Have you ever wondered why seemingly kind and caring people train their family dog using loud voices, lots of leash yanking and other scary tactics?
I meet clients, who are absolutely lovely people but when they introduce their dogs, become military boot camp leaders. Where does this discrepancy come from?
A look back at the history of dog training may help us understand this phenomenon.
Prior to WWI and WWII, dog training classes were unheard of. During war time however, it was not unusual for pet dog owners to line up to enlist their family dog. I can only imagine the honour of having your dog selected for military duty.
After war time, those same military training methods trickled down to our pet dogs. Dog training classes became popular. Most featured choking, strangling, kneeing and yelling as cutting-edge technology for getting dogs to behave and walk in military precision by their human's side.
At the same time, our schools were also using military or factory-style management strategies with students. There was an emphasis on conformity. Corporal punishment was legal and misbehaving students were strapped or hit. Sadly, there were unintended negative side effects for these children, as there were for dogs.
Fast forward to the 21st Century, where the picture is much brighter. Educational research has given today's teachers insight into best practices for student learning which include more emphasis on a supportive learning environment, problem solving and collaboration.
Educators are no longer permitted to use "old school" methods, including the strap. Doing so could be grounds for dismissal.
Now, what about dogs? Although the research is clearly in favour of positive reward-based learning, its practice varies widely.
Dog training at this time, is unregulated and unfortunately there are still some trainers, books and television programs promoting outdated training methods. We know from research, that dogs trained with aversive methods are at increased risk for fear and/or aggression.
Caring dog owners who search for expert guidance, are bombarded with old messages to be the pack leader, use special collars and in a myriad of other ways, hurt or intimidate their dogs. It is a big muddle of misinformation.
So what are dog owners to do?
Should “traditional” or “balanced” methods be advocated, take your dog and leave. It is still legal in Canada and the U.S. for people to use these methods.
Good help is available.
Find a positive reward-based trainer who is educated in the science of animal learning.
Ask if training involves the things dogs love such as food, toys and affection. Those are the motivators we want.
Ask what happens when the dog makes a mistake. Errors are part of learning and should not hurt or be scary.
When it comes to teaching dogs, let’s reach for the same high standards we have come to expect for our children. I dream of the day dogs catch up.
Help spread the word on positive reward-based training.
To read more about training methods, see Dog Training Research Resources at:
To find a certified positive reward-based trainer in your area, see The Academy for Dog Trainers, https://www.academyfordogtrainers.com/find-a-trainer, Karen Pryor Academy, https://www.karenpryoracademy.com/find-a-trainer.
To read more about the effects of corporal punishment on children:
Gershoff, Elizabeth T. “MORE HARM THAN GOOD: A SUMMARY OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH ON THE INTENDED AND UNINTENDED EFFECTS OF CORPORAL PUNISHMENT ON CHILDREN.” Law and Contemporary Problems, vol. 73, no. 2, 2010, pp. 31–56. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25766386.
Note: First photo: Shutterstock by Africa Studio
Last photo: Shutterstock by Soloviova Liudmyla