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Dog Obedience Training is Snake Oil for Dogs

March 24th, 2010

I was reminded recently of an on-going discussion I had with an old friend who, at present shall remain nameless, is renowned in the world of dogs.

His abilities are without question.  His credentials are sterling.  His successes are documented.  And he sits about 2 degrees off plumb. (Please remember this carpentry term.)  If we were using a scale, plumb would be represented by zero on the scale of one to five.  Plumb is defined, in this case, as the traditional, widely accepted, but failing methods of training pet dogs utilizing choke chains and/or treats.  Sadly, in the current world of dog “training” the word plumb is the antithesis of its TRUE definition, hence, it’s failure.

My friend does use treats, but it must be understood he trains dogs for a specific job and the treat is not necessarily food, and is a reward for an action achieved OUTSIDE of the dog’s normal behavioral parameters.  His ideas area not so far off the traditional patterns of training as to be considered fringe, yet neither are they squarely in agreement.  He sits a little to the side of the traditional mind-set, methods and preconceived notions of dogs, their behavior, their reactions, and the techniques used to train them.  So, on this imaginary scale I would place him at about three.  Most who have attended his seminars believe him to be a dog-god because of his “unique” approach and success rate.

He and I, oddly enough, hold many of the same views about dogs, their training, the current crop of quasi-“trainers” and, in general, humans.  I, however, come from a different approach and so if he sits at three on the scale, I sit on a five, hence, our discussions.  This five rating places me on the “fringe” of currently accepted training methodology.  What I do scares the patooties out of the majority of the fakes that call themselves dog “trainers” because they CAN’T do it, don’t understand it, and they fight, tooth and nail, to discredit it.  Even though it consistently proves successful.

Of course, I’m in good company.  These fake “trainers” also seek to discredit people like Cesar Milan and highly competent handlers of Border Collies–their rationale is that the dog’s reward is the work.  All I can say is, “Keep on talking, guys, you make my point with every dog you fail in class, cannot get a handle on, or whose owner releases it to a shelter.”  But, still they anger me because it is the dog and owner that pay for their hubris.

But, back to my friend.

I reveled in the theoretical, practical and personal observations, approaches, and knowledge we each brought to our discussion.  It had been a long time since I  sat down and discussed in such depth and breadth dogs, their behaviors, humans and all the interplay.  My discussions with him, and I must thank him for this, forced me to explain myself in a manner I’d not had to do for a long time.  It also helped me to develop a clearer explanation which might make it easier for the average person to understand what it is you are attempting to master in my method.

The differences in our approach and beliefs stemmed from our thought process deviations.  My friend is still, for the most part, firmly entrenched in the linear thinking process which is the primary process most often used when dealing with, and training, dogs.  He approaches each dog and its training by identifying the task or problem, developing an action (for the most part physical, though he does venture into the realm of emotional and I am thankful for that), and implementing a solution.  This is logical and I can see trainers’ and male heads bobbing in agreement.

My approach is a paradigm thinking process followed by the linear thinking, which must in my view, always be subservient to paradigm thinking.

I stated that those of you who understand the way I train, who have embraced this method and are living proof of its success, both for you and the dog, are coming at it from the paradigm process.

The analogy I gave to explain my method and paradigm thinking process is carpentry.  (Remember “plumb”?)

In carpentry there are two ways to build a house.  The first is based on linear thinking.  It works like this: A) use these tools, B) use these materials, C) follow the blueprint and attach slot A to B in order to create finished product.  Voila` Your house is built.  However, when structural problems arise due to environmental pressures, internal substandard materials, and/or poor craftsmanship, the house may exhibit severe compromise at best, and collapse at worst.  The carpenter (“trainer”), who does not understand certain conceptual truths necessary for building, opts for more tools i.e., I could do this if I had a heavier hammer (a different dog or better/smarter owner) because it will improve my carpentry skills.  Or, the carpenter might blame it on the materials i.e., these nails won’t drive straight, they’re of poor quality.  I need to get better nails (Halties, shock collars, treats).  I’m sure you can figure out the how and why of the collapse of the house (obedience of the dog) in this type of thinking.

The second way, which I try to impart, is based in paradigm thinking and begins by teaching certain immutable laws.  You wish to build a house?  I want you to understand the meaning of “level”.  It is a truth.   Something is either level, or it isn’t.  That which is level can endure more stress, breaks less easily, makes building upon it easy and successful for long range stability and durability.

It is unimportant if you understand HOW “level” works, it’s only important that you understand the concept and use it correctly.  The person who fails to understand the concept of “level” cannot successfully build a house which will last regardless of wear and tear.  It is not important what hammer you use to erect that house as long as you ensure that during construction all things are “level.”

In my method I attempt to teach the dog’s truths of “level” at the emotional, not the tool, end of training.  Training manuals, videos, and current teaching methods don’t teach the concept of, nor do they discuss, the dog’s truths.  Once, however, you grasp the truths, you may indicate, any time or any place, to your dog whether or not he is behaving in a “level” manner.  Because of your understanding and ability to see this “level” you don’t continue to build on an unleveled foundation and run the risk of having the structure (dog) askew or collapse due to poor workmanship (methods/training) or environmental pressures.  Once you understand the truths you almost never need a  tool to teach it or achieve and maintain “level.”

Dogs are born with respect for the individual (species is unimportant) that takes care of them.  People lose the dog’s respect by virtue of the fact that they don’t understand the concept of, and cannot use, “level” correctly.  The owner does not communicate to the dog that as the owner you are responsible for ensuring “level” as reflects behavioral expectations.  The dog, understanding “level” atavistically, only knows the world he lives in is totally askew (not “level”), and it’s an uncomfortable feeling.  The human does nothing to create “level”, to ensure stability and soundness in the relationship.  There is little trust in a situation such as this.  Obedience is hard to come by, difficult to maintain, and quite frequently collapses under pressure.

You, however, who have attended my classes or BOSS Dog Clinics have mastered the concept of “level” and your dogs reflect that.  The dogs are secure, well-behaved and follow your commands regardless of the emotional or environmental weather.  You’ve built a level foundation and a strong house.  Your relationship with your dog reflects that.  It will stand for a long time.

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