based (not emotion-based) and practical opinions throughout my training method articles, but there will be no soap-box rants that aren’t clearly labeled as such. (Well, it is a blog. There are bound to be some rants sooner or later, right?)


What training methods are cruel or abusive for your dog is up to you to decide, so long as those methods fit into the laws of society (which I’m certain they would without any such reminder).


Go on and read part three!

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