Smiling retriever puppy

Training should make everyone smile.

Positive reinforcement, balanced, or corrections-based. When it comes to dog training be sure to find a trainer and methodology with which you’re comfortable. At Mountainside Mutts we adopt a “Least Intrusive Minimally Aversive” approach to dog training. We will recommend the easiest tools first for resolving training issues which typically involve environmental management, and we use positive reinforcement to teach more desirable behaviors. We believe in using methods that are supported by science rather than which rely on force or intimidation. We believe in properly training your puppy so bad habits don’t develop in the first place. We believe in setting boundaries.

Why does teaching style matter? Because the wrong methods (or the right methods used badly) can have a lasting impact on your dog’s behavior. And because anyone can call themselves a trainer. No certification is required and in many instances insurance isn’t carried. Buyer beware.

Science-based training basically comes down to 2 concepts:

1) All animals will repeat behaviors that work for them – reinforcement

2) All animals will avoid behaviors that don’t work for them – punishment

If behaviors are being repeated, then the animal is getting something out of it – reinforcement. When you see a behavior diminish on the other hand – it has been punished. Most people are unaware of the reinforcement or punishment that may be taking place. Dogs that bark at people/animals/cars out of the window keep repeating the behavior because it is reinforcing for them. Your dog doesn’t come when you call him because something he doesn’t want happens (maybe the end of a walk, bath time, getting reprimanded). Many behaviors can be modified fairly simply when you are aware of the role of reinforcement and punishment.

Smiling mix breed

Squinty eyes, and relaxed ears and mouth are signs of a comfortable dog.

Reinforcement doesn’t have to be food, it can be anything that the subject enjoys. Equally, punishment doesn’t necessarily have to mean physical corrections. (Sadly there are trainers out there who inflict actual physical injury on an animal in the name of training. It isn’t training – this is abuse.) Punishment can simply be something that the animal doesn’t find reinforcing/not worth repeating. It can also mean the withdrawal of things the learner wants. 

It is the dog/the animal that you’re teaching who determines whether something is reinforcing or not. The same goes for punishment. Some dogs will find affection hugely reinforcing and will do anything for your attention and/or a belly rub. Others may find the action of someone petting them or reaching over their head as aversive. For many dogs withdrawal of your attention is punishing. For others, it can be a relief. Some dogs can handle stern tones or shouts. Others will shrink from the slightest raised voice.

At Mountainside Mutts, training plans are developed in accordance with LIMA and are science-based.  We typically use food when teaching new behaviors

No prong, choke, or shock collars.

You don’t need these devices to teach your dog manners or to change unwanted behaviors.

and changing unwanted ones as for most animals eating is a pleasurable experience, one that has to be done anyway, and is something that is much easier to incorporate than say a game of fetch between training repetitions. We are not “purely positive” in the sense that we can and do reduce unwanted behaviors (the definition of punishment) but do so without resorting to products that are designed to hurt animals such as prong collars, choke collars and shock collars. There are indeed consequences for undesired behaviors but this typically involves withdrawal of the reinforcement or depriving the dog of something he was anticipating/expecting/seeking.

More often than not, the reason a dog is doing something we don’t like is that he was simply never trained/taught how to behave in the first place. This includes not being properly socialized before 16 weeks of age. If we haven’t taken the time to teach the dog (a completely different species from humans) what is expected of him, it is in our view, unfair to punish him for something he has simply never known or understood. A dog is a dog and will do doggie things unless we teach him to do something else.

For dogs that have had training and can respond to basic cues/commands, but who display undesirable behaviors, our approach will always be to limit the opportunities the dog has to repeat those behaviors in the first place and at the same time use their existing training knowledge to start teaching the dog what we would like him to do instead. Behaviors that are being repeated are by definition, being reinforced. The more a behavior is repeated, the more hard-wired that behavior becomes and the more difficult it is to change.

Dog and Man nuzzling

Our training methods are designed to help you love being with your dog again.

One of the things that we love most about dogs is that they are social animals. But this does not mean they have to love everyone and everything. It is ok for dogs to have opinions. Some dogs have been bred specifically for this purpose. For dogs that are acting out of fear or apprehension, it is in our view unconscionable to punish them for that emotion. Instead, we have to help them change their mind and let them understand that they don’t need to be afraid.  Please consider this analogy. What if every time you were afraid or apprehensive your best friend/spouse/colleague hit you over the head and said, “Don’t be so pathetic. Get over it.” This is not the stuff of supportive healthy relationships. When a trainer recommends the use of aversive tools to “correct” behaviors that a dog is displaying out of fear, what typically happens is the animal simply stops doing the behavior in the presence of that person because they want to avoid the punishment. The underlying emotion has not changed. The dog is still fearful but now wants to avoid the punisher too. We all know that it is not healthy to bottle up our feelings. You need to change the underlying emotion not just the undesired behavior. Not doing so can lead to a dog that lives in a state of chronic stress.

At Mountainside Mutts, we believe in taking the time to train your new dog properly so it doesn’t develop unwanted habits. We believe the majority of unwanted habits in pet dogs can be addressed through positive training methods – teaching the dog what we want it to do. We believe in changing emotions through desensitization and counterconditioning rather than through forceful tools. We are backed by science. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has published a position statement in support of positive reinforcement training methods and avoiding aversive tools even when trying to change unwanted behaviors.

We understand how uncomfortable it can feel to be judged by others when we hold a different opinion.  Knowledge though is power. We strive to do the very best for our dogs every single day and our mission is to help our training students do the same. We will always endeavor to provide dog owners with the most relevant and up-to-date information to help them understand their dog’s behavior so they are empowered to determine the best training approach for their dog. If we are not the trainer for you, we will do our best to refer you to a trainer who will help you reach your goals in the most humane way possible.