training theory

It's All "Training"

Many trainers attempt to make a distinction between "obedience" and "behavior modification". They'll say that "commanding" a dog is not the same thing as teaching a dog how to "be". To me, that's like saying it's acceptable to expect a kid to do calculus or read Shakespeare before teaching them arithmetic or their ABCs. 

I think this problem with vernacular occurs due to the way obedience is commonly taught these days. When a dog is taught to do things because they benefit him, seemingly independent from the handler, both obedience and behavior are addressed at the same time, self-confidence grows, and dedication to doing the right thing increases. This is very different from the bribery based, overly exciting, micromanagement training which really amounts to "tricks" or "helicopter parenting", not "obedience". 

Where I get hung up is when the assertion is made that telling the dog what he should do means that he's not learning to do for himself. Giving good advice early on, and showing the dog that following that advice has intrinsic value to him, helps inform future decisions without intervention from the handler later on. It also makes it a heck of a lot easier for the dog to understand what is expected of them. That clarity means more to a dog than anything else in this world.

There's something to be said for discovery learning... But I feel much better about pouring metal, that's already been treated to be malleable, into a mold than I do hammer forging it by beating out the kinks: wrong, wrong, right, wrong, wrong, wrong rings the hammer... Figuratively of course (or at least hopefully...). I don't want my dog to have to guess their way through every situation. It creates way more potential for things to go wrong. And if you are going to correct the dog when they make incorrect choices, don't you think it's more fair to give them as much information as possible to help them make an informed decision? Then, as they demonstrate better independent decision making, additional freedom is given. Confidence and dedication to right action grow rapidly, and we have far less set backs.

This is what good training does: creates a dog that is more open to change because we've created a true line of communication between the dog and handler, and made the handler relevant as a guide, mentor, and advocate in the dog's life. Not relevant because they have a pocket full of yum-yum... Relevant because situations were engineered to allow the dog to prove to himself that the handler gives good advice and that conducting himself in a certain way is beneficial, independent of the handler. You've shown the dog in a methodical manner that they are capable of doing things even they didn't know they could do, and then show them the extra freedom and independence that comes with it.

The distinction between the two, as described by a trainer to me recently was "do you want a nice dog or a trained dog". Who wouldn't want both? I like my dogs to just do the right thing. But if they are about to make a mistake or I can see a danger that they do not, I want to know they trust me enough to follow my advice too.