Dog Training Philosophy and Methodology- What it takes to be a Professional Dog Trainer


Welcome to the DogSmith and an overview of our training philosophies and methodologies. If you are embarking on a dog training career or if you just want to further educate yourself and your dog then you are about to commence a fascinating journey into the world of interspecies communication. What exactly does that mean?  Well, to train dogs we first need to understand how to communicate with them.  As we all know, we speak human and they speak dog.  We are primates and they are canines. Of course the other side of the communication coin is that we need to understand how they communicate with us using their bodies and vocal tones. In addition, we need to understand what they are physically capable of doing and of course we need to understand what motivates them.  To motivate a dog to do something it is physically capable of doing we need to accept that dogs are a predator and an opportunist and every behavior they display is designed to support their survival.  There are millions of dogs in the world.  Biologists consider the canine species, because of their numbers, to be hugely successful. There are more dogs than wolves and there are more dogs than almost any other animal so domestication has been a critical component of their success.  Yet domestication means dogs rely on us for much of their needs.  We humans are in a position of control and power in relation to our dogs and we are necessary for their ongoing wellbeing and survival. 

 

If we put all of this together then the only thing stopping us from training dogs to do anything they are physically capable of doing is the training mechanics employed and our personal training approach, methodology and training philosophy.   As with everything else in life, there are many ways to train dogs ranging from whatever the current fad is to scientifically researched and proven techniques. Methods range in their effectiveness as well.  Some methods are inhumane, cruel and abusive while others are just plain ineffective. At The DogSmith we work toward a world where people and their pets live together to the mutual benefit of each and where, by our efforts, we can significantly reduce the number of unwanted pets and provide abused, neglected, and abandoned pets an opportunity to find their “forever home”.  Our mission exists to enhance the lives of pets and their owners by improving their relationship and the quality of the life they share through:

1)      Providing professional support and training to pet dog owners,

2)      Supporting and assisting animal shelters and rescue organizations to minimize the number of unwanted animals, and

3)       Offering affordable and professional care to family pets so that pet ownership is never a burden.

Our vision and mission is guided by some very stringent values. First, we seek to do no harm.  Secondly, we emphasize a ‘holistic’ approach to pet care by attending to the physical, emotional, and environmental well being of all pets and, thirdly, each DogSmith  will support, through its  deeds, efforts and sponsorship, animal shelters and rescue organizations to promote and implement the “no kill” animal philosophy.

 

How did the DogSmith training methodology and training philosophy evolve? Having spent considerable time researching and studying psychology while working with pet dogs and their owners, we recognized that dogs learn in two ways. The first way dogs learn is from their environment (acquisition learning).  This type of learning is going on all the time.   In the ‘pet dog world’ examples of this include learning that takes place in and around the home on a daily basis whether under supervision or not, at the dog park, at their day care or when they are out and about with their owners.  Dogs do what works for them and what brings them rewards in their daily life. It is not hard to imagine how dogs pick up and develop unwanted behaviors when owners unknowingly and repeatedly reinforce the wrong behaviors exhibited by their dog.  The other way dogs learn is in a formalized learning environment such as a dog training class or during periods when you specifically work with your dog to train them on a particular skill or task. This learning is more structured and formal. This is learning derived from education rather than from the accumulation of experience. With formalized learning the pet dogs are  involved and active in the learning process. 

 Because we at The DogSmith recognize that dogs learn in two ways, we found it necessary to develop our MTR approach to Dog Training. This is a tool that guides us in our approach to helping pet dog owners with their four legged family members. MTR© refers to the three critical and key components of learning: Management of the dog and their environment, Training with the dog and the dog’s owner and the Relationship that a owner and their pet dog share.  It would be pointless to invest in dog obedience classes with a pet dog if the dog is then left unsupervised to pick up bad habits from its environment.  Alternatively, it is not possible to train and manage a dog’s environment correctly if the relationship between dog and owner is lacking trust and mutual respect.

The DogSmith approach to the actual training and the philosophy that drives our methodology is the DogSmith ARRF© methodology. The ARRF© methodology of dog training and behavior modification was developed by The DogSmith  Training Center and provides the most effective training system possible for the pet dog and its owner.  By understanding and using the most current scientific learning principles applied to pet dog training, The DogSmith ensures that learning will be humane, effective, reliable, fun and easy.  DogSmith Trainers are skilled at developing objective learning criteria, applying positive reinforcement and establishing training guidelines to ensure desired behaviors are frequently practiced in a variety of contexts. Most importantly, DogSmith Trainers fully engage pet dogs and their owners in the learning process by creating a fun and highly motivating environment ensuring active participation is sustained by both students (dog and human). ARRF© stands for

A = Active Involvement. Active involvement in the learning process is critical. When the student is actively participating, rather than passively observing, greater learning takes place.  This applies to both the dog and its owner.

R = Repetition. Newly acquired skills need to be repeated frequently in a variety of contexts to ensure they are robust. This means the skills you and your dog learn will be effective everywhere. Frequent repetition in various scenarios ensures the skill is truly ‘owned’ so the student can not only generalize its behaviors in new situations but can also discriminate when appropriate.

R = Reward. Positive reinforcements, in the form of rewards for accomplishing skills successfully, are far more effective to ensure learning takes place. Rewards such as food and toys are then quickly replaced by life rewards, such as attention and petting, when behaviors are under cue control.  

F = Finite Objectives. Clearly defined and attainable objectives make it clear to student and instructor what is to be learned and taught. With clear objectives the student and instructor can easily recognize when a particular skill has been mastered and during the process we ‘train – test –train’ to ensure our objectives are met.

The DogSmith does not condone or use harsh corrective training methods that seek to only punish unwanted behaviors rather than reinforce suitable and searched for behaviors. When we address behavioral problems we use functional assessments to identify the drivers of the unwanted behavior and then work with sound scientific principles to modify inappropriate responses.  We do not use flooding techniques that further suppress behavioral problems or accelerate learned helplessness. These methods are in direct conflict with our vision, mission and values. We believe that “violence begins where knowledge ends” and we recognize that coercion has major consequences that our not conducive to the relationship we believe people want with their pet dogs.

At the other end of the training continuum,  The DogSmith also recognizes that training  methods that use food and only food with no plan to remove the food lure early on in the training process can be as ineffective, though not as damaging or as harsh, as compulsion training methods.  The DogSmith methodology addresses this by replacing food lures and reinforcement with play, petting and motivational dog toys early in the training process.

For more information on the DogSmith Training philosophy and methodology you can contact the DogSmith Training Center at 1-888-Dog-Smith or to find a local DogSmith visit www.888DogSmith.com. Copyright Niki Tudge 2009

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