Modern Day Dog Training

Tacoma's Force-Free Dog Training

Modern Day Dog Training, LLC in Tacoma, WA is an all breed positive reinforcement dog training service. Offering in-home training, the trainer comes to you!

Debunking Dominance Theory by Karen Pryor

Explain it all away

Throughout the pet business right now, "dominance theory" is a popular explanation for absolutely anything that happens, from a puppy tugging on your trouser leg to birds flying up instead of down. Conquering "dominance" has become justification for absolutely any punishment people can think up, from shocking dogs to stuffing parrots into the toilet. (Yes, seriously.) And the awful thing is that otherwise sensible people believe this nonsense. Apparently the idea that some animal is trying to "dominate" YOU really resonates. Yikes—gotta stop that, right?

You may be pleased to learn that some British scientists have blown a hole in the whole dog dominance business. Researchers in companion animal behavior in the University of Bristol veterinary department studied a group of dogs at a re-homing center, and also reanalyzed existing studies on feral dogs. Their conclusion: individual relationships between dogs are learned through experience rather than motivated by a desire to assert "dominance."

According to these specialists in companion animal behavior, training approaches aimed at "dominance reduction" vary from worthless to downright dangerous. Making dogs go through doors or eat their dinners after you, not before, will not shape the dogs' overall view of the relationship, but will only teach them what to expect in those situations.

In other words, that stuff is silly, but harmless.

"Much worse, techniques such as pinning the dog to the floor, grabbing the jowls, or blasting hooters [noise makers] at dogs, will make dogs anxious, often about their owner, and potentially lead to an escalation of aggression."


Veterinarians and shelters are seeing the results of this misapplied dominance. As one veterinary behaviorist put it to me at a recent scientific meeting, "A puppy has to submit to whatever the owner does; it has no choice. Then around the age of two comes just one Alpha roll too many, and the dog defends itself at last and tries to take the owner's face off." So now the dog is in the shelter. And these dogs are fearful, unpredictable, and very hard to rehabilitate.

Teaching people the power of clicker training is the benign and much more effective alternative. I'm so glad you all are out there, showing people through your own example and your happy, cooperative, attentive clicker dogs that there is a better way.

Happy clicking,

Karen Pryor

The Problem with Shock Collars


By Angelica Steinker, M.Ed., PDBC, CDBC, NADOI Endorsed, CAP2

It isn’t that shock collar training doesn’t work, because it does. The question is at what price? Some extremely skilled trainers may be able to offset some of the problems shock collars can cause. However, shock collars are for sale at almost every pet store making them readily accessible to the general public. A shock collar can potentially lead to very serious problems if not managed by a skilled trainer. There are a multitude of other powerful training options including obedience, behavior management, and positive reinforcement.


The first potential problem is that the unit itself may malfunction. Malfunctioning shock collars can cause electrical burns, creating holes in the affected dog’s neck and causing serious physical and emotional damage. To prevent this from happening never leave a shock collar on an unsupervised dog. This presents a problem for owners who use in ground shock fencing which makes use of a boundary that shocks the dog if they cross it. By design this particular type of shock collar is left on an unsupervised dog.

Logistical issues

Any clicker trainer can tell you timing and reward delivery are mechanical skills. When you are a clicker trainer if you click late or fumble to get your treat you haven’t done any harm. Learning may be delayed or the behavior may not be quite what you wanted but you have not hurt the dog. For effective shock collar training superb timing is needed, a skill that even very few professional trainers possess. Another logistical issue is to be effective the collar must be on the dog, this means the dog will become "collar wise" i.e. they will learn when the collar is on and when it is not. Many dogs would rather run through the fencing and endure a shock than avoid reaching other dogs or people. For these dogs the underground shock fences are ineffective and for the unprotected people, children and dogs the situation is potentially dangerous. In addition users of underground shock fencing can forget to replace batteries making the shock fencing ineffective.


Shock collars can too easily lead to abuse. Many people don’t want to hurt their dogs. Thus they set the shock at a low setting which is typically ineffective for stopping the undesired behavior. They then raise the setting and again this is ineffective. So the setting is raised yet again. Since the dog is exposed to the pain gradually, the surprise effect is lost and the shock may not be effective at all.

As trainers we must understand that some people feel powerful when punishing a dog. When a person of this type is given a shock collar it can lead to a vicious cycle of abuse. Many professional trainers have seen dogs "housetrained" with shock collars. In one particular case a terrier had learned to avoid urinating in front of humans, not a useful concept when you want to housetrain a dog. The professional trainer who rehabilitated this dog had to work months to undo the damage that had been done to this small terrier. Without the use of a shock collar she housetrained her and placed the dog in a loving home where the owners adore her and are committed to training without pain.

Side Effects

The primary reason shock collars are effective in stopping behavior is because they hurt. The problem is that when you train with pain you have unwanted side effects. These side effects are called fallout. Murray Sidman, a famous behavior analyst, wrote an entire academic text on the topic which those looking for a thorough exploration can read (Coercions and its fallout). Fallout is when we use shock that will be associated with both the trainer and the training process causing stress for the animal. That stress can then be associated with the behaviors we are training, with the equipment we are using, the training field and of course with the trainer.

Slow work and Frantic work

Dogs who are shocked during training are stressed. In a scientific study dogs who were trained with shock displayed stress signals when they were approaching the training area. This behavior is the opposite of what we want as dog sport enthusiasts. Dogs that are trained with shock will frequently work slowly and deliberately. They are over thinking and being very careful to avoid being shocked. If the punishment of the collar outweighs the joy of the sport, they won’t love their work and won’t do it with speed and happiness. Of course highly skilled shock collar trainers can force a dog to work quickly. It’s simple. If the dogs work slowly they are shocked if they work fast they avoid the shock. In behavioral science this is called negative reinforcement. The dog’s behavior makes a bad thing go away, so the behavior increases. It does work, but it does not make the happy attitude that training with positive reinforcement does.


The bottom-line is that shock can cause stress. In a well known experiment Stanley Milgram showed that shocking another being is very stressful for most humans. Professional trainers should be familiar with Milgram’s obedience to authority studies. Authority carries with it power, and that power is something that should not be exploited. The reality is that if you have credibility people will comply with even abusive training instructions.

A dog who is shocked for several different behaviors may go into a state of shut down, or a global suppression of behavior. Owners may mistakenly assume the dog is now "trained" because the dog is suddenly very quiet and not doing anything. In reality this dog is afraid to do anything. The ultimate step of the global suppression of behavior is learned helplessness. This occurs when the dog fails to do anything, curls into a ball, and gives up. Many who work with rescue dogs have seen the traumatic and long lasting effects of learned helplessness.


A dog that is being hurt may become aggressive. If a dog has a history of aggression the use of a shock collar is particularly dangerous. Aggressive behavior should NOT be punished (suppressed). When you punish a dog for aggression and you don’t teach a substitute behavior you simply hide the problem. You then open yourself up to a much bigger problem where without warning the dog may become aggressive. You may have punished the barking, lunging and growling, so the dog may go straight to biting which is VERY dangerous.

Shock yourself

Shock collar users often attempt to argue that the shock doesn’t hurt. For this specific reason I bought a shock collar and used it to shock myself. It does hurt. It is common for underground fencing companies to put the shock collar on the lowest setting to show the owner the shock sensation. Do not be fooled, a shock collar works if it hurts.


Many shock collar supporters use euphemisms for shock collars to soften their image. They call them e-collars, training collars, e-touch, stimulation, tingle, etc. They do this to avoid the fact that shock collars shock.

Ideal training

The ideal training methods prevent unwanted behaviors before they ever occur. Trainers read their dogs’ subtle body language signals to avoid stress which may lead to aggression or fear. Ideally a trainer never sees the unwanted behaviors in the first place. They play with their dogs instead of forcing behaviors, thus deepening their bond with their dogs. They act instead of react and their dogs love them for it. Most widely recognized associations in the world forbid the use of shock collars. A well informed trainer should not need to use shock. Sports, tricks, and training are supposed to be enjoyable and reinforcing for canines and humans on their own merit without the use of force. Let’s make training and competition fun, and shock free.

Recommended reading:


Pat Miller, Whole Dog Journal, February 2006 Shock or Awe

Pat Miller, Simply Shocking is WDJ 2/03


Coercion and Its Fallout, Murray Sidman

Canine Aggression Workbook, James O’Heare

Control Unleashed, Leslie McDevitt

Scientific Articles

Polsky R. "Can Aggression in Dogs Be Elicited Through the Use of Electronic Pet Containment Systems?" Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 3(4): 345–357, January 2000. An abstract is available free online at The full article is also available for purchase.

Hiby, E.F.; Rooney, N.J.; Bradshaw, J.W.S. "Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare." Animal Welfare, Volume 13, Number 1, pp. 63-69(7) February 2004.

Schalke E, Stichnoth J, Ott S and Jones-Baade R. "Clinical signs caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs in everyday life situations." Applied Animal Behavior Science, 105(4): 369–380, July 2007.

Balance Harness

Beings I do not support the use of choke, prong, and shock collars- it's important to know what IS safe to use as a training aid for your dog. There are a few different types of walking aids when training your dog to walk on a loose leash, I have found the BEST harness to be the Balance Harness.

The Balance Harness is different because it will fit ALL breeds comfortably. I have a Pit Bull type dog who has a broad chest, every harness I purchased for him didn't fit him properly causing irritation in the arm pit areas. I purchased a Balance Harness for my dog, Quincy and it fit him exactly as I needed it to. Quincy is a puller, I've been training him to walk properly on a leash while using the Balance Harness and I've seen such an improvement. Every strap on the Balance Harness is adjustable and doesn't dig into the dogs body. It's a comfortable fit to say the least. I like this harness because it has a clip on the back and on the chest straps of the harness making it have two points of contact when walking your dog, with a double clipped leash you can attach the leash to both points of contact on the harness. Also, this harness is designed to not rest on the dogs neck, this feature prevents injuries in the throat area and overall discomfort to your dog. If you have a dog that pulls, I highly suggest you look into purchasing this harness. The Balance Harness is a Seattle product designed by Lori Stevens and Dolan's Dog Doodads, LLC.

I've attached a link that will direct you to the Balance Harness website where you can learn more about this product as well as purchase a harness. 


1. What dog training equipment do you use when

training a dog or do you recommend I use?

A force-free professional trainer will recommend using

equipment that has been designed with a dog's safety in mind.

While collars are great for holding ID tags, they can do damage

to a dog's neck and throat if the dog is walking with pressure

on the leash (i.e. pulling). We recommend using a properly

fitted front- or back-clipping harness to lessen the chances of

damage to the dog's neck and to keep him comfortable as he

learns to walk on a leash nicely without pulling. We also

suggest a 6'-8' flat leash rather than a retractable leash. These

give the handler much more control and help avoid injury. If a

dog is prone to slipping out of a harness then we suggest

double-clipping the leash to a martingale collar as well as to the

harness. This is an additional security measure.

A force-free training professional will never recommend the use of

equipment that is designed to cause pain or discomfort or restrict a

dog’s breathing. This includes pinch/prong collars, choke/check

chains, spray collars and electric/shock collars. These collars are

unsafe for the dog wearing them. Both the collars and the pain they

elicit may become associated with people and places in the dogs

environment, a pairing that can cause a potentially dangerous


2. What happens in your training program when the

dog responds in the way you want him to?

Fabulous things happen to the dog when he gets it right. Fun,

toys, food… Whatever the dog wants suddenly appears. A

force-free trainer will say the dog gets “positively reinforced”

when he does the right thing. This means the dog “gets paid”

and receives something he deems of high value. Positive

reinforcement should be delivered by and paired with a happy,

stress-free trainer or pet owner.

3. What happens in your training program when the

dog responds in the way you do not want him to?

We believe that "bad" behavior should be ignored or

redirected. If we teach our dog alternative behaviors then we

can ask him to perform one of those instead of what we

perceive to be inappropriate behavior. This helps the dog learn

what to do and makes us feel better about our dogs. For

example, when our dog jumps up on us we can either get

angry with him or we can ask him to sit (which we will have

previously taught him) and then reward him with our attention

or a treat. It will not take long for the dog to realize that it is

better to sit than to jump. This puts the onus back on us to

teach our dogs the things we DO want them to do so that we

can feel good about the dog and his behavior, rather than just

get angry because he is not doing the right thing.

4. How will you punish the dog or advise me to

punish the dog if he gets something wrong or

exhibits a behavior I do not like?

Very simply, we ensure we are teaching the dog ageappropriate

skills and always make sure we are not expecting

too much too soon. We constantly ensure we are motivating

the dog correctly. If the dog has been trained and the skill is

appropriate for his age but he still gets it wrong, we will break the behavior down into smaller pieces to help the dog understand better what we are asking it to do. We do not punish the dog, we ignore the behavior that we do not like and this tells the dog to try again.

5. How do you ensure that my dog is not

inadvertently being punished?

In a force-free training environment it would be reflected in

the dog’s demeanor and performance if he were being

inadvertently punished. A professional force-free trainer is

well-versed in canine communication and will immediately be

aware of any signs that a dog is uncomfortable. A professional

trainer will regroup and reassess what they are doing to create

the most empowering learning environment.

“If you think it’s expensive

to hire a professional to do

the job, wait until you hire

an amateur” Red Adair

6. How do you know that the type of reinforcement

you have selected to train my dog is appropriate?

A force-free professional trainer will help you determine what

is the most suitable reinforcement for your dog based on

what he likes, what best motivates him and how the

reinforcement can best be delivered within a training


Your professional force-free trainer will educate you on the

different types of reinforcement and when to use them.

7. How will you know or how will I know if my dog is

stressed during the training?

A professional force-free dog trainer will do everything he/she

can to ensure your dog is not stressed during training

sessions. Professional trainers are educated and experienced

in interpreting canine communication. Dogs who are whining,

growling, snarling or snapping are obviously stressed but

there are also more subtle signs of stress that we also need to

be on the lookout for. To do this, we watch for signs via the

dog’s body language.

Some of these signs of stress may be:

1. Whale eye – the whites of the eyes look like crescent


2. Eyes – wide open and round rather than soft and almond

shaped. Pupils may be dilated.

3. Furrowed brow.

4. Mouth is closed and the corners of the mouth

(commissures) are either pulled forward into an offensive

pucker or pulled back and down.

5. Panting when the temperature does not warrant it.

Additionally, sweaty paw prints may be seen.

6. Ears set flat back against the head or very far forward.

7. Legs are stiff, possibly rolling forward up on toes.

8. Tail may be held high or low (possibly tucked). The wag is

short and stiff and does not involve the entire rear end.

9. Neck may be extended to raise the head up high (ostrich


10. Head turns away from trainer or training object.

11. Body shaking.

12. Paw lifts.

13. Lip licking or tongue flicks.

14. Sniffing the ground randomly (not on a scent trail).

15. Running away and refusing to come when called.

8. Which professional dog training associations are you

a member of?

Your professional force-free dog trainer should maintain

memberships only with select organizations that advocate

humane, ethical training methods that are minimally aversive

to animals. They should not or will not participate in any

organization that promotes or endorses methods or training

styles that use punishment, force, fear or intimidation.

9. Will you guarantee your training results?

A professional force-free dog trainer will not guarantee their

training results. There are too many variables involved and a

professional dog trainer cannot control these. Instead, your

professional dog trainer will work in tandem with you to

effect the most appropriate behavior change in line with your

goals. The results will be dependent on many things, including

your level of commitment and compliance to the

recommended program.

10. How do you think a dog’s behavior should be

addressed if the dog is growling or snapping at

people or other dogs?

An experienced force-free dog trainer will assess whether

your dog is just overly aroused or has a genuine fear or

aggression issue as the two can look similar. If your dog is

anxious or fearful, exhibiting avoidance or acting out in an

aggressive manner, then a program of desensitization and

counter-conditioning (respondent learning) can be used. This

type of program aims to change the dog’s emotional response

to stimuli that previously upset him, thus reducing the

probability of him feeling the need to resort to those

behaviors in the future.

Using positive reinforcement (also known as operant

learning), your dog will also be taught behaviors he can have

recourse to in place of the unwanted behaviors. Depending on

your dog's individual circumstances, your trainer may ask you

to take certain safety measures or consult with a veterinarian

to rule out or address any relevant medical issues.

The Pet Professional Guild has given permission for active Guild Members to use this educational piece in their businesses