A Brief History of Dog Training
Little documentation regarding formal dog training can be found prior to the First World War (WWI). When looking at history it is apparent why. Most dogs were not valued as the beloved pets they are today, which leads us to believe there was no need for the formal dog training that exists today.

Prior to WWI, most dogs were responsible members of the family with important jobs to do. They guarded property, provided personal protection, herded livestock, rid households of vermin, helped in the hunt, pulled carts and sleds and located lost people. The dogs became “trained” as a result of the living and working arrangements they had within the family unit. People needed them and they needed people. However, during WWI, people began needing dogs to help them in a different way. Many dogs were used to assist service men in combat and, as a result, many dogs became casualties of war. This brought on the need for the armed forces to train vast quantities of dogs to replace the continuously depleted supply of service dogs. This need for rapid training brought about the compulsion revolution and the birth of formal dog training. It is true that some dogs, usually those with a temperament conducive to service work, were able to tolerate the training and continue to function to the high degree required. Unfortunately, the spirits of many of these dogs could not withstand the intense training demands, and their willingness to please was therefore defeated. These dogs were typically thought of as inferior, unsound or incapable of learning. This resulted in the belief that only the hardest, most alpha dogs were capable of learning.

When WWI ended, there were many military trainers discharged from the service. All of these trainers were educated in the new, rapid, compulsion training methods. During this period, people also began transitioning from working on farms to working in factories. This left the family dog home alone more often to get into mischief. Many owners now found it necessary to “train” their dogs to behave.

At this time, the newly discharged military trainers were readily available and society as a whole accepted punishment as a valid form of learning. The idea of the family dog being obedience-trained through punishment quickly caught on. Obedience through punishment was not a novel concept. Unfortunately, it follows the standard we ourselves have been taught on how social order is maintained within societies. This made it very easy for the average owner to agree with compulsion training methods. Life in these post-war times was very difficult, and although most people were not cruel, the “school of hard knocks” was a widely-accepted concept. As some people could not excel in this demanding environment, some dogs could not successfully complete compulsion training programs either.

In the late 1930’s, the American Kennel Club (AKC) introduced obedience training in the United States. During WWII, most competition obedience was done in clubs and by AKC-sanctioned obedience groups. The post-war compulsion training methods had gained considerable support in dog communities. Thus, compulsion training was being used to train dogs for competition.

At the onset of WWII, vast quantities of service dogs were again required. To fulfill this need, many more young men were taught how to utilize compulsion  training to rapidly pump out functional service dogs. By the end of WWII, another influx of ex-service trainers had entered the civilian dog training world. At this time, more and more dog owners were working outside of the home and experiencing unfamiliar behavioral issues with their dogs. In short, the need to seek formal training for the family dog increased and the available trainers were primarily the newly discharged military personnel.

With the discharge of service trainers from the Korean War in the 1950’s and the Police Action of Vietnam in the 1960’s, choke chains and physical punishment were widely-used, generally accepted methods of dog training. It may seem that we are blaming the military for introducing all of the harsh training methods, but that is not true. Our society’s notion that learning is gained through punishment and that a reward constitutes a bribe opened the door for compulsion training.

As obedience training methods became more available to the masses in the 1970’s via books and TV and more owners were trying to train their own dogs, some of the harsher training methods were modified into less aversive techniques. Most compulsion trainers were not employing abusive techniques as a rule. They were definitely harsh by today’s standard, but most were not  abusive. Trainers such as William Koehler, creator of the Koehler Method, were very successful. He was able to train very obedient, well-adjusted dogs for many different purposes.

By the 1980’s, terms such as “dominance” had begun to appear in dog training as a result of scientific research on wolves. The research on wolves itself was very important and many professional trainers put this information to good use. Unfortunately, some trainers also believed that if you were not dominating your dog, then he must be dominating you. This led to many theories about pack behavior and the belief that it was impossible to train a dog without dominating him.

Although operant conditioning research was conducted in the late 1800’s, it did not come into popular usage until the 1990’s. Approximately 100 years after the research was conducted, operant conditioning began to surface in the form of clicker training. Because punishment-based training was so firmly entrenched at this time, clicker training was scorned as ineffective with dominant and hard dogs and too coddling of the weak and inferior dogs. However, as clicker-trained dogs who knew very little of force began to excel in the obedience and sport rings, the movement started to gain support. Many trainers reviewed the evidence of the positive effects of operant conditioning and, seeing the benefits of this “new” training method, began to modify their own training programs.

By 1997, operant conditioning training methods had gained popularity and were being widely used by trainers and owners. Unfortunately, as with compulsion training, the methods and ideas of operant conditioning were being skewed. Some trainers believe that operant conditioning is 100% positive and that the dog is never corrected. Operant conditioning’s primary training tool is positive reinforcement; however,certain methods of corrections (see "No Reward Marker") are also components. This ”purely positive” misconception causes the method to be labeled as ineffective and nothing more than bribery by people who cannot effectively make dogs do what they want. This is unfortunate because using operant conditioning to train dogs can produce greater results in a wider variety of dogs using gentler methods than ever thought possible. Dog owners also benefit. In the past, only dog owners that could  physically or mentally overpower their dogs were capable of training them.  Operant conditioning is a reward-based training method, which means anyone can learn to train their own dogs without force.



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