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Dog Training: Positive Reinforcement vs. Alpha Dog Methods

How these two popular dog training styles differ.
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To Knee or Not to Knee?

Sylvia-Stasiewicz, who wrote The Love That Dog Training Method, says a client’s Australian shepherd wouldn’t stop jumping, despite reprimands. A trainer who used a more traditional, alpha dog technique taught the client to knee the dog in the chest each time it jumped.

Rather than punish the dog for doing something bad, Sylvia-Stasiewicz had the client greet the dog only when it was sitting. If the dog jumped, the client ignored it or turned his back. But when the dog sat, he got his favorite treat of a stuffed Kong or praise as a reward for not jumping. After five weeks of class time plus practice, the dog stopped jumping.

Sylvia-Stasiewicz admits results can come slower with purely positive reinforcement, but says the method has even saved so-called “death row dogs” who some thought impossible to rehabilitate.

Alpha Dog Approach

Trainers who use this approach might use choke chains, prong collars, electronic or “e-collars.” Other tools might include a hand squeeze that mimics a quick bite, alpha rolls (pinning the dog to the ground) as well as “flooding” or subjecting the dog to something it doesn’t like in large doses.

Some trainers label their use of this method as “blended” or “balanced” because it can include positive reinforcement, such as well-timed praise and even treats.

Bob Maida of Yonkers, N.Y., who trained Ronald Reagan’s dogs, supports Millan’s training philosophy and says he doesn’t believe in one-size-fits-all or “cookie-cutter” training.

“I hate using the term (alpha dog) because it’s a buzzword that prompts the ‘positive crowd’ to near criminalize people that correct dogs,” Maida says. “You need balance. It’s like cooking – if you put too much salt in the dish, it’s not going to taste good.”

Maida has trained family pets and dogs for film, personal protection, and classified projects. He says clients typically seek him out when they are dealing with aggression toward people or other dogs, house-training issues, as well as unruly behavior such as leash pulling, stealing food during meals, knocking over kids and visitors, and making “kitty’s life a living hell.”

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