The development of off-leash, puppy/adolescent, socialization and training classes caused a paradigm shift in dog training away from the on-leash, physical restraint/prompt/punish methods of competition/working training to whelp an entirely new field of Pet Dog Training. However, after nearly 30 years, pet dog training is in dire need of re-invention. Off-leash, science based techniques were unparalleled for 20 years or so but over the past decade, pet dog training has gone downhill.

Certainly, the fun factor and dog-friendliness of pet dog training has increased over the years, but criteria and standards have dropped dramatically. Many owners become frustrated with lack of success and so, seek help elsewhere — often adopting aversive techniques, thinking (erroneously) that physical domination and pain will be more effective. In reality, science-based training is effective regardless of the choice of training tool. However, few owners are being taught reliable verbal off-leash control without the continued need of training tools. Whereas it is easy for dog owners to find beginning lure/reward and beginning clicker training classes, seldom are they taught how to completely phase out training tools, such as lures, clickers, food rewards, collars and leashes. Hence, lures become bribes and compliance often becomes contingent on the owner having food lures and rewards, or the ability to physically restrain or punish.

Initial training appears to go well but then surprisingly quickly, without reliable off-leash control, everything falls apart during adolescence. Seemingly insignificant behavior problems of puppyhood become major reasons for surrender or abandonment.

Adolescent dogs become inattentive, distracted, anxious, fearful and maybe aggressive to other dogs and people, causing on-leash manners and off-leash reliability take a precipitous nosedive. Consequently, walks and romps in the park become less frequent, which impacts enormously on the dog’s quality of life.

All of these developmental problems are utterly predictable and quite easily preventable. Successful pet dog training is all about extremely early socialization and training, ongoing socialization and training and establishing off-leash reliability in order to adequately prepare puppies to successfully navigate adolescence. It’s all about adolescence, (hence, my two Adolescent Dog seminars scheduled for Orlando and San Francisco).

As I see it there are four huge areas of concern that need to be addressed and resolved before science-based dog training reaches “tipping point” and is universally and permanently acknowledged, accepted and practiced by dog owners and trainers. These issues will be the focus of my seminar series this year and next.

The incredible opportunities of puppyhood are still largely wasted. Prevention is easier (and much quicker) than cure but we are still not preventing the major reasons for surrendering dogs to shelters, namely, house-soiling problems, destructive chewing, excessive barking and separation anxiety. Moreover, socialization is pitifully and scarily inadequate. We are not even coming close to preparing puppies for adolescence and successfully preventing fearfulness and aggression.

Temporary training tools have become permanent management tools. Few owners progress beyond the initial stages of science-based training and fail to phase out lures and prompts, or clicks and food rewards. Few owners achieve reliable off-leash verbal control without the continued need of training aids and especially for times when the dog is at a distance of distracted. Thus few owners learn how to control their dog when off-leash at home, on walks or in the park.

Computer-generated learning theory has many severe constraints when applied in dog training. Schedules of reinforcement and punishment need to be completely re-evaluated in terms of effectiveness and expediency in pet dog training. Consequences are binary — from the dog’s perspective, either things get better, or they get worse, yet far too many owners and trainers focus on how things got better or worse in terms of choice of training tool (praise, food, toys, reprimands, jerks, shocks, etc.), or psychological principle (positive/negative reinforcement/punishment). Additionally, far too many trainers practice only half of binary feedback (reward-only or punishment-only). Teaching owners how to stop undesired behavior is essential, otherwise they will resort to aversive techniques. Undesired behavior may be effectively inhibited and eliminated without the use of aversive punishment.

Dog training is in danger of losing its soul. Far too many trainers have adopted impersonal, quantum consequences (clicks, treats, jerks and shocks) in lieu of verbal feedback. Trainers have become technicians, which although beneficial for refining timing or learning how to set criteria, lacks feeling when teaching people to develop relationships with their dogs. Just because computers had to dispense quantum kibble and shocks as consequential feedback does not mean that we need follow suit. Also, just because we need to adhere to scientific criteria does not mean that we cannot talk to our dogs. Moreover, by using instructive and analogue verbal feedback, people may transcend the training abilities of any computer. Well-timed quantum feedback only provides information vis a vis the desirability of specific behaviors, whereas a single word may provide the dog with several pieces of information: whether the behavior is desirable or not, the degree of desirability or potential danger of the behavior, plus specific instruction for how the dog may immediately correct undesirable behavior.

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Our training program does address those issues you mention, but I think that we also need cooperation from veterinarians and breeders.  People are still being told that their puppies need to wait until they are 16 weeks old and have had all their shots in order to attend puppy class.  By the time I see many pups, their socialization window is past!  Also, we are telling people when the best time for additional classes might be, yet we get the dog-centrics back to class, and many of the others resist until Fido is driving them crazy!  We strive to have fun at our classes, and are making strides, both in getting the backing of local vets, and in trying to forge ongoing relationships with clients (Facebook, our own dog forum, play groups where they all become friends, etc.) I have found that the three major problem areas are: jumping up, not walking nicely on lead, and not coming when called.  While we offer a remedial "Rocket Recall" class, which helps a lot, the puppies I see and start with at age 8 weeks don't develop the problem behaviors nearly as frequently as the dogs I first see at 16 weeks.  They're always learning, whether the owners are "teaching" or not!  Our answer to that has been a drop in "Puppy Head Start" class that people can come to as soon as they get their puppy.  I have found that if I don't have a class starting right up, some of them end up with correction trainers.  (I can count on one hand the number of people who ask about method - they want to know how much, and when it starts...)  I hope we can make some headway with this, and appreciate your taking the time to blog about it and design a seminar on the "middle school mutts" - can't wait till you come to New England with it.

Planty to think about there, thankyou

I have to admit I am a rubbish clicker trainer :D I like to give feedback and tell my dogs how fantastic they are doing.

I agree people dont understand how to fade out the lure/rewards, often they are too stingy to start with too. I like to give lots and lots of treats at the start and then fade them out a bit but I often try to have a reward on me to bring out as a surprise for an extra special behaiour

People around here still believe that their dogs stop learning once they stop being puppies so they do the puppy classes and then stop. It is so sad, the clever puppy that was loving learning has had that great relationship with its human stopped. Our dogs learn from us all the time so we should be thinking what we are teaching them (says me petting the nose that has pushed up onto my lap as I type - wonder what I have just taught now :D ) for my agility training, progress with my reactive rescue and my fuzzy sculptures

P.S.  I have always interacted with my dogs, despite also using a clicker - the one objection a former employer of mine had to clicker training was the lack of interaction and FUN.  Her comment made an impression on me, even though I knew that the scientific aspect of this training was valid.  So, even though I realize the benefits of clicker training in terms of the science, I also recognize the intangible "holy cow did you ever do THAT right" attitude that makes my dogs really want to repeat whatever it was that made mom so happy. 

My clients get to choose whether to use lure/reward, clicker, or voice marker.  Almost always, when beginners, they choose voice marker.  I'm just happy they didn't choose leash jerks;-)

Maybe it's because I'm also in New England, but I see much of the same thing that SpiritDogs sees. There are still a huge number of compulsion trainers here in New Hampshire, and sadly, they get better long term results than do the clicker/lure trainers simply because of the number of clicker trainers who have popped up in the last few years who have no idea how to fade the tools compared to the number of Dog Whisperer Wannabes who, even with no actual knowledge of dogs, get results quickly even if not necessarily humanely. People don't much care about HOW good behavior is achieved, or what the fallout of training with aversives may be, they only care about whether or not their dog actually behaves. 

Recently, here in New Hampshire, a man took his 5 year old pit bull out in the woods and shot him in the head, then two more times, and tied the dog to a tree to die. The dog was diagnosed with separation anxiety; the veterinarian gave him a prescription, but failed to mention that there is no "magic pill" and that the behavior wouldn't change without behavior modification. After a week or so of the prescription not working, the man had just had enough and couldn't take his dog's behavior issues any more. It broke my heart to read the story in the newspaper; it was completely preventable and unnecessary. But folks here (in NH) seem to believe that trainers are expensive, and that investing in training is a waste of money; people would rather wait until a dog's behavior issues are so out of control that their choice is to either spend hundreds of dollars on a behavior consultant, or to shoot their dog in the woods and leave him to die.

If breeders and veterinarians could get on the same page as the trainers and behaviorists, we'd be much more successful. I expect a certain level of flack from veterinarians, who still insist on keeping pups indoors until they've had all their vaccinations, but I expect more from breeders and I'm finding that many, many breeders, even natural-rearing breeders who are generally extremely well educated about health issues and the consequesces of vaccinating, nutrition, etc are still lagging in terms of what it takes to ensure a puppy grows up to be an enjoyable, safe citizen.

I'd be interested to learn more about how vaccines impact behavior, as well. I see many puppies in my classes go from being good natured, happy-go-lucky, and playful to being terrified of everything, trembling at every sound, and avoiding touch after being vaccinated, especially against rabies. I've read plenty about the subject, but never from a trainer's point of view, and I'm finding a whole lot of resistance from breeders, veterinarians, dog owners, and trainers alike. 

Leap in logic by Dr Dunbar.   Really not so much interesting as frightening, and an excellent example in "trainers" not able to own up to their own mistakes or misconceptions.

Ian as always you hit on very salient points that are addressed by too few people in our filed.

Indeed the need for people to deal with their dog’s behavior proactively and humanely is a major problem. The trouble is the glut of information that pervades the dog training culture, that falsely claims quick fixes and overnight cures for dog behavior or manners training. This leaves many to use inadequate methods or do nothing until it’s at a critical point. Or worse make the dogs behavior worse by abusive methods disguised as “training”.

As my fabulous trainer of a wife says “human behavior must change before dog behavior changes”. This covers everything from using management to actually getting of the ol duff and training.

Solutions to the problem are leg work and actually getting the right info.

Having fun and giving reasonable expectations is something that I have found is tantamount to success. I agree that the fading of food lures and also the replacement of food rewards with life rewards is a great way to balance the reward system for the dog. In addition it allows people different options other than food or praise. Think of all the door opening services that forgone and could be a reward - consequence learning experience for dogs.

I always let people know that training happens from the time you get up to the time you go to sleep for your dog’s entire life. Getting people to realize that dog behavior is not static and it will shift in different environments is a big help in educating the dog owner that they must also shift their criteria and perhaps their mechanics based on what is happening in the environment.

The unreal expectation that the dog must be the same in all contexts has really done major damage to the dog human bond, so I always do my best to impart that awareness of the dogs behavior and the consistency of rewards and consequences are essential.

As far as house training goes, it is criminal that there are universal directions handed out by every breeder and shelter in the US on how to house train puppies and also how to deal with adult dogs that “all of a sudden” go potty in the house. The answer to the second one is get to the vet ASAP.

How do we inspire people to be more proactive, to observe and train without blame, I equate it to being a referee, humans make the rules, and humans have to make sure they are consistent in the rewards and consequences. 

Clickers are great for trainers doing trials and perhaps the mechanically savvy dog handler/walker/owner the average person does not need one more thing to carry or operate when they are training their dogs. I use a marker word, YES! Or NICE! As long as you’ve got a voice you’ve got a marker.

We do have too ridged of a mindset out there in dog land, fun is had more often when people can let go of all these ridiculous notions of dogs dominating us each time they do something we’d rather they don’t, and legitimately understanding why dogs do the they things they do. I find once people get truthful info on their dogs behavior they are less stressed out and enjoy training much more, simply because they have an understanding of why things are happening or not happening.

I have two simple rules as a trainer, I do not use fear or pain, past that it’s all about mechanics and timing of consequences and rewards. Many things can be a consequence and many things can be rewarding, yes food is usually at the top of the list, but plenty of dogs will also work for a toy, and how many opportunities in play for training impulse control are not utilized because the person simply does not ask the dog to sit & wait before they toss the ball?

Keep up the great work!


Drayton Michaels CTC

Fingers can be pointed all you want for the downfall of dog training, and excuses can be made.   It has nothing to do with the method other than you have to be into the dog and have a great relationship with them (and not be abusive).

The downfall of dog training is the people that are driving the "heeling is just fancy walking" and "competition obedience is soo boring" are driving down the standards.   Largely this is driven by people believing in the more "fun" aspects of dog training, which to them means no standards.   Novice AKC compettion is so "unnatural", because you would get to call your dog more than once in the real world, so why the need.

Anyone who has had the emergency need can tell you the difference is bringing home a live dog vs a dead one.

Any trainer into their dog and relationship utilizes all positive things to train their dogs AND TO A STANDARD.   There are no such things as all punshment trainers.  It's a myth continued again and again on this site in order to deflect from the real problem and danger being introduced into the dog world.

Also selling more lectures does not hurt either (only the dogs and dog owning public.)

I agree that standards have been driven lower by both newbie and crossover trainers. I think about it a lot. Back when I was training in the early 90s, the standards were there but there weren't options - in my part of the world, anyway - beyond verbal praise and avoidance training using chain collars and prongs, moderately aversive tools. Food rewards during training, even used as an initial lure, was frowned upon.

Now, it seems that lure/reward is frowned upon by the shaping devotees. The use of chain training collars or prong collars unleashes the wrath of many. Even headcollars are given the hairy eyeball!

I haven't found Ian's suggestion of repeated instructive reprimands given with increasing urgency and then praising the correct response to result in more reliability, though. I do agree that feedback is binary.

What has helped is training the cues with an abbreviated period of luring and prompting, fading the lure and the prompt and then relying on the verbal cue. I'll practice this in many locaitons with increasing distractions. When the dog doesn't comply, I do gently physically assist the dog in complying. I will use my hands if the dog is not fearful. I may use a headcollar or a buckle collar. I might lean into the dog. I may run my hand softly down the dog's back without pushing while giving the prompt for a sit. I may use a wall or my arm as a barrier (only) to get a dog into a sit. I might press my finger on the dogs head to assist it into a drop. There is no cookie if I had to help! But there is always a "That's better. Thank-you." I have found this does increase reliability as a "correction." However, the foundation work is done carefully before that expectation of compliance is in place. The more practice the dog has, the quicker that process is. It's not a big deal to me if I have to use a hand signal over a verbal cue occasionally. See how low I will go?

Less is more with aversives in dog training. You can still have standards without requiring precision heeling. No dog has EVER been given up to a shelter because it could not do a straight finish or a three-minute out-of-sight down stay. And I'm saying that as a person who appreciates a straight finish and a solid down stay! :-)

I've always maintained that Ian's laser eye is on what keeps pet dogs in their homes for a lifetime. Formal obedience training can be wonderful; most pet owners need to know how to socialize, potty train, get their dog to cuddle with them, not bite anyone, and not destroy the house and yard. People who attend a formal obedience class may learn how to get their dogs to walk on a leash, sit and stay and come when called. They can learn these things in a pet training class as well. As trainers, we have to teach people how to live with dogs and to know a little about them. They truly don't know.

In the 1999 study, "Reasons for Relinquishment of Companion Animals in U.S. Animal Shelters: Selected Health and Personal Issues" by Scarlett, Salman, New, and Kass, relinquishment of cats and dogs in 12 animal shelters in six states was studied. Of this, 554 dogs from 520 households were questioned about their reasons for relinquishment. Cats: 488 cats from 384 households.

What struck me was the level of husbandry knowledge of the owners of these cats and dogs given up.

1. Approximately 43% did not realize that dogs experience estrus two times yearly.
2. Only slightly more than 17% knew that cats were polyestrous.
3. Approximately 61% believed or were not sure whether female dogs or cats were better off if they had at least one litter before spaying.
4. Nearly 41% did not know that cat behavior could be affected by the number of other cats in a home.
5. More than 52% believed that animals misbehaved to spite their owners.

Let's educate dog trainers that animals don't misbehave out of spite. It will help with their worries that the positive trainers aren't strict enough. They can lighten up, too. 

Meanwhile, we "positive" trainers can start "keepin' it real" by training for reliability, keep the rhapsodizing to ourselves about how much nicer we are than those mean "traditional" trainers, and stop feeling guilty about what we did before we knew better. I inlcude myself in this. I want to train better, quicker and in such a way that people are drawn toward doing it themselves. 

Even we "positive" trainers must admit that all the quadrants are in effect all the time. No one is "all positive." Ignoring bad behavior doesn't solve most of the pesky problems to the satisfaction of our clients. We need to know that extinction will not occur if we don't understand the motivation for the behavior or how likely - in real life - it can be carried out in a complex family environment. We all use positive punishment and negative reinforcement to varying degrees. We all yell at our own dogs occasionally.

You can keep it real and train with feeling!

Thank you so much for the above.   All my lessons are about more than the mechanics of dog training.   There is so much basic knowledge that especially first time owners lack.   I remember when I got my first dog, and to try and keep this in the forefront of my mind when educating humans:)

When I obtained my Rottweiler pup close to 6 mo. ago, I advertised that I would be holding free positive based off leash puppy classes for all with pups from 10 weeks to 4 mo. of age. With the state of the economy such as it is most people were quite appreciative and I quickly took in enough participants to hold two classes a week for 12 weeks. This was partly altruistic in nature with a mixture of selfishness as there is a dearth of appropriate puppy classes in my area and I wanted my pup to be socialized in the extreme.

Things worked out well and Thor has become a very social and well behaved, well trained pup (A 100 lb. 8 mo. old pup) and I still keep in contact with several of the participants. The strange thing was the relatively high number of people who, after witnessing the positive techniques of the first session declined further participation because the techniques were not forceful enough and I would not allow choke collars during training. It seems excellent results were not enough to counter their preconceived notion of what made a proper puppy class. Some of them even stated that the results were excellent but they were just not comfortable without using more force. Go figure.

After reading Dr. Dunbar's post and many of the reponses to it, it became evident that there was an atmosphere of tension and ego-based adherence to personal philosophy and method.  I would politely suggest, that as in all disciplines, achieving a excellent professional level of competence in a method (personal caveat--provided that the method is not inhumane, immoral, or illegal) is necessary before commenting, changing, or dismissing the value of that method.  I am a cross-over trainer.  After earning multiple advanced degrees (Doctoral and post-doctoral), I understand and appreciate what it means to achieve a professional level of competence in differing disciplines.  I have invested the same focused effort, both in study and practice, to be able to effectively and equitably evaluate what has become known as "clicker training".  Most of the professionals whose seminars I have attended, and who find fault with the concept and method, have unknowingly demonstrated a lack of expertise in the practice, in their understanding of its foundational principles, and in the gestalt of clinical implementation.

That said, Dr. Dunbar is a world-renowned expert in the techniques with which he is most familar and is understandably proud and supportive of them.  Aren't we all?  'Clicker Training' is so much more than just training with a clicker and throwing food treats at a dog or other animal.  The difference between "Clicker Trainers" and "trainers who use a clicker" is as distinct as the difference between riding a bike for exercise and competing as an Olympic cyclist.