What is Force Free Training, Handling and Pet Care

We hear the term “force free” more and more within the pet industry. But what is the definition of force free? When is something considered force and when not? And what does this look like in practice?


When using force free methods, you train, handle, or take care of any pet without using pain, fear or force, and work with positive reinforcement. Force free handling and training uses humane techniques to instill positive behavior. 

As Husein once beautifully said about force free training: “rewarding the behaviors you want rather than punishing the ones you do not want. It is encouraging the dog to get it right as opposed to punishing him every time he gets it wrong. It is helping him to understand what is required of him, and then reinforcing that behavior so that he is happy to repeat it. It is not punishing him for getting it wrong and making him worried about doing it wrong again.” (Husein, 2006).

Why choose force free?

When pets interact with us, they look for connection and trust. Using force free methods will build a strong connection with your pet through trust. Your pet will be happy, without fear of pain and/or discomfort. Instead, they will be relaxed and enjoy training and working with you. They will become confident and well-balanced. When we use force free training methods with our dogs, they will work and have long-lasting results because the dog will enjoy what he or she is doing. 

Force free, or not?

Anything that is used with the purpose or intent to create fear, force, or pain when handling and training your pet is considered not force-free. This can be: 

  • Verbal punishment
  • Physical punishment, like yanking the lead, pinning down, flipping over, spraying with water, throwing objects at them, etc.
  • Using training tools that are based on force like the slip lead (soft and chain), semi slip lead, prong collar, shock collar/e-collar, citronella collar, vibration collar, bark collar and head halters.

Other important things to know about force free handling, training, and pet care.

  • Force free training is the most up-to-date, science-based training approach.
  • A trainer that first punishes and then reinforces with a reward is not considered force free. 

What does force free pet care, handling, and training look like in practice?

The examples below are simplified versions of what might happen in real life. Of course, in most cases, force free training has been done beforehand to learn certain commands. 

Example one

I want my dog to sit. I say “insert name dog” sit. The dog sits down. He gets his personal high valued reward. 

Example two

While on a walk, suddenly my dog spots something interesting and stops walking. Instead of yanking the lead, I call *insert name dog* look here, let’s go. The dog looks and follows and gets its high valued reward. If the dog does not follow, try to be more interesting than whatever he/she is looking at, either with treats, toys, or verbal excitement. 

Example three

My cat keeps tipping the plastic vase with flowers from the table. Instead of punishing the cat, I put the vase out of reach of the cat. 

What is not considered force-free.

* To try and stop your dog from barking by: shaking a can filled with coins, using high-pitched sound devices, or using an anti-barking collar (vibration, shock, smell).

* Spraying your cat with water when they scratch the sofa.

Force Free Training, Handling and Pet Care


As seen in the examples above, force free training involves the use of high-valued rewards. Choosing the right reward for your pet is personal. Not every pet likes the same. It’s important that you choose high valued rewards. What are high valued rewards? Rewards your pet, figuratively, would kill for. For example, often you will see that dogs and cats love their “normal” treats but go mental for a piece of sausage or chicken. So, in that case, the sausage/chicken is your high valued treat. Make sure that high valued rewards stay special and don’t start giving them as routine. When choosing your rewards, there are several categories you can choose from: 

  • A toy. This is mostly used for dogs, tennis balls are often considered a high valued reward. 
  • Food. Sausages, cheese(for dogs) and chicken are often considered high valued treats for most dogs/cats.
  • Verbal rewards


Globally, there are several initiatives that offer force free certification and memberships. Professionals can join these initiatives, often after passing strict screening and/or examination, to let customers and clients know they only use force free methods when interacting with their animal clients. Besides certification, these initiatives offer webinars, workshops, and events so members can stay up to date with the latest force free news.

We at Paw Pals are a member of the Pet Professional Guild. By being a member of the Pet Professional Guild, we show that we support their mission and adhere to their guiding principles. The mission, vision, and guiding principles of Pet Professional Guild can be found here: The Pet Professional Guild – Guiding Principles

Pet Professional Guild

Force Free Training, Handling and Pet Care

At Paw Pals we take pride in the fact that all our services are force free, fear free, and pain free. This means that the methods we use in training, handling, or taking care of any pet, are without the use of pain, fear or force, as we work with positive reinforcement only. We build relationships with the animals we care for through trust, so they feel comfortable and happy when we work with and around them. Would you like to know more about puppy sitting, overnight pet care, or dog training services? Feel free to contact us.

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