Tag Archives: positive reinforcement

Killing Your Dog’s Drive Through Obedience Training

At our dog training facility in Northern Virginia, I always ensure I warn people about killing their dog’s drive through obedience training.

When many people come through our dog obedience training program in Virginia, they are so excited to have their new, listening, well-behaved, and good mannered dog.   With our training sessions, we tell people to practice about 30-40 minutes per day in the week in-between sessions and slowly phase in distractions as the dog and they  (the owner) become better at the concepts.

One mistake that we see people unknowingly make is that they will start killing their dog’s drive by working their dog on obedience while using something the dog is highly motivated by as the distraction.  In my opinion, this is a horrible thing to do.

Let me explain the situation so you can see exactly what I mean.  Let’s say you have a German Shepherd who is highly ball motivated, okay?  So, since you know that the ball is a huge distraction for your German Shepherd (because he LOVES it), you try to make him sit, down, or place as you throw his ball.  Of course, he is going to jump up to go chase it, so doing what you think is right, you correct him back into the sit, down, or place.  This is very bad to do.

Probably within a matter of 10 minutes or less, you will undoubtedly succeed at being able to leave your dog in a command, you throw the ball, and he will not leave that command.  So, you think you have done a great job, right?  You are getting obedience out of him with the presence and excitement of one of his biggest distractions.

However, what this can do is kill your dog’s drive.   At our dog training facility in Northern Virginia, I will NEVER use an object that the dog is highly motivated by (ball, tug, etc) as a distraction.  You will see numerous videos on our YouTube Channel where I throw things over their heads, bang on stuff, run around, etc; however, you will never see me using a ball or tug as the distraction.

By doing this drill, you are simply teaching your dog, “Anytime you go after this toy you love, you will get corrected for it.”  So, what does your dog very quickly learn?  “Stop chasing after that toy.”

So, anytime you are working your dog with distractions, never use something as a distraction that your dog is highly motivated for, this is a great way to start killing their drive for this object.

I will always incorporate that object as a REWARD for the obedience, never a DISTRACTION for the obedience. 

For example, I will put them in a sit, down, place (etc), run around, make some noises, and throw stuff around.   After they hold that position, I will release them (we use the word “break”) and then I will throw that tug or ball as their reward for the good obedience.  Doing this helps BUILD their drive for the object, which is what you want.





How Does Clicker Training Work For Dogs? Why Is Marker Training Better?


clicker training northern virginia


People ask about clicker training everyday at our dog training facility in Northern Virginia. This method is also based solely on positive reinforcement training for dogs. If you are not familiar with clicker training, a clicker is a small mechanical-like device that the owner (handler) holds, and when the thumb presses down on a metal platform it makes an audible “clicking” sound.

The clicker is used in conjunction with something that the dog is highly motivated by: treat, ball, tug, favorite toy, etc.

A clicker and the reward is used in the “learning phase” of a dog’s training program. When you are trying to teach a dog to sit for example, they will try a bunch of stuff (jumping up, laying down, moving around, etc), and when they finally “sit” you mark the behavior with the audible click and then immediately give the dog the desired reward.

So essentially, the clicker helps the dog quickly identify the precise behavior that you are trying to achieve. So, when you say “down” and your dog goes through all the different motions, as soon as he drops down and hears that audible click, he knows, “Whatever I JUST NOW did, that’s what he/she wanted me to do in order to release the reward.”

There are also many shortfalls to clicker and treat training which I discuss here in “What are the best dog training methods?”

Unarguably, the “marker” training definitely helps expedite the dog’s learning process; however, I tell people on a daily basis that the “clicker” in its’ self is kind of a scam and unnecessary. If it works, and it works well, why is it a scam? It is a scam because the inventors of the clicker took an old dog-training secret and turned it into a way to make money. We use what we refer to as “marker training.” A clicker marks the behavior with a distinct click. Marker training marks the behavior with a verbal command. The marker word we use at our dog training facility in Northern Virginia is “Yes” (said excitedly).

Why is marker training better than clicker training? To be honest, clicker training has no advantages whatsoever over a verbal marker. The clicker trainer does have many shortfalls to it, though. Some of the shortfalls to clicker training is that you have to carry this little plastic device everywhere you go in order to mark the behavior, another shortfall is that they are small, so if you lose it, you have to buy another one. The biggest shortfall of the clicker (in my opinion) is that it’s something else you have to hold in your hand while trying to teach the dog something, while also holding a treat in your other hand. It can become very complicated to juggle everything at once. The verbal marker training is free, you can do it anywhere, and you never have to fumble with anything extra.

How does marker training work? It works exactly the same as clicker training. First, let me explain how clicker training works. First you must charge the verbal marker. Start by getting your dog to associate getting a treat every time he hears your verbal marker (we will use the word “yes”). So, in order to teach your dog that the word “yes” means something good, start by saying the dog’s name. When he looks at you, immediately say yes (excitedly) and give a treat. Repeat this drill. The treat should come immediately after the verbal command is given—literally after one second or less. Tell the dog to sit (assuming he knows the sit command). As soon as his bottom hits the floor, say “yes” and immediately give the treat. Remember, use small pieces of treats when doing the training, that way, your dog will not fill up as fast and will be more motivated to perform for a longer period of time. Also, it helps if you do these training sessions before your dog has eaten, increasing motivation for the food reward. If he knows more commands, give those commands, and say “yes” and immediately give another treat each time a command is obeyed. This is what we call “charging the marker.” This gets the dog in the routine of knowing that the word “yes” means something good is immediately going to follow it.

Once you start expanding and go on to teach your dog new tricks that you have learned in books, on television or the Internet, start applying the verbal marker when teaching new tricks. It will vastly decrease the time it takes to learn the new command. If you want to teach your dog to down (lie down), move him into the position and as soon as he is in position, mark with a “yes,” then immediately give a treat. Your dog learns, “Whatever I did right then is exactly what was wanted of me.” That is how it really expedites their learning process.

Marker training is a very fast, easy, effective, and cheap way to train your dog in obedience and you can teach them some pretty neat tricks. When using marker and treat training, be as creative as possible when it comes to thinking of new things to teach the dog. Remember, a bored dog is a destructive dog; this is a great way to keep him entertained. You would be amazed at the number of things they can learn using this training method.

At our dog training facility in Northern Virginia, we only use marker and treat training for our puppy training program; however, with dogs 5+ months we start our obedience training program using the electronic collar.

You can read about the electronic collar in my blogs:
-What are the best dog training methods?

-Will the electronic collar harm my dog?


What Are The Best Dog Training Methods – Northern Virginia

Many people have tried many different tricks and techniques with their dogs and they still wonder, “What is the best dog training method for training my dog?”

There are several training methods that can be used to train your dog. One of the most common and popular methods is reward-based or treat-based training. This training involves finding something that your dog really likes (ball, hot dogs, treats, tug) and using that as an incentive to get the dog to perform the desired command. The marker and treat training we discussed in the previous chapter is based on this method.

The pro to using this system with a dog who already knows the commands is that you have a dog who is very motivated for the reward. Therefore, they are voluntarily complying with your verbal commands in order to obtain the reward. The benefit of using this method to teach a dog a new command is he is very motivated, focused, and eager to please in order to obtain the reward. Often when using a food reward, the dog will be eager to continue training and learning for long periods of time. Look at it as giving a small kid one small piece of candy at a time every time he or she does something good. It is not enough to get full, but it is enough to make them want more. Another major pro to this system is that anyone can do it with no special knowledge or devices needed. Simply watch a video, grab a pack of hot dogs, and you are all set. That is why this is the most common method of training—any amateur can use this method to train a dog.

Anyone who has used this method for training can tell you that despite its numerous benefits, there are also several problems with it, as well. One of the main complaints with reward-based training is reliability. Remember, this system is based on the dog complying because he wants to get the reward. However, there will come a time when your dog does not want the reward or he is distracted by something more interesting than the reward. At that point, you have lost all obedience because your dog is no longer enticed to perform for the reward. As an example, if you are outside, off-leash with your dog and he spots a squirrel, a bird, or another dog, it will be much more interesting than the treat in your hand. When he is faced with a decision to go for the treat or take off after the squirrel, almost always the “prey” object will win. He will take off running to get the better reward and return when he loses interest in the item that initially distracted him.

The other problem with this system is that there is no consequence for disobedience, meaning, when your dog takes off down the road and will not come back, there is not much you can do in order to give him a consequence for bad behavior. Imagine training a child solely based on positive reinforcement; you get a treat if you do well, you don’t get a treat if you misbehave. The child would disobey fairly regularly. Your dog will do the same.

However, reward-based training is fun for you and your dog and it is a cheap, easy, and fast way to start teaching your dog a wide variety of commands with almost no expenses or specialized experience needed. You will be able to teach your dog commands and get decent results with obedience, but you will never have an amazingly obedient dog with this system.

Another popular training method is the prong collar. The prong collar is lined with metal prongs along the interior of the collar. The prong collar is designed to replicate the way the mother would correct her pups in a litter. Or how the alpha-male dog in a pack would correct lower-ranking members of the pack, which is giving a quick nip on the neck. When your dog does not comply with a command, give a quick jerk on the prong collar. Increase intensity of the jerk until your dog complies.

The pro to the prong collar is it is more reliable for obedience than the reward-based system. Using the prong collar, you can still use the reward-based system to motivate the dog, however, now you can use the prong collar to give an instant correction when the dog doesn’t listen with the reward-based system. A scenario would be if you had your dog’s favorite ball and you tell him to sit. If he doesn’t, you give a quick jerk on the prong collar and repeat the command. The prong collar gives him a less than pleasurable feeling and he complies with the command. If he does not comply with the command, increase the intensity of the jerk on the prong collar and repeat the command. This is done until the dog complies. Once he does, give the reward. The dog quickly learns, “If he says sit, I have to do it, so I might as well just do it the first time and get the reward.”

In my opinion, there are a few flaws with using the prong collar. One of the biggest is consistency of the correction given, meaning, is your dog being corrected at the same level of correction each day? If you correct your dog with the prong collar, is your correction (jerking on the prong collar) harder or gentler than when your wife corrects your dog with it? Or, when you corrected your dog when he really started to get under your skin, did you correct him much harder than you did yesterday for doing the exact same thing? When it comes to training, there has to be consistency in order for the dog’s learning to be maximized.

The second major problem with the prong collar is when your dog is off-leash and away from you. If he is 100 yards away and you call him to come and he doesn’t, what do you do? Now, you are back to the same problem you had with the reward-based training—off-leash reliability. Even with the prong collar, neither an instant correction nor a consequence can be given once he is out of your reach.

Overall, prong-collar training is safe, cheap, effective, and very humane when done properly. It is much more effective and reliable than reward-based training, however, it still has a couple of shortfalls.

My preferred method for training dogs is the electronic collar (e-collar). The e-collar comes with a remote control that the owner carries. It is based on almost the same premise as that of the prong collar. It gives a subtle stimulation to the dog’s neck area that can be increased in intensity until the dog complies with the command. Modern e-collars are very safe, reliable, and effective when used properly. In fact, almost all police, military, and personal protection dogs are now trained using the e-collar. When using the e-collar, we also use reward-based training for the dog, generally in the form of a toy or praise.

The e-collar has numerous levels of stimulation so its use can be tailored to a specific dogs’ temperament and the level of distraction encountered. When the e-collar is used properly, the dog does not view it as a punishment, but views it as a training tool, much like a leash. More important, they actually grow to love it because they associate the e-collar with going outside, off-leash, and having fun. Where other training systems fall short, the e-collar picks up. The range of e-collars vary from 400 yards to two miles. With this system, if your dog is off-leash and you call him to come and he does not, you still can give an instant correction that increases in intensity until he complies with the command.

The e-collar is safe, very effective, and humane when properly used. The shortfalls of the e-collar is that they are much more costly than the other training methods; an average e-collar costs around $200. It is highly recommended that you seek a professional trainer before utilizing this training device. The e-collar can make a disobedient dog perform with amazing precision in a very short time, however, in untrained hands it can completely ruin a dog.

Overall, when choosing a training method for your dog, decide what is most important to you—cost, functionality, or reliability. Whatever method you choose, keep in mind that practice, patience, and consistency are important to achieve great results using any method.


How Do I Train My New Puppy – Northern Virginia


Bringing home a new puppy is like Christmas every morning, until you realize that you need to house train your puppy. You know, those mornings when you wake up to a mess in your floor. Many people wonder, “How do I train my new puppy?” House training a new puppy can be emotionally and physically exhausting. Between getting up at night to take them potty, to learning proper ways to teach them how to potty outside, and not in the house, it can become overwhelming for new owners. At our puppy training classes in Northern Virginia, we do a puppy consultation to help get you and your dogs on the right path.  Here are some helpful hints to ease the transition from new puppy to house trained pet.
Hint #1: Practice Makes Perfect: Like little kids, potty training a puppy is all about perseverance. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. Taking your puppy out once an hour, and more often they smaller they are, will give your puppy a chance to relieve themselves outside. It will also teach them, with continued success, that going potty outside is preferred. 
Hint #2: Be Prepared: Have a crate readily available when you bring home your new puppy.  A crate is imperative in the house breaking process.  Your dog should be in the crate unless he/she is being “directly” supervised.  A new puppy should spend a good portion of their life in the crate.  So, ensure during the phase of house training your puppy, if you do not have DIRECT supervision, they should be crated. As I say all of the time, “A crib is just a crate for a baby.”
Hint #3: Get Help: Like most humans, we all think we need to be the doers of everything. We don’t want to appear weak, needy or incapable; so instead of asking for help when we need it, we overload ourselves. If you’re schedule is packed, and you don’t have time; or if this is your first puppy, get some professional help. Find a puppy trainer in Northern Virginia to give you some advice on how to get your puppy trained and house ready. You may find you even want to give your pup a few obedience lessons as well just for good measure. 
Hint #4: If He Goes, You Go: Puppies usually aren’t the only ones who need a little training. Especially if you’ve never had a pup before, it will inevitably do you some good to learn a lesson or two. Your best option, and your first one, should be to find a qualified dog trainer in Virginia, who can coach you and your new pup on how to interact with each other. While your puppy is learning everything he needs to know to be a great pet, you’ll be learning the tools you need to be a great master and companion.

Hint #5: Cut Off Water Early:

If you are average person that goes to bed around 10:00pm or so, you should cut off your puppies’ food and water around 6:00pm-7:00pm.  This ensures that almost all of the food and water has passed through his/her system before bed.  This way you don’t find yourself waking up as much in the middle of the night.

Hint #6: Start Confidence Building Drills and Socialization:

If you look throughout the blog, you will see our articles on confidence building drills such as How To Get Your Dog Over A Fear Of Noises, Object Desensitization, and Socialization and why they are imperative with a young pup.


Whether this is your first attempt at training a puppy, or you’re an old pro, it never hurts to have some help along the way. Whether that’s an extra pair of hands to clean up, a pair of legs to run your pup outside or a trainer to help you both out, you’ll both be better off in the end. To find a qualified professional in your area, try an internet search for K9 Trainers in Virginia, or go to www.offleashk9training.com

Nick White