Training dogs from the outside-in rather than the inside-out
The way training evolved in our culture over the last 60 years or so were people who came out of canine training at the end of world war two? 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 and think 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 when 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 precissively 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?
Corrections are quantum, and more importantly they are non- instructive. Leash correction, electric collars or other tools used to punish are non- instructive. It doesn’t tell the dog what it should do instead of. People were correcting their pets yet they never seemed to be thinking anything about it because this is what they were told and taught to do so it must be okay.
What happens with dogs when you train like this? Maybe forty percent of dogs do fine, if they have a strong temperament and bodies, but maybe thirty percent do not. Ten percent may bite you, and ten percent may shut down and express their anal glands.
Training from the outside-in rather than from the inside-out was developed for companion dog training right out of world war two. Training is a mind game and not a physical one.
Training is essentially an art and a science. Now, there are many trainers, but there are not so many artists. An artist requires a special skill set, plenty of hands on practice and with different species as well as flexible and adaptable training techniques.
After my one obedience dog, I quit obedience competitions. But still carried this intense desire to train. I then took a different road to animal training. I began to study ” B.F. Skinners” students the “Brelands” who trained over 140 species. I read and studied just about every book on the subject of animal training and their behaviour. Though my favourite’s students are dogs, I trained cats, fish, and a pot belly pig and yes a chicken at Bob Baily’s chicken camp.
Training different species really sharpens your mind, your creativity, your timing, your eyes, your outlook and it instills just how behaviours are learned.
I’m happy to say that today’s training is based on developing a working relationship built on co-operation and mutual respect that will motivate you to want to train your dog, and will motivate your dog to want to train with you. I must acknowledge the one good detail we learned from military style training was how to handle a dog because it was all based on handling your dog which is something that is lacking in today’s training.
Training and learning is a mental process, rather than a physical one. Let’s use our brains to teach dogs to use their brains. What is training? Training is really about putting behaviours on a verbal cue. The old training jargon was “command” which impressed on pet owners; the dog had to do it now!
We still want our dogs to respond now, only now we understand that they are not robots, they are not our slaves and that many factors can be impeding the immediacy.
They are beings with five senses, they have wants and needs, they have emotions, they get distracted, they want 30 more seconds to chase that squirrel, they are engrossed in something, haven’t we all been engrossed in something and failed to respond to someone.
By using compulsion you’re showing your dog that your temperament can’t be trusted and only trains your dog not to like working with you and not like you. You will feel better about training and find yourself less likely to get angry with your dog. We have human brains, using science based applications will reap the success you’re looking for without damaging the dog/human bond. Why would I get a dog to make its life miserable when I can accomplish so much more using humane methods and providing feed-back?
In my mind training a dog is on par with romance, love and something beautiful. It’s an absolute myth that painful punishment is necessary, and it’s an absolute myth that you need to have endless reinforcement schedules to get to reliability. That’s not the pet owner the pet owner is not consistent.
Teaching our dogs to accept different forms of reinforcement such as praise, petting, tennis balls, games, food, and play. As well as providing training exercises that a pet owner finds useful. We need to teach loose leash walking, teach dogs to settle on a mat, teach them how to relax and be calm teach them to come when called.
Teach owners that it’s okay for the dog to sniff when out walking, sniffing with rules and structure is okay, denying a dog to use his nose on a walk is unkind; give your dog time to do this. Take a few breaks when walking allowing your dog to take in the environment. We trainers need to teach owners how to play with their dogs, for that is the thing dogs love the most, a time to share craziness with you, to rumble, to chase, to hear you laugh or to just walk with you, to use up some of his mental energy.
The stay exercise how many owners tell their dog to stay and walk away, none that I’ve met? Better to teach your dog how to wait for you calmly while being safely hitched to a post when you go quickly into a store. Think of the reason why you have your dog, why you decided a dog would fit in your life. If you have forgotten, revisit your reasons and then apply them.
At heart we are all dog lovers, so why anyone who loves would dogs cause anxiety or discomfort to that dog? The only reason I can think of is that their instructor has convinced them of this fact, tradition still has followers in the year 2011.
“Violence begins where knowledge ends”. We now have the knowledge in us to know how to create understanding in dogs with peaceful, harmonious effective methods. Remembering that each and every dog is an individual.