Basic Training

Training Dogs from the Outside-In

The way training evolved in our culture over the last 60 years or so were through people who came out of canine training at the end of World War II. They became civilian dog trainers. When I think back to the type of training I was taught when I was starting out, forty years ago, compulsion was the method. And when you think about it in terms of what soldiers had to do then you’ll know why they trained military style. The mistake was to bring it to companion dog training.

A soldier had to be ready to fire his weapon at another human being without thinking about it. Ready, aim, fire was what soldiers had to practice over and over and still people would not fire. Sit, down, stay, which is very much the same as ready, aim, fire was created for dogs. Have you ever wondered the reasoning and significance of having a dog on your left side? It was because a soldier’s rifle was held on his right side.

Military trainers like “Koehler” for example was a high – profile trainer that worked with dogs in Hollywood, he had a military police dog training background, to which he published the “The Koehler Method of Training” back in the 60s. His training methods emphasized negative training and punishment, physical corrections and often involved chain training collars, and other unpleasant training techniques, the dogs that succeeded responded with military type of precision.

Though I followed “Captain Haggerty”, who also came out of military training, he didn’t employ force or pain in training. He had a great love of German Shepherds so we had several things in common as well as being a genius in trick training his Shepherds. Next was “Milo Pearsall” who applied punishments, then came “Barbara Woodhouse” who became a household name and used simple effective training techniques. Training dogs was slowly becoming more humane. The 80’s “Ian Dunbar” brought back reinforcement training, “Karen Pryor” in the 90’s brought “operant” training to the masses.

When you train like this, you employ compulsive training methods, and with each jerk you become more forceful along with a mindset of you’re going to this, you’re going to that; you are negating the dog as an individual. Just like boot camp negates the human being as an individual. They don’t care whether you’re sensitive, sweet, nice, shy, cute or clever; they don’t care, you will learn how to become a soldier.

What we learned during decades of military style training had no purpose whatsoever for companion dog owners. It was generally only practical for obedience competitions. It didn’t matter how precisely trained the dog was for obedience trials, outside the ring told a very different story. Dogs would still pull on their leads, would still not listen, would still jump, because they were what’s called “pattern and context trained”. But military style training looked impressive in the ring and was now being taught everywhere, we were taught to be loud, stern, stiff and dominant. Not at all natural.

What people failed to understand while training is that if there was no change in the number of corrections, if they had not reduced the number of leash jerks what exactly was that telling them? Is it needless to mention that their dog wasn’t learning anything? Duh! And if they were not specifically keeping track of corrections for a particular exercise how would they know if there were any improvements at all?

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