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Head of the Class Dog Training LLC 

Winchester, VA

Give Your Dog a Choice

Choice training is a method of dog training that does

not force your dog to act a certain way, cause him/her

to be fearful or require you physically manipulate your dog. Instead, this type of training gives your dog the confidence to choose a positive behavior in different situations.

To do this, you catch your dog in actions and behaviors that you like, and you reward the behavior with something your dog finds motivating. Here are some basic facts about choice training and why you should choose it for your dog.

  • Encourage problem-solving skills in your dog. Since this type of training encourages your dog to choose from a variety of positive behaviors, your dog learns how to problem solve.
  • Avoid the negative side-effects of traditional training. Physically manipulating a dog, intimidating and correcting can all lead to a dog who is self-doubting and fearful. This method of training rewards your dog with access to something, attention and other positive reinforcers beyond just treats. This yields a more confident and well-behaved dog.
  • Your dog learns to make choices that are best for his or her health. You don’t want your dog to practice some behaviors, like lunging and barking at other dogs while on the leash, but did you know it’s actually better for your dog to stop choosing these behaviors? Behaviors that we want dogs to stop generally have negative consequences on the dog’s health, stress-level and safety.
  • You can reinforce positive actions, and these can become your dog’s default behaviors. By positively reinforcing a set of behaviors you want your dog to exhibit, your dog then develops a list of acceptable, go-to behaviors in all situations. Your dog can then go more confidently into a situation that made him or her nervous or insecure before. You can gradually expose your dog to slightly more stimulating or stressful situations and see which behaviors he or she offers. If the dog chooses a negative behavior, you know it’s time to remove your dog from the situation and bring him or her to a quiet place to learn again.

What does choice training look like?

While this example is not all-encompassing, here are some basic steps to choice train your dog. This is an example of how to train a leash-aggressive dog that lunges at other dogs.

  • Teach the basic actions your dog can use as an alternative to lunging at other dogs like sit, walk on or watch. Know which rewards your dog likes (treats, attention, a toy, etc.).
  • SAFETY is the most important factor. Use a leash attached front clip harness that your dog cannot slip free of, AND a second leash attached to a head halter. Watch your dog’s body language for clues he/she is uncomfortable, like licking the lips or scanning hyper vigilantly. If you see these signs, your dog is not ready to move closer to what makes him/her nervous.
  • Leash your dog and have a friend with another leashed dog in the distance. Tell your dog look, and then reward him or her for not reacting. Say to your dog, “watch me” and reward him or her again for the behavior. Repeat this many times. Turn and walk in the opposite direction a few steps. Your dog can learn that looking at you will let you know he/she can move away from the scary thing. After many repetitions, he/she learns “scary things are not as scary because treats happen, and if I look to my owner, I can trust he/she will help me get out of the scary situation peacefully.”
  • Watch your calm, neutral dog’s body language too. If the other dog is not comfortable being looked at by a nervous dog, then it isn’t fair to use the other dog in this exercise.
  • Have your friend bring a calm dog closer. Now hopefully your dog will choose to either look calmly at you or the other dog without reacting. If the dog starts to react negatively, remove him or her from the situation and go to a calmer place where he or she can learn again. Repeat this exercise until your dog chooses other desirable behaviors that do not include jumping and lunging. This takes patience. It is important to go at the dog’s pace, and only do what he/she can handle at any given time. Trying to rush the process will only set you back.

If you would like us to try this training method with your pup, we’d love to help! We love dogs, and we love seeing them make positive choices. Contact Head of the Class Dog Training today!

-Lisa Marino

Lisa Marino, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, PMCT, has taken her varied teaching experiences and applied them to helping owners understand and train their beloved four-legged family members. She has more than four years’ experience leading group dog training classes at Best Paw Forward in Hartland, WI, and opened Head of the Class Dog Training LLC in Winchester, VA in 2012, where she conducts group classes and private lessons, as well as helps owners to modify their dogs' problem behaviors.

Lisa earned her CPDT-KA in 2012, is a 2015 graduate of the prestigious Karen Pryor Academy and is a Pat Miller Certified Trainer.

She has 4 registered therapy dogs and is a Pet Partner Therapy Team Evaluator and a member of HOPE AACR. As a former middle school teacher, she works well with families and children  and does school presentations on various dog related topics.