How Dog Training Techniques Have Changed and Need to Change Back

There are a lot of dog trainers out there, I mean A LOT!

And, let me be the first to say that not all dog trainers are
created equally.

Here’s one of our team trainers with our latest video on
fixing your dog’s anxiety
around other dogs

The dog training world has been going through some interesting
changes in the past 40 years.  The face of professional dog
trainers has certainly changed.  I can’t tell you when the last
time I went to a dog training appointment in high heels and a tight
suit or the last time I yelled “shhhhhhh” while I throat
punched an aggressive dog or alpha rolled him (both are never,

The truth is that neither of the aforementioned examples were
actually dog trainers.

We live in a society that wants a pretty face or a

I would probably make a horrible TV face of dog training,
because I am more about getting to the actions and lessening the

Good dog training should be a mixture of a balance of

Let’s Break Down the Major Training Techniques

Again, there are a million dog trainers.  Get a new puppy and
your neighbor becomes a dog trainer too 😉
but there are a few basic “ways” or techniques that have been
developed over the last 50+ years.

First let’s understand, briefly, the changes of dogs in our
society.  It helps to understand why all the changes to dog
training have been going on in the past few years.

Originally, in the beginning of time dogs were domesticated and
served a purpose.  Dogs pulled carts, dogs guarded flocks and
families and had jobs.  In order for the dog to survive, the dog
had to have a purpose to the family or the community.  This help
us to develop better workers and dogs that were more truly
“domesticated”.   Training a dog was giving it a job most
were taught through physical correction and punishment and most
weren’t brought in the house, they were more “stock” animals
like horses, cows, etc.

As time developed and people needed the job of the dog less, the
dog was brought in (many small dogs) to be companions and therefore
even more “domesticated”.  Training a dog was completely

Of course, eventually we humans realized how much we enjoyed
canine companions and we began specific breeding for purpose and
categories and breeds of dogs developed it just took a little

Those are just the basics, there is a lot more history, but that
is for another article.  I just want to note that dogs of the past
were harder dogs, the labradoodle of today would probably have had
a difficult time with survival 100 years ago.  Dogs have changed
and so has dog training.

Early Dog Training

In early 1900’s, dogs began being trained for war dogs and as
police dogs, punishments ran rampant as a training style.   Again
these were hard dogs, they worked hard, they bit hard and their
temperaments were not as “domesticated” as you might be used to
today.  Punishment was a way of life for these dogs.  Training
your dog was different.  We didn’t have the benefit of

In 1935, the AKC (American Kennel Club) developed dog obedience
trials.  And William Koehler, who had served as principal trainer
at War Dog Training Center in CA developed a training program and
published a book, The Koehler Method of Dog Training.  Dog
training hit mainstream for the basic owner or family using
physical corrections and punishment.  Choke chains, leash
corrections, throw chains, shake cans and all kinds of punishment
dog training techniques hit the masses as the only way they knew to
train a dog.  When your puppy had an accident in the house, rub
his nose in it as a correction; this was solid potty training
advice.  Often the owner was to wait for bad behavior and then
correct it.

Physical corrections, spike collars (yes they existed back
then), and forced compliance with the leash was the way to train. 
If the dog didn’t comply, he was forced to do so and usually in a
very brief period of time.  These methods are still used in many
military and police training programs.  Punishment is still often
a way of life for these dogs.

And, although dog training was difference and has drastically
changed along with modern dogs,  I will admit that these
techniques were effective for decades (I’ll admit to reading the
book).  It is important to note that BF Skinner
  and Konrad Most’s (who developed training for Guide Dogs for
the Blind) research on animal psychology and operant conditioning
are continued to be utilized in both human psychology and even
basic and positive animal behavior training. These guys were well
known for using both reward and correction to learn more about
animal behavior.  But leash corrections were still being utilized
for dog training.

In the 1950’s the first “clicker” was developed in part by
Marian Breland Bailey, her husband and BF Skinner. They were among
the first to use trained animals in commercials, shows and for the
Navy and formed Animal Behavior Enterprises.  They pioneered the
clicker as a conditioned reinforcer

for training animals at a distance.  ABE (Animal Behavior
Enterprises) was responsible for training and conditioning
thousands of animals of more than 140 species their findings and
training are amazing.

Training Styles Separate

In the 1980’s or so dog training techniques and styles as a
whole began to separate.  As did dog ownership.  Not nearly as
many people were looking for guard dogs, more were looking for
family companions and a well behaved dog.

Dog trainers like Karen Pryor a marine animal trainer and
developed marine animal shows published her first book in 1984 
“Don’t Shoot the Dog: the New Art of Teaching and Training”
and Ian Dunbar a veterinary behaviorist went head to head on
training techniques and the rules of conditioning like positive
reinforcement with trainers like the Monks of New Skete, Blanch
Saunders (who was known for using harsh choke chain corrections)
and other trainers who used more harsh methods.

Positive reinforcement and conditioned reinforcers like clicker
training were gaining ground! These trainers were more focused on
teaching your dog by rewarding and conditioning good behaviors.
 The way to train your dog was changing.  Professional dog
trainers were changing and a war was about to begin.

Puppy training, potty training, working with aggressive dogs was
all being successfully conquered by these new trainers and their
new (although old) science and techniques, show casing positive

But old habits die hard!  Many older trainers had a hard time
with change and exchanging their choke chains, leash and shock
collars for treats and a clicker and waiting to capture behavior. 
They preferred punishment and thought of it as an actual training

Let’s take Teaching Sit to a New Dog for Example

The Koehler method of obedience trainer would have you put on a
choke chain on the dog or puppy.  Command “Sit” in a very
commanding voice and then yank up on the choke chain while forcing
down on the hips which is punishment.  After a period of time and
some corrections later the dog will associate “Sit” with the
behavior you desire and hopefully choose to avoid punishment.

The positive reinforcement method of obedience trainer would
first have you load your conditioned reinforcer (or clicker)

then you would wait for the puppy to sit naturally, click and
reward.  This type of training is called capturing.  You are
teaching the animal that if he shows the right behavior he will be
clicked and rewarded.  Or, you can use a treat and lure the
puppy’s front end up until his back end hits the ground then
click and reward.  Once the behavior is fairly consistent (meaning
the puppy is doing it several times in a row) you would add the
command or the verbal cue “Sit” and tell the puppy what it is

The first group (old school) would argue that this kind of
positive training took too much time and would never be effective
on aggressive dogs or anywhere outside of basic obedience.

The second group (positive reinforcement) argued that if you
could simply reward good behavior (conditioning) that your dog or
puppy is already showing that you could literally avoid bad
behavior and most aggressive (that was brought on by the conflict
of the physical pain) and potty training would become easier
because the dog was more attentive and chose to spend more time
around his owner.

Luckily, I have seen the science, which has thankfully been
immense since the times of BF Skinner the forerunner of positive
reinforcement!  I know I fall on the side of positive
reinforcement and have seen the problems from old style training
methods and punishment.  Why add a verbal cue until the dog
understands and is showing the behavior?

Teaching the Retrieve

When I was young (in my early 20’s) and impressionable I
worked for an organization that was training Service Dogs in a
prison.  This was the first of my experience of working with dogs
this highly trained.  Once night a firefighter was brought in to
teach the prisoners and us trainers how to communicate to the dog a
“forced retrieve”.  I had literally never seen anything like
this and I remember being excited to teach a dog such a skill!

The man put the dog on a grooming table where he could tether
him down, took out a key and an item and explained how he was going
to use the key to get the dog to take the item.  Interesting!! 
Until I watched him command “Take” as he dug his key into the
dog’s ear pinnae until he screamed at which time the item was
forced into his mouth and the key was released.  Within a few
minutes, this soft sweet dog that didn’t want conflict was
feverishly seeking the item.  Fear and punishment is a horrible
way to be trained to do anything.  Imagine someone cutting you
until you showed the right behavior, which you didn’t understand
because you couldn’t communicator with the cutter?

A few months later I moved to Colorado and got involved with
another Assistance Dog organization that trained service and guide
dogs. They introduced me to the method of using a motivational
retrieve.  After all, as they mentioned, what disabled client
could deliver that kind of “correction”.  I was taught to
click stages of rewards and jackpots from looking at the item to
finally taking it to retrieving giant objects from great
distances.  I taught one of my shelter dogs to roll a wheelchair
on its side and drag it over to it’s owner if he/she was to have
fallen out of their chair; it made for an amazing demonstration and
I can tell you I would not have achieved that success from pinching
his ear… that would have required me to be close which kind of
defeats the purpose.

I have seen the two sides.  I have trained both ways, to some
degree; I have found some balance.

Lack of Balance

Lack of balance is where we have gone crazy in the world of dog
obedience training.

From these basic balances we have lost all balance.

We went into a world of “purely positive” trainers which in
my opinion doesn’t exist (nature is one of the harshest teachers
of all) nothing is purely positive without correction. 
Unfortunately this leads to a world full of wild dogs who have no
real training or proofing.  If the dog doesn’t obey what is a
dog owner to do except ignore it or be blamed.   The problem is
that these trainers don’t know how to function if the dog
doesn’t behave, or the owners simply refuse to add anything that
isn’t purely positive.  It is difficult if not impossible to
attain a well behaved dog this way!

And, we seem to be swinging back to bringing prong collars and
shock collars into the homes of young puppies.  I literally know
of a very successful training establishment in my area that
normally puts prong collars on 8 week old puppies.  The problem is
that some of these dogs will grow up and threaten to bite their
owners when they are big enough to feel that they could win the
conflict.  Fear is never the best way to train and often elicits
an aggressive response eventually.

Both are crazy!

But the second is more painful and more dangerous.  And,
today’s dogs are more soft (think the wild Labradoodle that will
scream bloody murder if you even hold his collar wrong), yet more
dangerous because fear and pain bring bites and aggressive
responses.  People are less good at reading dog behavior or
dropping their phones to pay attention to anything but social

We need to drop the drama.  We need to stop putting TV drama in
front of people and calling it dog obedience training!  It is
confusing to owners.  On one hand you are going to get bitten, on
the other you will own a 3 year old dog who literally has no
impulse control or training at all and is stealing from your
toddler and pouncing on grandma.

Corrections don’t have to be hideous or painful or full of
fear. A correction just means you have some way  to ensure follow
through.  If a dog that I know knows how to “sit” but chooses
not to do so in a fairly distraction free environment; I am not
above some kind of correction.  For my female that may mean
crating her and taking my time away from her or dramatically
putting her toys and treats away. She is a sensitive dog.  For my
male, I am not above a leash pop or using his pressure points, he
is not a sensitive dog.  I don’t need to rip his head off or
yell, but he or she can’t be allowed to simply ignore

I try to be the best thing in the world for my dogs, I keep
their treats and their toys and I reward good behaviors… but
occasionally dogs choose to misbehave.  A little follow through
may have to be instilled for a short time until you can get the dog
to willingly choose the behavior and be rewarded.  Correction in
this type of training is done for such a short period of time, most
big trainers won’t even admit to it.  Be we all have free will
and sometimes you don’t want to do what you are asked, even when
you know you should.

It’s okay.  I am still a positive reward trainer, I just
believe in honestly and some follow through in dog training and
obedience.  Again, dog training has changed.  We should be using
our knowledge as the higher species to avoid as much conflict as
possible while still maintaining some control. Just use your common
sense and what works for your dog!

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How Dog Training Techniques Have Changed and Need to Change
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Source: FS – TheDogTrainingSecret
How Dog Training Techniques Have Changed and Need to Change Back