He has deep working knowledge in a range of approaches and from them has crafted a flexible program that is committed to helping owners in a sensible, fast-paced way that draws on the best of everything in line with the needs of their dog. His approach is not one-dimensional, insisting that “we only do this,” or “we never do that.” In Mike’s view, holding such a “dogmatic” position is a reflection of the fact that the trainer is more committed to his or her training approach than they are to helping the dog and its owner. A good trainer will have a toolbox of remedies available that can be creatively integrated and brought to bear in an infinite variety of combinations to produce fast results with an approach tailored to each unique dog/owner team.
Mike’s training approach heavily emphasizes positive reinforcement, while retaining the benefits of structure, guidance and authority. His motto is “maximize the positive, minimize the negative and be realistic.” In his private training he seeks to tailor an approach that takes into account both the owner’s and dog’s temperament and in designing his group classes he has combined the best of what he has learned from both his clients and his mentors in the many years of his involvement with dog training.
In recent years there’s been an explosion of different schools of thought regarding dog training. The most confusing trend has been the rise of so-called “positive-only” training. In this approach it’s never okay to reprimand the dog. Instead, the owner is instructed to ignore bad behaviors while positively reinforcing good ones. This often has odd consequences. For instance, a common remedy for barking in this approach involves simply letting the dog bark until she gets tired of it and, once she stops, rewarding her with a treat for her silence. The most common outcome is a dog that learns that if she barks for a while and then stops, she gets a treat. Of course, this sends the behavior through the roof.
The point is that by ignoring bad behaviors we deprive the dog of important information about when she’s crossed a behavior boundary. Only positively reinforcing the opposite behavior is not the full picture. That includes both positive reinforcement and, at times, intelligently and sparsely applied aversive control or compulsion. In most cases, a program that involves 97% positive reinforcement while leaving room for reprimands, if needed, will yield dramatic results quickly.
For a deeper dive into Mike’s training philosophy, please read the introduction to his new book, Integrated Dog Training, which you can find here. (NEW: Integrated Dog Training)