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The Power of Positive Dog Training

Pat Miller

Twenty years ago, the prevailing method for training dogs involved the use of force and physical punishment. We used choke chains, prong collars, commands and corrections to impose our will on our canine companions. Times have changed.

The Power of Positive Dog Training


In the late 1980’s, a dolphin trainer named Karen Pryor introduced the dog-training world to a gentler training method in her landmark book, Don’t Shoot the Dog. This unassuming little paperback explained the scientific principles of behavior and learning developed earlier in the 20th century by behavior scientist B.F. Skinner, and suggested that with the help of a “clicker” – a small noisemaker used to mark the instant of rewardable behavior – dogs could be trained without the use of verbal and physical force.

The application, which had been used with animals like dolphins and whales for decades, is simple. Teach the dog that every time he hears the “Click!” of the clicker, he gets a treat. Then teach him that the “Click!” happens when he does a specific behavior, such as “sit.” He soon learns that he can make the clicker work by offering to sit without being asked. Once he figures that out, add the cue (not command) – the word “sit” to teach him that the behavior he is offering you is called “sit.” Apply the clicker technique to all of the things you want the dog to do, and he quickly learns to do the behaviors you want – the ones that make good things – Click! and treat — happen when he does them.

When Pryor wrote her book, you could count the number of positive dog trainers in the country on one hand. Today there are thousands, all over the world. The use of old-fashioned punish-based methods is fading as dog owners rejoice to learn that they don’t have to hurt their dogs to train them. There is even an organization with over three thousand members – The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) – that promotes the use of positive training methods and encourages the ongoing education of dog trainers. The APDT offers a trainer search list on its website at, where you can look to find APDT member/trainers near you. Since even APDT members may use a variety of methods, the website also offers suggestions to help you find the trainer best suited to you and your dog’s needs. Happy positive training!

The Power of Positive Dog Training is a New Book!

The Power of Positive Dog Training, Pat Miller, Howell Book House, 2001; soft cover, 241pp; $18.99
For Quantity Orders: Jack Bussell, Howell Book House; 317-572-3197

Pat Miller is dog trainer in Chattanooga, Tennessee, owner of Peaceable Paws Dog & Puppy Training in Hixson, and has written hundreds of articles for a variety of publications, including The Whole Dog Journal, Your Dog, Bark, Dog & Handler, Dog Fancy, The AKC Gazette, CatNip, The Whole Cat Journal, Cat Fancy, The Whole Horse Journal, Shelter Sense, Animal Tracks, and more. She is also a Board member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, a national non-profit organization that promotes dog-friendly training and the ongoing education of dog training professionals, and President of FOCAS – Friends of Chattanooga Animal Services.

A combination of training philosophy, principles of learning and behavior, step-by-step basic training and discussions of general behavior challenges, The Power is written in the same readable and engaging style offered in Miller’s dog training and behavior articles that delight more than 80,000 readers monthly in the Whole Dog Journal (of which Miller is training editor) and Your Dog (from Tuft’s University). Dog trainers all over the country are recommending this book to their clients.

The modern philosophies of positive reinforcement training that encourages a relationship between dog and owner based on mutual trust and respect is fast overtaking the old-fashioned methods that rely on punishment and the use of force to get dogs to obey. Many books are available for dog trainers and behaviors that explain and teach these principles, methods and philosophies. This is the first one written for the dog owning reader who is not necessarily a training professional. It is the book your dog is asking for.

You can cyber-chat with Miller, Peaceable Paws students and other positive trainers on her Peaceable Paws e-mail list by sending a message to:

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