Acorn Dog Training

Teaching Dogs with Concern by Sheila Bailey

Good Citizen Tests


I find that many people are very confused when they start looking for a dog training book to buy. The choice is bewildering, and so often they appear to contradict each other. This is because there are basically two ways of training a dog. You can either MAKE your dog do as you wish, or you can get him to WANT to do as you wish.

The conventional way of training, which was almost universal up to a few years ago, was to MAKE him do as you wish. Me Boss! You Slave! and the oft repeated advice in dog training classes was "Don't ask him! Tell him!" It was a sin to use food to reward your dog for the correct behaviour as "your dog should obey because he loves you not because he is being bribed with food", and it was held that the dog was never reliably trained unless he had been compelled to comply.

The founder of this kind of dog training was Konrad Most. "Colonel Konrad Most was one of the world's most experienced and distinguished authorities on all kinds of dog training and a pioneer in the study of dog psychology. He started training Service dogs in 1906 while serving as police commissioner at the Royal Prussian Police Headquarters, Saarbruchen."

Most's methods were devised BY a professional trainer FOR professional trainers who were training kennelled dogs. His book "Training Dogs" first published in this country in 1954 - although in Germany it had already reached its twelfth reprint by the early fifties - is now a classic. The majority of training books until the end of the twentieth century have been based on Most's methods, although few have shown the insight and understanding of the original.

Most believed that "in the absence of compulsion neither human education nor canine education is feasible" so conventional/compulsive trainers use "The Carrot and the Stick" technique. Praise the dog for the right response; correct the dog for the wrong response. At one end of the correction scale the stick can literally be a stick when the dog is beaten for the incorrect response, or, on the other hand, only the mildest of compulsion can be used - for example the "tuck sit" where the handler sweeps his hand down the back of the dog and continues down to the hock. Although very mild, this is, never the less, still compulsion. It can be a very harsh method, but it does not have to be.

This method can work very well with some dogs, the 'middle of the road' dogs IF the trainer has a great deal of expertise - remember it was devised by a professional trainer for professional trainers. However its success depends firstly on the trainer having a perfect sense of timing, as even a fraction of a second can make all the difference between success and failure, and secondly, the trainer must have the knowledge, experience, and expertise to make a perfect assessment of the severity of the correction required. If a mistake is made in either of these two requirements, then at best the training will be unsuccessful, but at worst, and far more importantly, it could easily destroy the bond between dog and trainer.

Furthermore, compulsive methods do not work well with nervous or insecure dogs, nor do they work with strong-minded, pushy dogs. Konrad Most himself admitted that "certain tough types of dogs will refuse to give in despite the most energetic counteractions by the trainer." (euphemism for a severe beating!) "Such dogs are unsuitable for training." It must be remembered that Most was assessing dogs suitable for Service training, and would simply discard those that would not respond to his methods - much as some police forces do in this country, and, sadly, much as some competition addicts still do.

Historically, compulsive trainers strove to achieve rank through training - an obvious route to take when dealing with kennelled dogs and Most believed that "The order of hierarchy can only be established through physical force", so dogs were forced into the sit, down, or heel position and he believed that "The object of compulsion is to obtain the paramount and unconditional surrender of the dog". Much the same techniques were used by some horse trainers, particularly those in the States, to 'break' horses - until Monty Robert came along and showed that there was a much better way.

At one time, children in school were 'corrected' every time they made a mistake and children who were learning to play the piano would quite likely have been rapped over the knuckles when they played a wrong note. But all this technique taught them was to be afraid of making a mistake. It did not teach them what it was they were supposed to be learning or how to play the right note! It is much the same with dogs.

A much better alternative to the "Carrot and the Stick" approach is the "Carrot or No Carrot" using positive reinforcement ("the carrot") and negative punishment (the "no carrot'"). In this method the dog gets rewarded for the desired behaviour, but gets no reward if he gets it wrong - that is: reward or no reward, instead of reward or correction. If this approach is adopted, then training and play become synonymous as training becomes a series of puzzles which the dog has to solve to get his reward. If dogs are not worried about being corrected for getting things wrong, they start to think more and more for themselves. In the process they make more and more connections between neurons in the brain, thereby increasing their ability to learn. We also have the added pleasure of watching our dogs thinking - which is absolutely fascinating!

The advantages of this method are enormous, particularly for the inexperienced trainer, because if the trainer gets it wrong then no lasting damage is done. In addition, and most importantly, as both dog and trainer are having fun, it helps to build a bond between them which leads to co-operation rather than fear. Most owners do not want to "obtain the paramount and unconditional surrender" of their dog. They would prefer their dog to work with them rather than to work for them. My dog is my best friend and I do not wish to dominate her by adopting a sergeant major attitude. What I am looking for is a partnership - albeit where I am the senior partner - based on trust, understanding and respect.

I firmly believe that dogs are much more clever than most people realize. Dogs can and do think - given the opportunity - and many are extremely good problem solvers. However we should always remember that dogs think like dogs. They do not think as humans. Unfortunately many dogs were never given the chance to think in the past and sadly that still occurs today if the method of training is "Do it now! Do it because I say so! Do it immediately with military precision without even thinking about what you are doing"

Dogs, like all mammals, are born with a large number of neurons, brain cells, and if these are not used they will die. The more dogs learn the better their brain will work, but if they are not given the opportunity to think and learn they will eventually lose this ability. The same effect can happen to children who are given no stimulation, attention or the opportunity to learn, as could be seen all too clearly in the heartrending TV reports on the orphanage children in Romania who were showing stereotypic behaviour, vacant expressions and a seemingly complete disinterest in the world around them.

When compulsive training was the order of the day, dog training classes would not admit dogs younger than six months old - this was probably because of the use of choke chains and the physical and repressive nature of the training - but this is like telling parents that they should not send their children to school until they are ten years old!

We now recognize the importance of early learning and encourage parents to take their children to nursery school. It is much the same with dogs. If we do not teach puppies what we want them to learn then they will teach themselves, as every minute of the day they will be learning - whether we teach them or not. However if they teach themselves, it is highly unlikely that they will teach themselves what we want them to learn and then, later, it becomes a matter of correction rather than of learning - a much more difficult task.

It is surprising just how much we can teach young puppies providing we remember that they have a very short concentration span and we keep the lessons short and fun. In other words - play school! - and what they learn at that age is there for life.

The method of training I have been using now for many years I call teaching with C.O.N.C.E.R.N. which stands for:

Carrot Or No Carrot - as previously explained.

Educate in an Enjoyable Environment and I use the word educate ("to improve and develop") rather than train ("to improve or curb by subjecting to discipline"), which much better explains my philosophy of teaching.

Relationship based on Respect. I respect my dog's physical and mental needs and do all I can to meet them by learning how dogs think and behave - which in turn means my dog will respect me and not fear me. If the correct relationship is established between dog and owner then everything else will fall into place. No teaching can be successful unless this vital ingredient is well established.

Non-confrontational methods - I avoid getting into confrontational situations by using brain rather than brawn! The most important word when teaching dogs is not "No!", as so many books have emphasized in the past, but "Why?" Always remember "Why Before You Try!" a sound bite that I repeat again and again at the Derbyshire Canine Centre. Always ask yourself "Why is my dog behaving like that?" before dashing in and getting into a physical confrontation - and then stop and think of an alternative approach. Unfortunately humans are far too quick to rush into a 'do it by force' solution which is rarely successful in the long run.

Prevention is better than cure. If puppies learn from an early age how we expect them to behave in order to be acceptable family members, and we also make sure that we habituate and socialize them in the right way, then much of my workload as a canine behavioural advisor would be greatly diminished - and I would be delighted!

1. Colonel Konrad Most, (1984), Training Dogs. A Manual. London. Popular Dogs Publishing Co. Ltd.
2. 1991, The Collins Dictionary. Glasgow. Harper Collins Publishers.

This article was based on an article published in "Your Dog" magazine October 2003.

Sheila Bailey PGCE
Derbyshire Canine Centre, White Lea Farm, Castleton, Hope Valley. S33 8WB
Phone: 01433 620415. e-mail:




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