The Best Way to Teach a Dog


According to real science and not emotions.


That oh-so-adorable head "what cha sayin?" head tilt!

That oh-so-adorable head “what cha sayin?” head tilt!


This is part three in my “Discovering Training” series. Be sure to read parts one and two as well.


People used to think that the best way to teach a human child was to have the child sit and do copy-work. Tons and tons and tons of copy-work. Well then science came along and it was quite proven that children really don’t need much copy-work at all, this busywork does not hardwire information into our memories and therefore is mostly a big waste of time (unless the goal is to improve handwriting or printing).


What do we know now? Having children learn then summarize verbally what they have learned (and older children may write reports) and having children teach the information back is the best way to teach children. Not because it’s “more fun” or “more kind” or “more interesting for the child”. Nope. It is the best way to teach a child because we have hard scientific data that proves that this is the fastest way to etch the information into the child’s long-term memory bank, rather than short-term dump-it-later memory, which might be accessed from constant repetition without full comprehension.


We also know that when a child masters a subject the child will retain more information and be better educated than when a child uses the same amount of time to skim over several subjects at once.


The Facts


Ok, so let’s find out what the facts are about dog training. We’re just educating our dogs after all. We are working to etch something into their long-term doggie memory. However our task is complicated by the language barrier. Imagine teaching a foreign student (you only speak English but the child speaks Japanese) and you need to cause that child to understand the basics of a subject, we’ll say you need to teach the child how to play soccer.


Can you imagine taking on this kind of job? Do you suppose you would attempt to show the child what you want him to do and when he doesn’t do what you ask or he does it incorrectly would you grab him by the arm and jerk him toward you? What if the child became distracted and was looking around the big, lovely field you’re standing in? (And remember you’re speaking a different language and this is probably quite boring for the little boy). Would you grab his arm and yank it with a sharp movement in order to restore his attention to you? Would you squeeze his neck if he failed to comply?


How do you know he is being willfully disobedient? Or unmotivated? How do you know that he is being “bad” and not just misunderstanding your attempts at communication? Just because your explanations are obvious to you doesn’t mean they are to that little foreign boy.


Ok, well animals aren’t children, but domesticated dogs have a lot in common with the human child’s mind, so it is a valid analogy. You wouldn’t treat a child that way because it is cruel, but also because it doesn’t work. I mean, sure, it will sort of work eventually because the child will become fearful and eventually his little spirit will be broken. But it would never work to accomplish my goal (which would be to teach the child to play soccer and to enjoy the game!)


In this same way traditional training methods can never accomplish my goals with my dogs, which is to give them knowledge and have my dogs give accurate, prompt responses to my commands with enthusiasm because they want to.


So how the heck can we teach a whole different species of animal to understand what we want without breaking the animal’s spirit, without misunderstanding the animal’s reasons for making certain choices, and without causing emotional or physical damage? Can it be done?


It Can Be Done!



Animal behaviorists do this all the time with all kinds of animals! This kind of training works on animals as small as a hermit crab to the largest land mammal, the elephant as well as the beauties of the deep: whales and dolphins.


Dog training is no different than horse or elephant training; except that dogs are special in their drive to be with people and their convenient size (your dog can’t accidentally crush you). But the principles, the science behind the training, are exactly the same.


You see, training requires very little actual special and difficult technique. It isn’t some mystical gift that a few lucky humans are endowed with. There are no animal witch-doctors or naturally-born “whisperers” or any of that utter nonsense. There are people that love animals and there are people that have figured out the best method to train (whether they know the science behind it or just happened to stumble upon it via trial and error). And there are certainly people that have “a way” with animals. These are usually people that have an innate understanding of what motivates an animal and how they can earn the animal’s trust and coax the animal into doing what is desired of it, quickly and efficiently.


{It is important to note that a “whisperer” is supposed to be a person that trains an animal without physical contact (like jerking a leash or holding the animal down, etc.) and this person is communicating to the animal with gentle encouragement and body language. This is the definition of a “whisperer” in reference to animal training. The only type of trainer that can possibly be correctly called a “whisperer”, by definition, is a non-force, modern trainer. Training can most certainly be done without even touching the dog or saying a word. Traditional methods can be done without speaking, but they are impossible without applying some sort of physical contact such as a collar, leash, or e-collar/remote trainer.

When a person calls him or herself a “whisperer” but use force-training methods they are lying and that is a matter of fact. More emotionally, it is annoying because it ruins the word when it is used incorrectly that way, and it hurts those who work hard to actually have that often revered gentle and effective “way” with animals.}


The Proof


Science backs it up and countless trainers have proven it with their animal(s) of choice. Positive training works faster and stays in the animal’s memory much longer than traditional training methods. This method assures that the animal wants to comply with commands, and actually sees it as a game (for the more intelligent species). This method is the fastest way to communicate with the animal because you can directly tell him what you want him to do, instead of only telling him what you don’t want him to do and making him fearful of trying to figure out what you do want him to do (since incorrect guesses are rewarded with a “correction” of some sort).


It doesn’t matter if a woman tells me that she’s been teaching children history through copy work for years and years and that it has always worked very well for her. I’m glad for her experience but I know that the science doesn’t support what she is saying. She has been training these children’s minds incorrectly for the past 20 years and instead of embracing new science and technology she is insisting on doing the training the hard way. Why? I suppose because humans are creatures of habit (and pride). Learning new things is scary and you lose all your previously gained experience, but you have the chance to do things in a better way (so it is a good trade-off in reality).


If a dog trainer says he or she has been training dogs for 20 years and traditional force methods are the only thing that works I am glad for his experience and appreciate his tips but I will not use him as a trainer nor will I listen to his advice. He is probably an animal loving and well-meaning person but the science behind his methods isn’t there. It might get the job done (eventually) but I’m not taking the hard route when there is a smoother and shorter path to the same destination. And let’s face it, this trainer simply does not have the education to back up his claims. Those with education in science, psychology and more importantly animal behavior are those that have the evidence to support their claims… and they are all sitting pretty in the positive training camp.


Why? Because it is nicer? Kinder? Gentler?




Because it works better, faster and lasts longer, pure and simple.


But I’m not asking you to believe me at face value! Oh no. The very best pet dog owners out there do their research and verify things for themselves. So please, question my words! Question all dog professionals! I am happy to back up my positions and assertions with scholarly articles and concrete proof. If there comes a time when an error is made I am more than happy to retract my statement and correct the error. I am human, I make mistakes too, but I work hard to research and present you with the real facts so that you can decide for yourself. I have an agenda, but it is to help you make the best decision there is based on what will bring you the most satisfying and loving relationship possible with your pet dog.

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