To Treat or not to Treat that is thy question

To Treat or not to Treat that is thy question

To treat or not to treat; should I ‘click’ or simply praise – if so, when; do I correct or not correct and if so when and how; is a correction really just punishment or is there a difference and for that matter, is it OK to simply say, “No?” These are just a few of the questions that emerge out of a swirl of confusing and conflicting ideas as one contemplates how to get Rover to listen and behave.

As I mentioned earlier, my entry into training was via a method based on praise and correction with no food used. We were told a trainer called Jack Godsell developed the method. With a few noticeable differences, this approach was similar in many ways to “The Koehler Method of Dog Training.”

I remember being at a seminar where the speakers actually brought a small amount of food into a training exercise. This was the first time I had seen how food could be used and it made me feel very uncomfortable at first. I watched as they combined the use of the food (as a tool) with appropriately timed corrections, and were able to accomplish so much. As the pendulum slowly swung, and I along with it, we witnessed an ever-increasing use of food. At first the results seemed very impressive.

What followed, over the years, was a succession of personalities, each of whom contributed something to the views of trainers. I’ll mention a few here and would be happy to discuss their approach in more detail should there be a desire to do so.

The 80’s saw the emergence of Job Michael Evans and “The Monks of New Skete” along with their best seller, “How to be your Dog’s Best Friend.” Later, the monks would come out with a great puppy book called, “The Art of Raising a Puppy.”

At about the same time as the monks, there was Carol Lea Benjamin. She wrote a number of good books but probably her most well known is, “Mother Knows Best.” Carol Lea also wrote a regular column for the American Kennel Club Gazette.

While we’re still in the 80’s, how many here can remember, “Walkies?” This was the trademark expression of Barbara Woodhouse. She was quite an entertaining character that wrote a few books, produced some cassette training tapes and did a dog training show on television. Even people without dogs were amused by her presentation and she did help increase public awareness that dogs can be trained.
All of the influences I’ve mentioned so far were primarily praise and correction based. Their differences were based mainly on individual techniques and the timing or introduction of various exercises.

Then along came the Volhards and their “Motivational” method. This was the rising star that attracted many trainers. Within a very short period of time there were “Motivational Method” classes springing up all over the place. It was at one of Jack and Wendy’s early seminars that I first saw any food being used to help teach an exercise. Their system of training included four steps: show, induce, induce/compel and finally compel if necessary. For me they represented the crossover point – all the other trainers I’ve mentioned thus far were primarily concerned with making the training an inherent part of the dog/owner relationship and used mostly praise and correction. The Volhards used praise and correction but they moved some of the motivation away from the primary relationship and toward the use of external (food) rewards.

And the pendulum kept swinging

From there, the pendulum swung more toward “reward based training” and the first name that emerges is Ian Dunbar. Ian’s method was referred to as Lure/Reward and while he did not eliminate correction in his training, he de-emphasized it considerably. Incidentally, Ian is often seen as introducing the concept of puppy training. However, this is not correct. Some 15 – 20 years earlier, Milo Pearsall introduced a concept he called KPT (Kindergarten Puppy Training) and he wrote about it in his book “The Pearsall Guide to Successful Dog Training” copyright in 1973. If one reads Pearsall and then reads Volhard, they will see Pearsall also had a strong influence on Volhard’s work.

Lets get back to Dunbar. Ian’s training views were, and still are, strongly influenced by behaviorism and the theory of operant conditioning. This is the pseudo-science based on the work of B. F. Skinner. However, the result is that Dunbar views training more as a conditioning process and he uses OC terminology. Rather than view a correction as just that, he would describe it as punishment. Ultimately, this subtle shift led to the idea that anyone using corrections was utilizing “punishment based training.” This served to delineate two camps of trainers, i.e. reward based and punishment based. Dunbar’s views spawned a whole group of followers through the 90’s. Rather than try to mention everyone – that would be very difficult indeed – I’ll simply make mention of them as a group.

I’ll mention just three other names that I believe influenced trends. Karen Prior who wrote the book, “Don’t shoot the Dog.” Gary Wilkes of “Click and Treat” fame and Jean Donaldson author of “Culture Clash.”

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