The Obsolete Dog Training Model—an anthrozoological view

Dog training had its origins essentially in the military area due to its innate characteristics, which made (and make) the dog a useful tool. The training was later extended in times of peace to sports areas, for human entertainment and for social use.

In the last 50 years, there are few changes per se in animal training, especially in dog training. The so-called social/civilian training was brought from the military, taught by the trainers of these areas, bringing the military tradition and exactitude of a standardized training with methodologies where everyone must respond in the same way, being sold as something necessary to prevent problems behaviors and which (also) aims at the socialization of dogs.

In the last 20 years, dogs are getting closer and closer to humans and some new ways to teach dogs with respect were implemented (See in references Abrantes, 1984).

However, the actual society is the victim of a commercially necessary ignorance and the fashionism, that transforms into an unconscious distance between humans and the canine species and the concern for a natural relationship and mutual understanding is replaced by the need to fill it with artificial and (most of the time) unnecessary tools, gizmos, and the use of socially accepted words without knowing its real meaning.

At the anthrozoological level, I characterize and apply this area in animal training, as I have done in previous articles. The main view we should have about this subject it is a pragmatic mentality, taking into account the human society, the natural characteristics of nonhuman species and a utilitarian mentality based on current studies and statistics, being completely individual and personal the reflection and decision of a (possible) change.

According to our current internal statistics (Denmark) on some subjects related to a dog-owner relationship, I highlight the most relevant general statistics in our files:

  • Dogs spend an average of 21 hours at home, with an average of 7 hours home alone.
  • Almost all the subjects concerning unwanted canine behaviors and questions about training by the owners are related to situations inside the home.
  • The most reported problems inside the home are (1)jumping on people, (2)home alone problems (3)sub-stimulation (4)bitting the human hands.
  • The most reported problems outside the home are (1)lack of connection between the dog and owners, (2)pulling on the lead, (3)jumping on people (4)barking at other dogs.

Within these statistics, we must (as professionals) reflect on existing models and the need to change or even extinguish them as obsolete they become. “Obsolete” is defined as (1)out of use or practice, (2)not current (3)outdated or unfashionable.

With the updated knowledge of the species, the studies referring to stress levels with different methodologies (see references), it is possible to characterize obsolete dog training models that still persist in continuing, because it is “easy money”, the “professionals” just do it as part-time or in a way to have an extra income (making very low prices) and some business models by companies that need to be supported in that way, because “it’s always worked like that.”

Characteristics of the obsolete dog training model:

  • Classes exclusively in line or in circular format always in the same place.
    Standardized checklist for everyone to follow.
  • Use of sounds (whistles or command voices) for everyone performs the same procedures at the same time.
  • Training carried out exclusively by the professional.
  • Training where the dog is delivery in the school and he remains there to be trained.
  • A high quantity of loose dogs under the premise of socialization.
  • Use of tools that aim to force the dog to perform the tasks proposed, even if there is a need for coercive means.
  • Lupomorphism and/or babymorphism theories both for treating behavioural problems and for common training.
  • The lack of clarification and information about what is being done and why it is being done.
  • The constant use of anthropomorphism due to the lack of scientific knowledge about training and species.
  • The excessive use of new tools or words socially accepted through imitation, neither existing scientific nor technical knowledge of them.

I want to clarify some points regarding the topics above:

  • It is necessary to know the difference between abnormal behaviours from unwanted behaviours. Unwanted behaviours are perfectly natural behaviours of the species but are undesirable for humans. Abnormal behaviours are all behaviours that are not natural to the species and may have varied reasons.
  • It is necessary to know the difference between loose dogs with socialization. Dogs socialization is essential to have a small number of dogs properly selected for the situation for a healthy interaction of the species in order to promote the teaching and learning of their intraspecies social skills.
  • Training without the owner and family presence it’s absurd. The whole family needs to be taught how to communicate with their dog, are they that living with the dog.
  • If dogs spend an average of 21 hours closed at home and most of the reported problems are at home, made external training only, with standardized checklist and environments that are always the same, does not reflect the dog’s need nor the families needs, being an spend of time, energy and money.
  • The use of some materials by the owners will be reflected in their generalization and it increases the lack of a natural communication and interspecific understanding.

Solutions?

  • The professionalization of the activity having a completely scientific basis and updated studies.
  • The separation of scientific training from moralistic training.
  • Teaching in the home, with the appropriate adaptation of the natural and individual needs of the dog, where the family receives a theoretical component, takes the appropriate notes and the “why of things” is passed to them.
  • The whole family must be present and practice too.
  • Complimentary outdoor activities in various environments with other dogs and owners.
  • A maximum of 4 dog owners per trainer or assistant (ideally 3) for outdoor activities in order of individualizing the training as much as possible.
  • A good socialization program according to the present dogs.

Author’s Note:
In the 21st century, where animal welfare, ethics and rights are still the order of the day, how can we neglect something as crucial as interspecific education, which continues mostly to follow the control, power and “obedience” models like 50 years ago or models that do not fit into the social paradigm? Are we going to be eternal prisoners of social conditioning on these issues and refuse to change, believing in everything we read/hear, or we will have the courage to say “enough” to everything (that shamelessly passes in front of us but stubborn we remain blind to it) and combat all present illegalities and ignorance, camouflaged by sympathy and smiles, with socially accepted words and always with the “animal welfare” premise, where neither nonhuman animals nor human animals are respected or taken into account for the acts of these persons?

Dog training model should be urgently reviewed. The “training” should give place to the family education, “obedience” give place to natural communication and understanding, and the guarantees of results of mechanized dogs should give place to the updated knowledge and look at other species not as objects that are for humans, but as constant victims of human society, where we all try to survive.

The choice is ours, this article is based not only on the empirical knowledge but also on the scientific knowledge and current studies present in the references below. I recommend you to read it before any kind of judgment.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ― R. Buckminster Fuller

References

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Autor: Roberto Barata

Ethology Institute Tutor and administration staff member; Instructor and Researcher in Applied Mentoring and Anthrozoology in Animal Behavior and Training field.