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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions


In short - Yes! However.. in learning, there is never only one quadrant of learning taking place. Clever Critters trainers use methods that utilize the most positive reinforcement and eliminate the need for aversives (pain, fear, intimidation).

If you are interested in the long answer...

We use classical and operant conditioning and are always aware of all four quadrants of operant conditioning while training. What are the four quadrants? You can see them here, wonderfully illustrated by Lili Chin of doggiedrawings.net before continuing. 

In psychology, "reinforcement" is defined as the increase in frequency or intensity of a behavior. "Positive reinforcement" is when you add a stimulus to the animal's environment that increases the frequency or intensity of a behavior. Administering some reward to your pet when she does something you want her to do is an excellent way to see that behavior more often! We use positive reinforcement frequently because it is highly effective with little to no risk of fallout behaviors. We make all training and behavior modification choices very carefully, based on the individual animal and circumstances in each case. What reinforces one pet's behavior may be different than another. As does what they find to be punishing, so we must always assess this to eliminate and reduce aversion.

LIMA requires that trainers and behavior consultants use the “least intrusive, minimally aversive technique likely to succeed in achieving a training [or behavior change] objective with minimal risk of producing adverse side effects.” It is also a competence criterion, requiring that trainers and behavior consultants be adequately trained and skilled in order to ensure that the least intrusive and aversive procedure is in fact used.

We also work to meet the Hierarchy of Dog Needs. An individual of any species that is having their needs appropriately met will feel more balanced, confident, and comfortable in life.


The definition of "punishment" in psychology is the reduction in frequency or intensity of a behavior.

For example: If you stop playing with a biting puppy resulting in the puppy decreasing his biting over time, you have used punishment effectively. This is an example of "negative punishment." "Negative" refers to taking something from the puppy's environment in response to a behavior and "punishment" describes the result (play biting is reduced in frequency and/or intensity). If you hit a puppy on the nose every time he bites you in play resulting in the puppy decreasing his biting over time, you have also used punishment effectively. HOWEVER, there are often unintended side effects to this type of punishment. This is an example of "positive punishment." "Positive" refers to adding something to the puppy's environment in response to a behavior and "punishment" describes the result (play biting is reduced in frequency and/or intensity).

Some unintended side effects we have seen in many cases such as this include: puppy becomes hand shy of the punisher or of people in general, puppy avoids playing with the punisher but continues to play bite with other people, or puppy decreases play biting but changes to defensive biting because of the expectation of being hit and pain.


Clever Critters trainers will assess and appropriately use negative punishment in a behavior modification plan WITH positive reinforcement to teach desirable behaviors as an alternative. The use of positive punishment is inhumane, not backed by science, and risky to the overall well-being of the animal physically, emotionally, and to the human-animal bond. We make all training and behavior modification choices very carefully based on the individual animal and circumstances in each case. 

Here are some more thoughts on punishment from The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.


The professionals at Clever Critters use science-based and up-to-date information as a guide for animal training. The current literature does not find a "dominance-hierarchy" approach to any animal training to be effective. Also, the definition of "dominance" in the animal behavior literature is quite different from how pet professionals (who are not behaviorists) or pet parents might define dominance. We have found that most of what our clients have heard about dominance is incorrect, steeped in myths and misconceptions. When we are working with an animal who has difficulty navigating their environment or difficulty in social situations with other animals or people, we focus on the individual animal, his behavioral history, his experiences, his environment and what we can observe to determine appropriate treatment. We do not try to fit his behavior into a dominance model.

Other prominent professionals agree that we need alternatives to dominance-based dog and animal training: 


Sydney Warner has certifications in dog training and canine behavior science. She is always pursuing continuous education. Additionally, she has trained under an Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist in canine and feline behavior, and modern training methods.

You can read more about our consultants' qualifications on the Our Trainers page.


Clever Critters does not currently have a facility. We offer all of our services in your home, on-site, or virtually. Examples of on-site work include working with you and your pet while on a walk, at the park, or at the veterinarian's office. Our service area ranges across the Hampton Roads area of Virginia and some surrounding areas. Now with virtual consults we can provide consults almost anywhere! Contact us for more information, providing a zip code. 

For in-home appointments, please be aware that a mileage fee may apply. Clever Critters trainers service a wide area of Hampton Roads. If you are seeing Sydney in-home, mileage is determined from 23508.  The mileage fee is $0.58 per mile rounded up after the first 30 miles. 


Clever Critters trainers believe in problem-prevention before problem-solving. We can help you teach puppies and kittens these preventative skills immediately, however, we also know there are many pet parents needing help with problem-solving of behavior concerns in adolescent, adult, and even senior pets. We treat a variety of behavior concerns for dogs, cats and even other pets including aggression, fearfulness, anxiety, inappropriate elimination, hyperactivity and so much more. In addition, we can help you with basic to advanced manners and skills training, and help you and your pet engage in for fun activities such as agility and noseworks. You can read more on the Training page. 


Clever Critters trainers use up to date, science-backed, and humane methods. Whether you call it positive reinforcement, force-free, fear free, or choice-based training, we focus on teaching with communication, cooperation, and care for the whole animal - physically and emotionally. Learn more on Training page.


There is currently a lag between many trainers’ marketing language and actual practices. If a trainer advertises that he uses “positive” methods, it might be true or it might be false advertising.

Ask: What exactly will happen to my dog when she gets it right? What exactly will happen to her when she gets it wrong? Are there any less invasive alternatives to what you propose?

If you don’t get clear, concrete answers or you are at all uncomfortable, keep shopping. - Jean Donaldson