Dog Training: It’s Not Just Semantics

Sep 21, 2015 | Training


You do not need to yell “commands” at your dog to train him. Graphic © Can Stock Photo

Stop press!  Have you heard? You don’t need to be a military commander to train a dog! You don’t need to yell or shout.  You don’t need to use threats or physical punishment. You don’t need to know a single command.  You don’t need to be the dog’s “master” or “pack leader”.  The dog does not need to be “calm submissive” and you definitely don’t need to dominate him!

So, how can you train a dog without using any commands? It’s actually really simple. You teach the dog what you would like them to do and you use cues instead of commands! Now I know that some of you are going to say that cue is another word for command and that it’s all just semantics but I beg to differ. Here is a short list of some synonyms for the word command: Duty, law, mandate, order, rule, demand, dictate, ultimatum. Here is a short list of some synonyms for the word cue: Hint, suggestion, catchword, idea, indication, inkling, prompt. ( It’s not very difficult to see that there is quite a big difference in the meaning of these two words. Do you want a pet that fearfully obeys you or do you want a pet who happily does as you request?

I also prefer to teach a dog tricks rather than obedience behaviors. Many of you might argue that you don’t want to teach your dog tricks you just want them to be able to sit, lie down, stay, come and other such useful behaviors. “You probably don’t realize it but you have already taught your dog to do lots of tricks… The words behavior and trick are often interchangeable… Trick dog titles often include many of the basic behaviors we all teach our dogs.”

Teaching tricks is a fantastic way of “training” dogs and helping them to learn and master all the skills they need to have a wonderful relationship with their human guardian:  A relationship that is built on trust, not one that is built on fear.

Jambo Salutes

Jambo salutes you for using rewards and not force

What about the use of threats or physical punishment?  First of all let’s take a closer look at some of the aversive techniques that have been used and unfortunately, sometimes still are used, in the name of training. You only have to watch certain television programs or walk down your local street to see examples of people poking and prodding dogs; jerking leashes; jabbing prong collars into dogs’ necks; kicking dogs (although they would probably argue it is just a “tap”); squirting dogs in the face with water or spraying them with citronella from collars on their necks; rolling dogs on to their backs; jabbing them with their hands to “mimic a bite”; hauling them up in the air so they are literally being hanged by the leash and strangled by their collar; grabbing their jowls and shaking them; shocking dogs with remote control collars or through the use of “invisible fences”.  All of these “techniques” are used in the name of “training”.  Shouldn’t training be all about teaching our dogs and showing them what we would like them to do rather than simply punishing them every time they get something wrong?

If a “trainer” tells you that you need to use any of the previously stated tools or techniques, please stand up for your dog and say “no”!   This is not someone who knows about the science of learning. This is not someone who has continued his/her education in order to keep up-to-date with modern, science-based, rewards based, force-free training. This is not someone who is going to treat your dog with the respect they deserve. This is not semantics. This is not a “trainer”. This is a person who is seriously lacking in both knowledge and skill. I do not care how well-known this person is. I do not care if this so called “trainer” has been recommended by all your friends. I do not care if they have written books. I do not care if they have their own television show! A skilful trainer can teach a dog everything they need to know without subjecting them to force, fear, pain or intimidation!

I am not saying that all of these people are intentionally trying to abuse your dog but, unfortunately, their lack of knowledge or sometimes their inability to let go of a meme that has become so ingrained they now believe it to be true, means they often passionately believe that they are doing the right thing and are deaf to all calls for change.  Some of these people are simply out to make to money. Others are only interested in increasing their celebrity status.  There are many who do really want to help dogs but sadly do not realize the damage they are doing. They do not recognize that the very methods they are using can both physically and mentally harm a dog.

There is no need to be a dog’s “master” or “pack leader” and a dog does not need to be “calm submissive”.   You definitely don’t need to dominate a dog! In fact, “training” your dog in this way will not only damage the relationship you share with your pet, it can lead to increased fear and even aggressive behaviors. The idea that people need to be the “alpha” is one based on a misunderstanding of how dogs learn and how they interact with their environment and those around them. “Pack theory” is based on flawed research regarding wolf pack hierarchies. First of all dogs are not wolves. Comparing dogs to wolves is the same as comparing humans to apes! Do we base our teaching of children on the way in which apes teach their offspring? Even if we thought this was the right route to take, the original research into wolf packs was based on studies on wolves that were living in captive environments.

David Mech is a senior scientist with the Biological Resources Division, U.S. Geological Survey and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, and Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota. He has studied wolves and their prey since 1958. Mech was partly responsible for the concept of the alpha wolf and has continuously tried to explain that the original research was flawed, as wolves in captivity do not interact in the same way as wolves in the wild. He says: “The concept of the alpha wolf is well ingrained in the popular wolf literature at least partly because of my book “The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species,” written in 1968, published in 1970, republished in paperback in 1981, and currently still in print, despite my numerous pleas to the publisher to stop publishing it. Although most of the book’s info is still accurate, much is outdated. We have learned more about wolves in the last 40 years then in all of previous history. One of the outdated pieces of information is the concept of the alpha wolf. “Alpha” implies competing with others and becoming top dog by winning a contest or battle. However, most wolves who lead packs achieved their position simply by mating and producing pups, which then became their pack. In other words they are merely breeders, or parents, and that’s all we call them today, the “breeding male,” “breeding female,” or “male parent,” “female parent,” or the “adult male” or “adult female.” (

When choosing a pet to add to our families most of us are looking for a friend and a companion. If you are a pet owner in search of a good trainer, I find a useful question to ask is: “ Would I like to be taught in this way?” If the answer is no, then please do not subject your pet to it!

The Pet Professional Guild offers a trainer directory search:

Pet Professional Guild members understand force-free to mean: No shock, no pain, no choke, no fear, no physical force, no physical molding, no compulsion based methods are employed to train or care for a pet.

The Pet Professional Guild is a membership organization representing pet industry professionals who are committed to results based, science based force-free training and pet care.  Join PPG today and help us educate and engage more pet professionals and pet owners. Become a steward of the science based, result based force-free message, philosophy and training practices.

If you philosophically align yourself with PPG but need help learning the tools of the trade then join us as a provisional member and enjoy the benefits of our educational resources. 

The Pet Professional Guild also offers a free membership for Pet Owners:

The Pet Professional Accreditation Board offers the only psychometrically developed certification for professionals who believe there is no place for shock, choke, prong, fear or intimidation in canine training and behavior practices.  All applicants are rigorously tested for their skills and knowledge in the fields of learning and behavior; biology and anatomy; ethology, canine communication and observational skills; canine health, development and life stages; business and consulting skills and best practices and, finally, scientific and practical method. 

To learn more about force-free training, dog behavior and emotions, join us at the Pet Professional Guild’s inaugural educational Summit in Tampa, FL on Nov 11-13, 2015.