Before I get too involved in this post, let me just start by saying that there is a big difference in my mind between training dogs for competition obedience, and doing what I term “Real world dog training.” Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of similarities as well, the most important being that both are grounded in the use of learning theory and classical and operant conditioning. However, understanding the differences can be very important especially for the individual who is filtering through the masses of conflicting information about training methods out there, and trying to determine what is best for their dog.
In my view, one of the most important distinctions in this matter is the Type of dogs used for the competition style training. When I say type, I am not referring to breed, but rather to individual traits that can vary across breeds. Most importantly, the overall motivation level, or drive, of the dog. Since most modern competition style training is founded primarily on the use of positive reinforcement, the drive of the dog is an extremely important factor.
How much overall motivation your dog may have is in large part (not entirely) determined by genetics, and it matters because the more the dog wants what you have, the harder he will work to achieve it. In other words, the higher the dog’s motivation or drive state, the more you can do with positive reinforcement alone. The average pet dog can vary widely on this singular trait, and where your dog falls on this spectrum will in a large part determine how successful you may be in a positive only training program. This does not make the dog “better” or “worse”, it just means that we need to balance our training accordingly with the use of positives and negatives to achieve the optimum result (my philosophy on balance in dog training is a separate topic).
The flip side of all this is that although the more motivated dogs can often be easier to teach, they also are often the more difficult dogs to live with. They tend to be more active, more curious (which often leads them into trouble), and more in need of physical and mental stimulation.
O.k. you may be wondering where I’m going with all this. So, with all that being said, This Link is of a video of one of my favorite dog trainers, Michael Ellis, and his competition dog Pi. Pi currently holds a Modio Ring III title (very tough competition), and Michael plans on competing with him at the national and international level. Pi is a very high drive dog, and Michaels use of positive reinforcement training is about as good as it gets. This video is an awesome example of how, if you have a highly motivated dog, you can combine playing an training to create a beautiful and almost artistic activity. This is the Craft of dog training
Thank you to Ed Frawley of Leerburg.com for producing this video making Michael Ellis’ expertise available to a wider audience.