Oh my. An alert reader sent me an blog from Psychology Today’s website. The essay is by Lee Charles Kelly, and argues that “dog training is no longer working that well” because we start “obedience” training too soon. The quote is actually attributed to Ian Dunbar, and Kelly uses that comment, and suggestions from psychologists that we shouldn’t push young children into cognitive tasks too soon, to argue that we have no business training puppies until they are adolescents. Ironically, he suggests that Ian himself is responsible for the “problem,” because he has encouraged people to take their pups to puppy socialization classes.
Could I disagree more? It would be hard … at least, if you define “training” the way I do. I’m talking about teaching a pup to associate coming when called to feeling happy happy happy, to learn it’s fun to be with you, that what you say has meaning and that there are ways to behave that makes life so very, very nice. I’m not talking about tossing a pup into a mosh pit of uncontrolled dogs, or forcing young pups with no ability to inhibit themselves for long periods of time to sit/stay for three minutes.
There are 2 assumptions in the Kelly’s article, one being that dogs are less well-behaved than they were in the past. Leaving aside the question of what that means (10 years? 20 years?), I’ve seen no evidence myself that that is true. I see people coming out of GOOD puppy classes and family dog training classes with amazingly great dogs. The dog Willie and I went on a walk with last week is 9 months old, was off leash for 45 minutes in the woods where we followed a trail of bloody snow and ended up at a deer carcass. Mico came when called every time, even when called away from a dead deer and and basically did every single thing he was asked the entire time we were together, off leash, in a highly distracting environment. Young Mico had a great time. And he’s has been through a series of good training classes, ever since he was a young pup.
The other assumption in Kelly’s blog is that young dogs aren’t capable of learning what we ask of them until they are adolescents. And here, god is in the details. Should we be asking 10 week old puppies to sit/stay for 3 minutes? Of course not. Do people sometimes ask too much of young dogs? Yes they do. But that’s part of what good classes and books are for: to help people be realistic about the capability of young dogs, and to understand what dogs can learn and perform at what age. That was a significant goal of Aimee Moore and I when we wrote Family Dog Training and Puppy Primer — to help owners understand what dogs can and can’t do at what age.
Bottom line: I just don’t see Kelly’s argument. When I first started in training and behavior (1988), all the classes were standard “obedience” classes, and were forced-based. The standard advice at that time was not to put your dog into classes until they were 7-9 months old, (because they couldn’t handle being corrected so harshly until they were adolescents). But that was then, not now. Are those the methods Kelly is talking about? I hope not: leash jerks and yelling NO are lousy methods, and shouldn’t ever be a part of training any dog, no matter how old. As Mico, and Willie showed, countless dogs who started “training” the day they went to their new homes, have lives of much more happiness and freedom than many dogs did before.
My general impression is that people who 1) use positive reinforcement with an understanding of how to make it work and 2) take their dogs to good classes, have dogs who are significantly more ‘obedient’ than the dogs I first saw 23 years ago when I first started in the business.
That said, I do think there are some cautions: Puppy socialization classes need to be highly monitored by experienced people or they create the problems they are supposed to prevent. Puppies and dogs do indeed need lots of free time to play and explore, and can be tired and constrained by over training. But avoid classes until your dog is eight months old? Oh my.
What do you think? Do you think dogs are less well-behaved than before? (you decide what ‘before’ means!). Should we wait til 7-8 months to take dogs to class? Here’s a tough one, and perhaps the most useful: is there something you tried to teach, or did teach your dog that you think you should have waited on? I’m all ears. . .
MEANWHILE, back on the farm. The good news is that much of the snow melted last week, and so Willie and I have been able to work the sheep up in the hill pasture for the last few days. Wheee! The bad news is that the snow still on the trail to the hill pasture first melted then froze solid and is now structured like frosting made out of cement. Imagine walking on ice that is uneven, full of dips and holes, and ridges and basically makes walking like having your feet beaten with baseball bats. I limped down the hill wishing I had dog paws, they seem to do much better on this weird surface we’re left with.
By the way, old buddies (who hadn’t met in many months) Mico and Willie did beautifully together last week, although I don’t think that would have been true if they both weren’t well-trained and responsive. There was what looked like a lot of competition between them (“I’m first on the trail and if you try to get ahead of me I’ll body slam you into a stop” – Willie. “And then I’ll throw my forelegs around your neck and attempt to stand on top of you.” – Mico). When they began to look too aroused, one of us simply gave them a cue: “Let’s go on a walk,” or a recall, or a “leave it”… both instantly obeyed and a good time was had by all. Good boys, good boys.
The lambs continue to do well. I’ve taken the twins off supplemental milk to see how they do. They bawl as if starving when I walk in the barn (okay, it’s hard to ignore them) but their bellies are full and Truffles seems to be giving lots of milk. We weighed them the last 2 weekends, we’ll do it in a week to see how they are doing.
Here’s Hans Solo:
And here’s Clementine, a spitting image of her momma, Truffles, and the white ram lamb Franklin in the back:
I agree with what you’ve said. Training dogs very young is fine, as long as your expectations are realistic. People need to understand what dogs are capable of cognitively and physically as they mature. My puppy is 6 months old now, and in some ways, I’m a little paranoid that I’m “behind” in laying a foundation for dog sports. But on the other hand, I know I feel that way because my puppy isn’t yet ready for some of the things I’d like to start training. I’m listening to what he’s telling me. The time line is his to determine. Therefore, we’re right on schedule.
Trish, I couldn’t agree with you more – waiting until 7-9 months to start basic training is crazy. I’ve seen many clients with dogs that age in the box store I used to train at and the owners had an awful time getting their adolescent dogs to do easier things like sit – than those who started working with their dogs at 8 – 10 weeks of age. Some may not agree, but just the socilization of a good puppy class is worth it – even if the pup learns nothing else but how to play well with other dogs and a little impluse control.
That being said, I wish I had waited longer to do Canine Good Citizen training with my Daisy Mae. She did so well in puppy kindergarten and intermediate obedience that I THOUGHT that she was ready for CGC training. I spoke to my trainer and she felt the same way. Well, I think we were both wrong. She was about 8 months old when we started the class. Because of the timing of the class, she turned a year just when she earned the certificate.
She did pass with flying colors, however, I think it was unfair of me to put her in that position, i.e. doing things that should not have been expected of a puppy. To keep her attention during class, I had to do things like putting sniffing on cue and taking her away from the group because she was getting over excited. I know that’s not horrible – but had she been older, it would have been a better experience for her.
Looking back, we should have spent more time playing frisbee and fetching tennis balls.
Stacy Braslau-Schneck says
I am SO glad we waited until our dog Flip (probably a Border Collie x Aussie mix) was four years old before having a baby. He would not have been ready before then. I’m not saying everyone should get a dog at least three years before having kids, but as a four year old he had a lot of maturity, training, and experience – and a significantly smaller need for exercise and social stimulation (of course I got to learn about the joys of bringing an infant and then a toddler to the dog park). Then we hit upon the fabulous solution [for us] of teaching Flip to pull the little red wagon with my daughter in it so that he’d get more exercise getting to the kids playground without her little legs giving out before we got there. He might not have had the physical strength to do that as a younger dog, and he certainly didn’t have the practice of impulse control to be able to see a cat running across the street and being able to do a “leave it” without even jolting the wagon!
Louise Kerr says
On my is an understatement Pat, It is comments like this that are putting dogs into shelters. I love it when clients call me and tell me the puppy is 8 weeks old (or even better, we have not go the pup yet what training will it need) and I get the opportuinity to stop the issues before they start. Not that training older dogs is not possible but it is harder getting rid of issues not preventing them. These is nothing more satisfying than seeing a baby puppy soak up training done in a positive way they just love it and want to do more and more. How fast they move through what you want them to do depends on the dog. Some learn faster than others but all learn faster with positive reward based training than they did when I used older methods (30 yrs ago). They soak it up and push me to teach them more and more as they love this way of learning.
It is so sad that there is still such a strong core of adversive training out there but hopefully we can turn that tide by education and proving how well positive reward based training (appropriate for the age of the dog) does work.
It comes down to how training is defined. Is it active or passive training? This morning I have just read a great blog from Casey Lomonaco where she discussed that puppies need lots of passive training so they know what to expect and how to act and not as much active training but as the dog ages there can be more active training. This echoes my own way of living with my dogs – I do very little actual training but train all day,every day by my ongoing nteractions.
I think dogs are less well behaved nowdays but that is only because we have such increased the restrictions on dogs. (now vs 40 yrs ago) They are expected to be more like us now and to fit into how humans think and behave . That means we are seeing less acceptable (from a human point of view) actions. Dogs are expected to be well behaved humans no longer dogs.
Regards from Australia
Louise Kerr – Elite Pet Care & Education
Home of Team Beaglebratz says
From mom Beaglebratz- I haven’t even read his article yet but I can tell that he is soooooooo very wrong – whether it is young children or puppies. I don’t have any experience working with young children except with babysitting when I was younger, being around my nephew as he grew up and the children that Shiloh and I work with at the library. However my sister is a kindergarten teacher (and besides raising my nephew) is horrified sometimes by what she faces on the job. Aside from the behavior problems then you have the lack of teaching or intelligence – some kids not even knowing the difference between their numbers and their letters. On the hand, I do have experience raising/training puppies – even tho I couldn’t get Shiloh or Shasta into a formal training class until they were 16 weeks, there was some form of training going on the day I brought them home from the breeder’s. Today they are both successful therapy dogs and both have earned their CGC’s as well as Shiloh being a Reading Education Assistance Dog – I hope to do the same with Shasta in a couple of years. And our training is ongoing – it will never stop. My only regret is that there were no classes in my area that would accept younger puppies.
I have to agree with both of you – 7-8 months is far too late to start training, but 16 weeks (or younger) is too soon to begin “obedience” like “heel”.
I also think that letting pups play without intervention & control is a recipe for disaster – most puppy classes will have a bully and a scared dog – puppy play should be organised to ensure both learn to enjoy play while respecting others. Of course, the idea of a “good” puppy preschool class is worth a blog all of its own!
I love the idea of training being a good, fun game – but there is no reason why that can’t be started early – one of my dogs, as a pup, followed me about in heel position. Unfortunately I started teaching her heel once she did that (at around 10 weeks). Even worse, I was using a check chain then :(. With my brother’s pup I am simply encouraging him that games & food happen when he is close to me – on lead or off. He is a much happier pup! There is a happy ending to the story to my older dog – I switched to reward based training, and now when she wants attention, she comes into heel position and does beautiful heelwork off her own bat!
I have to agree with Lousie that the expectations on dogs are higher, and their is more competition for the free time people have. I moved to the country 7 years ago -the delight was people recognising that when my dogs rushed up to them they weren’t necessarily aggressive, the horror – no safe, even partially fenced off leash parks within an hours drive! Having a kelpie and a border collie, this made giving them enough exercise very hard (luckily at 6 & 12 they need less exercise now), and led to me having two over the top dogs who performed beautifully at formal obedience classes, but whose excitement at seeing friends (both human and canine) was quite embarrassing.
I have the view that every interaction you have with your dog is training him or her. By that reasoning, training starts the minute you bring your puppy home – and stops with your dog’s heart. It just depends on what your dog is learning! i prefer to decide the curriculum and instill basic manners from a young age. Dog sport training (whether obedience, rally or agility) I do think should wait until dogs are 6-7 months of age. But can you imagine having a dog which isn’t toilet trained or doesn’t know how to sit by 6 months? That is the sort of dog which is found at shelters, not at happy homes!
Amanda & the Mutts says
In order to make this argument, one would first have to prove that in the past dogs were actually better behaved than today. I am aware of no legitimate empirical method for proving that and none was provided. That alone leads to a big problem and a case of causal fallacy.
The way I see it, only a fool would believe that a puppy doesn’t learn anything at all until adolescence. A puppy is learning no matter what, the point is that a puppy who has attentive owners/trainers at a young age is learning behaviors that are advantageous for him later in life (good manners, positive association with training, etc) as opposed to developing bad habits. Whether he regresses and forgets a few things here and there later is pretty irrelevant (in my opinion) – much of what he learns is likely to be retained. I’d like those things to be to his (and my) benefit so that we can live an enjoyable 10+ years together.
I would LOVE to see a solid study done whereby a group of puppies go to GOOD puppy classes, a group go to more “traditional” classes, and a control group stays home. I think that would be FAR more useful than this article.
Now, can you ruin a dog positive association with learning/training by using “yank and spank” methods at 4 months? In my opinion, absolutely. But, again, using that as evidence for an argument that teaching obedience skills as a whole too early is the reason dog training “is no longer working that well” is a huge error.
I must say that I agree with much of the author’s argument as far as what a puppy class should be. I find well matched play groups to be a huge asset for social development of young puppies, and I wish more classes included it rather than focusing so much on obedience. I will be attending my first puppy class in many years next week with my new addition and I am fully prepared to just walk away if I don’t feel it is in his best interest. I’ve been training for years, I dont’ NEED the class to learn how to work with my dog. The problem is, what does the “average” owner do? Where are they supposed to turn when the only kennel club in town is offering classes of the “not-so-good” variety?
oh it’s not that people are training too young, it’s that people are training too POSITIVELY!
Yes, the reason dogs cause so many problems today is that we don’t use correction-based training or understand the proper use of the shock (oh excuse me, “just a tickle”) collar.
Haven’t you seen THAT theme emerging lately? I sure have. There are competitive obedience people who absolutely believe it is impossible to put an OTCH (most advanced title) on a dog UNLESS it has been “force retrieved” (i.e. use of the “earpinch”) and who insist, even in the face of evidence, that no dog has ever achieved an OTCH without the use of this force. To which I say: if it WERE true, I wouldn’t care, because I would never train my dog that way.
By the way, most agility trainers DO start training very early, way before 6-7 months, but with the same kinds of exercises Patricia describes: things that the puppy finds FUN: running through hoops, running around a post and of course running back to mom: there’s NOTHING in life that doesn’t need a good recall!
Wait until pups are 7-8 months old to begin training?!? That’s a TERRIBLE idea. Pups should learn that certain behavior is expected from the day they join your family – from housebreaking, to not jumping up on people, to learning that resource guarding of food is not acceptable, to bite inhibition…
Sure, there are things that we can’t expect of an 8-week-old pup. Impulse control? Fuhgettabboudit. But you wouldn’t expect an 8-week-old pup to be a guard dog, either. Or to be able to work livestock.
I’m a firm believer in establishing ground rules, in being consistent, and in not asking more of any creature than is developmentally appropriate. Goes for puppies as well as kids. But “developmentally appropriate” doesn’t mean you let them run riot until some magic age – and then you lower the boom on them!
Sheesh. What a recipe for “dogs sent to rescue”, to think that no training is needed until they’re 7 months old. If you don’t start on appropriate training when you’re full of the flush of excitement of a new pup in the household – what’s to make you start when a pup is a 7-month-old spoiled monster and all the novelty has worn off?
LCK had some choice things to say about where Patricia McConnell went wrong with Hope and Willie, too. Someone suggested he call you and tell you about it. I think he said he couldn’t get through. 😀
For what it’s worth, I think he is very pro-positive and doesn’t hold with aversive training methods at all. He’s a Natural Dog Training guy, as “pioneered” by Kevin Behan, who I am struggling to understand and not getting very far with. Lots of Freud and talk of “energy”. From what I can work out, it’s kind of like a loopy explanation for drive training. You know when trainers decide they know what’s going on and then start peddling it without ever checking to see what science has to say about it. But you know, what do scientists know? They are all looking in the wrong place, apparently.
Anyway, I’ve never quite understood the insistence that dogs shouldn’t be trained younger than 7 months. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I couldn’t NOT train a puppy. They are sponges. They will learn whether you want them to or not. If we don’t shape what they learn, goodness knows what it will be! I probably still don’t understand what he’s going on about after several forum discussions about it, but I think the NDT folks just want to work on conditioning with their puppies. Games and free play, but no suppressing their budding drives by making them do things. Seriously, though, there is nothing sweeter than an 8 week old puppy that has just learnt he can COMMUNICATE with the humans by sitting. “When I do this… they give me what I want! Wow!” I love it when my newly educated puppy comes and sits in front of me and I get to try to fathom what on earth they want. It’s adorable. 🙂 And they seem so excited. It’s like you just opened a world of possibilities to them. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. Plus, if I’d let Erik run amok as a puppy I would have throttled him by now. He badly needed some structure to help guide his behaviour. He learnt sit a couple of days after we got him because his puppy greetings consisted of bouncing recklessly off anything and everything. He was going to damage himself, me, or my house if I didn’t do something. He likes learning and always has. I’d be depriving him if I didn’t facilitate it.
Oh, I forgot about your other question. I don’t think dogs used to be better behaved, but I do think they used to be much better socialised. I find it a little frustrating trying to manage my very social dogs around dogs in dog parks that don’t really know how to talk dog. My boys are usually considerate and don’t rush or mob dogs, and if they try they get called away. But it does frustrate me that I have to look out for other people’s dogs as well or they’ll seriously smack them for growling at one of my dogs if they happen to get too close. I’m just a drop in the ocean, but wouldn’t it be nice if some of these poor dogs could have just one walk in ten where they don’t feel like they need to bite, snap, snarl, or lunge? And then get spanked for it!
Thea Anderson says
Why should “training” and “play” be mutually exclusive? Games are a great way to learn the concept of rules, because all games have rules. Personally, I can’t imagine having an intelligent animal that slept in my house and ate my food and licked my face yet had no way of understanding or communicating with me. Baby mammals learn through play, true, but they need guidance from their guardians–that’s why they’re all so irresistibly cute: to entice us into teaching them.
Kelly makes some strange jumps in logic from dogs to schoolkids and back. Experiments about kids’ math skills have no bearing whatsoever on puppy behavior, because dogs can’t learn math. They don’t have the capacity for quantitative reasoning. A better example would perhaps be the inappropriateness of trying to teach baby humans how to play soccer or do embroidery. But free play with peers won’t teach children all they need to learn either. Can you imagine if parents dropped their children off at kindergarten just so the kindergarten teachers could watch their students play with each other marvel to each other how cute the kids were, only intervening to redirect fights and clean up bathroom accidents? Those kids would be some unsocialized little animals.
Where would Kelly draw the line for puppy training? Does handling the dog’s feet count as training, or should that wait as well? What about training them to chew on their toys instead of on electrical wires?
Early learning creates the foundation for all subsequent learning, through concepts like “Mom is awesome, I get treats if I do what she wants,” the beginning of an attention span, putting off the immediate reward in order to get a much better reward later. So what if you have to lure a “sit” or two after they hit adolescence? Human brains prune themselves too at set periods, but no one in their right mind would advocate waiting a year to speak sentences to an human infant on the basis that its developmental window for acquiring language is not yet open. I am curious what sentence came immediately before and immediately after the quote from Ian Dunbar, I’m suspicious that the author didn’t see fit to include the full sentence.
I think there are many things that need clear definition to be able to discuss this – “training”, “good” puppy classes, whether housetraining is included, does teaching bite inhibition count as training … I have some sympathy with Kelly’s position, especially as I suspect he is deliberately playing devil’s advocate, but I certainly don’t agree that dogs are worse behaved now than they used to be, at least in the UK. They are definitely under closer control, and I think that leads to higher levels of frustration with all the troubles that brings in its wake, but that is another topic!
I took both of mine to LOTS of puppy classes – they are toy dogs, and needed to learn good social skills to be safe. But I chose classes with a small number of dogs, where off leash play was limited to one or two compatible dogs and carefully managed – most of the time was about learning impulse control in a room with other pups and people. The classes were as much about educating the owners, and teaching them about the basics of reward based training, as they were about training the puppies. I did do a certain amount of “training” (Sit, Down, etc), aka the Clicky Game, when they were little, but it was – and is – so interwoven with other games we play that I don’t think they ever noticed the difference. The things I really worked on were the safety issues – Wait, Come, and loose leash walking – and bite inhibition and housetraining, of course.
I think the analogy should be with Kindergarten – young puppies need to spend a lot of time exploring the world around them, and to learn through play. But just like small children, they are also learning how to learn. I would not attempt to teach a two year old child to read – but I would read picture books with them cuddled on my lap. Nor would I attempt to teach a 10 week old puppy formal obedience – but I would make being with me, and playing Sit etc the happiest, most wonderfully rewarding game in the world. Where does building a relationship end, and “training” begin? And we all know what happens to those poor adolescent pups that have never been house trained, never taught to inhibit their biting, and have no impulse control. Which takes us back to Dr Dunbar …
I think you are correct that the article assumes training isn’t fun and part of everyday life. It makes me wonder if they think we should just leave human babies to lie around doing nothing, with no stimulation, for a few months after they’re born. Didn’t some Prussian king try out that idea a few centuries ago?
Sharon C. says
Wow – lots of things to dissect, here.
First, I think there is a small but important difference between management and formal training. Teaching a dog to be socially competent in today’s world seems to be mostly management, and teaching a dog go-outs for directed jumping is more of formal training. Young puppies are certainly capable of the former; the latter is something that involves layers work, and much more time for the dog to develop physically, mentally, emotionally. All that being said, my second dogs learned more in one year of teaching than my first dogs did over their long lives. I put that down to starting earlier, using more positive methods, better training classes, and being more educated as a trainer.
Second, I think that our society has developed a weird bi-polar sort of relationship with dogs. There’s the group of people who seriously love their dogs, but treat them as dogs, with their own way of learning and reacting to the world. There’s the group who love their dogs, but treat them as small children (think Chihuahuas in baby packs) whose feet never touch the ground, and who wonders why the dogs fail to do well over the long run. Then there is the group who feel that dogs are dangerous, germ-laden beasties who should never be seen or heard. No dogs allowed in public spaces, few off-lead places to exercise, fears of litigation, home-owners insurance with anti-dog clauses, etc.
How does all that affect how dog behavior has changed over the last decades?? I think that the lucky dogs who have owners who understand their needs as dogs behave just fine. The rest, including the back-yard pet dogs who get the bare minimum of training and little socialization, they are not so fine.
Chris Bennett says
I’m so glad you addressed LCK’s blog post…when I read it I thought to myself, wow, what he’s saying has NOT been my experience! And I’m also glad to know that I’m not the only one who can’t make heads or tails of Kevin Behan’s training philosophy…
When I was a kid our dogs were the only ones on the block with any degree of formal training. The others were “trained” with a combination of yelling and spanking, or else completely indulged. If they wouldn’t behave they ended up tied out in the yard. Now, doing a similar sample of my current neighborhood, most have had pet dog training, know basic commands, and some have been to agility class as well.
Can you imagine letting a child grow up with no manners, learning nothing, until they were an adolescent? Ridiculous! They would be learning all right, just the wrong things, just like a pup would.
Donna in VA says
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Ann W in PA says
Well, I definitely disagree about not training young dogs – if training positively, this is ridiculous! Also, does anyone *really* think for one second that these pups without any training or manners aren
Can’t agree more with your comments & those stated (each dog one must realize its breed & learning style/time frame) … if history is any proof of my life with dogs, I trained my 1st Obed UD sheltie back in the late ’60’s with the 1st ever PK class in my area. I was only 11 then 🙂 Having raised many litters since 1993 as a breeder, started ‘show’ training pups from 6-8wks, and been an obed instructor since the early 1990’s, at no time have I ever suggested some of the basic rules and commands we need to use to control our dogs in today’s society be not started at a young age. At least in my city in Canada, what I can saw is now that so many people live on smaller home lots, more traffic, not able to take them to city parks, green space/restrictions, small doggie parks … all leads to one needing to find alternative outlets for each dog’s energy & inherited characteristics (be it herding, flyball, agility, dock diving), which many of these can be introduced and enjoyed at an early age.
Dogs also grow up WAY faster than humans – if a yr old baby= 7 yrs of a dog’s life, what is one thinking of not doing some training early on ???
Hi Patricia! I’ve been reading your blog for few months and now I really couldn’t help but answer to you. The topic is so interesting.
I can’t say that I have that much experience – my first dog is just little less than 7 months old. But these things are something I have thought lately a lot. My aim is to have some hobbies with my dog – especially tracking which contains also test for obedience, so I’ve thought about when to start training the puppy.
Like you wrote, I think also that it’s important to train your puppy, althought it’s younger than 7 months also. And I also agree you when you wrote that it shouldn’t be strict training yelling no. I have trained my puppy from the beginning on. Of course I haven’t required my puppy to focuse on training more than maybe few minutes at a time. We’ve been training at the same time as we’ve played so that the puppy wouldn’t get bored. I have tried to by encouraging and supportive, not too demanding and judgemental.
And I don’t think that I have ruined my dog, not at all. I think that it’s important to train some basic things when the puppy is young. If you teach your puppy positively, you will have a great ground there. It’s then later easier to train some more difficult things when the dog listens and respects you and has for example eye-contact with you. Also it’s important that puppys come along with different kind of dogs, people (children, elderly etc.) and traffic. It’s for puppy’s own safety and also for the others’ safety to be sure that you socialize the puppy well. And yes I think that my puppy is happy although I have started training him already. We don’t take the training so seriously – we just try to learn the basics and have a good time at the same time.
You asked if we tried to teach our dog something that we think we should have waited on. I can answer that yes, I have. But I have noticed pretty soon that the puppy is confused. And when my puppy gets confused, he isn’t co-operative any more. So I’ve learnt my lesson and I know now that I shouldn’t be too demanding – he’s still just a puppy! And it’s the most wonderful feeling to realize that the puppy really is getting to thrust you. And training positively is absolutely a step to that direction!
Susan Mann says
Since dogs (and people, etc) are learning all the time, I find it inconceivable to want to wait until the dog is older when he or she will then need to UNLEARN all sorts of things first, especially as what is learned first is usually what an organism will revert to when under stress. I want to carefully control what my dog is exposed to so that learning can be easy and fun and appropriate for what the dog can handle.
Interesting. What is the measurement by which the author concluded that dogs are less well behaved these days? It was news to me. And what exactly is a “puppy obedience class”? Maybe I’ve been living in a cave but I’ve never heard of such a thing. Puppy class, puppy kindergarten, sure but I’ve never seen heavy duty obedience taught there. Socialization, rudimentary recalls, very basic communication like say please by sitting, etc. If there are other types of classes for very young pups, I’ve been fortunate enough not to encounter them. That said, I’ve had two very different experiences in puppy class – the first with a confident, friendly pup who thought the whole thing was a blast and the second with a very timid pup who was freaked out by the whole thing. He was the timid pup who got bullied. It’s been a long journey and I’d never let it happen again but there you go – nothing, even a great idea like socializing your pup, is foolproof and often you learn as you go despite having the best intentions. Which certainly does NOT mean you shouldn’t take your pup to a puppy class! Finally, why is a dog’s adolescent behavior proof that early training does not work? Does human adolescent behavior suggest to anyone that young children should not be taught manners? They go through a phase, it’s miserable for everyone, then they grow out of it. That’s life, not an argument for allowing youngsters to be savages until some arbitrary age.
Lynn U. says
I got my four month old Aussie puppy 2 1/2 weeks ago. Her breeder had started clicker training her to heel, sit, come, and wait on a little “pause table.” In the short time I’ve had her we’ve worked on sit, down, stand, stay (briefly) in all three positions, sit or stand on a low platform, heel on the left and the right and follow body cues to change sides, retrieve a plastic, leather or metal dumbbell, weave between my legs, touch my hand, touch a target, choose a target by signal, relax on my lap, go around a cane, come away from distractions (with a straight sit in front), finish to heel to the right and left, get in a box, get on top of a box, wait and release at a run to either side of me, lift each paw on cue, crawl, spin clockwise and counterclockwise, etc., etc. She trains for her meals, so three times a day we have training/tricks/puppy and I totally focused on each other time. She LOVES this. She LOVES food. She LOVES attention. I think it’s fair to say that she loves learning, and loves me. Why would I want to leave all this herding dog energy and brain power to find less constructive outlets? We’re both having a blast, her little butt wiggles the whole time, and she’s turning into a totally awesome little dog. The only things I think are not appropriate for her to learn at this time are behaviors that could be physically stressful, like jumping, weave poles, and standing on her hind legs. Those can wait — for everything else, why not have fun now? My plan is for her to compete in obedience, agility and musical freestyle (dog dancing), but most of all she’s well on her way to understanding that I am a reliable source of good things like food, love and fun, and that she has the power to get me to give her what she wants through constructive behavior.
I’ve given much thought to how I will raise my next dog. My current young dog is 17 months old. I got her through rescue around 4 months of age and immediately started her with the clicker. We did the basics, of course, but also focused on a multitude of fun tricks and behaviors. We were stuck inside for the duration of a Wisconsin winter and there was nothing else to do!
I was (and am) very proud of her accomplishments and was always in awe of her intelligence. It seemed that she could pick up anything in one session. What a thinker my dog was!
But then it came time to start her agility training. Let me tell you, this thinking dog that I created was not an easy dog to train when it came to agility. I eventually gave up with my old/proven methods and brought the clicker to the agility field — I had no choice, she wouldn’t work any other way. This achieved the results of her going through the motions, but I was not able to “shape” speed out of her.
Over the many months of training she has come to enjoy the game of agility. I can actually use toys as rewards now, which tends to bring out more speed from her. But overall, she is still (and always will be) a thinker. She must process everything and this slows her down. I’m quite certain she won’t “mature” into an awesome agility dog for another year or two, by which time everything will be very familiar and comfortable for her.
Did my early focus on clicker training turn her into this type of dog or is that simply who she was to begin with? I’ll never know. But it is definitely making me lean towards doing nothing but the basics with my next puppy and spending the first year doing nothing but playing.
“There are 2 assumptions in the Kelly
“Dog training is no longer working that well?” I certainly disagree! It hasn’t been too long ago that entire groups, such as terriers and hounds, were labeled untrainable. I think the positive trainers are doing so much better than the training in the bad old days.
I start training for agility as soon as the puppy comes in the house- but only relationship-building exercises. The last 2 have been 12-week-old Scottish Terriers, and they are both well-behaved young gentlemen now. And wicked fun agility dogs, too!
Ever since Otis’ obedience class meltdown, training backfires and old vs. new-fashioned expectations for dog keeping have been something I often think about. I’d like to begin my comment by concurring with just about everyone above, and speaking as someone who did have to start fresh with a totally untrained 125lb adolescent rescue, I (and my rotator cuffs) can assure anyone who is silly enough to consider it that waiting to train and socialize a young dog is a BAD idea.
At eighteen months old, Otis should have been developmentally prepared for training, but his total lack of foundation meant that we had to struggle for months to just to learn how to LEARN, before we could move toward obedience. Even so, the classic basic obedience class we signed up for ended up being a train wreck because the methods and environment were so unsuitable. We had gotten to such a good place, behavior-wise, before beginning that class that I considered cancelling, but EVERYONE, from the vet to the shelter to casual acquaintances told us that obedience class was the ‘responsible’ thing to do for our dog. That it would help us bond and improve his confidence, etc.,etc. This, I think, is at the crux of the real problem. Expectations have changed, and new demands are put on both dogs and owners, and expertise has not always kept pace. When I was growing up, our dogs were always taught manners and tricks, but we never thought of it as “training”. Obedience classes were for show dogs and working animals, not for family pets. Now there are rescue organizations that won’t let you take a dog unless you agree to enroll in an obedience class. In principle, this is wonderful, but in practice, a great many people with no experience with professional obedience training are signing up, not realizing that not every class, nor every trainer, is a good one.
I was in no way a novice dog owner. I’ve had dogs all my life, but I had never been to an obedience class. In my gut, I knew from the outset that the excitement-based, formal class wasn’t what I wanted-I wasn’t impressed with the manners and behavior of the “model” dogs, I didn’t have any investment in the goals of the class and I didn’t think much of the methods that the trainers advocated, even though they were mostly positive. Twenty years ago, it never would have crossed my mind to sign up. Today, I would find a class and a trainer that is RIGHT for me and my dog. Two years ago, I fell into the category of people that I think Kelly may be trying (hamfistedly) to help (though it doesn’t sound as though he’s succeeding at it). I was determined to “give it a chance”, “be consistent”, and “trust the professionals” and it was an unmitigated disaster. I soundly disagree with the notion that puppies shouldn’t be trained, but while I have nothing against formal obedience, I would (and often do!) caution formal/group obedience newbies to take care when selecting a class and a trainer, not to assume that a less-than-ideal situation “can’t hurt”. I wish someone had warned me.
Even if you don’t use harsh methods, pushing a dog through a poorly-run obedience class for which he is ill-suited or unready CAN hurt. It can hurt your bond with your dog, it can hurt your dog’s confidence, and it can create long-term behavioral issues (in Otis’ case leashed reactivity). Age was not the issue, though. A longer, stronger training bond, begun as a puppy, might actually have cushioned Otis, but the bottom line is that while good training is best, no training might well be better than poor training.
I don’t think that dog behavior is generally worse than it used to be, but I would agree with many of the posters above that we seem to expect more of our dogs than we used to, that we bring them out into public more and expect a greater range of social interactions. In some ways that’s great, but in other ways, I can see how it may be putting more stress and frustration into the mix. I think that we also have higher standards for canine social behavior than we once did. Among my parents’ generation, to refer to a dog as “protective” is a compliment though I would describe the same behavior as a major problem. Clarity, I guess, is key. What do we mean by good behavior? What do we mean by training? What do we want from our dogs and how do we hope to achieve it? Just like resolutions, I suppose, if we don’t know exactly what we want to accomplish, our chances of success drastically decrease.
At nine months old a friend’s child came over to visit. My Doberman was chewing on a very large bone. The child ran over, picked up the bone and turned to show it to his daddy. My Doberman? He sat and looked at me. We had been training from about week 10 that I could take anything away from him and he had to sit to get it back. I can only image the possible tragedy if I’d waited till 7 months to begin training!
Bill Obermeyer says
Regarding LCK: I’d like to agree with so many of the comments. Dogs, and especially puppies, ARE learning. All the time. Refusing to participate in that process is impossible. Ignoring your role that process is foolish and irresponsible. The whole LCK post really seems to be nothing but a straw man argument. No one seems to have much experience with these “puppy obedience” classes he criticizes. He does seem to be arguing for age appropriate training – but the article is pretty successful at camouflaging that uncontroversial point in BS. Oh well. They say you can generate more page views by saying something outrageous than by offering good clear advice. He does seem to be trying to do both. Wellll … except for the “clear” part.
Regarding the Ian Dunbar quote/post: I think that there are several things going on in that post.
First, He’s clearly arguing for more off-leash training and better socialization. Melissa and Sharon C. and Nicola and Louise have expressed related concerns – the fearful obsession with dogs being on leash at all times has to have had an impact on socialization. Most puppies and dogs can’t spend any more time with one another than their owners can spend together at the other end of the leash(es). Compared to several decades ago, the dogs have both fewer opportunities and less time for socialization at each opportunity (Oh, for a dog park on every corner). Furthermore, the interactions they do have are limited by the leash which can also present its own problems. Not saying leashes are bad, nor is staying close to your human. When I was a kid, the Irish Setter next door had to be sent to a farm because he (true story) repeatedly went to the local zoo and chased the kangaroo. You don’t hear as much about that kind of a problem now. That does bring another idea to mind. Years ago, before leashes and close management, it was easier for active breeds (we had a Weimaraner ) to get enough exercise, even in cities. Now, not so much. Exercise opportunities require more than just going out the door with the dog. The lack of exercise just compounds any management issue with a dog.
Second (and I’m reading between the lines here so feel free to ignore), I think that he is comparing the results from reward based training in the 80’s and 90’s with reward based training now. Back then, the trainers who championed reward based training were fairly independent, sophisticated, committed (and consequently very good). Typical trainers did not use reward-based techniques as much. Now those techniques are more widely used. They are the default training methods. Trainers no longer have to seek those methods out so the level of independence, sophistication and commitment among users of positive reinforcement is, necessarily, lower. I think he’s suggesting that today’s typical trainers can hone their skills and approach the results of the trainers from the 80’s and 90’s who brought reward based training to the fore.
On a related note, I wonder whether this explains the apparent recent success of training that involves a lot of correction. Any trainer who uses those techniques now is clearly independent. Any trainer who gets results with those techniques that even approximate the success of reward-based training must be hard-working, committed, sophisticated and talented far beyond most trainers. The results may better be explained by the talent of the individual trainer rather than the now unusual methods used by that trainer.
Roberta Beach says
I started my mutt puppy, Margie, immediately when I brought her home at about 10 weeks old – she had been put in a dumpster with a closed lid. She made her presence known to a very compassionate volunteer. YEAH. I worked her on “sit,” used Ian’s book to house train her (I had not kept a puppy puppy for ages). To this day, she sits and is house, leash trained among others. She is a year and a half. Wish I could sent you a photo of this small wire haired dumpster diver. We think she is Cairn Terrier and Beagle mix but who knows and who cares? She is my Margie. Seven t0 eight months? Way too late – my former foster Coonhound/Dobie mix would have been lost to us behavior wise had I waited; started him as soon as he got here. He “forgot” some along the way, has recovered now, will be a year Jan. 6 (I can remember the date) and I hope to be able to get him to a Mico like recall with in the next year along with his CGC. BTW, I adopted him, too :). I like how future service puppies are started – sanely but surely every day….thanks for a very good post; the guy at Psych Today is crazy.
Dogs may appear to be less well behaved than they did in the past simply because of the constraints placed on them by a more urban society. Dogs weren’t expected to follow as many rules in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I think that this has more to do with it, it certainly not “training to early” or using positive methods.
Amanda & the Mutts says
I mentioned in my previous comment that I see a major problem with causal fallacy in the argument that “training in no longer working that well”. Correlation (if in fact there is one) does not equal causation.
I have no empirical evidence at hand, but I would certainly like to throw out the hypothesis that maybe the training is not the problem. If in fact dogs were better behaved in the past, maybe it’s the dogs. By that, I mean the difference in dogs we are breeding today. Open up your local classified section in the news paper and look at what we’re breeding. A HUGE portion of the dogs being produced are for “cute”, “sweet”, “hypo-allergenic”, “designer”, “papers”, etc. They’re being bred for profit, not for soundness, not for stable temperaments, not for true work. Even mutts were more often bred for work in the past than today, and there was nowhere near the profit to be made from them like there is now with designer mutts. I do (in my opinion, since I don’t have empirical evidence to provide at the moment) find this issue to have a very likely impact on the behavior of dogs.
The most interesting thing about looking into this hypothesis is that in many ways you can see both time periods presented to you at once. Look at a truly well bred German Shepherd in Germany (where breeding standards are set much higher) of rock solid mind and even temper and then compare it to the thousands of German Shepherds bred by backyard breeders who are in shelters and rescues that are simply unable to cope with life (I can look at my living room floor and see one that took upwards of 6 years to “fix”). There is no question upbringing plays a huge role in these dogs, but I also find that genetically they are worlds apart in temperament and that’s a big deal when we’re talking about a dog’s ability to navigate through life in society. It’s certainly the reason I’m unsure as to whether I’ll ever buy a rescue again.
I can’t even imagine not training a puppy pretty much from day one – be that the day they are born (which pretty much involves looking at them and ooohing over the cuteness), or the day they come home (where to potty, what the rules of the house are, etc. regardless of age). I don’t expect that an 8 week old puppy is going to be capable of learning anything monumental, but starting them off with the idea that training is a great game seems like a wonderful way to pave the road to good dog behavior when they are older. It’s a lot easier to start off with a great foundation than to undo bad habits or abuse in an older dog to work on training. (Believe me, this one I know, we adopted a 3 year old, and she’s learning, but there’s a whole lot that we still have to work on, and a lack of socialization earlier is almost certain to be a good portion of her issues.)
As to whether dogs are better or less well trained now, I think it depends. Some dogs are much more pampered and spoiled than ever before. Some dogs are still tied in the yard and ignored. Some dogs are heavily trained with corrections until they shut down. And some are wonderfully trained in a positive way to just the right degree. And it’s probably been that way since dogs first came to humans.
Nothing I myself have taught has ever been something that the dog was unable to learn or perform, but I do think there are some things that need to wait. For example, hard agility work, pulling, and other things that put strain on the dog at a young age can cause problems, so those things need to wait until the dog is more developed, just like you don’t ride a yearling colt.
What an interesting perspective! Personally, I think early training is essential for a well rounded pet dog. Of course, the type of training is crucial, as you’ve said. A friend has a 5 month old pup who has had no training, as he will be entering a working dog program at 6 months of age. When he stayed with me for a week, I practically had to tape my mouth shut to keep from teaching him something, ANYTHING, about self control. While he is certainly a confident little guy, I think starting to train as an adolescent puts you and the dog about 5 steps behind. They’re at an age where impulse control is at a minimum and energy is at a peak. Why not have some basis of learning already established when your cuddly puppy turns into a rebellious teenager? My dogs both came into my life as wild adolescents, and there have been many days when I wished I could have had them from puppies for the training possibilities.
I agree with some of the folks above that dogs aren’t allowed to be dogs anymore! Dogs’ needs aren’t being met and that is why they are poorly mannered or what have you. And crates….don’t get me started. Crates are fine for housebreaking pups, but after that TRAIN YOUR DOG and ditch the crate. Yes, train him, exercise him, give him bones and chew toys, give him love and lots of attention.
Training early is definitely beneficial. Its definitely needed early. Socialization is just as important for pups but yes it needs to be done right. Definitely. The lamb pics are soo soo cute!
Thea Anderson says
I don’t know why Dr. Ian Dunbar wrote that dogs today are worse behaved than 10 years ago. The standards for “good behavior” are higher, especially in the city, while less opportunity to burn off steam increases the dogs’ reactivity and also sets them up to “misbehave” in public view more than in the privacy of their yard. Also, if shelters and rescues are finding homes for more adult dogs and dogs with issues than they did 10 years ago, that too could mean more dogs misbehaving in public.
Perhaps Dr. Dunbar was having a pessimistic day when he wrote that dogs today don’t behave as reliably as dogs of 10 years past. The comment was taken from his daily blog, not from a book or magazine article, which would have been more thoroughly edited.
Francine Harbour says
I live in Anchorage, Alaska. I “inherited” my 4-yr-old Australian Sheperd Yindi(independent, head-strong) when my son left for grad school in a much hotter climate. Yindi had never been trained to a leash or how to obey with joy–just the yelled “no!” method. She was an undisciplined ball of energy and almost tore off my elbow the first time I tried to take her for a walk on the leash. I started to teach myself not only about training but also about the breed itself so I could understand the behavior that had been bred into this lovely fellow creature. She has become much better under consistent, firm but loving guidance over the past 10 months. She still needs some shaping up, so we’ll be attending family dog training in a bit. But if you know your dog and dog breed, and you’ve learned about age-appropriate training, and you get to a good class, I believe any age dog can be trained–and that old dogs can learn new tricks!!
Alexandra W says
I adopted my first dog a little more than a year ago, so I can’t speak personally as to dog manners now or fifty years ago.
But I do wonder whether strict leash laws might be increasing leash-reactivity, and so on. When my father was growing up, his dog was let out in the mornings to roam the neighborhood and play with the other kids; all the dogs in his neighborhood knew all the other dogs and people about, and they didn’t get stir-crazy trapped in their house or yard all day. In my neighborhood, a lot of people pop their dogs behind fences, invisible or otherwise, for 8 hours + a day. It’s not that I think it’s good that people used to let their dogs run free – it was a danger to the dogs themselves, to other people’s cats, etc etc. But people will continue to be people, and not walk their dogs or otherwise train them.
My neighbors, for instance, own a portly black lab who gets no exercise other than playing in the yard with their kids, because she gets so excited if put on a leash she’s too much to handle. When I’ve taken Roxie over to play with my beagle, she’s pulled hard enough that I’ve fallen down. So I do wonder whether people perceive dogs as being more badly behaved simply because they’re so much more bored, and have so much less scope for their lives?
And in towns (like mine) where legally I can’t let my dog off a six-foot lead of my property, how are dogs supposed to get in real, healthy exercise? I could walk my dog for two hours a day on a leash and take no energy out of him. He’s never really tired except after an off-leash romp, and having to drive to get somewhere safe for him to run around like a nut isn’t always possible.
Betsy Calkins says
If we assume that dog behavior is worse than it used to be (which I don’t necessarily believe) why just blame training techniques? That seems to be a very self -centered assertion. You can’t train a dog to be temperamentally sound. DNA will always be stronger than training or behavior modification, no matter at what age you begin. The blog contributors should examine the strange and highly irresponsible ways that humans have manipulated dog genetics before they jump to such unsupportable conclusions.
Susan Mann says
@Karissa- clicker training early in no way results in slow dogs in agility! Many (most?certainly most of the ones I’ve trained with, gone to seminars with, etc) of the “big names” in agility do clicker training with their pups and have dogs with plenty of speed, even early on. I did tons of clicker training, went to Kathy Sdao’s Advaned Clicker Training seminar with my baby Arie (object discimination stuff) as well as Pat Miller’s Shaping seminar before she was a year old, and had started shaping her the day after I brought her home (I’ve been clicker training for about 12 years now, had been for 9 by then) and she is a very fast border collie! Remember that the reinforcer does not have to always be a treat, and that tugging, fetch, etc are also great reinforcers. One thing I consider very valuable is working on being able to switch among a variety of reinforcers, so that you have as many reinforcers as possible. I do think some dogs are more cautious than others as well.
Klarissa – I am very interested in what you say about having a “thinking” dog. My little papillon, Sophy, had a similar approach to Agility – she decided she loved the contact bits, tunnels were OK ish, weaving was pointless, and jumping more than 4 inches was definitely out. When on one occasion I did persuade her into some slightly more enthusiastic jumping (after a lot of careful warming up), she was very obviously stiff and sore the next day, so I have learned to listen to what she tries to tell me!
To get back on topic – is the difference between educating very young puppies and working with older dogs that with young pups we are guiding natural behaviours in a constructive direction, whereas with older dogs we are introducing more alien and complex concepts? A puppy will avoid fouling its den if it can – the house becomes the den. Pups learn bite inhibition from other puppies and dogs – or their human. Pups want to follow or be close to their mother or another dog – or human. They learn what is acceptable behaviour by pushing the limits with other dogs – or humans. They sit or lie down naturally – and learn it can be used to produce Good Stuff for Dogs. For me, this stage is more about education – leading out and guiding what is innate – than training, which I always think of as teaching a specific set of actions or tasks, which if performed in the same way will always have the same outcome.
Amy from Maine says
I agree with April, we are not allowing dogs the freedom they once had AND are expecting more from them. However, I also feel that there is another influence. The increase in poorly monitored doggie day care. We have both poorly monitored day care centers and a select few very good ones in this area. Those few are SO awesome and the pups come out well socialized and even TRAINED! MANY more are poorly monitored by untrained young people who let the dogs practice undesirable behaviors. I think that has to be addressed because 10-20 years ago I am not sure there was ONE doggie day care in this area. Now I can’t even count them on both hands.
Please, I am not bashing doggie day care, in general. Because the good ones are SO good and SO helpful. I AM bashing the bad ones, though. I can spot a young dog at the park who attends one of the bad ones, with nearly 100% success.
Pam Coblyn says
Here’s how I look at this issue: if people could correlate a puppy’s age in months to a human child’s age, they wouldn’t hesitate to try and do some training! Would they let their 2-5 year old child not learn some basic life skills (read: rules)? Things like please, thank you, potty training, learning how to use a spoon/fork/sippy cup AND especially sharing toys and playing nicely are some of the routine things parents teach their children. Add in bed times, naps, sitting quietly to listen to a story, not interrupting (tough on the little ones!)…these are just some of the “training”. I shudder to think about the older puppy
deborah ryan says
When I got my first dog back in the mid seventies I was told not to train till she was at least six months old because puppies were not mature enough in brain developement till then….She was a wild and crazy thing and smart as a whip. I brought her home at seven weeks and by ten weeks the advise I was given was thrown out with the bath water and her education began, nothing formal, just teaching her how to be a good citizen. She blossomed into a sweet calm adult I could take anywhere. I taught her using treats and lots of praise for good behavior. I would not have done well by her if I waited till she was an adolescent to educate her. Fast forward a few years, and seven dogs later, each pup has benefited from early edu. I still use treats, praise and now incorporate play and other life rewards into the “program”. As each dog grows up and matures I ask for a bit more, longer stays, sharper sits,ect. Working in a shelter I see too many potentially great adolescent dogs who have no idea how to control their own impulses, much less sit for a cookie, Sad.
Ann W in PA says
Just a comment on Karissa’s interesting post:
Just my experience with my own dogs, but if you are doing almost all shaping/ “guessing”/ thinking games with the clicker with your dog – yes, I think they can tend to always feel the need to think things through, that you always want them to “figure out” something. With the guessing, they’re just repeating behavior that has been highly rewarded.
But if you mix in enough diverse exercises with cue control, cue discrimination, other exercises without the clicker, and exercises where there is one “right” answer and you’re refining that behavior (like doing weave poles – there is only one correct path, versus shaping interaction with an object where you want the dog to innovate), that seems to completely mitigate the “overthinking” dog who feels like they always need to be guessing.
I really, really like shaping games, but I found my dog starting to “guess” on the rally course if I delayed praise even for a second, offering up all kinds of other behaviors – cute for sure, but not what I wanted. What I found was that my training was way too one-dimensional – my dog was just doing what usually worked. Once I integrated more training where innovation was not rewarded and guesses did not get clicked, only following cued behaviors did, the guessing stopped. He waited to see which kind of game we were playing, instead of assuming it was a guessing game.
I can think of the occasional thing I have tried to train too early- but generally it’s obvious it’s not going to work, so I back up to something easier before anything bad happens or we get too frustrated.
Although I don’t know much about Maya’s early life, I can say with confidence that she certainly never attended a training class of any sort before we brought her home (when she was, indeed, around 7-8 months old). She hasn’t attended one since either, because her lack of early socialization & basic life skills makes that a painfully difficult goal for us. While I realize that Ian Dunbar, at least, is not arguing for less socialization, I’m not sure I see a relevant difference between socialization, play, exposure to class-type environments, and age-appropriate training.
As for the “when were dogs better” question: when people fail to specify a time when things were better, I generally assume they mean that mythical, golden-hued time in the past, when children were seen but not heard, respect for one’s elders was an an all-time high, and things were just generally nicer in every way. I am pretty sure that dogs didn’t have behavior problems back then, because they were kept too busy pulling young boys out of wells and the like. It’s a tough standard to beat.
When my father was a child his family had a collie called Cappy. Cappy had a clearly defined role in the family. He was the dog and the dog’s responsibility was to help manage the livestock, monitor the kids, kill vermin, alert to visitors or hazards and to know the difference. Cappy also accompanied my grandfather pretty much everywhere waiting patiently outside until he’d finished his business. He knew what was expected of him and he was part of the fabric of their lives. I doubt Cappy had any idea what a leash was or received anything that today we would recognize as formal training. When he did something right he was praised when he did something wrong he was punished. Cappy knew exactly where he stood.
Contrast Cappy’s life to that of a typical dog in my neighborhood. The dog has no idea where he stands, no job, no place as part of the fabric of the family life, no responsibilities. On those rare occasions when the dog does get to go for a walk he’s on a flexilead which allows him sometimes to roam out 25 feet and other times to get no more than two feet away and no consistency that would give him any idea why sometimes it’s farther than others. No wonder the dog is frustrated and bored and barks and lunges at the fence whenever someone walks by and if it’s another dog it’s just that much worse.
Ranger is the kind of dog that 40 years ago would have been let out in the morning to make his rounds. He’d have visited his particular friends dogs and humans, put all the crows, cats and squirrels into trees where they belong, and kept an eye on the entire neighborhood. That’s not an option in today’s world so we do our best to create a modern version where he patrols the neighborhood on leash with a human companion, visits his particular friends arriving and departing on leash and leaves the crows, cats and squirrels alone unless they trespass in his yard. And we take him with us whenever possible. We get constant comments about what beautiful manners he has, everyone knows him and he’s welcome nearly everywhere.
All of this is a long winded way of saying that I don’t think that dogs today are less well-behaved than dogs of yesteryear but that dogs of today are in a transition phase of the evolution of the partnership between dogs and humans and consequently a lot of them are paying the price in boredom and frustration. All the different jobs that dogs are being trained to do is encouraging, we’re finding new roles for our canine partners but as a society I think we’re still groping toward an understanding of what those partnerships look like today.
Wes from Indianapolis says
Myth #3 – Some Myths About Behaviorism
Kelly is an equal opportunity critic …. “Myth #3…”
“Dog trainer and behavioral expert Patricia McConnell wrote in Bark Magazine not too long ago, “The process of learning is pretty much the same whether you’re a pigeon, a planarian [flatworm] or, come to think of it, a philosophy professor.”
Of course what McConnell means is that when an animal of any kind finds that a behavior produces positive results, it will have a tendency to choose that behavior over and over again. And that’s true. But the implication is that there is only one type of training that works for all dogs (i.e., the “cookie-cutter” approach), and that all training should be based strictly on giving a dog rewards for good behavior. …”
There are so many thoughtful responses here, I have enjoyed reading each and every one of them. I agree with many of you that the changing roles of dogs, and our expectations on them, have had a profound influence on how they behave. In that sense, comparing the behavior of dogs in the “past” with their behavior now is like comparing apples and oranges. I too grew up with a dog (Fudge) who was let out of the house in the morning and allowed to roam all day long in the neighborhood. It wasn’t a farm, and she had no real job that we assigned to her, but like many of the dogs mentioned in the comments, she made up her own job description: take the kids to the school bus, round up other neighborhood dogs and pack up, roam the territory and mark it, chase rabbits, bark at the garbage men & mailmen, meet us in the afternoon as we got off the bus, accompany us on afternoon adventures in the desert, etc etc etc. I do not remember any moment in which we trained her to do anything, although I have to admit I was young when we got her. She was house trained, but I’m not even sure she was trained (or expected) to come when called.
Our expectations of her were to 1) not potty in the house, 2) not bite a family member or welcome visitors (she actually nipped a garbage man and I am embarrassed to say that my father thought it was funny), 3) come back to the house by mid afternoon. I taught her tricks as I recall, but that was a game between me and her. I don’t remember ever walking her on a leash, although she did go to the vet every year, so she must have been used to one.
That brings up an issue that might be a good topic for a post: the effect of being on a leash whenever outside of the house. Like several of you, I think this is a great challenge for a dog in recent times. That said, be clear that I would never advocate we go back to letting dogs roam free in a neighborhood like Fudge did. After all, when Fudge was around, there were dogs killed by cars (my sisters dog was later run over by the school bus as the kids watched), dogs did get into fights, and people did get bitten. But I do think that being on a leash is a challenge for many dogs, given how little control they end up having over their lives. What a set up for frustration. Food for thought . . .
I did also want to add my voice to the astute comments of many, that of course, we are ALWAYS training our dogs for heaven’s sake. At least, they are always learning, whether we are conscious of it or not. Surely it is better to be aware that they are learning all the time, and integrate our behavior with that knowledge?
I think that many dogs are worse behaved these days than in the past for the same reason that the majority of children are horrible little monsters these days…the adults in their lives do not want to spend the time and effort required to teach decent behavior. They expect good behavior to somehow happen naturally without any training at all, and then they end up with an adolescent dog or child who is totally out of control. The dog goes to the pound and the child gets sent to boarding school or juvie.
Back when we got our first dog – 1983 – we were told by the training school we contacted that we should not start obedience training until she was 6 months old. I assume that’s for the reasons you talked about, Trisha – because she was too young to be jerked about and trained in what was the accepted way at the time. She was our first ever puppy – what did we know? We accepted the advice.
What a disaster. She was a Komondor – a breed bred to be independent. She was smart and opinionated (not to mention big and strong). By the time we got her to obedience class she was already running rings around us. She was the star of the class – she behaved impeccably there, learned everything first time around. Out of class – she wanted three reasons, in writing, why she should have to sit. Fortunately, she was also extremely good natured and friendly with other dogs and people. But for the rest of her life we could never trust her to come when called – she’d learned it wasn’t necessary – so we could never let her off the leash.
All our other dogs started classes as puppies – I guess puppy classes were accepted by the 90’s, although positive training wasn’t yet offered where we were – not that I even knew about it. Even though they did use a bit of the “correction” techniques, it was gentler and definitely paid off. And using positive training with Daisy from 12 weeks (just after we got her) was nothing but a joy.
You’re right, we are training our puppies all the time. We trained Csilla, our Komondor, that she didn’t have to come when she was called, that she could do what she wanted when she wanted. Thank heavens for sweet-natured dogs!
I did not take my puppy to any classes specifically because I subscribe to the “old school” idea that serious training begins when a dog is one year old.
Now, for me that meant my pup knew how to sit when he was about 11 weeks old (got him at 10, so that was good). He had a great recall, he knew “stay” but our “stays” lasted about 3 to 5 seconds. He sort of did a down, but would not “down” outside til he was a bit older. He knew “leave it”, knew how to “speak” and give paw. Knew to wait when I put down his dinner bowl, and walked ok on a leash, and was absolutely 100% reliably housebroken.
However, I did no corrections except for very serious things (once for continuing to shred things long after he learned leave it, and once for biting very, very hard in play when he was already pushing a year— he has done neither thing since).
We only trained when he was bright and happy, we quit if he wasn’t paying attention, we kept it oh-so-fun and very short (two minutes here, 40 seconds there). We played at least 10x as much as we trained, and I did not expect him to pay attention to me if lots was going on.
Because of my ideas of exactly what I did and did not want a pup to do, I avoided any formal classes for fear of disagreeing with the instructor. I think pups need lots of time to mature before they can concentrate or listen for distractions. The focus should be on socializing and manners and not training, and I am concerned when I see people (and there are lots) putting their pups through CGC classes at 6 months of age. I see dogs that are very well-behaved but also a bit neurotic and so handler-focused that they can’t pee on a tree without looking at their owner for permission. So I can see both sides of the equation.
By the way, my biggest problem with formal classes is most of them are an hour long. Even if half is spent in play, that is far FAR to long to expect a pup to pay attention. When I took my middle-aged girl to TDI classes, she was visibly fried after 45 minutes, much of it spent sitting around waiting for other dogs to finish their work; just being in the environment of being surrounded by people giving commands and being asked to focus on me for that long took a toll, and she’s a retired show dog and very well socialized and used to all sorts of activity.
Do I think an hour class is too long for a puppy? Yes, yes I do.
Ok, I just had time to read the linked article more carefully, and all the comments (I was at work earlier and just skimmed much of it).
I think I am reading the article differently than many here. The author stresses that puppies should be taught “manners.” Well, to me manners means learning to wait patiently for food, learning to keep all four paws on the ground, learning not to pull like crazy on a leash. I don’t know what manners means to the author, but that is what is commonly referred to as dog “manners.” Manners also means learning to keep a schedule, learning not to jump up on the furniture uninvited, learning not to chew anything that looks interesting.
That is a lot to teach in the first five months someone has a new puppy.
The two most important things you can do for your puppy are socialize her and teach her manners. Most adults who work full time and have houses and things to care for barely have time to socialize and teach manners. IF you live somewhere where you lack the opportunity to socialize, or you are a novice dog owner and don’t know how to teach manners, then puppy classes can be a godsend if they are loose and relatively unstructured.
We have plenty of time to socialize here. Now, for me it took just about all my free time to teach my pup basic manners, get used to brushes and baths, go somewhere new in the car at least once a week, meet lots of dogs and lots of people, and leave plenty of time for play and fun and wading in creeks and walking in the woods. Structured classes would have detracted from my time to do that, and I think that many people get so caught up in teaching pup to sit/stay/down in order to “pass” their “test” for “graduation” that they lose sight of socializing and carting puppy all over the place and all the rest.
Do great, fun puppy classes exist? Absolutely. Still, I think a lot of people would be better served doing a lot of reading and learning in the six months before they got puppy, then spending their puppies first months in the home just letting him be a puppy and teaching basic manners. I know that puts me on the wrong side of current trends. I dunno. My dog was never to a single class until he was almost two. He’s as well-socialized a dog as you can meet, everyone is his friend, he’s s therapy dog and a canine good citizen and does agility.
I learned dog-training from my father, who used to field-trial pointers. Trainers of bird dogs do some more forceful training than I am comfortable with, but I do follow the basic precepts that the first year is for developing a sound, healthy, well-mannered dog. The second year (after the first birthday) is for the start of serious training. You should have a well-trained dog by the time it’s two or three.
The current trend to have a dog that can’t walk on a leash without staring at its owner’s face, frankly, troubles me.
Mark in Virginia says
I’d be surprised if anyone posting here disagrees with Marsha Lucas’ notion of “precedences” in the excerpt below from Kelley’s article. But yeah, why does he think professional dog trainers don’t understand this and emphasize this in age appropriate training classes? I just ignored that part of the article.
“In a similar vein, PT blogger and neuropsychologist Marsha Lucas says parents should wait to teach children certain cognitive skills, and focus instead on establishing an emotional connection, providing the infant with healthy feelings of attachment and belonging. In her blog article, “Your Baby Shouldn’t Read,” Lucas lists twelve abilities that will help kids to grow up to be well-balanced and well-balanced adults, and that she thinks should take precedence over teaching reading skills too early. Among them are, the ability to sustain attention, better management of emotions, decreased anxiety, better social relationships, greater confidence, and several others that could be applied to puppies as well as toddlers. What’s the best way to achieve these goals?”
Wow, so many great posts! I agree with Patricia that puppy training is so important but it has to be kept fun and your expectations have to be realistic. I don’t think dogs are better or worse behaved overall, but we certainly have very different expectations of them now. When I was a kid, people just let their dogs run loose all day. No one used a leash or went for a formal walk. The only dogs that had formal training were hunting dogs. If you went outside, usually a dog or two would show up to visit or play. My dad always said the best dog is someone else’s because you get all the fun but no responsibility. If a dog chased you on your bike, you gave it a swift kick; now someone would call the cops on the dog owner. If a dog bit a kid, you were likely to be sternly asked by your parents what you did to provoke the dog. There were a lot of problems, too, however and we should go back to those days. I do wish that more people had an understanding of dogs. Most people have no clue how to interpret dog body language or even how to behave around a dog.
I started training Copper the day he came home at 8 weeks. Day 1 he learned to sit for his dinner instead of barking at me. He learned that following me around is fun, and he’s totally reliable off leash now because of it (this was a huge help when we started agility training later). He passed his Canine Good Citizen test at 10 months and because of that training I have been able to take him so many more places with me. I wish I had known how to do more agility games with him as a puppy, but I am still a beginner. I’ll definitely do that with my next dog.
In contrast, Izzy who I rescued at about 6 months old, suffers to this day from an obvious lack of early socialization and training. It was a nightmare teaching her how to walk without pulling, she was horribly reactive, and I don’t think she’ll ever react “normally” to novel objects, people, or dogs. She does well in her daily routine but it’s a production to acclimate her to something new, and her life has been more limited because of it.
Ack, I meant to write we should NOT go back to those days of free roaming dogs.
I think a post about the ‘old days’ of free roaming dogs would be really interesting. I grew up in the country and we never tied or fenced our dogs in either. It never struck me just how different things are today until I got my own dog. I live in the city and keeping him well exercised can be a challenge. I admit, I have sometimes thought “this was much easier when you could just let your dog go run around the neighbourhood by himself!”
As for not training until 7-8 months…I definitely disagree! I’ve been training my puppy since I got him at 10 weeks. I took him to a good school where positive methods were used and too much wasn’t expected of him at his young age. I’m proud to say just last week he won best in class (novice) at his first ever rally-o competition. So clearly, I do think that young dogs can be trained!
Amy in Indiana says
The lambs are so adorable! Especially Clementine the clone!
We adopted our ACDx Bryce from the animal shelter at 3.5 months. He was a ball of terror. If we had not started training immediately I don’t think we could have lived with him! Our training, of course, was reward based (he worked for all his food). He quickly learned some manners!
Amy, my dog is also an ACDx – and you’re absolutely right. If you don’t train them you will not survive! 🙂
here’s another reason why there might be a perception that dogs are not as well behaved as in the past. aren’t there simply more dogs per capita today than in the past? all things being equal (which they aren’t), wouldn’t that increase the odds of people encountering a poorly trained dog?
but, yeah, what everyone else has been saying – without defining terms and documenting the basis for these kinds of sweeping statements, the article is just confusing and misleading if not flat out wrong.
Andrea Dexter says
Most of my training is for agility dogs and we start very formal training lessons as soon as the puppies/dogs come to live with their partner (which can be as young as 8 weeks or so). The things we train are exceedingly important for future agility dogs. They include foundation behaviors like: novel things are fun, how to choose mom over other interesting things in the environment, fetch, following, how to be willing to switch between rewards (ie: different toys and also treats/toys), invitation to play (ie: what is looks like and sounds like when mom is trying to engage you), “I’m having the best time ever” (ie: what it looks like and sounds like when mom is having a blast), communication system (what does praise sound like, what to do when you hear a correction), do I have a rear-end, balance work, how to offer a behavior, how to resist the urge (self control behaviors), where to grab on a toy, etc… I have a rather long list of things, and very young puppies seem very able and happy to learn all of these things – which make training the traditional manners, obedience etc. (and in my case agility behaviors) quite trivial down the road.
I’m getting a deaf great dane puppy on February 19th. Were I to wait until he were six to seven months to begin training, Castiel would weigh somewhere between 65 and 110 lbs. I weigh 120 lbs on a heavy day. I cannot imagine waiting until the animal was as large as I was to begin training. It would be impossible. My beautiful baby would be a monster.
Castiel’s training will begin on the day he arrives home and will be documented in our blog, deafdogblog.wordpress.com. We’re going to start off simple–teaching him to look at us whenever he wants or needs something, so that he’ll always be looking at us when possible and that will allow us to teach him commands using sign as he grows up. We’ll begin teaching him not to pull on the leash when he comes home because he will grow so quickly.
As long as it’s fun for the animal, what’s wrong with training them? Thank you for talking about this myth.
Diane R says
my goodness I start training my pups to come, sit etc at 5 WEEKS old. All positive and happy, no corrections. By the time they leave for new homes they are crate trained, come, sit, down, walk on a leash and even have a basic wait.
That said I do not use any choke or prong collars on pups nor do leash corrections on them
But by 6 months old the one I keep for myself is fully capable of doing prenovice/beginner novice or rally novice by 6 months old having never had a correction collar on and my guys are VERY happy workers and love to train and work
I guess if your definition of training is a choke collar, leash corrections and unrealistic expectations then no you should not start young. But if your training is realistic and fun then why not?
Diane R says
oh as to the dogs behaving worse now, I disagree.
I think other posters above made great points that people bring dogs out more instead of chaining them at home. Also public tolerance is far far less then in the past. As a kid dogs followed kids off leash everywhere were allowed to bark and do things that are no longer tolerated (brak at people, chase delivery people, chase other animals etc)
I think dogs in the past had FAR less training but far more freedom to just be a dog
Now dogs are held to not only a far higher behavior level and must all be good citizens but that the public is also far more dog fearful and sue happy. think this leads to the authors misconceptions
Mary Beth says
Do I think dogs and people are less well behaved than before? No! But I do believe that people’s expectations of their dogs are much higher than before resulting in far more conflict than before.
For instance, I see people that insist on taking their dog to the dog park for play time. Not all dogs even enjoy dog parks.
Or people forcing their dogs to be therapy dogs. Again, not all dogs enjoy spending time with strangers.
Some dogs are perfectly content to laze by the fire at home and never meet a stranger. This is not a bad thing necessarily.
I think its important for people to understand their dogs as individuals and to not have too high of expectations for them.
Everyone except for Beth has completely misinterpreted Lee’s article. He is not saying that training does not start until 7-8 months. He is saying that formal, strict obedience training should not start until then. Training does in fact start at 8 weeks with NDT (Natural Dog Training-the method that Lee uses). It is just in a different way than a lot of other training methods.
I have trained my dog using NDT and it has been a great experience. He already knew on his own as a small pup how to sit and lie down even though he wasn’t in a formal classroom. He learned how to express his energy in healthy doggy ways and didn’t need to vibrated out of control and jump on people. We went to puppy play groups starting at 8weeks and worked on developing a well mannered, happy, confident and fulfilled dog. Obedience behaviors easily fall into place as the dog gets older once you have this kind of base.
What I have noticed is that dogs trained in the NDT method are very calm and know what to do with all of their energy and look to their owners for guidance. It is a way of training that actually allows your dog to be a dog. It does not try to mold your dog into a human as someone in a previous post stated that dogs have to become nowadays. Anyway, I think Natural Dog Training rocks and is a great way to train your dog.
Hey everyone, just wanted to jump in and offer my own thoughts on this, as I’ve been a reader of Patricia’s work and blog for quite a long time now.
To Sang: Read the next post and comments… as is clear from them, the issue appears to be how one defines “training….”Ah those confusing words!
Ah, sorry Jill, missed your comments at first, but again, the issue really is how one defines “training” yes? See the next post and the comments… the question led to a very interesting discussion.
You’re definitely right about that Trisha! How we use language and our interpretations of said language are so vital in these discussions.
And great to hear of Willie and Mico’s progress. 🙂
Golly. By five months my standard poodle was practically begging for formal training. Sure, we’d been working on basics at home, but she was so much happier once we started working on more complicated maneuvers. It was interesting for her, and she was so happy to figure out what to do and how to do it.
Lee Charles Kelley says
Thank you, Dr. McConnell, for mentioning my PsychologyToday.com blog article here. (Oscar Wilde said that the only thing worse than people talking about you, is people not talking about you.)
Still, I stand by what I wrote. And I’d have to say that some of the people commenting here have actually proved my point for me.
It might help to know that the rationale behind my “Unified Dog Theory” series at PsychologyToday.com is a, perhaps vain, attempt to help end the divisiveness in the training world, and to help educate dog owners and trainers that there aren’t just two philosophical or methodological choices — dominance and positive reinforcement — there’s a third form of dog training, one that’s used to train police dogs, herding dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, etc. It’s been modified for use with pet dogs by former police dog trainer, Kevin Behan, who learned his trade from his father, Jack Behan, a famous figure of the 1950s and 60s (and probably the first famous dog trainer in America). As Kevin grew as a trainer he disagreed with his father’s reliance on dominance, and set out on his own to find a training method for police work that wasn’t abusive, and formulated a training program in his 1st book, Natural Dog Training.
So there are really 3 common forms of dog training: dominance, +R, and the natural method.
One of your readers mentioned Sigmund Freud, and seemed to be scratching her head over why his name comes up in some of my articles. There’s actually a sound, scientific reason for it. That’s because the basic principles of drive training are more consonant with Freud’s pleasure principle than with Skinner’s clinical outgrowth of it: positive reinforcement. One of the ways Freud defined pleasure was as the release of internal tension. This is a measurable, physiological phenomenon. On the other hand, positive reinforcement (as defined by behavioral scientists, if not by most dog trainers) isn’t. As you well know, a positive reinforcement isn’t an actual object, marker or event; it’s a function of statistics. (Plus, most behavioral scientists will tell you that there’s no real way to determine if a behavior was learned through positive or negative reinforcement.)
Personally, I’ll go with actual physiological realities (a la Freud) over statistical probabilities (a la Skinner) any day.
Another reason for writing my “Unified Dog Theory” series, is to bring back the wolf model — the real one, not the one that’s been proven invalid by modern wolf research — back into play.
The fact is, formal obedience training got its start (by Max von Stephanitz in the early 1900s) as a way of imitating some of the predatory motor patterns found in wild wolves. This little piece of history seems to be missing from both the dominance and the +R views of training. And it’s very important, in terms of this current discussion, because juvenile wolves don’t begin hunting until they’re well into adolescence.
That’s why, as I wrote in the article: “This is the model that has been set in place by Nature, and has worked for millions of years. Why change it now? Why force puppies to pay attention and ‘learn,’ when Nature is telling them to jump around, bite, play, get distracted, and amuse the heck out of their owners?
“The other problem is that it’s long been believed that a dog (or puppy) has to be calm in order to learn; dogs can’t learn when they’re highly stimulated. I’ve found that the exact opposite is true. I think it’s best to teach obedience skills as part of an active, high-energy game, where you stimulate the dog’s urge to bite, focus it on a toy, and teach him that he gets to win the toy by obeying your commands. The more actively the dog’s whole organism is involved — his emotions, his kinetic energy, his instincts, and his brain — the better and faster he’ll learn. This is something, that frankly, you can’t do with young puppies because they only have 3 play settings: Off, Play Hard, and Play Way Too Hard.
“It’s time we re-think the whole idea of puppy obedience classes, and perhaps set them up more as owner orientation classes, where the owners can watch their puppies play while the instructor explains a few simple training techniques for teaching their pup’s basic manners, but does so through the spoken and written word, without using the pup to demonstrate the process. That way the owners can learn two important things: how to teach their pup manners, at home, on their own time, and how much fun it is to watch puppies play together.”
With all that said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using food or positive reinforcement in training pet dogs. Behan himself writes about the value of these things in his 1st book, something which caused a little conflict with some of the K-9 trainers he worked with over the years. But I also think it’s important to take a look at what Ian Dunbar has been writing about on his blog recently.
“Laboratory study has revealed a variety of reinforcement schedules. Puppy training has revealed that most of these are notorious[ly] ineffective, or impossible to administer … Wake up! Puppy training has taught us that most of this stuff doesn’t work too well.”
Dunbar also says that one of the worst things you can do is reward a dog every time he obeys. Yet Bob Bailey, perhaps the most knowledgeable animal trainer on earth, at least when it comes to operant conditioning, says that a dog should be rewarded every single time he obeys.
Like me, Bailey has also been somewhat critical of the +R movement, particularly the tendency some within it have to isolate themselves from the dog training community at large. Last year, after someone gave him a link to one of my blog articles, Bailey sent out a newsletter in response.
In it he wrote, “The
First of all: my hat of to Mico and his parents! I would have to wait untill my one whippet had stuffed himself full of deerparts while the other one would be running up and down between me (source of lesser treats if any) and the deer (really good treat).
I skipped the last 70 comment or so, so maybe I’m repeating stuff.
The use of early training in my opinion lies in the teaching your pup how to learn and enjoy that.
Carrie P says
I think like a lot of people mentioned above that it is more a result of people “babying” their dogs so much nowadays. People treat them like children much more than the older generations did. I feel like my parents and grandparents treated their dogs like dogs, and although they likely did use punishment and yelling as training methods they also weren’t letting their dogs run the house. I don’t agree with that type of training and agree that positive reinforcement works better, but I dont’ think that training early or too “nicely” is creating worse dogs. It’s all those owners that LET their dogs get away with being the king of the couch.
Denise B says
I disagree with you completely. I have learned from personal experience that focused obedience training at an early age inhibits the dog and can cause an overly focused, nervous, anxious and/or fear based dog. Perhaps you should read and try Natural Dog Training and encourage people to follow the sound and sage advice of Kevin Behan. I followed your type of advice and behold, my german shepherd became EXTREMELY obedient, and highly anxious and unable to socialize with other dogs, and could not turn off and be a dog at a young age. Through working with my dog using Mr. Behan’s trainings and methods by using attraction, my german shepherd began to enjoy all aspects and at 6 and 1/2 is still a puppy at heart, while being extremely obedient, not because of any treat etc, but because he is attracted to the reward of working and playing with me. Unfortunately, it took three to four times as long to undo the damage that conventional training does. All of this done without the use of treats, beatings or anything else. And I have a fantastic companion that is a dog, not a child etc, but a dog that lives in the moment. Was my dog not “smart enough” at an early way, absolutely not and natural dog training only serves to enhance the intelligence and drive that makes the dog such an incredible animal. If you truly greatly respect being a responsible dog owner/provider and want the ultimate rewards of having such a fine companion, I heartily encourage you to research and apply Mr. Behan’s methods.
I have to agree with LCK’s comment about training a dog when they are highly stimulated. One of my dog’s is an Alaskan Husky mix. When I researched the breed before adopting her, I found that training an Alaskan in motion (play) is far more effective than traditional training methods (especially classes). I have found that to be true of Diva. She is far more focused on me when we are playing and it is so much easier to elicit the obedience behaviors I want, as opposed to a more formal setting. Of course, Alaskan’s are not typical dogs, granted. However, I have achieved similar results with my 2 other dogs; one is a yellow lab and the other is a GSD mix.
Regarding negative reinforcement, it is my experience that it was not effective in extinguishing a behavior that was undesirable in my purebred lab…go figure!
His comments regarding leaving formal obedience training until a pup is older makes perfect sense and his references to how wolves learn in wild are spot on. I’m a fan of Dave Mech and his current writings do indeed support LCK’s assertions. You might want to check him out (LCK and/or Dave Mech).
Denise B and Christine: You might want to read my book, Play Together Stay Together, in which Karen London and I stress the importance of play as an effective way to TEACH a dog new behaviors. The point here, which is important not to miss (and is clear from the comments and the next post) is that how people define “training” is highly variable. I suspect that what some call ‘new’ methods of raising dogs is what some of us call humane and effective ways of “training.” I’m not sure what Denise B thinks is “my type of advice” but it’s hard to imagine using play, belly rubs, chase games, and yummy goodies as a way to create “anxious” but EXTREMELY obedient dogs. I can’t imagine any decent training system creating an EXTREMELY obedient adolescent dog at the tender age of six months, unless it is exactly the kind of training methods I have fought against for 22 years.
LCK wrote a very thoughtful and sound reply here, which I must agree on some points because it is a fair assessment of the dog training world with its diversity of movements.
True. The distinction between positive reinforcement and the physiological phenomenon of “drive training” often specialized in working dog training circles is accurate. Being a working dog trainer myself, I have long looked into the dynamics and qualities of “energy” in the dog – from physical to mental. It is true that “pleasure” principles, using a Freudian or any other science-based perspective, is *not* described in the Skinnerian definition of “positive reinforcement.” Taking such historical perspective in dog training, it helps to see how things were, how things have changed, so that we can see where we are going in the industry’s development and change.
At its inception R+ definition did not distinguish the details of “what kind of pleasure, emotion, or cognitive effort” the dog was experiencing. It was defined as a metric that projects the probability of a desired response – a change in frequency of desired behaviors in one quadrant of operant conditioning. So it is important to not fall into a logical fallacy to state that a dog has *learned well* simply based on a statistical change.
To take a deeper look into the dog’s individual needs, one needs to stretch into other areas of science, by integrating and properly applying some past and more current understandings of physiology, neuroscience, cognition, psychology and behavior (beyond Pavlovian and Operant Conditioning). But more importantly, one needs to enhance intuition, emotional sensitivity and observational skills with dogs to see physiological qualities in the learning process for dogs. Doing so can really help one see the dog from the inside out. And what dog owner or trainer would not want to master the depth of such understanding to enhance his or her connection with dogs through application and practice, so that she or he can train with greater efficacy and develop a relationship of compassion and cooperation? It’s not just science. It’s not just art. Dog training puts art and science in action.
Training by drive, which channels the motivational-emotional energy (i.e. prey drive) within the dog, allows the “art” of dog training to come alive. Good working class dog trainers, who need dogs to be trained at very high levels with enthusiasm and engagement, understand “energy” very well and have to master it. “Work is play,” so to speak. Good pet dog trainers do this as well. And it is well known that overly inhibiting the dog through obedience training, without the integration and balance of natural k9 motivations, play, and pleasure, can shut out a dog’s ability to engage with the handler, *learn* with enthusiasm, and want to follow desired behaviors.
The dog training industry is known to just be full of debate because people are so opinionated, including myself. But if one steps back from the politics and competition – or even vitriol – that exist, one can exercise more diplomacy and understand more about how the future of the dog training industry should evolve. Either it will go around in circles or people will put their heads together and make effective, progressive and positive change happen. People will become more educated and insightful, more science will be researched and developed, faulty studies will be debunked, tools will be improved or invented and best practices in the field work of dog training will continue to develop. But this will only happen with great efficacy and good quality, sooner than later, if we can open up this discussion to develop understanding and if we can put aside our different backgrounds and philosophies to hear each other out with respect. It’s hard to do, but eventually, it will have to be done to avoid going in circles.
Trisha, my experience with LCK is that he is a kook that claims to have THE ‘secret’ to dog training/behavior – and yet somehow he has not been recognized as such by anyone (certainly not for lack of trying). He appears on a dog behavior science group whenever he wants to promote himself. He did post about your critique of his latest article there and I don’t recall one person who agreed with him.
PersonallyI think first teaching a dog to bite and then expecting the average pet owner to channel that into some desired behaviors is recipe for disaster.
BTW when he criticized your handling of the Hope situation on this same list he got the same lack of support for his ‘theories’ on failure. It was me that suggested he call you directly.
I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all with dog or puppy training in general. The dog, the owners and the circumstances will help to dictate this. That being said, I think it is critical start socializing the puppy early, certainly before 7-8 months.