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Leerburg Dog Training Blog

The best source for dog training news, tricks and treats, right from world class leaders in dog training.

The best source for dog training news, tricks and treats, right from world class leaders in dog training.

Learned Helplessness Vs All-Positive Training – Opposite Ends of the Training Spectrum

When you are around dog training long enough, like I have been,  you are going to be exposed to a number of different training systems or methods. In my opinion Learned Helplessness and All-Positive dog training are at opposite ends of the training spectrum and both are equally bad dog training.

The all-positive dog trainers don’t believe in any form of corrections. These are well intentioned people who lack dog training experience. The people who constantly correct the snot out of their dogs until the dog develops “Learned Helplessness” are not well intentioned people, I have names for people who do this and Cindy doesn’t want me to put those names in writing. 

All-positive trainers point to sea world and the methods used to train killer whales and dolphins to justify their training methods. What these people don’t know (or don’t talk about)  is what happens when the all-positive methods fall apart and stop working.

The video below was taken a few years ago at Sea World. It’s a perfect example of what happens when all-positive training falls apart. It is a video of a Pelican landing in the killer whale pool. The distraction of the Pelican in their pool resulted in the killer whales completely ignoring commands from their trainers. The trainers loose complete control and have to shut the show down.

If you spend enough time around dog parks you will see similar scenarios. By that I mean you will see “all-positive, no force trained dogs” become so distracted by other dogs they refuse to listen to their owners.

Unfortunately this often leads to dog fights.

At the other end of the training spectrum are people who in my opinion should not own dogs much less be allowed to train dogs. These are people who put so much unwarranted pressure on their dogs that the dogs develops a syndrome called “Learned Helplessness” (LH).

LH occurs where an animal cannot escape or avoid repeated painful or otherwise unwarranted aversive corrections. Dogs get to a point where they simply accept the abuse and believe there is nothing they do will stop whats happening to them. They feel they have lost total control and at that point they stop learning.

LH causes depression and health problems.

LH is can be reversible with the right type of motivational training. We see this when shelter dogs, that have been badly abused, go into a home where the new owner uses motivational methods.

Back in 1960 when I first started to learn how to train dogs, the only game in town was called “avoidance training”. Back then there was no such thing as purely positive dog training.

Avoidance training means we taught our dogs they could avoid a correction by offering a specific behavior. It was fast and effective. But the key to making it work was to have perfect timing and only use levels of corrections that resulted in a behavior change.

New dog trainers NEVER have perfect timing and it takes time and training to learn how to control levels of corrections. Unfortunately, bad avoidance training can turn into LH.

Today we use positive training methods to teach new behaviors. Once our dogs have learned these behaviors, we then introduce distractions to show our dogs that we expect them to follow directions all the time no matter what distraction they face. When our dog refuses to follow our commands they get a correction that is strong enough to result in a behavior change.

This is called “Balanced Dog Training”.

When we wanted to teach our dog to heel, we would walk down the a field and make a left or right 90 degree turn at the same time we popped the leash. It doesn’t take a dog many reps to figure out if they paid attention they could recognize when we were going to make a turn and if they stuck with us, they could avoid the correction – hence the term “avoidance training”.

Over the years I have been witness to too many cases of LH. It’s difficult to watch and gives good dog training a bad eye.

We see this manifesting itself in bans on Remote Collars in Toronto and Florida. The use of remote collars, when used correctly, are one of the most human methods of dog training. When we use a remote it’s often at a level that a human can’t feel. I compare it to tapping our dog on the shoulder and telling it to pay attention.

In the end we all need to figure out what kind of trainer we want to be and how we want to train our dog’s. I like to think that the more experience a person has the better decisions they make. Unfortunately that’s not always true.

If you would like to learn more of our position on the problems with all-positive dog training I would recommend clicking on the link below. It is a short podcast on an article I wrote a few years ago on the subject.


  1. Avatar
    john Koutsantanou
    December 2, 2017

    Ed, just read your article here and it looks like we had a dog trainer who used what he called compulsion training where he continues to correct the dog till it learns what he wants. Now i let him do one lesson with a 7 month old GSD and never again. The puppy was shocked till it obeyed the different commands. Anyway now wanting to go in the right direction. I am concerned that she was somewhat affected by this. We went to another group obedience class which had multiple dogs and she did well. Only thing tjat bothered me was the teacher was also working a doberman who would bite there owners .i would say it was a strong tempered dog. Well he gave it a strong correction at one point which made it yelp and when tbe dog yelped my dog was in a sit stay and she started shaking. I contribute that to the horrible first lesson with the other trainer. It really bothered me. I gave been working with the puppy and giving positive praise and hope this shaking isnt something that will happen any more. Any suggestions on what i can do? I have owned dogs most of my life and always trained them myself but recently have tried using so called professional trainers hoping for a more advanced level of obedience. I appreciate your help and also have been watching some streaming videos and learning a lot and putting your teachings in practice. Just hope i can undo the harm this one trainer dud to my dog. Thanks. John

  2. Ed Frawley
    Ed Frawley
    December 2, 2017

    You have a 7 month old puppy. Thats a baby. You put it in 2 bad situations which traumatized it. From the dogs standpoint it is questioning the environment you put it in. So don’t be surprised if she has problems if you take her back to the second place.

    I would not have recommended the second training class. In my opinion you would have been better advised to learn how to do your foundation training at home and then gradually introduce her to working in new environments.

  3. Avatar
    jake bartolo
    December 10, 2017

    With ecollars do you use higher level corrections to proof the behavior?

  4. Ed Frawley
    Ed Frawley
    December 10, 2017


    I am not sure what your asking. The old school hunting dog trainers used to use higher levels of stimulation at the same time they gave a command to do something. The dog had to fight through the stimulation to do what was asked. I saw this done back in the early 1980’s. They used stimulation as a distraction – truth me that was some real RED NECK STUPID training.

    Frankly I would not be working a 7 month old puppy with much more than vibrate.

  5. Avatar
    February 25, 2018

    I believe there are soft training for the timid small lap dog type and hard training for you GSD And larger protection typ dogs, yes and you need to keep your dog safe and it needs correction and yes it also can praise but you get the golden retrevier sweet did but if it don’t stop or stay it can get hit by a car . You need to realize differance and all types of training and types of hogs I would never let a trainer near my puppies till I watched them first , and seen what they really know . Let’s say you have a very elderly couple who some how owned a rotti ? Every time the front door would open the dog shot for the door to get out and into a bad situation ? How do you break this behavior? Praise it or what would you do?

Sorry, comments are closed.

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