This article is from the Training Your Dog FAQ, posted to rec.pets.dogs newsgroup. Maintained by Cindy Tittle Moore with numerous contributions by others.
There are multiple meanings to the term "training." It's important to understand that when deciding what you need to do with your dog. Here I offer my distinctions:
First, there is "behavior training." This is the kind of training in which a dog is taught to be a "good citizen." Typically this includes housetraining, good behavior around other people and dogs, reasonable leash manners and other small things that make a dog a much more pleasant companion. A well behaved dog attracts no special notice from the public (aside from amazing some with their good manners).
There is "obedience training," which is generally teaching the dog how to perform specific activities. This can include traditional "obedience" exercises such as heeling. The emphasis here is on prompt and precise performance. While there can be many overall benefits to such training, the training is usually for the training's sake and not necessarily to improve the dog's behavior. Dogs that have been obedience trained will perform specific tasks when their owners ask them to do so. (And as a matter of fact, some obedience trained dogs may well _behave_ poorly; an excellent herding dog that nonetheless barks quite a bit for no apparent reason would be an example.)
"Activity training" refers to training for specific activities -- this includes hunting, herding, Search and Rescue, lure coursing -- any of a myriad number of activities designed to showcase the abilities of the dog and his handler, particularly in activities for which the dog has been bred to do. These days, such activity also includes "sports" such as frisbee, flyball, agility and so on.
Of course the lines tend to blur between all of these distinctions. A certain amount of obedience training will help with behaviors. For example a dog that is heeling will not pull on the leash. Still you want to keep this in mind when selecting a training class so that it best matches your needs. For many pet owners, the behavior oriented classes are the best way to learn how to understand and control your dog. For those of you who want to enjoy a sport or compete in an activity with your dog will need to move along to more complex training.
You need to be aware of whether your dog needs behavior modification (where you will have to find out the underlying reason why your dog digs and not just put chicken wire over everything) or obedience training (to understand commands). Certainly, the two may be related: a dog that digs because it is bored may become less bored with obedience training and stop digging. It is important, however, to understand that the dog stopped digging because it was no longer bored than because it now knows how to heel. You will need to modify your approach, or select a trainer to help you, with behavior vs. training in mind.
So much for the type of things being taught... another factor to consider is that there are many _methods_ for teaching any of these!
Help! Which one is the right one?
There really is no right or wrong. There are methods that are more effective under certain circumstances than others. Things to take into consideration when choosing the most effective method for you and your dog include: your personality, your dog's personality, your goals, your abilities as a trainer, and your experience as a trainer.
For example, if you are not happy with a particular method of training, for whatever reason, then it is unlikely you and your dog will do well with this method. Your dog will pick up on your reluctance and either share your dismay or take advantage of the situation to do as he pleases.
If your dog is the strong, take charge type, a method that does not deal with this trait will result in his walking away with the training sessions, getting very little done. Conversely, if your dog is very sensitive, there may be a variety of methods you can use so long as you are very careful about how you correct him. Or, a very submissive dog may need a particular method that emphasizes learning something new very thoroughly so that they may be as confident as possible when doing it. You have to observe your dog closely and figure out what his strengths and weakenesses are.
Your own abilities as a trainer come into play, as well. Some people have a natural sense of timing and an almost instinctive understanding of what their dog is thinking and how to react to it. Most people do _not_ have this ability but can learn it to some degree over time. Others just do not. Recognizing your particular strengths and weaknesses will let you use each more effectively. Another ability some people seem to just have, others can develop, etc. is the ability to "read" a dog; that is correctly guess what the dog is thinking or feeling during training. This ability is valuable as it allows you to make appropriate adjustments on the fly to increase the effectiveness of your training.
Some methods are very effective but can be abused if the wrong person uses them. For example, the Koehler method of dog training worked very well on many dogs, in the hands of its originator. Koehler reportedly had an astute sense of timing and a keen awareness of how to present something fairly to a dog, but the "Koehler Method" as applied by others was so often abusive that today this method of training dogs is in disrepute.
Obviously, therefore, a good trainer is one who helps YOU figure out how to train your dog. A good trainer helps you learn to observe your dog for important clues to his behaviors and actions. A good trainer watches you and your dog work together and helps you learn where you are letting your dog down. A trainer's job, in short, is to teach you to become a trainer of your own dog. It is not a trainer's job to teach your dog. Typically, you only see your trainer for one hour a week. Training requires short, daily sessions. YOU are the one training your dog. (Sending a dog away to be trained is a separate consideration, with its own set of potential problems.) A good trainer has several methods under their belt and helps you figure out which ones work best with your dog.
Don't worry, there _are_ some constants in dog training. _Consistency_ and _Fairness_.