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Most dog owners are confused by the seemingly infinite choices of dog trainers and dog training classes on the market today. When they begin to look for obedience training for dogs, they are overwhelmed with claims. Dog trainers are now using “buzz words” like “certified” and “behavior” to promote their dog training classes. However, if owners are going to seek out obedience training for dogs, the only result that matters is the overall behavior of the dogs that the various dog trainers and dog training classes have turned out.
Susan Overfield, in her state of Montana and nationally, is known to consistently and successfully, through her behavioral obedience training for dogs, teach owners a proven method that dogs understand, can achieve and maintain. So immediate is the change in the dog’s behavioral response, so full of common sense and information about dogs and how they think is Overfield’s behavioral obedience training for dogs, that owners, as well as some dog trainers, shelters and rescue personnel, are altering their teaching methods to this form of obedience training for dogs with amazing and positive results for all.
Dogs, Training and a Different View
I have been extremely lucky during my life to be able to do that which I love most—work with dogs. I have met, worked and associated with some incredibly talented true ‘dog people’, both here and abroad. Most people refer to them as “trainers”, but the amount of communication, knowledge and rapport they share with dogs sets these people head-and-shoulders above mere, mortal trainers and I prefer to call them “DOG HANDLERS.”
But I, along with these ‘dog handlers’ follow Mother Nature’s lead. All species on this earth, with the exception of dog “trainers”, teach behavior FIRST. It is always successful.
It is very important to understand and remember the following statement when working with dogs:
If it’s true and right you can do it and it will be successful. If it’s
contrived and based on a falsehood, it will fail and you can NEVER
make it work, particularly under any kind of stress.
I returned to general obedience training, after a hiatus of about four years, at the request of a local veterinarian. I am pleased, and thankful, that all vets in my area, and many outside of it, are impressed by my training results and refer dogs to me. This tells me they see a distinct improvement in the dog/owner relationship of those they refer to me. That, for me, is what is important. I began this web site at the behest of all my clients, many of who have become good, personal friends. I don’t advertise as I work strictly by word-of-mouth, but they insisted that the way I train was “…So different, clear, ‘dog-friendly’ and instructive for owners…” and every one of them had seen “…By the end of the first class an immediate difference in the dog—both attitude and behavior…” that I needed a web page so that others could learn “…This much different, but better way, to train owners and dogs.” I built the first site. Nothing fancy, nothing great. I have little knowledge or skill in web page building. But, time has changed, I have seen a growth in day clinics and dog camps and a client, in thanks for what I have done for his dog, donated his considerable skills, and almost nonexistent time, to build this new site. I thank him. I think he did a wonderful job, I hope you like it as much as I do.
I’m going to discuss the differences in the way I train vs. the current failing method throughout this work. Those who know me understand I have some “soapboxes” when it comes to dogs and issues pertaining to them. I want more people to understand that there is no great mystery, as far as I’m concerned, to training dogs. There are different abilities and skill levels with each person encountered, yes. But, the biggest hindrance to training that I see today, is that most trainers cannot, or will not, explain to an owner, so that he/she has a greater grasp of what is going on, the how, when, where and why of what is happening with each dog and its training.
Owners are not insensitive to their dogs and want to do their best for the companions they love so much. People have, by virtue of their concerns, forced some good changes on the dog industry. But, as long as owners remain in the dark as to how things work from the dog’s perspective, they will continue to make mistakes, be unable to adjust to changes within the developing dog and immediate environment in which they are working. Owners will also experience, sometimes, unreasonable expectations and frustrations. I feel fortunate that I have been able to work with so many different, unique dogs—personal pets, shelter and rescue dogs running the gamut of little to severe behavior and obedience problems. I had a large group of the rescued “Camp Collie” dogs attend class (they had made national news) and was extremely pleased to see the immense caring, concern and desire to do the best for the dogs that all the owners evidenced.
It was immensely satisfying to be able to explain to owners how their dogs were thinking and feeling, put both dogs and owners at ease and watch the dogs turn from hesitancy and outright fear, to joy and trust. I was amused to watch the owners’ disbelief as, within the first two hours, we had almost all the dogs off-leash and calmly working commands for which the dogs had no vocabulary, simply because the owners were being educated and their communication skills improving with direction.
The History of Modern Dog Training
The History of Modern Dog Training
There was a time that we lived, worked, and depended upon dogs and their skills, their intelligence, their very presence, for our livelihoods, safety, food, and companionship in our daily lives and, sometimes, lonely and wild places.
There was a very practical aspect to the dogs we had, much like the spouses we chose, the friends we made and the lives we led. Anything less led to a higher chance of not surviving.
Because of this, we were very aware of the dog as an individual. We studied each dog’s strengths and weaknesses, talents, drive, intelligence and willingness to work with us. They truly were our partners and we had to have complete and utter trust in them. We also had to define what their place was in our lives, the responsibility we put on them, and the behavior that we expected of them, both while working and as a member of our family.
They went to war with us and fought, and died, beside us. They were left at home with wives and children as primary guardians. They had jobs that increased the overall quality of our lives; herding and guarding livestock, killing vermin, babysitting, sentries calling the alert to strangers, and emotional companions.
It is often depicted as dogs were “things” to be owned and used. The idea promoted was that dogs were viewed as a tool and dispensable, not as a loved companion and valued partner. It is often portrayed that dogs were not allowed in the house, the place of love and haven from hardship, and sometimes this was true, but it stemmed from a far more practical point; often the dogs carried fleas and ticks, had rolled in something, were covered in burrs, and generally made it more difficult to keep houses clean. While this still holds true today, it was not the standard for most dogs.
Dogs with skills were highly valued, loved and cherished, well taken care of and their death was a cause for grief. Throughout history there are examples of people cherishing their dogs, feeding them when they, themselves, had nothing. Ensuring the dog(s) had comfortable housing; we included them within the family and allowed them in the house and in our lives.
As early as Pharaonic times, as well as in China and Persia, there were laws protecting dogs and defining what constituted good care and treatment. Dogs were identified by collars and had legal status. Persia punished anyone who maimed or killed a dog; even feeding bad food to a dog could result in the punishment of 50 to 200 lashes.
Delta, a victim of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 C.E. (Common Era, now replacing A.D), was a smallish dog whose remains were discovered lying protectively across the body of a young child. However, this was not the dog’s only selfless and remarkable act. With her remains was found a silver dog collar upon which was engraved her name, her owner’s name, Severinus, and listed and honored the fact that she had saved his life three times. First, she pulled him from the sea when he was drowning. Second, she fought off four attackers who attempted to rob her owner. Third, she fought off a wolf which attacked them near Herculaneum.
Sir Frances Drake, 5th Baronet of Buckland Abbey (1723-94), began to improve the manor after the death of his mother. He installed a new, elegant staircase leading to extensively remodeled upstairs rooms.
He balanced his love for his pack of Irish wolfhounds against potential damage to the new staircase by installing a dog gate in the main hall, thus only allowing the dogs to reach the second floor via a back stair.
The gate was custom-made and a doozy, in my mind. It clearly shows that our current child-gates are poor reproductions of an old, old idea and that owners have been including dogs in a select manner for long time.
Drake made certain his beloved dogs were included in his life, yet had no qualms about defining where they were allowed to roam and their behavior within the house.
Our inclusion of dogs in our lives is clearly shown in the examples above. But HOW we included them and led them to be partners is rarely examined. Many of the methods and equipment used today on our dogs came from a period of time in which the dog was an integral part of our daily work and life. Much of that equipment was originally used to protect the dog and has now been perverted into training equipment for use ON the dogs.
Owners seeking training for their dogs today fail to realize that very few of the methods being taught NOW come from this much earlier, physical, and practical period of mutual existence that simply is not applied to our lifestyles, on the whole, today because it has been forgotten. These successful methods predated modern training as it is known today. They incorporated the whole of the dog, along with a practical application FOR the dog and his successful integration into the human unit.
Let’s look at some collars, as examples of what I’m talking about.
To the left is a pair of Scottish silver coursing collars, 1830. They’re lined with red leather, adjustable with three slits, joined by a ring and two links with snap fastenings. This allowed multiple pairs of dogs to be controlled by a single handler in the course of field work.
This is the modern equivalent to the above. The materials have changed, but the concept has not. Nor has the basic restraint method altered. The difference is only that an owner has more than a single dog and those dogs, usually, have no real working purpose to their lives, nor are receiving behavioral directives.
Top: A German medieval iron collar consisting of eight linked W’s ending in spikes with ring for lead attachment. c. 1400s
Middle: German iron collar of almost stirrup-shaped links each with a spike, original leather lining. 1400s
Bottom: German iron hunting collar with two rows of iron elongated oval links and clasp. Early 1600s
Note: on all three of these collars, the prongs point outward for protection of the dog from aggression.
Bullmastiff wearing an iron collar for bear or wolf hunting. 1500s
Today’s collars (below). I don’t see much physical difference, yet the practical application is vastly different.
Up to approximately the late 1700s there had always been, throughout history, informal competition between handlers and their dogs, regardless of the practical application—be it sled dogs, herding dogs, field/bird dogs, hunting dogs, etc. These competitions took place, primarily, to determine a) the quality of the handler/trainer, b) the quality of the dog and his/her skills for future breeding purposes and specific uses/jobs, and c) to learn new and better ways to handle dogs and increase both human and dog skills and abilities. They were also, of a secondary nature, social get-togethers for like-minded people in order to share information, knowledge and self-improvement. It was peers judging peers and assisting novice handlers.
This format, now formalized, is only seen today in working Border collie and bird dog field trials, where it, too, is being co-opted into a “weekend warrior” show, not an assessment of handler and dog for improvement of human competency and technique and dog genetics and capabilities.
By the 1800s many of the informal competitions had morphed into a show at a local tavern (England) where a favorite dog had supporters. It was primarily held for the toy dogs, still, these dogs were demonstrating some form of skill, usually in the form of a trick performed for an audience.
Then, in 1859, the first formally organized dog show, which was comprised solely of bird dog breeds, was held. It was only fourteen years later that the first official dog show was promoted by The Kennel Club (England). The emphasis was on breed conformation, temperament, and to maintain stud books.
This timeline and format was closely paralleled in the United States, with the formation of The American Kennel Club happening in 1884. Still, both England and the U.S. Kennel Clubs were focused on primarily the maintenance and promotion of genetically sound dogs for work. Those handlers dealing with these dogs still had a practical application to supply to their canine companions and were interested in ensuring the best dog for the work.
Throughout this long relationship with dogs, competent, skilled and intelligent handlers knew better than to beat a dog, but reward it with personal attention and physical and emotional inclusion in the daily life. They knew that food could be used in some cases as a training/reward aspect, but could not take the place of the human-dog relationship bond. The majority did not endanger their most valued companions and partners with stupid displays of risk, such as bear-baiting, dog fighting and the likes, nor did they knowingly or willingly endanger their dogs in the act of work. The majority did not ask their dogs to do what they, themselves, would not. The majority valued their dogs as companions, friends, and working partners and loved them. The majority of handlers did not behave inanely, clap their hands, jump up and down and squeak excitedly at their dogs in order to get any type of results. The majority was quiet, calm, and sensible, common-sense filled people, and as such, they created quiet, calm, sensible, common-sense filled dogs. The majority of quality handlers succeeded in having a personal, intimate relationship with their dogs, who were well-behaved, and had practical work skills—and all without obedience training.
In America, these handlers and their successful method became a dying breed due to the hubris of one woman.
Before beginning this next part, as an aside, let me give you an idea of what poodles were originally intended to do as a job. poodle 1825, from Ger. Pudel, shortened form of Pudelhund “water dog,” from Low Ger. Pudel “puddle” (cf. pudeln “to splash”) + Ger. Hund “hound.” Probably so called because the dog was used to hunt water fowl.
Originally from Germany (NOT France), they were bred as water dogs, retrieving foul for hunters. Poodle-like dogs go as far back as Roman times where it is recorded they were used as a pointer in falconry. Their scent skills were utilized to hunt truffles in Italy, Spain, and France. A quote about poodle-like dogs in Hans Fredrich von Flemming’s “The Complete Hunter”, 1749, states, “They retrieve well in reed field and fast rivers: They also hunt out foxes, otters, and wild cats from the reeds. Such Water Pudel is of great service to the Fowler” Hoyt, p. 24
The Beginning of the Long, Slow Decline of Our Dogs and the Crisis They Now Face:
Col. Konrad Most, a German, was training dogs and explaining, from a dog trainer’s perspective to other dog trainers, how dogs learned. He began, in 1906, to train police dogs while serving as police commissioner at the Royal Prussian Police Headquarters, Saarbruchen. In 1912 he became director of Berlin’s State Breeding and Training Establishment for police dogs. He headed the Canine Research Department of the Army from 1919-1937. In 1931 he helped form the German Society for Animal Psychology.
Long before the publication of B.F. Skinner’s The Behavior of Organisms, Col. Most had a rudimentary understanding of the relationship between consequences and behaviors as applied to dog training for specific tasks, though he still approached the dog through the submission of the body, while primarily dismissing, or perhaps not even recognizing the intrinsic social, and necessary integral, emotional and total-dog aspects of learning and behavioral responses. Many of his methods or procedures are considered “heavy-handed” by some trainers today. Most’s belief was, “The order of hierarchy can only be established through physical force”, so dogs he trained were forced into the sit, down, or heel position. He explained the reasoning and goal behind his training method was, “The object of compulsion is to obtain the paramount and unconditional surrender of the dog”.
In 1910, Col. Most’s manual Training Dogs became one of the foundation books for “how to train” dogs, a manual for training dogs whose primary purpose was for use in police work and war. The dogs that couldn’t cut it, make the grade in Colonel Most’s training regime, were discarded. So, right there we have a SELECTIVE OPERATIVE that has no bearing on the vast majority of dogs, and yet, we’ve adopted a training technique that’s based on two primary objectives: complete subservience without thought and the willingness to be aggressive upon demand.
Now, I ask you folks, WHAT does that truly have to do with the majority of dogs?
Two of Most’s students, Josef Weber, The Dog in Training, 1939, and Hans Tosutti, Companion Dog Training, 1948, brought Most’s training methods to England and the United States. Weber, in his book, states that he “wanted to bring to the American dog owners the practices used by experts in international schools.”
In 1933, a woman named Helene (Helen) Whitehouse Walker, a socialite who bred Standard Poodles at her Carillon Kennels, was miffed that people didn’t take her dogs seriously. Under the AKC rules her poodles couldn’t compete in AKC-licensed field trials. She’d read about obedience tests in English dog magazines and her main objective became to introduce to America the growing English sport of obedience “trialing”. To this end she traveled to England and studied the “sport” of obedience and its training methods. She spent a total of six weeks learning how to train HER dogs.
Walker studied under trainers the trials, techniques and methods being utilized by the Associated Sheep, Police, Army Dog Society (ASPADS). This group held specific trials within the working parameters of each job specification in order that the dog progress through ascending stakes (levels); Utility Dog (UD), Working Dog (WD), Tracking Dog (TD) and Patrol Dog (PD) in which the following must be demonstrated by the handler and dog duo, Control (heel, recall, stay, etc), Agility (jumps and scaling a wall), and nosework (search square and tracking) to demonstrate mastery of specific tasks in order to qualify as competent within their working job description.
The obedience and methods she studied was that of Colonel Most, as it was his training method being implemented upon dogs participating and competing in these English trials specifically geared to show the competency of dogs in demonstrating MOST’S method at a JOB designed for specific temperament dogs trained to be competent within a limited job performance demand.
Walker focused on the dog training techniques being displayed, which were heavily predicated on the police and army concept of training, all of which were foundationally replicating Col. Most’s training techniques. These techniques were rote learning for specific tasks and had little, if any, variables within the context of learning. The dogs were taught a specific response to a specific command and no deviation or personal thought by the dog was allowed to enter the equation. Trainers were taught in this same manner. Say “this” and the dog must respond by doing “that”. It was a connect-the-dots training technique that failed to include the real dog. It still is accomplished in this same manner today, be it by positive or negative training influences. It is training for a specific task. You are an army dog, you are to help control and put prisoners on trains and not let them revolt, run, or attack your officer. Once you finish your job, you are most probably kenneled until you are needed for work. As a dog, you have one task, outside of doing that task, you do not truly exist. And when you can no long perform your task, you will be put-down, as you cannot integrate into a normal household.
As you can clearly see, this has NO basis in the majority of our dogs’ real, daily behavior, it is a JOB, and training only FOR a job. Not communication of behavioral expectations coupled with social integration into a human/dog relationship.
Walker returned to America and laid siege to the AKC. As The AKC web page states: “In the mid 30′s, Helene Whitehouse Walker was instrumental in establishing obedience tests. She submitted a pamphlet of procedures to the AKC in December 1935, and three months later the Board of Directors approved it in principle. In April 1936, AKC published the first official “Regulations and Standard for Obedience Test Field Trials”.
Now here’s a little back-story on Helene. Her maternal grandfather was Sir George Duntze, 4th Baronet Duntz, in…….(please hum the Jeopardy song here)…..ENGLAND. This gave Helene an “in” to ASPADS that she would not, otherwise, have had. It meant her mother was LADY Ethel Maude Duntze Whitehouse and, as such, when Helene stood before the AKC Board to ask for the inclusion of the “sport” of obedience trialing, she had money, social standing, and, for some, an enviable heritage. Now please, tell me if that, possibly accompanied by a hefty financial donation to the AKC (though I can’t prove it), wouldn’t be enough to get the all-male Board in 1933 to move heaven and earth and accept her request in the very short documented time of three months.
In the fall of 1932, Walker placed an ad for kennel help. Blanche Saunders, a farm hand on the Dell-Howe (aka Green Chimneys) Farm, in Patterson, New York, got the job. Walker taught her all she knew about dog training—all six weeks worth—and Blanche went on to study at the feet of Josef Weber, who had been taught by Col. Most. The link was now set for today’s crisis.
The first American Obedience Trial was held by Helene Whitehouse Walker on her father’s estate in Mount Kisco, N.Y., an extremely affluent and influential community, in 1933, with the assistance of Blanche Saunders, kennel manager and Mrs. Walker’s dog trainer. Saunders later wrote a book called The Story of Dog Obedience. The old pictures in this book—particularly of Saunders in riding breeches—give the enterprise of dog training the feel of an English period novel—estates, entitlement, kennel managers.
It is also most interesting to note that the woman most intent upon proving her dogs’ abilities did so with the barest minimum of on-the-ground experience in training dogs. She then passed that responsibility over to her kennel manager and dog trainer. But, using her social standing and resources, forced through a form of training which is now proving as an abysmal failure—to the tune of almost five million dogs euthanized annually and fully three generations of Americans that now incorrectly handle dogs—all for a bit of hurt ego, she wanted to prove her dogs were not “sissies”.
This form of cookie-cutter obedience training grew fairly steadily. Then, in 1937, in a bid to gain wider acceptance and participation in her chosen sport, Walker and Saunders took three standard poodles, a travel trailer, and a Buick, and set off on a 10,000 mile cross-country trip aimed at promoting her budding “sport” of choice.
From that point forward ALL OBEDIENCE training based their premise of training on the body, NOT the entire dog, and it all stemmed from the foundational teachings of the police and war dogs of Colonel Konrad Most.
In the 1940s, Keller Breland, best known for operating the Arkansas tourist attraction IQ Zoo, which featured trained wild animals, began using the clicker as a method of training. He and his wife, Marion, were students of B.F. Skinner, a behavioral psychologist.
The popularity of this zoo brought Keller to the attention of the commercial animal training industry in the 50s. The Kellers developed the first operant-based (positive or negative consequences following a behavior to increase or decrease the occurrence of the behavior) bird and mammal shows for Marineland of the Pacific. Animal trainers from all over came to them to learn this method. This program was interrupted due to WWII, but the methods he pioneered are used today in oceanariums and theme parks all over the U.S.
Fast-forward to 1984. Karen Pryor, founder of Sea Life Park in Hawaii, a Cornell graduate (1954) with a background in zoology and behavioral biology, was a pioneering dolphin trainer.
We all know how this form of operant conditioning works. Clicker makes a noise, dolphin does a trick, and dolphin gets a treat/reward for performing the trick.
Here’s something to think about. At the end of the SHOW the dolphin does NOT go home with the trainer. He returns to the other dolphins and (learns) his normal dolphin behavior.
In both the cases of Breland and Pryor, these people were teaching WILD ANIMALS tricks—NOT behavior. NONE of these animals went home and LIVED with the trainers. Therefore, the animals were capable of returning to their normal behavioral patterns upon cessation of the job/trick. And while I agree this training method is wonderful for tricks and/or jobs outside the normal range of daily behavior, it has nothing to do with the dog with which you live.
In situations where one is working with wild animals, the operant training method is probably the most effective and humane way to train. If one is speaking of dogs, however, one must remember that selective breeding for compatibility with, and connection to man has altered the dogs’ inherent response structure to work WITH us and to respond to our emotional state. Dogs read this very quickly and can interpret whether their behavior pleases us or not.
Food, while nice, is not the be-all, end-all for the dog. Inclusion, emotionally, psychologically and physically is very high in their world. Whether the interaction between human and dog within these parameters are met under on-going stressful interactions, or under stable, quiet, and secure daily interactions is truly important and should be approached on a relationship-based premise. Obedience training does not address the core emotional needs of dogs and, therefore, does not truly fix the problems. Behavioral-relationship handling does. It is on-going, fluid, takes into account the individual dog, allowing personal expression within the behavioral expectations of the group and most resembles the family/pack.
Humans are animals. Animals function within the set laws of nature. Many of the behaviors cross species. Minute-by-minute, day-by-day, we communicate to our families what constitutes good behavior in our group. Include your dog in that and you won’t need obedience training. He’ll be well-behaved, relaxed, and secure and work with you. He may make mistakes, but he’s not looking for a fight. It’s not enjoyable to live in a family filled with tension and dogs pick up emotions so easily.
Watch your dog and learn to see what he’s saying with his actions. Allow him the necessary outlet of expressing himself as an individual, as long as he does it within the limitations of behavior you set for your family. Help him to be the best dog he can be and you’ll find he has much more to offer, intellectually, socially and emotionally, than you ever thought possible.
(This is a reprint from Psych-O Analysis Newsletter, Susan Overfield, author, editor, and publisher)
What True Dog Handlers Know
Every true dog handler knows that no two dogs are alike. You can’t work them exactly the same—their specific needs, responses, behavioral patterns and a myriad of other factors come into play each and every time you deal with them. All successful work is a form of behavioral-obedience modification: For the owner, the dog and the trainer. ALL good instruction (what quasi-trainers would have you believe dog obedience training will achieve—but doesn’t) is primarily psychological and good communication. All true dog handlers will quickly admit there is not one single, “right” way to train a dog. There are many individual variations within ONE SUCCESSFUL WAY. All true dog handlers will admit that they are constantly learning new ways to work dogs. All true dog handlers will tell you that to accept only one lock-step “method” is to insure that many dogs will not succeed and many owners will not be totally happy. All true dog handlers admit that there is only one WRONG way to “train” a dog–the one that destroys enthusiasm for life, causes the owner and/or others to dislike a dog due to its behavior or misbehavior and a method which frustrates either, or both, the dog and owner. Current dog obedience training, whether positive reinforcement, no-stress, or choke-chain, fall into the WRONG way.
Every true dog handler knows that dogs function by certain truisms. These are; one of us is the leader. (Either you are clearly in charge, or the dog is. Leadership can be achieved by a variety of methods.) Dogs don’t negotiate. (Dogs don’t sit around working out problems by negotiations in the classic sense. Rules are rules. If a rule is broken there is a clear and understood consequence for the offender.) Dogs don’t bribe each other for desired behavior, nor do they offer a treat for desired behavior. (I’ve seen forms of “flirting”/play enticement, but never bribery). Dogs use clear forms of punishment when misbehavior occurs despite a warning. (Punishment can be in the form of physical chastisement, ignoring the offender, up to shunning for select periods of time.) Dogs don’t take weeks to teach another dog how to behave. (This lesson in manners is quickly and efficiently imparted as the harmony and security within the pack, both for the offender as well as the other members, is totally destroyed if it is not.) Good behavior is rewarded with emotional and physical interaction with pack members (NOT with food treats.) Why is that human dog obedience “trainers” are so against using the forms of communication that dogs inherently know and understand? Because many don’t see them or cannot correctly communicate them. True dog handlers will go to great lengths to help an owner see, understand and master correct timing and communication—the happiness, well-being and improved, long-term relationship between owner and dog is important to a true dog handler.
Dog Training Myths
I want to talk about some basic myths in dog “training” so that you will better understand my method and why it works so well. I warn you now, exploding these myths (as well as what we have discussed previously) will probably make me unpopular within the training industry and with many of those who call themselves dog “trainers” as much of what has been/is being developed is strictly to make money and accommodate the many competency levels of trainers. But, it’s time it happened. Exploding the myths and exposing the training industry can only help owners become informed and improve their relationships with their dogs.
MYTH #1: You can’t train a dog before it’s 6 months old
This, in my mind, is the most detrimental myth out there. It leads owners to believe that a dog is incapable of learning obedience until it has reach six months old-a certain magic age. This is based on, primarily, two critical issues.
The first is that, the quasi-“trainers” are NOT teaching behavior, but using ineffectual props, such as choke chains, treats or all-positive/no-stress methods already shown to fail. If this were not the truth, we would not have a growing number of shelters, rescues and fosters all clamoring for money and a large number of dogs being killed annually.
The LEADING KILLER OF DOGS UNDER THE AGE OF 2 YEARS OLD IS BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS.
By using traditional, choke collar training methods, a very young dog of eight weeks to about six months old can’t physically handle the immense throat and tracheal abuse that occurs when the “snap-n-jerk” method is used. This method is physically and psychologically hard and, because pups are just learning their world, it can be extremely damaging to them, destroying their confidence in their skills, the world around them and their owner’s trustworthiness.
Dogs, at age six months or even older, can become shy, fearful or even aggressive in self-defense when trained using the choke chain method. They certainly won’t think the person who owns them is someone to trust as they have been hurt by them repeatedly with this type of training. It is certainly NOT a method I would ever use on a young, emotionally and physically developing dog. It would, in all probability, scar them for life or leave them with shaky self-confidence. I have only needed to use a choke collar twice in all my time of training.
Almost 60 years ago it was deemed by scientists and behaviorists that using choke-chains to train resulted in “learned helplessness” on the part of the dog. Obedience was gained not by the innate willingness of the dog to follow leader-established rules, but because repeated pain and fear had been administered the dog simply didn’t try to do ANYTHING. (Hey, guys, I didn’t make this up…it’s a fact).
The majority of trainers fall into two categories; a) those who rely on choke chains/pinch collars, a method predicated on harsh, domineering techniques that doesn’t require a trainer to adjust their training to the personality, age, breed or emotional development of the individual dog, and b) what I call the “treat” method which bribes a dog to behave. (This is not a viable method as it adds unnecessary calories and is VERY slow and undependable unless an immense amount of mindless, repetitive work is practiced. The bribes are then very important to hold the attention of a dog bored to death with rote practice. And, as we all know with bribes, the minute something more important comes along, the ante is upped or you are ignored completely.) Choke chains require a dog with some “body” to him in order to be able to withstand the abuse. Bribing is slow and results in erratic constancy of response in non-bribed conditions. Owners know, in their gut, that both these methods are not right.
There is an old belief about one year of a dog’s life is equivalent to seven years of a human’s. Veterinarians have determined a much more realistic development table which blows this out of the water.
5 months (age of dog) = 10 years (human age)
8 months=13 years
10 months=14 years
12 months=15 years
Everyone knows a normal parent would NEVER allow a child to grow to the age of 11 years without ever having taught good behavior, teaching the child about the world, the people in it and how to be polite, and saying “no” and enforcing it—not only for the child’s sake, but for the parent’s and family’s mental and physical well-being. So, why would any caring owner allow their dog to develop that long without teaching these same skills? Because the current failing method of “dog training” and “trainers” don’t know how to teach behavior and to cover their failure that is what they tell owners. (This is now changing a bit. The industry is pushing Puppy Classes, but we will look at that in Myth #3.)
Here is the inherent problem with age-restricted training. By the time the dog is six months old they have developed some bad behavioral habits and have the size, speed, determination and strength to engage in them causing owners to pull their hair out and begin to really dislike the dog they once loved. It also makes the dog crazy as it tries to understand the rules and accommodate an always emotionally-changing owner. One day the dog receives love and positive attention as it hasn’t done anything to tick-off the human. The next day the owner is at his wit’s end and punishing the dog. No one—not dog or owner—is happy or secure.
In the past few years puppy classes have begun to spring up. Nice…But, most are simply modified social classes with overtones of adult dog classes. They DO NOT TEACH THE CORRECT BEHAVOIR TO THE DEVELOPING PUP. If they did, the leading reason for the death of dogs under age 2 would NOT be behavioral problems.
After completing this training you are instructed to plan to bring the pup back, at about 6 months old, to begin adult training. This is an industry gimmick to make more money and we will explode it.
MYTH #2: There are different levels of obedience
This is a greatmyth. Many trainers, and the dog industry, get a LOT of mileage and bucks from this one. Why would anyone charge oncefor training when they can charge three or four times? Let’s tell the truth here…you deserve to hear it. After all, every one of you works hard for your money. You probably have to do some serious schedule rearranging to make time for obedience classes. You are the people that love the dog, but have to replace the couch, hold onto your temper when faced with a dog that is ignoring your command (which is usually only given for the dog’s safety) and worry yourself sick that your pet may be hurt or killed as it takes off down the road or across a field in hot pursuit of something. It is you that feels a failure when your dog “doesn’t get it” and does poorly in “obedience training. “ Here is how “obedience” classes work now, for the most part:
Beginning obedience—pay once. This seems to mean that your dog learns to lower his hind end to the ground. (Hopefully upon your command, because I can guarantee you he knows how do this without your telling him.)
Intermediate obedience (pay twice) seems to mean that you return to the trainer to teach your dog to lower his hind end to the ground and stay in one place while you stand for a specific period of time.
Advanced obedience seems to mean you take another class (pay three times) to teach your dog to sit on command, stay in one place while you walk away or around a corner and, possibly, do this all off-leash. (Please understand this is a simplistic, condensed version of what is happening, but it doesn’t make me happy to see dogs and owners go through unnecessary and prolonged training.)
Here’s the truth, unvarnished and totally without tact. There are NO different levels of obedience. Either your dog is obeying or it isn’t-right from the beginning. When I train by establishing behavioral expectations and rules—I get good behavior AND obedience for which I don’t have to specifically train—it is a natural extension of pack behavior to follow the rules and the dog finds it easy to comprehend and comply. Both of us are happy.
Here is another area in which I differ dramatically from the established methods of “training.” I hold certain truths to be self-evident. I believe both people and dogs can think, reason, learn and apply what they learn IF they understand what is being taught to them. How well they can apply this knowledge depends upon a variety of factors. Still, these factors can be modified or improved upon for a higher consistency rate of good behavior. I KNOW that most of the problems within obedience classes and between owners and dogs occur when owners don’t communicate in a way that dogs understand. The owner says one word, their tone indicates something different, their body language communicates a third thing and their actions throw the fourth, and final, monkey-wrench into the stew. The dog is confused. The owner frustrated.
When I teach behavioral-obedience the very first lesson for both the owner and dog is to learn to respect each other, become calm, think about what is happening and practice self-correction. Each dog is an individual, with individual traits at different levels in such things as willfulness, timidity or willingness. While the basics of good behavior are taught, they are tailored to the individual dog/owner. The dog determines the level/form of communication and discipline needed to insure they believe you mean what you say. Dogs are NOT stupid. When they misbehave and you effectively communicate disapproval, if faced with a consequence (such as not being allowed to play during socialization time, continuing a walk, being returned to a kennel, or verbally reprimanding in a no-nonsense tone, to name a few) dogs don’t tend to repeat the mistake if the owner understands and knows how, when and how forcefully to correct their individual dog. This method is humane, instructive, easy to understand and quickly assimilated by the dog as it is exactly how they would be corrected by a higher-ranking dog pack member.
MYTH #3: Puppy classes will help a dog get ready for obedience classes
This is a mixed-bag myth. It is absolutely correct if the “trainer” is using a standard, one-method form of “training. “ It is a giant myth if you are speaking of what a puppy can actually learn. We know dogs’ brains are much like a human’s. That their learning is condensed due to rapid maturation is known by true dog trainers and evidenced by the age table above. We also know that the optimum time for socialization of a pup is between eight and sixteen weeks of age. True dog trainers have always known it is also the optimum period for basic behavior in that a pup has few learned bad behaviors, is receptive to social development and yet is still young enough accept, easily and quickly, the rules as laid out by the owner. What a handler does NOT DO is work a pup as if it were a more physically and emotionally mature dog. Corrections, training time lengths for specific behavior (such as sit,) physical limitations and their concentration span and more must be taken into account and/or modified when teaching puppies in a class setting. But, puppies CAN be taught ALL THE BASICS of good behavior between ages 8-16 weeks. As a matter of fact, it much easier to train a pup than an older dog: The older dog has learned how to manipulate and ignore in order to simply do what it wants. That results, many times, in a battle of wills between owner and dog to change bad habits. Look at it from the older dog’s point of view. Why should it change doing something it has gotten away with for months and enjoys, just because you’ve decided it’s old enough to do it differently? The easiest thing is not to let the dog form bad behavioral habits that will need to be broken later. That means training it as a pup and educating the owner.
A pup of 8-16 weeks is totally capable of holding a sit command for long periods of time. What a good dog handler will understand and incorporate in the work is that the pup, also as part of his development, will need supervised play, exploration, social and love time. These are important skills which all dogs should learn, but they still need guidance as to appropriate behavior patterns. I will put a pup in my regular class. I don’t hold a puppy-only class. The pup will learn rapidly if the class has mixed ages and all dogs attending benefit. There are some aspects of behavior which dogs can teach to dogs. Keep the different ages segregated and dogs miss a valuable social interaction lesson. A true dog hander, however, can immediately read, and has generalized knowledge about, the dogs in class and knows which dogs will not respond well with others, regardless of the situation. It’s the handler’s responsibility to warn owners which, or when, other dogs should not be approached.
MYTH #4: An “X week/Z hour per session” traditional obedience class is necessary to train a dog
This myth is certainly convenient for “trainers.” If the dog isn’t “getting it”, no matter the reason, the “trainer” can put it back on the owner and claim the client didn’t practice that week. The truth is that a dog, if the communication is correct, will understand the basic rules (not necessarily the specific vocabulary, though I’m never surprised that they figure out what we want) in just as little as half-an-hour. The owner may take a lot longer. Dogs, if a handler is offering clear communication, will frequently work on a variety of skills for two or more hours easily (this will not, many times, hold true for puppies as using their brains takes a lot of energy and their basic energy output is high to begin with.) Any good handler can tell you a bored dog is hard to handle. They can be destructive, easily distracted, not listen, become hyper-active, or in the words of one of my clients,” …act like complete idiots, jump like jesters and run as if the Alien is after them.” I strongly encourage dogs to think. Think when he hears a correction sound. What am I doing that incorrect? Then think what he was doing before he heard the sound. The majority of dogs will self-correct almost immediately without any other incentives needed to obtain the desired behavioral response.
The methods most “trainers” use to alter behavior is to slap a choke chain on and jerk the dog around, or bribe them to be obedient with treats. The first hurts and is often used incorrectly and/or too much by well-meaning owners who have been poorly trained and corrected themselves as to timing and communication techniques by dog trainers. The second gets the dog to focus on food as a reward, not quickly and permanently changing behavioral responses as it has not true pack or self-benefit.
Teaching Behavior vs. Obedience
There is a third method, which is the oldest and most consistently successful method, is the one I use and build on, one which dogs want more than almost anything in the world: Acknowledgement from their owners that their behavior is right, acceptable and pleasing as it applies to their behavior and relationship. The best behaved, least troublesome dogs have one thing in common-a feeling of security and an owner who is a confident leader and gives of himself as the reward for being a valued, trusted and loved companion. Why wouldn’t a dog behave if that were the pay-off? The owner has a dog that can be trusted and so the owner offers opportunities for the dog to have fun, interesting or enjoyable experiences because the owner knows that it takes very little to correct a behavioral mistake, even at a distance. If a dog hears my correction sound due to inappropriate behavior, then self-corrects, it is allowed to continue with life, not made to practice a good behavior. The dog understands quickly not engage in, or stop exhibiting, unwanted behavior. In my training, to ignore a correction warning is to guarantee the owner will administer some form of discipline. The discipline may be something as simple as bringing all activities to a screeching halt, but only because the dog did not respect the correction sound and self-correct his behavior. Most methods either make the dog come, lie down and stay (stopping all behavior so the dog can’t make or learn from any kind of mistake) or spend an inordinate amount of time practicing “good” behavioral responses—usually with bribes. These, to me, are silly methods. People and dogs learn from mistakes. The goal is not to allow either one of them to make a mistake that will result in physical harm, yet still respect the warning, both as it pertains to the immediate situation and future. How do people teach this to children? by a warning. Let me give you two examples as they offer a clear demonstration of the difference in how I look at teaching dogs and people to get a desired behavior.
Here is one simplified example; If the child ignores an initial verbal warning not to touch a hot stove, in a controlled warning method the mother steps in before harm can happen and takes the child’s hand, now sternly warning him again not to touch and at the same time physically removing him from proximity to the stove. The child is allowed to continue playing, helping or whatever. The child has now learned two things simultaneously, a hot stove, specifically, is off-limits according to mom and it is important, in general, to listen to and respect her warnings. The child will heed future warnings because mom has taught the child that she will step in and administer sterner discipline for ignoring a first warning. Touching the stove, will not happen if mom has proven in other, less dangerous situations she is serious and not to be ignored when she issues warnings, not to continue with a certain behavior. The child will think twice before doing something after hearing her warning. Usually this is because the child knows what mom will do if she is ignored, but doesn’t know what the stove will do. The point of this example is not the danger to the child, per se, but that it is the verbal warning administered that alters the behavior, not a reward or practice system, that achieved immediately the desired behavioral response. This is exactly the method I use to train dogs and they understand it perfectly.
Time and again I hear, “My dog is great on a leash, but let him off and he won’t come when he’s called.” Most “trainers” now will bribe with treats to get a dog to learn to come. Or, using the older method, they will put a dog on a long rope, command “come” and pull sharply to make the dog obey. Once again, I say these are silly methods and clearly demonstrate that the majority of “trainers” don’t know squat about dogs. Most “trainers” do not explain to owners what the dog may be thinking or what the owner is setting up in the way of habits that inadvertently trains a dog NOT to come, and finally, how to change the dog’s response by changing owner’s habits and behavior because they do NOT understand dogs.
The other problem owners bring to me is that they can’t get their dogs to hold a “stay”. Again, “trainers” tend to use the same two methods of training—bribery or punishment—for not staying. Let’s look at this from a dog’s view point. Most of the time when a dog is put on a “down/stay” it is for one of three reasons; 1) the owner doesn’t trust it to come when called and puts the dog on a “down” so that they will know exactly where he is, 2) the dog is doing something wrong and the best way for most owners, with standard “training”, to punish or gain control over the dog is to make it stay in one place, and 3) because the dog WON’T stay down, the owner has been told to practice.
Any genetically and mentally healthy dog can learn all it needs in the way of behavioral-obedience in an average of two to four hours. (I will be happy to supply all the references wanted. This is why my Dog Camps and BOSS Dog Clinics are so popular.) There are many variables that often lengthen the time that it takes a specific dog to accept a new behavior structure. These may range from early upbringing, individual willfulness of the dog, length of time with current owner, to owner’s individual character strength and communication abilities. All play a crucial part in the time span it takes some dogs to accept the “new rules” being put in place, but they do learn—usually in a matter of hours—not weeks or years. What may take an extremely long time, possibly forever, is teaching the owner how to communicate correctly and be consistent about rules and corrections. I hold four Dog Camps yearly and instruct BOSS Dog Clinics all over the United States throughout the year. At that time owners bring their dogs and we work—Hard. We spend quite a bit of time in the beginning learning about dogs. How they develop emotionally, physically, psychologically and socially: not only academics or theory, real dog knowledge from dogs themselves and my experience. (Sometimes academics and theories don’t dovetail with how dogs truly respond to corrections, stimulation and their environment.) How dogs communicate amongst themselves. How dogs teach other dogs acceptable forms of behavior. During the Camps and Clinics the dogs are in attendance and learning. Learning patience, to sit quietly, wait for release commands, learning the correction warning sound, learning that their owners are becoming consistent in their expectations and responses and much, much more. Owners admit that they see a complete change in attitude and behavior by lunch. This is because by lunch owners are more knowledgeable, look at their companions differently and communicate and respond in ways that dogs understand. I cover all basic commands for dogs, but tailor the work to the individual dog and owner, fine-tuning owner’s responses, attitudes, communication methods and physical cues. Each owner may video tape only their dog’s work to take home and use as a “refresher.” By the end of the day, if not sooner, most dogs have been working off-leash and everyone is happier.
A caveat is necessary at this point. A dog will always be a dog. The best dog handler in the world cannot alter certain aspects of inherent dog behavior. No handler can guarantee 100%, mistake-proof behavior because individuals are involved. Dogs still have a will of their own. Just like people, they will sometimes do things they know they shouldn’t or break a rule in the face of known consequences. Training may be able to modify certain behaviors, but it cannot make them disappear completely or forever. But, on the whole, the true dog handler will be able to bring out the best in you and your dog—far more than a “trainer” due to the handler’s intimate understanding of dogs.
MYTH #5: My dog can’t be trained, it needs a dog behaviorist/psychologist
I just love this one. Because the one-method “trainers” couldn’t, for some reason, “train” your dog, the industry developed an entirely new sector that allows a person to pursue a high-paid profession in which they have more room to try different tricks to alter the behavior of your dog. (This is merely another form of a “trainer/training”, but you get to pay large sums of money where one-on-one someone who never actually works your dog gets to tell you how to do it on your own at home.) True dog handlers, from the beginning of working with the dog, are also behaviorists, teachers and psychologists. Why? Because all of these things must be incorporated into the way they deal with the dog and owner as a whole for the work to be successful.
MYTH #6: A dog for everyone (or how to pick the right breed for you)
I’m going to advocate solely on the dog’s side in this one. Sometimes we just shouldn’t own a dog. Forget whether there is a “right” breed or not. We aren’t at a place in our lives where we can do what is best for the dog. Maybe because of a work schedule and we’ll be out-of-town a lot. Or maybe, the daily schedule keeps us away too long. It might be that there has been a major upheaval in your life (Being under loads of stress in NOT a good atmosphere into which to introduce a dog. No matter how much better you might feel with a companion, think about the dog and how it feels living with a very upset owner.) If you’re in the military and subject to transfer orders where the dog may not be able to accompany you, don’t get one. If adopting, you need to expect some emotional/behavioral issues will arise. If you’re not will to deal with these and/or lay out money because instruction is needed to improve behavior so the dog will feel love and acceptance, don’t get one. If you can’t understand and accept that you’re responsible for keeping a dog for life, don’t get one. If you want a dog, but another family member doesn’t, until you both agree totally, don’t get one.
If you’re not willing to accept ALL the responsibilities that go with owning dogs (of any kind), DO NOT GET ONE.
Having said all of that, if you are ready to get a dog, let’s talk about what is a good one for you. Many people try to be responsible and do their homework as far as what kind of breed would best fit their lifestyle. I applaud you all, but look further. Will the temperament of the individual dog mesh with you/your family’s? Are you a loud group with active children that make sharp, sudden movements? Bad match is a pup/dog that is easily startled or shy (too much pressure), or movement-oriented dogs (they will be nipping heels, quickly.) Do you have lots of people come and visit, or have a business where the dog will be spending time? Bad match is a dog/pup that demonstrates a high degree of territorial imperative. Are you in the human health care profession? Bad match is usually a dominant dog, you’ll have problems getting control of behavior. Are you a dominant personality that likes quick reactions to your commands? Bad match is a “light” dog (one which doesn’t handle tonal changes well.)
These are some of things you need to think about when picking a dog in order to make life easier for both of you and be better companions. If you’re not sure about what kind of personality is in a pup get a copy of the dog personality test to help point you in the right direction. Remember, though, all dogs go through a final personality change at about two years of age and that is what you will end with. I have seen very active dogs settle at about two. I have seen easy going dogs change temperament drastically and start picking fights. (These are extreme, I concur, but a change does happen and you need to know it.) Beware and be aware. If choosing a pup/dog from a breeding kennel talk to people who have purchased from the breeder and have pups/dogs from the same cross. Ask them how the pups have developed and allow leeway for individual character traits and handling. You will see some similarities that may help you decide. Really, do a lot of homework on the breeder. Too many “backyard breeders” are popping up and selling dogs without really any genetic knowledge of the lineage and serious thought into behavioral and breeding goals for the proposed litters. Too many of my clients have purchased expensive and problem-ridden pups through “hobby” and show breeders! It has then been a real issue to return the dog and claim a full-payment refund!
All dogs, just as people, can modify behavior to a point. But, a bad match from the beginning sometimes can’t be fixed.
Types of Dog Obedience “Trainers”
There are four types of dog trainers out there (though there are some shades of gray between them and we will go into what, I believe, makes a quality HANDLER no “trainer” at the end of this long section.)
The Trained “Trainer”: The first is the trained dog obedience “trainer”. This person has attended one of the many schools popping up to teach them to train dogs. (Nice way to add a large layer of profit to the training industry, but it doesn’t mean much except somebody is making a lot of money and the failing methods and their “trainers” are still out there. Meanwhile, the true dog handler, because they know through personal instinct, experience, study and innate talent what is required to work both the dog and owner, is still quietly working dogs that are happy, for owners that are happy.) This “trainer”, basically, is taught one way to train dogs. They are usually individuals that have said, “I really love dogs and want to become a trainer.” These “trainers” tend to only be able to apply that which they have been taught and cannot adjust well, if at all, to dog individuality. This where you so often hear an owner say, “We failed dog class.”
How on earth can you fail dog class??? Dogs have been sitting, staying and learning what acceptable and non-acceptable behaviors amongst themselves are for thousands of years. Do you really believe that they don’t know how to do these things? Of course they do. The necessary skill is to know and understand dogs and to communicate exactly when, where and how YOU want them to do it. (Dogs know how to do this with each other, too.) If there has been failure, short of the owner quitting class, then the “trainer” didn’t have the skills and knowledge, personally, to teach the dog and owner how to communicate. Nor did the “trainer” probably have the innate ability to adjust to the individual dog. This is “cookie cutter” training, both for the “trainer” who is taught, and the dog whom the “trainer” teaches. We know this style of teaching doesn’t work for the majority of humans, we know it doesn’t work for the majority of dogs. Owners have always known this and it is why you sometimes feel that there is something “wrong” with certain classes/trainers you observe, or why the need to retake, or take new or higher level, obedience classes. There are specific communication skills, as well as personal attitudes and behaviors that owners need to understand, learn and master in order to establish basic behaviors that all dogs need to learn. If the pack can teach a puppy, why can’t many “trainers” teach the dog/owner duo? Because they can only teach what they have learned, they can’t tweak it when needed to fit the individual dog/owner. I would not be satisfied with, nor want, this type of “trainer” for my dogs.
The Modified Trained “Trainer”: The second type of “trainer” has been taught, or picked up, a specific and/or limited variety of methods and is able to couple this with a learned and/or unconscious limited awareness of dog behavioral cues. This is a “trainer” about whom owners often say, “They’re good with dogs.” The “trainer” may try to combine a few methods, or try different ones, in order to help the owner get the dog to learn dog obedience. This may also be the person who will be the “teacher” at many of the dog trainer’s schools. They may, or may not, use treats/positive reinforcement or choke chains and will attempt to explain what they are trying to get the dog to do as far as response. Usually, however, if the dog doesn’t “get it” or “acts up”, this “trainer” having been using either a severe method to intimidate or bribery to achieve an end will tell the owner to practice, practice, practice. “Pick a specific time and practice.” ”I don’t think you practiced last week.” ”You need to practice more with your dog.”
WHY? What does good behavior have to do with practice? The dog behaves or it doesn’t. Tricks you practice, behavior is knowing what is acceptable and what is not in the way of a personal response, both from people and dogs. Bad behavior is stopped, good behavior is allowed to continue. Even very young children get that idea without practicing. An owner is training a dog every minute they spend with it-as well as every minute they DON’T. This would be the type of “trainer” that I would go to only because my choices were limited and it was the best of all the bad options.
What I see is that training by practice of one method is reconstructing the owner and dog into a predetermined mold. You both have to fit it, not make it work for your individual character and lifestyle. No wonder there is so much practice involved—it’s totally foreign to how both dogs and people function. You need to force yourself and the dog to learn it until becomes a habit. I build obedience responses off the inherent feelings and reactions of both people and dogs. You don’t need to practice the response, it’s a natural one. What may be practiced is the correct form of communication to elicit the natural response. This works so much better and is easier for all concerned.
An owner wants a fluid relationship between two caring individuals, dog and person. All relationships need to be worked on; communication does not always come easily, concisely or clearly. But, I don’t know any couple in the world that goes home at 5 o’clock and “practices” their relationship. I can see how long that would last…a husband comes home and the wife jerks his necktie and says, “Sit.” If he doesn’t do it immediately, the wife makes him sit by jerking the tie harder and pushing him down into the chair (harsh method). Or, he sits on command and the wife pops a cookie in his mouth (bribery method.) Yep…that will be a happy couple, but only if they practice, practice, practice.
The reality of a relaxed, satisfying, complex, fluid relationship is that each individual is aware of the other. They adjust constantly, but not by using bribery or punitive actions if the relationship is healthy. They have developed a language that includes trust, understanding, looks, words, tone, actions and sounds that indicate to each other the acceptability, or non-acceptability, of actions, statements and behavior. When a spouse makes that certain “noise”, or shoots that certain look, the other person has the choice to ignore it (and we all know what happens then) or modify their behavior. Most modify quickly and quietly for a variety of reasons. They don’t want a fight, they do it to maintain the balance in the relationship, they modify to please the other person, they adjust because it is also in their best interests, or a combination of these. There is no need to slap, jerk or bribe to get them to modify. Every parent knows that old plea, “If you behave, I’ll buy you a/let you…(fill in the blank.) We know it doesn’t work. On the other hand, neither does the “all-love” method of training work. Why should a dog do anything you ask when it gets what it wants most (affection from you) without one iota of effort???? In human relationships this would be equivalent to an “enabling” scenario usually seen in unhealthy, damaged (i.e., alcoholic, abusive) relationships.
The Niche Trainer: The third kind of trainer is the niche trainer. They might be combined with one of the types listed here and don’t necessarily do, or may not be able/want to do, general public obedience “training”. These trainers are individuals that concentrate on a specific niche, such as guide-dog training, stunt/trick training, specific forms of work (livestock, rescue, therapy, etc.) or show-dog training, to name a few. These trainers are usually very good at what they do, but their method, or end product, may not have any bearing on what the average owner can replicate or needs. Some of these trainers can, and do offer obedience “training”, but it is difficult for the normal owner to understand and actually put into practice as this type of trainer offers a system that works for a specifically inclined type of dog and the system is not geared to accommodate dogs with temperament/abilities that don’t fall into the training category. By this I mean it is almost impossible to train a dog with no livestock instinct to truly work stock, or a dog that doesn’t have the correct temperament to work as a therapy or assistance dog, or to train a dog with little, or no, athletic ability or inclination to do stunts/tricks. The trainer can get results on a temporary/limited basis from many dogs, and exceptional results from a select type of dog, but an owner, in all probability, will never be able to reach or maintain any form of consistent obedience because they cannot do what the trainer does and do not have the “right” kind of dog for that method of training. I would certainly look to this type of trainer for specific training needs, such as training Border Collies to work livestock.
The True Dog HANDLER: This fourth person has an innate knowledge of dogs. It was there when the person was born and has been honed subconsciously over many years of working with dogs. They begin to “work” dogs in childhood and so, have many years of experience before they ever do it for a living. No trained “trainer” can ever hope to come close to the performance of this type of handler. The true dog handler naturally “sees” and “cold reads” a dog instantly. They can tell what dog will do before the dog does it. It is a combination of senses, knowledge and empathy that CAN NOT be taught. They tend to be fluid handlers, adjusting what is needed in the way of communication, discipline, freedom and method to the individual dog without sacrificing the basic goals and end result. (In the horse world they are called “horse whisperers.”) They have a connection with the dogs that the majority of people can’t see or understand. It is here that the owner says, “He/she works magic.” “They have the touch.” “They have a special talent.” This is because the can adjust, “read” and communicate effectively with dogs to achieve the greatest desired result.
Some of these true dog handlers, however well they work with dogs, cannot explain what it is that they are doing. They simply “know”. But, knowing doesn’t help an owner understand or communicate. These are still incredible dog handlers, but they tend to take the dog from the owner, either in class or as a job, and work it, then return the dog. The owner receives a well-trained dog, but after a while, because the owner can’t duplicate or continue what the handler built as a foundation, some deterioration in behavior occurs. Not because the training wasn’t good, or the owner didn’t try, but because the owner didn’t receive instruction to enable the communication, continuity and consistency of skills needed, and so the dog begins to become lax in its responses. This would be a normal scenario, even for humans with some dog handling ability.
A child, as a simplistic example, is taught to brush her teeth before bed in one home (parent’s), then goes to her aunt’s house. The child continues to brush her teeth with only an occasional reminder for a time, but one night she’s just too tired, or simply doesn’t want to, and begins to ignore the reminder or subtle correction of this deviation in trained behavior. The child begins to skip brushing more and more often. The aunt may not see the child is not brushing, or may not know how to handle the child when she won’t brush when she’s told. Suddenly, the child realizes that there is a 50/50 chance she can get away without any true downside. She opts for the easiest path for her—not brushing her teeth. You really can’t blame the aunt. She knows the parents taught the child to brush nightly and assumes the child knows what is expected and will do it. Maybe the aunt hasn’t had children and it doesn’t occur to her the child will take advantage of a situation in which she senses a lack of guidance, attention and knowledge of correction. The aunt doesn’t realize that “just this once” from the child is setting the stage for “every chance I get.” The same holds true for an owner who receives a dog back from a trainer. Just change a few words in the scenario. Child=dog, parent=trainer, brushing teeth=command. The initial behavior of the dog is wonderful and the owner expects it to be that way forever. The owner doesn’t think about the part they play in leading the dog, nor do they really know what to do if the dog just flat out begins to take advantage of their lack of knowledge and experience and ignores their command. The dog has been “trained”, the owner is still in the dark and doesn’t really have the skills to correct and cope with the situation. The dog is usually sent back for a “tune-up”. It wasn’t a case of a poor handler, they instructed the dog well, they simply didn’t have the communication skills to impart to the owner so that training and expectations could be maintained.
The flip-side to this kind of person is rare and, I believe, a top-quality handler. It’s the handler who can not only communicate with dogs, but with owners as well. This person can adapt to both dog and owner needs, explain what is happening and why and impart the reasoning and skills behind the methods to most people—Lucky dog, lucky owner. Communication is usually enhanced for all concerned and corrections become minimal. Owners begin to see an immediate behavioral difference in their dog. The dog relaxes as it begins to work with consistent, clear leadership, behavioral parameters and a communication technique it can easily understand. “Obedience class” is not a punishment seminar held weekly, with the owner feeling inept and inferior and the dog unhappy and either unwilling or manipulative. Nor is it a “treat factory” with the owner resembling a grocery store fully stocked and the dog focused on empty-calorie rewards, not behavior. It is an experience that leaves both owner and dog with a clearer understanding of what is expected from each of them and the means to achieve the desired behavior and correct any miscommunication or outright unwillingness without resorting to bribes or “snap-n-jerk” methods. This is the dog handler, that as an owner, I would hunt for high and low to work with myself and dog.
Dog Training Factories
One of the most important choices an owner makes, other than picking a dog, is picking a “trainer”. I want to offer an overview of the certification situation now being touted by many dog training schools and the different types of “trainers” now in the dog industry.
For many years (now this will be a simple, abbreviated version of how it developed, you understand) it was not a profession. Dog “trainers” were the person next door who always had those wonderfully behaved, happy dogs. The reason for this was that the person doing the “training” was a true dog HANDLER. They understood dogs, understood the way they think, move, respond, what motivates them and how to communicate clearly and easily.
At the point people began to want the neighbor to train their dog, a person developed the idea of holding obedience classes in order to maximize the number of dogs that could be “trained” and make a profit doing it. This was normally a person with a moderate amount of dog-sense or someone who had competed in dog shows. He could control a variety of dogs by dominance and/or harsh discipline. T his became the norm in “training” and evolved from the “choke chain method” so popular for so long. It was also the version that advocated “helicopter-ing,” and what I term, the “snap-n-jerk” technique of “training” where you harshly pop the choke chain as you give the dog a command. I really dislike this method as it is hurting or startling the dog at the same moment you try to teach it to obey a command (and the dog hasn’t even made a mistake, yet.) It is an effective method, but not a good method. It ranks right up there, as far as I’m concerned, with using a whip on someone to make them work. The person being whipped will work, but there’s not much good you can say about the method.
Meanwhile, the true dog handler, because they knew through personal instinct, experience, study and innate talent what was required to work both the dog and owner, was still quietly working dogs that were happy, for owners that were happy.
As obedience classes became popular, a lot of people jumped on the bandwagon. The majority of them were people who “liked dogs” and wanted (I believe) to be held in the same light as the true dog handler. Methods were created, taught and used. A person would attend a dog obedience class and, having some dog-sense, would do fairly well with their dog. Taking their class success they coupled it with wanting to “train” dogs and…Viola!! A new dog “trainer” was created.
Meanwhile, the true dog handler, because they knew through personal instinct, experience, study and innate talent what was required to work both the dog and owner, was still quietly working dogs that were happy, for owners that were happy.
After a time owners began to realize that the “snap-n-jerk” training method wasn’t very nice and the pressure was on for “trainers” to adopt a style that was less offensive, but there was a glitch—a large one. “Trainers”, in substantial numbers, now existed using a mishmash of techniques, at a variety of personal competency levels, and the quality of dog “training” was all over the place. Owners took a big risk when they attended dog class. What quality am I getting in the way of a “trainer”?
Long about this time, the dog industry began to wake up and grow. They smelled money in the air. Owners, tired of attending classes in which they felt “something is wrong,” but didn’t know what, demanded change. The industry, groomers, pet toy and food companies, “trainers”, behaviorists, and now, dog psychics and psychologists created themselves from nothing and poured forth for a piece of the 40-billion dollar pie. The poor dogs and owners were now faced with a new problem. Where there had been few choices before, now there were too many.
Meanwhile, the true dog handler, because they knew through personal instinct, experience, study and innate talent what was required to work both the dog and owner, was still quietly working dogs that were happy, for owners that were happy.
A bright, profit-oriented individual, probably someone who had been “training” dogs with fairly good results, decided there were too many charlatans running around and they were hurting business. They saw an opportunity to get a piece of the market. Somewhat arbitrarily it was decided what constitutes a competent “trainer” and the bar of quality was set at a moderate level in order to include the largest number of interested people.
Next they opened a school to teach a specific method of dog “training” and began to charge people to learn how to become dog “trainers”. The profit making ability was substantially increased as it was easier and more profitable to charge higher class fees and run large numbers of students through a course than it was to increase the fees and number of dogs that one, quality, ethical dog handler could realistically work.
It also created a certain panache and patina of professionalism for those “graduating” from the schools if they could produce a certificate. Suddenly, if a person wanted to sell themselves as a “good trainer” they needed to be “certified”. But, in the world of the true dog handler, those who could actually work immensely diverse dogs, under a variety of conditions, stresses and with differing levels of abilities and achieve consistently high results from each individual dog (and owner), the certificates mean very little, if anything.
Simply stated, all this means is just because you have gone to a dog training school and been given a certificate, doesn’t mean you are a truly good dog “trainer”, that you really “know” dogs and can successfully help owners. It only means you have proven you can “train” dogs in one specific way. And, ironically, that one way is failing our dogs. It doesn’t matter if that one way is choke chain, or positive reinforcement, or clicker, or no-stress, the statistics speak the truth—it’s failing our dogs. And it’s the dogs that pay for that failure with their lives.
All this has made money for schools, teacher-trainers, magazines and the industry in general and going to a “trainer” with a certificate is supposed to offer a balm to owners. “A good trainer is one that is certified.” This is NOT really true.
At almost the same moment the certificate schools began, the industry realized that they had to respond to all the owners who were unhappy, and rightfully so, with the old, harsh methods of training. Schools converted to the kindness/positive reinforcement, treat/bribery/humane (choose one of these, or any other industry term you wish to insert) method of “training”. This did two things; It made owners feel better about “training” and compensated for the wide spectrum of abilities in the large number of potential “trainers” that were out there waiting to be tapped.
So, what’s wrong with this? In one way, nothing. “Trainers” do need to be aware that there are better ways to “train” dogs and these schools will, at least, weed out the worst. By this I mean, those people who want to be “trainers” but have no business “training” because they have no aptitude for it, whatsoever. But, in a more important way, many of these “trainers” are NOT competent to train. They cannot truly adjust to the individual dog, and it is the dog which decides the HOW of training and discipline to a large extent. Nor can they adjust to the variety of owners. I fear too many certified “trainers” (and I’ve already seen loads of them in action, I know they exist in large numbers) will be unable to “train” so that the character and behavior of the human can be modified along with that of the dog’s. Without personal flexibility of communication skills, innate ability to “read” humans and dogs and all their nuances of behavior, fluidity of working that can be instantaneously adapted to the situation, dog, owner and environment simultaneously, the taught “trainer” has only one method to draw from to solve the myriad of problems, large and small, which constantly arise during sessions. Their biggest safety net when faced with a dog they cannot “train” is to tell the owner they have failed class or that the dog is “aggressive”. The onus falls on the owner. How can you get your dog trained if the trainer won’t accept it for training??? (At this point I suggest owners request their money back and not slink away into the night in embarrassment and/or shame).
Here is a generalized look at what it takes to become a certified trainer. Decide you want to make money by training dogs. Find a certified training school that you can afford (prices range from around $3,000 to $12,000.) Fill out an application. Prove your are at least 18 years old, have a HS diploma or GED, pass a scholastic pre-entrance test, pay your money. Now what happens? You spend time, the majority in classroom or long-distance learning covering academic and theoretical knowledge about dog behavior, genetics, etc. Pass a test for this portion. Then comes approximately 15 hours (longer if you don’t do well as this stage) of “hands-on” instruction with a trainer-mentor who is already certified, so that you can learn to teach the exact same method, the exact same way to your future clients. You attend obedience classes with real owners and their dogs where you will learn and help with class. Then, in some courses, you may have to train a dog you have brought with you and demonstrate your competency as a trainer of their method.
When I investigated several of these certificate schools I repeatedly had the following conversations as I asked them ALL the same questions and the reply was almost word-for-word the SAME:
Q: “How is it you determine what makes a good trainer?”
A: “You pass our academic test. For the hands-on part, our certified dog trainer/teacher decides that, based on your ability to show how well you have mastered our method.” (I felt like barking.)
Q: “So…how does a person learn how to handle the individual dogs?”
A: “Our certified trainer will teach you.” (I am concerned when those promoting a school are unable to discern what it is that I am asking. It doesn’t bode well for the overall training method when school representatives are unable to tell the difference between questions about a training method and questions about adjusting to individual character.)
Q: “But, HOW do you learn to handle individual dogs? Some are willful, some shy…how do you learn?”
A: “You get that after you have had a dog in your class for a while. After you’ve been with them two or three weeks you’ll know each dog.”
Q: “But, how do you learn to “read” dogs? It’s the first day of the class I’m offering and I have all these dogs and I need to know what is front of me? How do you teach me to know what I’m working with?”
A: “After you have taught for a year or two and worked with dogs, you’ll have some experience and begin to know.” (Look, folks, as a trainer I don’t have more than about 30 seconds to sum-up the dog and how it manipulates the owner. I had better know, know to my gut, and deal correctly and effectively right out of the shoot or class will be in shambles-dog fights, out-of-control behavior, in short-wrecks everywhere I turn. I either, as a competent, truly skilled handler, can read dogs and their owners, or I can’t. You can’t be taught that.)
Q: “But, dogs are all different. How do you teach them?”
A: “By using our method.”
These are NOT made-up answers. They are ALL REAL. I talked to MANY different certified schools. They ALL responded the SAME, regardless of who I talked to—receptionists, counselors, trainers. (The best I can say is that they are very good at teaching one way to the right kind of receptive person.) The industry makes BIG bucks turning out dog “trainers”. But, it doesn’t mean these trainers KNOW dogs. It doesn’t mean the trainer can truly “read” dogs. It doesn’t mean the “trainer” knows any other way, but one, to fix problems. It means that if their method fits and is easy for you to learn, it will work. But, this type of method teaching is not designed to accommodate variations or deviations to insure success for both owner and dog. Current market analysis has stated that certified trainers can charge more, at time double or triple, what non-certified trainers can charge. Why? Because of a piece of paper. I suggest “Buyer Beware” be the owner motto.
Meanwhile, the true dog handler, because they know through personal instinct, experience, study and innate talent what is required to work both the dog and owner, is still quietly working dogs that are happy, for owners that are happy.
What an Owner Should Know
We’ve looked at many issues. What every dog owner must know is that the behavioral- obedience level they attain with their dog is directly a result of the quality of the dog that the breeder produced, the quality of the instructor they have chosen, and the result of their own personal ability to understand, communicate and be consistent with the responses and behavioral expectations they impart to the dog.
No one can compensate for poor breeding once the dog is on the ground. They can modify some of it, or live with it. But, the dog was bred a certain way, good, bad or indifferent, and that is what you will live and work with.
A quality handler is there to teach and help the owner reach his maximum potential in the areas of dog knowledge, communication, response, timing of corrections, expectations, tone of voice and much more. In short, all that it takes to train a dog well. This requires a not a “trainer” who is mediocre or stamped out of a mold, but one who is a true dog handler with dog and human communication skills and all this implies physically, psychologically, emotionally, socially and verbally.
The enhanced personal competency and ability level of the dog is a direct result of an owner’s own personal competency and ability levels. The enhanced personal competency and ability level of the owner is a direct result of a handler’s own personal competency and ability levels. The enhanced personal competency and ability levels of the handler is a direct result their of innate skills and competency in “cold reading” dogs and people instantly, “feeling” dogs, instinct, empathy, verbal and nonverbal communication skills, personal character, fluidity of temperament, full-brain cognitive thinking, critical thinking skills, ability to foresee situational events, long years of personal experience with a vast number of dogs before teaching has even begun, extrapolation skills, ongoing desire for learning, teaching skills, good base in dog knowledge of all kinds (current medical findings, behavioral studies, etc.), problem-solving capabilities, adaptability and genuine care and concern for the betterment of the dog’s life and situation.
Meanwhile, the true dog handler, because they know through personal instinct, experience, study and innate talent what is required to work both the dog and owner, is still quietly working dogs that are happy, for owners that are happy.