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New Dog Training Methods Look to Science

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Scientific research indicates that the less a dog looks like a wolf the less it will demonstrate wolf behaviors. Which of these is more wolf like?

What are the best new dog training methods?

Being someone who has trained in all kinds of ways, I believe the best training you can ask for today is the kind that is backed by scientific research.

Dog training is an evolving field.  When I started training my own dogs 30 years ago, a British woman named Barbara Woodhouse was popular.  She believed that using a deep authoritarian voice was an effective way to give your dog a command.  Now we know, from scientific study, that dogs will come to you better when trained with a more upbeat staccato tone and that lower, longer tones may be better for commands like “stay.”

Later,  some trainers adopted the belief that dogs were like wolves.  That idea was simplified into believing dogs were best trained by treating them like subservient pack members who must obey the alpha dog (human).  Recent research shows that modern dogs, living wild, do not follow appear to follow a pack structure at all.  Leadership among those dogs seems to be fluid.  Wolf packs are likewise more complex than the old idea that there is an alpha dog who is in charge — wolves frequently share leadership depending on the situation.

I don’t blame these trainers for their methods. (I used to emulate them!)  In their hunt for solutions they  looked at science, and the bulk of the science out there was derived from wolf research.  They also followed the teachings of trainers who came before them,  who drew on folklore, and generations of trial and error.

But today things are different.  We have science as a guide.   In the 1960s and 1970s, research on domestic dog behavior intensified and in recent years, the number of scholarly articles studying domestic dogs seems has increased.   In addition, technology is

improving  understanding of dogs. Video allows behaviorists to record, slow down, and study dog behavior with unprecedented detail.

Likewise, advances have been made in understanding how organisms (humans and dogs) learn.    Just as schools have changed over the years, dog training is changing to reflect new understanding of how the dog brain works, how behaviors develop, and why dogs dogs (and people) act as they do.

What does this mean to you as a dog owner and trainer?  To quote Ed Frawley of Leerburg Dog Training “When we know better, we should do better.”  It means being open to trying new training methods that are backed by new scientific understanding and experience.  It means getting rid of old paradigms when new ideas work better and are more humane.  One of the most significant reflections of this change has to do with the expanding use of positive training methods and the use of markers (such as a clicker) in training.  Trainers like Ed Frawley will admit that in the past they dismissed these methods, but  today they embrace them.  I admire these trainers for changing and growing.

Nonetheless there remains a gap, often, between what science tells us about dogs and the way we live with and train with them.  This is because research findings are not always translated and made available to dog owners and trainers.

So, taking that science and making it accessible to other trainers and the public is what I am doing to contribute to the field of dog training.  A couple of years ago I began digging into research journals to uncover articles about dog behavior.  In October 2013 I presented some of the most interesting research articles at the  national conference of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT).  That was followed by an article recently published in the ADPT magazine The Chronicle of the Dog.  To read it click  research-article

About Laurene

Laurene von Klan is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer serving West Los Angeles
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