Our Training Methods Are Positive

Science-Based And Ethical

Medical Mutts is a service dog training organization that strives to work in the best interest of both the people and the dogs: helping dogs that have been abandoned and improving the lives of people faced with difficult challenges, by building a trusting and loving relationship between them, through training methods based on positive reinforcement.

Dog training methods matter

What you need to know


Dog trainers have differences in opinions, backgrounds, and principles. Because there is no oversight bureau, anyone can claim to be a dog trainer.

Almost every week we get calls from people because their dog has been traumatized by a professional dog trainer. We also hear stories of dogs being severely corrected by dog trainers while their owners were gone. It’s heartbreaking and completely unnecessary as we have better ways to get the results we want that do not involve correction. This happens enough that it’s important to find out about the dog trainers that you chose to work with and to know what to expect. As you yourself will be learning and applying some of the methods involved, it’s important to understand how they might affect the dog, what works best, and how the training might impact your relationship with your service dog before making your choice.

Trainer walking a rescued service dog with a vest on a leash

Rescued service dog standing on a agility jump with one paw

Training should be fun for the dog

Quick fixes have long term effects


All training styles may give results, but they are not all equal in how they affect the dog. As many people are looking for quick fixes, even if they don’t provide reliable long-term results, many trainers still use a lot of punishment in training. Repeated punishment, even at very mild levels, increases the dog’s stress levels. Under stress, the dogs don’t learn as well and can develop unwanted behaviors. We know that to be true because there are plenty of studies that have compared the different methods and have shown over and over that such methods are the least effective with the most negative side effects.

Shock collars cause stress

Knowledgeable dog trainers don’t use them


Through the heavy use of shock collars, dogs can be forced into calm and submissive behaviors. Although results may appear impressive, the dogs’ body language and behavior speak volumes about the abuse he/she had to endure to the professional eye. Such training will also not provide lasting and reliable long-term results unless you can maintain it by applying the same methods. The dog’s well-being, confidence level, motivation and enthusiasm to work will be affected and so will your relationship with him/her.

Training is safe and fun for the dog

No force, no pain, no fear


The safest, most effective training methods don’t involve force, pain or fear and are based on proven scientific principles. Our trainers are experts at helping the dogs develop confidence, trust and a desire to work through positive reinforcement. We primarily use clicker training as a way to teach the dog all the required behaviors. When you work with us, we will teach you how to develop a strong and positive relationship with your service dog based on clear communication, mutual trust, and understanding of dog psychology, realistic expectations and lots and lots of rewards.

Studies have shown that food rewards work best with dogs over petting or praise. Treats are also much easier to use than tug ropes or balls, especially when taking dogs out in public. With the effective use of treats, we will help you become much more interesting to your service dog than the environment, so that he/she will quickly look to you for opportunities to work.

Rescued service dog working with a trainer on obedience skills

Find out about the dog trainer before you make a decision

What to look for

  • Pay attention to the trainer’s communication skills with both people and pets. 

  • Ask about the trainers’ methods and philosophy. Generally, trainers are happy to talk about their experience. Trainers who refer to the concept of “alpha” or “dominance” are often traditional or balance trainers. They believe in a need to dominate the dog. It’s not that there is no hierarchy in dogs, but it’s far more complex and different than some of the old ideas on the subject. Unfortunately, many have not yet updated their references.

  • Do the dogs seem relaxed or anxious? Do they have tense faces with contracted musculature, pricked and alert ears, and/or contracted jaws? A relaxed dog should have his tail behind him in a typical posture for his breed, his legs open and relaxed, a relaxed facial expression, and his ears at angles that indicate that he is not constantly on auditory alert.

  • Check the dog’s equipment. Are they wearing flat collars, harnesses, correction collars, etc? 

  • Ask the trainer how they address unwanted behaviors. A good trainer will redirect and ask for an alternative behavior, not physically punish the dog.

Hierarchy of dog needs graphic


Least Invasive, Minimally Aversive Intervention Possible

At Medical Mutts we follow the principle of Least Invasive, Minimally Aversive Intervention Possible (LIMA) developed by Dr. Susan Friedman. LIMA requires trainers and behavior specialists to favor the use of positive reinforcement and minimize the use of punishment. We make sure to communicate to the service dog what we want the dog TO do, instead of punishing for what we don’t want.
When a trainer does not know how to apply positive reinforcement in a situation, he/she is encouraged to learn and seek information and help from those who do know.

Hierarchy of dog needs graphic

“Despite the fact that advances in behavior research have modified our understanding of social hierarchies in wolves, many animal trainers continue to base their training methods on
outdated perceptions of dominance theory.”

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB)