Dog obedience training as a profession is in a current explosion consisting of need and extreme diversity of new jobs available to the dog population. Aside from the traditional companion and entertainer of the family, the dog is being recognized as an extremely valuable source of assistance in an increasingly wider range of jobs that not only can he do, but also most often do better than a person.
Going back to the origin of formal obedience in America we have to recognize that the original trainers came from entirely different backgrounds than their American students.
Steeped in the traditions of Germany and other European countries with similar backgrounds and goals, the early obedience trainers in America such as Hans Toussiti and Conrad Most, considered obedience training to be that part of the training process that polished the dog for service work or obedience competition.
In a country around the size on the state of Arkansas, they sported over 800 clubs devoted to bringing the working dog people together to socialize both the dogs and themselves, lay the foundations in the puppies for the future training sessions which went on almost daily. Hans Toussiti stated openly that puppies could not be obedience trained, but could be educated. They called the early foundation stage of training “puppy education” and stressed the need to teach the puppy from eight weeks up how to walk on lead, come when called, sit, retrieve, and go out in public for socialization. They encouraged the use of praise and treats and warned against the use of force.
They wanted owners to wait until the puppy was six months or older to bring him to obedience classes where the real work of getting ready for the army or police would begin. Unfortunately, many novices in the early stages of obedience training in America missed the “education” part and ended up being thrown straight into “polishing” exercises with little or no previous socialization or early foundation “education.” Instructors soon realized that it is both difficult and often excessively abusive to attempt to put an untrained dog through the exercises used to polish army and police dogs. This early miscommunication has led to many problems in obedience training that still persist today. Because of the difference in the early education phase of obedience which uses loads of food and the polishing for whatever real work the dog will eventually be called upon to perform where food is either used in a variable reinforcement regiment or eventually phased out completely relying upon the secondary reinforcers such as the word GOOD or the internal satisfaction some dogs get simply from the doing the job correctly.
Much of current research is aimed at helping instructors understand the basic concepts of how dogs and people learn. Food and praise are rapidly becoming today’s major primary and secondary motivators. The explosive rise of participation in agility has catapulted into popularity the process of training with food. This is not a new process as animals have been trained with food for thousands of years. The use of food in the training process is still not entirely understood by many instructors or students. While some have a very solid understanding of the difference and uses of first response, primary reinforcers, secondary reinforcers, as well as the uses of continuous rewards to establish the skill and variable rewards to set the action so that it will continue to be given even when all reinforcers are absent for variable periods of time.
©2013 Dr. Mary Belle Adelman