There are so many different books on the subject of dog training, one could spend years reading about all the different techniques that are being used and taught by dog trainers. How does one decide what is the best way to train the family dog? One thing is for sure, dog trainers cannot agree on this subject. In fact, dog trainers can’t even agree on if a dog’s name should be used or not used when giving commands. The truth is philosophies can vary greatly between different trainers. Here enters science. Scientific research over the past 50 years has transformed the way we train dogs. Methods used have generally become gentler over those 50 years as we learned more about our family dogs and what makes them tick. Studies done in controlled environments have proven, and in some cases disproven, what was once only theory about how our dogs learn. Why is it that one person can read a dog training book and give it 5 stars while another person says it was not helpful at all and that it actually created more problems for them. They read the same book and the second person says they read it several times. I believe the answer lies within our dogs and the fact that the training techniques generally being used are created by people thinking like people. I have spent the bulk of my life training family dogs and feel I am somewhat of an expert in the field after 40 years. When I look back at how my training has evolved it is apparent to me that the dogs and people I have trained have been the biggest influence on the direction of my trainings evolution. For example, when I started training treats were rarely used to train a family dog. It was all about praise and timely corrections, usually with a choke collar. Then when clicker training came around I learned how to train a dog to do new behaviors using nothing but treats and a clicker. Then I started using clicker training with my clients on a large scale and I saw how it worked in the real world. I saw the limitations of an all treat based approach to training… and there were many. It is a more complicated way to train and the learning curve was longer than the way I was training prior. But there were some very important elements of clicker training that were very useful for clients to understand and so my training evolved once again. Since then my feelings that treats are grossly overused by many trainers has continued to increase. Now, I have always suspected that praise from a dogs owner/handler is more powerful than food as a reward for the majority of dogs and a recent study proved this scientifically to be true. Another example would be remote collar training. In the late 1970’s I was first introduced to a “shock” collar to stop my German Wirehaired Pointer from running away when she would get into a field wanting to hunt birds. After all, she was a bird dog. The trainer used it on her twice about 15 seconds apart and from that day on she came every time she was called without failure. She did jump 3 feet in the air when he hit the button though. Today, remote collars are not like the shock collars of years ago. Just like everything in the world of electronics has advanced, so has the technology behind e-collars. Today’s remote collars use ultra low level stimulation like that used in muscle rehabilitation therapy. It is harmless, does not hurt and actually can be therapeutic when used in that manner on people and it is equally harmless to your dog as well. I have suspected for a long time that dogs are not hearing oriented as a way of communicating between each other. They use other ways of communicating with each other and they try those with us as well. They are more physical and visual about the way they communicate, but we push our way of communicating on them instead of learning how they prefer to communicate or helping them refine how they communicate. I find that interesting since we are the ones that are supposed to be the smarter species, but we put all the hard work on them. Throughout all of these years I was learning things from the dogs I was training. Behaviorally speaking, they were teaching me things about themselves as a species without me realizing it for a long time. It is a little bit like an evolving jigsaw puzzle starting to take shape as pieces start falling into place. And so my training continues evolving. At a recent International Association of Canine Professionals convention I had several conversations with new trainers about this subject of training evolving and specifically how I use an e-collar today versus several years ago. Interestingly, the very next day that topic I was discussing became the subject being discussed in a panel of e-collar trainers and two of the 6 people were explaining how their use of an e-collar had evolved in almost exactly the same way as how my use of it has. They were using it as a way to enhance the communication with the dog. While I was observing the dogs for the last 40 years I was also noticing that people in many cases had the same behaviors as others. Little things like giving the leash a flick when they give a command to be sure the dog is hearing them, or saying the dogs name and waiting for them to look their way before giving the dog a command. There were others too. Most people did not realize they were doing these things. They were oblivious to it, but not their dogs. The dogs were noticing every detail. Other things I saw and heard from other professional trainers made me start to wonder what dogs are really paying attention to and what I realized is that they are experts at learning patterns and the chains of how things play out. In other words, how one thing that happens predicts another in a series of events. I noticed that dogs brains seem to react differently if the ending to the chain is a positive one versus a negative one. It was and still is fascinating to me and has been an influence on my training. So when I answer the question about what is the best way to train a dog or puppy I would say training that uses their own language because that’s what they are already wired for in their head. The best is also easiest and least stressful training. It is flexible and goes with the flow of what your dog is already naturally focused on while you introduce the basic commands, rules and boundaries that you need for them to know and obey. The best training will also be the fastest way to train because it will be the easiest for your dog to understand. They won’t need to be a genius to figure out what you want. Above all, the best training will come from a place of love and build a lifetime bond between you and your dog. The best training will give your dog more freedom than most dogs ever have because they’ll be more trustworthy than most other dogs. How that training looks might be slightly different for each dog, but the underlying method will come from a place of love.
What’s the Best Way to Train Your Dog or Puppy?
Jan 8, 2023