Dog training is evolving. Look around and you'll notice a lot of the old do-it-or-else attitudes dropping away like their counterparts in child-rearing did a few decades ago. We're seeing a cultural revolution that mirrors a growing recognition (and body of scientific evidence) that dogs have feelings and opinions. Somebody's In There, y'all.
In a weird way, dog training is going back to its roots. The insights into animal behavior that Pavlov and Skinner had more than a half-century ago are actually still relevant. In fact, they're proving to be more relevant than some of the recent theories about pack leadership and dominance that first gained purchase around the time of World War II, when dogs were used widely and trained using a military paradigm.
I remember the first dog class I attended, taught by an ex-Marine. Lucy and I dutifully marched around in a line with other owners and their dogs in tight formation: heel - sit - heel - sit. The memory of watching him demonstrate what to do with a dog who "refuses" to lie down in the center of a room, surrounded by strangers and their equally strange dogs, still makes me cringe.
Today, that rather impoverished view of the human-dog relationship seems to be bursting its britches. It has simply outgrown its usefulness. It's becoming widely known that dogs can be trained without threats or coercion. Even entrenched behaviors like resource guarding and stranger aggression can be modified with the strategic introduction and removal of Things Dogs Love. And many of us believe that if you can train Bruno with kindness and respect, why not do it?
Dog training is still an unregulated industry. Trainers are not required to be formally educated, adhere to any welfare standards, or stay abreast of the latest evidence-based methods as our understanding of behavior evolves. There are no consumer protection standards. When choosing a dog-training professional, expect transparency to be sure you're comfortable with their methods. Three simple questions will tell you almost all you need to know:
- What exactly will happen to my dog when he gets it right?
- What exactly will happen when he gets it wrong?
- Are there less-invasive alternatives to your methods?