I too was not big on treat-based training, as all the treat-trained dogs I had seen would do nothing without them. But, these people weren't exactly "trainers," either. When I learned of clicker training, the idea seemed better than not using a marker but still using treats. But still I didn't really give it a go. I had pushed praise-based training for years, and was very young when I learned of clicker training. I began teaching basic commands to a variety of dogs using only praise as a reward--with success. Now mind you, I did not shove my dog's butt down to teach sit. I used the slightest amount of pressure with my fingertips just in front of the hips, and as soon as they responded to the pressure(even just starting to sit at first), the pressure went away and an enthusiastic(but not overenthusiastic) "Good boy/girl!" was given with lots of petting. Today so many clicker trainers look at these kinds of trainers with evil eyes and hate that they are forcing their dog into positions they do not want to be in. This really irritates me...I never, ever had a bad relationship with a dog who I trained this way. They never shut down with this training. I used these methods with very timid dogs, and never did they fall apart because of the "physical manipulation." It's all in the way this method is used.
Now today, I no longer use these methods. I gave clicker training a try with a shelter dog first with amazing results. He was a lab mix and did wonderful with clicker training. He learned quickly and seemed to really have a love for "working" for me. When I adopted Mud, she had been neglected, and I saw the use of food being beneficial both for her food aggression and for her confidence. This placed me as her sole food provider and she would have to work for it. A Border Collie with a busy mind is much less likely to have an aggressive mindset because of the food. She excelled wonderfully, and I really liked what I was getting from her. She loved training and still does, and would go nuts if we didn't learn everyday. As for her motivation, it's hard to say which she works harder for. She's very willing to work for treats or toys. She's more enthusiastic with toys, but for newer tricks food is the only way to go with her. And she likes that. Clicker training is the only method she's known today, and we have an amazing bond.
Rusty was trained with my original praise training methods shortly before I learned of clicker training. He did very well and is very eager to please. I recently started clicker training with him(with treats) and he is doing very well. The food made him more eager, and the marker(the clicker) helped him learn faster. As a pup, Zeke was neither food or toy motivated, but thrived on praise. He hadn't had much of a real "family" or one "owner" before, and when he was praised for doing something right it was like he'd been waiting for it forever. He was/is extremely timid and was very dependent on me. He wanted nothing but to be loved and snuggled, and would do anything just to be loved on. He learned all the basics in less than a week(his first week with me), and went on to learn back up and a few others, all through praise-based training. He had no interest whatsoever in treats, and I had the hardest time just getting him to eat enough. He loooooved snuggly toys(in particular, a giant snuggly moose that was 3 times his size as a pup), but using them in training proved unsuccessful. When Mud came along and taught him how fun toys were, he'd do ANYTHING in the world for a tennis ball. And now, he'd jump over the moon if someone threw a tennis ball that way.
I am now a big supporter of clicker training and have had wonderful success with many dogs. For me, it's all about the dog. If the dog thrives on praise, then I'm not going to push anything else. The dog decides what training method will work best for them, and the ONLY time I try to find an unbelievably tasty treat that they will work for is when I am trying to teach advanced tricks. (For instance, Zeke won't lure with tennis balls, but if I can find a treat he will work for, then I will use it and a clicker initially to help him learn it. He craves mental stimulation more than any dog I've ever known, so I will try to help him learn with really tasty treats.) I've used clicker training with toy motivated dogs with success as well.
I have 4 stipulations for any training method:
First and foremost, a happy dog.
The dog is not harmed in any way.
Both dog and trainer enjoy the training.
The trainer never loses his/her cool in an attempt to get "the best" out of the dog.
This means absolutely NO leash corrections, no yelling, nothing that will push the dog to the point of shutdown or even anywhere close to shutdown. I recently saw a video of a woman doing obedience practice with her Dalmation. Dallies are extremely sensitive dogs anyway and this woman obviously didn't comprehend that. She heeled for a while, did some retrieves, and then went back to the heel. When the dog didn't look at her when sitting before the heel, she would yank back on the leash with quite a bit of force. The formerly happy dog's ears would fall back as she looked at her owner, and her whole body just kind of went into shutdown. A reply to the vid said that she didn't need to use this kind of training to get the best out of her dog and that quite frankly it was cruel and not good for how the dog thought of the training. She was an entirely different dog during the rest of the training, before the leash corrections. Her body language was much less confident, less happy. She answered to this reply saying that the dog was clearly happy throughout the training and if the dog was happy then there was nothing to worry about. Another viewer retorted that she knew nothing about body language and that her dog clearly regressed after the leash corrections to her "happy" dog. It infuriated me but I didn't post a reply. I just left in search of videos of better trainers. It's not that the woman didn't care about her dog or that her heart wasn't in the right place; it was simply not knowing a better way and not being open-minded enough to want to know.
Snooks, you mentioned your bad vet visit...mine have never been anywhere near that serious, but Mud's last vet visit irritated me. We walked over to the scale and she was just stepping onto it. One of the ladies there stepped behind her and put both hands on her sides, pushing her onto it. When Mud is "forced" into situations, she shuts down. She was perfectly happy coming into the office, and when the woman tried to rush her onto the scale, her whole demeanor changed and she wasn't budging. I stepped in front of the lady, catching her off guard as she was forced to move out of the way or get run over. "She'll get on the scale on her own." I told her, trying not to sound irritated. I called Mud over and she walked right up on the scale, where I asked for a stand-stay until it registered. She stepped off with an, "Okay," and on we went to the exam room. Before our current vet who we've been with for years, my dogs often got rushed onto the scales and I stepped in. Since that's typically the beginning of the visit, that can screw up the dog right off. Not the way to start everything. I was very pleased with an emergency visit just this past year with our "backup vet." He's much closer than our other vet, but doesn't take large animals, so for canine emergencies he's our go-to guy. Mud's last visit we walked in, he got us back to a room, she got on the scale of her own will, he very gently lifted her onto the table, and he and his vet tech loved on her. No one rushed us, no one was rough or hurried. It was nice.
Our sessions are never silent. Lol. ^^ There is constant encouragement, praise, pointless conversation, etc. I do think that you have to be careful when you're talking, because you don't want to confuse the dog before you ever introduce a command. But, my pups are always praised for the right behavior, not just with the clicker and food. Our training sessions are broken up with play and lovin', and all of my dogs really enjoy training.
Anywho, I'm a fan of any training that results in a completely happy dog and trainer, with training sessions that are not stressful on either. Knowing what I know today with the experience I've had with clicker training and treats, I wouldn't go back to my former methods of training.