A philosophy behind training dogs must include the variation amongst different breeds and offer solid, testable hypothesis about what works and why. Even though we have been living with dogs for centuries, our understanding of the psychological principles of learning and behaviorism have been established and understood in relatively more modern times (late 19th – early 20th century). More specifically, I am referring to our knowledge of teaching methods with regard to operant and classical conditioning, which have become foundational when training any species of animal, not just dogs. However, because we have been living with dogs for much longer, we have had to come up with explanations to understand their behavior and interact with them. Unfortunately, not only are many of these pseudo-scientific ideas limiting in terms of helping a dog reach their full potential, they are sometimes dangerous and detrimental. To be fair, they were our first attempts at understanding a sophisticated and highly intelligent species. But just as we abandoned alchemy for chemistry, astrology for astronomy, we are now at the cusp of times where we are moving to abandon outdated and ineffective ideas for a sharper, more effective, and simply fascinating science of dog training.
The Science & Art of Training Dogs
The scientific principles of learning have surely earned a permanent place in dog training. We know that positive reinforcement is the most effective way to motivate an animal, establish clear lines of communication, and to teach them new behaviors. We know that we can counter-condition problematic associations and change problematic emotional states to create more positive ones. This is precisely what we do when working with dogs that are fearful, aggressive, or anxious. However, this perspective by itself can also be problematic because dogs are not machines and training is not about executing the right algorithm. We have to appreciate their capacity to form meaningful attachments to humans. A modern dog training has to be informed and supported by science, but not a slave to it. An equally essential ingredient that often gets overlooked is the relationship that we strive to establish through the process of training.
Training a dog to be exceptional is about uniquely blending what we know to be scientifically accurate about how dogs learn with compassion and respect. Having said that, while there may be many different ways to approaching any particular issue, there are some that will work faster, be more effective, and create lasting change for the long term.
The philosophy of training endorsed by Training Positive is one that considers the above and provides simple, easy to use teaching methods that work for any dog of any breed at any age. What is particularly unique is the process of breaking the training down into more manageable chunks that can be closely and easily followed in a step-by-step fashion.
Compassion, understanding, structure, and patience are central to the foundation of training. We are living in a time where good information is not only scarce, but also expensive. With that in mind, it is my pleasure to introduce to you this free resource of information that I have created and will continue to add to, and it is my hope that you will find it useful enough to tell someone else about it – and in that way we can work together to spread the message that dogs have an incredible capacity to learn from a gentle approach, and it’s time that we updated how we relate to them to reflect the knowledge of our time.