How Dog Training Has Evolved Compulsively


Dogs should be trained from the outside in rather than the inside out.

How have people who came out of canine training at the end of WWII evolved in our culture over the last 60 years or so? They went on to work as civilian dog trainers. When I think back to the training I received when I started forty years ago, compulsion was the method. And when you consider what soldiers had to do, you’ll understand why they trained in military style. The error was bringing it to companion dog training.

A soldier must be mentally prepared to fire his weapon at another human being without hesitation. Soldiers had to repeatedly practice “ready, aim, fire” because people would not fire. Sit, down, stay, similar to ready, aim, fire, was created for dogs. Have you ever pondered the meaning and reasoning behind having a dog on your left side? It was because a soldier was holding his rifle on his right side.

Military trainers such as “Koehler” were high-profile trainers who worked with dogs in Hollywood; he had an army police dog training background and published “The Koehler Method of Training” in the 1960s. His training methods emphasized negative reinforcement and punishment, physical corrections, chain training collars, and other unpleasant training techniques; the dogs that succeeded responded with military-style precision.

Even though I followed “Captain Haggerty,” who also came out of military training, he did not use force or pain in movement. He had a great love of German Shepherd, so we had a lot in common, and he was a genius at trick-training his Shepherds. Then there was “Milo Pearsall,” who used punishments, and “Barbara Woodhouse,” who became well-known for using simple but effective training techniques. Dog training was becoming more humane. “Ian Dunbar” brought back reinforcement training in the 1980s, and “Karen Pryor” in the 1990s brought the “operant” movement to the masses.

When you train like this and employ compulsive training methods, and with each jerk, you become more forceful; you are negating the dog as an individual. Similarly how, boot camp refuses the human being as an individual. They don’t care if you’re sensitive, sweet, friendly, shy, cute, or clever; they don’t care because you’ll learn to be a soldier.

What we learned over decades of military-style training served no purpose for companion dog owners. It was most helpful for obedience competitions. Outside the ring, no matter how precisely trained the dog was for obedience trials, it told a very different story. Because they were “pattern and context trained,” dogs would still pull on their leads, refuse to listen, and jump. But military-style training, which looked impressive in the ring and was now being taught everywhere, taught us to be loud, stern, stiff, and dominant. This is not at all natural.

During training, people didn’t realize that if there was no change in the number of corrections and no reduction in the number of leash jerks, what exactly was that telling them? Is it necessary to say that their dog was not learning anything? Duh! And how would they know if there were any improvements if they weren’t explicitly keeping track of corrections for a specific exercise?

Corrections are minute, and more importantly, they are ineffective. Leash correction, electric collars, and other punitive tools are inadequate. It does not instruct the dog on what it should do instead. People were correcting their pets, but they didn’t seem to notice because this is what they were taught, so it must be okay.

What happens to dogs when they are trained in this manner? Perhaps forty percent of dogs do well if they have a strong temperament and body, but maybe thirty percent do not. 10% will bite you, and 10% will shut down and express their anal glands.

Training from the outside rather than the inside out was developed for companion dog training immediately after WWII. Training is a mental game as opposed to a physical one.
Training is both an art and a science. There are many trainers now, but not as many artists. An artist requires a unique skill set, extensive hands-on experience with various species, and flexible and adaptable training techniques.

I stopped competing in obedience competitions after my first obedience dog. But he still had a strong desire to train. I then went down a different path with animal training. I started researching “B.F. Skinners” students, the “Brelands,” who taught over 140 species. I devoured and studied nearly every book on animal training and behavior. Though dogs are my favorite students, I’ve also trained cats, fish, a pot-belly pig, and, yes, a chicken at Bob Baily’s chicken camp.

Training different species sharpens your mind, creativity, timing, eyes, and outlook, instilling how behaviors are learned.

I’m pleased to say that today’s training is based on developing a working relationship based on cooperation and mutual respect, which will motivate both you and your dog to want to train with you. I must admit that the one good thing we learned from military-style training was how to handle a dog because it was all based on how to take your dog, which is lacking in today’s workout.

Training and learning are mental rather than physical processes. Let us use our brains to teach dogs how to use theirs. What exactly is training? Training is primarily concerned with attaching behaviors to a verbal cue. The old training jargon was “command,” It stuck with pet owners; the dog had to do it now!

We still want our dogs to respond, but we recognize that they are not robots, that they are not our slaves, and that a variety of factors can impede their responsiveness.
They are beings with five senses, wants, and needs emotions; they become distracted, want 30 seconds more to chase that squirrel, and are engrossed in something. Haven’t we all been engaged in something and failed to respond to someone?

By using compulsion, you teach your dog that your temperament is untrustworthy and only train your dog to dislike working with and dislike you. You will feel better about training and be less likely to become irritated with your dog. We have human brains, so science-based applications will yield your desired results without jeopardizing the dog/human bond. Why would I get a dog to make its life miserable when I can accomplish so much more with humane methods and feedback?

In my mind, dog training is on par with romance, love, and something lovely. It is an absolute myth that painful punishment is required, and it is a complete myth that endless reinforcement schedules are necessary to achieve reliability. That is not the pet owner’s fault; the pet owner is inconsistent.

We are teaching our dogs to accept reinforcement such as praise, petting, tennis balls, games, food, and play, in addition to providing helpful training exercises for pet owners. We need to teach dogs to walk on a loose leash, settle on a mat, relax, be calm, and come when called.

Teach owners that it is acceptable for their dogs to sniff while out walking, that sniffing with rules and structure is good, and that denying a dog the ability to use his nose while out walking is unkind; give your dog time to do this. Take a few breaks while walking to allow your dog to enjoy the scenery. We, trainers, must teach owners how to play with their dogs because that is what dogs enjoy the most: a time to share their craziness, rumble, chase, hear you laugh, or walk with you to burn off some of their mental energy.

The exercise of staying I’ve never met an owner who told their dog to visit and walk away. When you go into a store quickly, teach your dog to wait for you while safely hitched to a post calmly. Consider why you got your dog and decided a dog would be a good fit in your life. If you have forgotten your reasons, review them again and apply them.

We are all dog lovers at heart, so why would anyone who loves dogs cause anxiety or discomfort to that dog? The only reason I can think of is that their instructor convinced them that tradition still had adherents in 2011.

“Violence begins where knowledge ends.” We now know to create understanding in dogs through peaceful, harmonious, and effective methods. It is important to remember that each dog is unique.

Read also: 5 Ways A Dog Boot Camp Can Benefit Your Furry Friend.