What you always wanted was to experience the joy of having and bonding with a dog, and now you’ve got one! It may be a puppy, or you have adopted an adult dog or rescued one. No matter how the wonderful loving dog enters your world, you are faced with the immediate task of training your dog. You google and research, and you find loads of information and different methods and approaches and conflicting opinions and suggestions. What seemed a simple step forward quickly becomes an overwhelming task in itself.
So, let’s look at this world of dog training a bit closer and understand what different approaches exist and what they offer.
There are different methods, and each one has its benefits, effectiveness, usefulness and limitations. The best way to approach dog training is to understand the strengths and areas of application of various methods and then decide which one works well for you and your dog. Partially favouring one method over the other seriously limits one’s capacity and capability to bond with your loyal k9 member in your family. The wisdom lies in the ability to use an appropriate method for any given situation to create the desired harmony and well-being while being fair and loving to your dog.
Levels of Mind of A Dog
To understand the different methods of training, it is important to comprehend the subject of the training which is being trained. Yes, its the dog who is being trained but the label “dog” is loosely used to reference the entire aspect of a dog. There are various levels of his or her being, i.e., its Body, Mind and the Life itself.
Body: At the level of Body, the dog belongs to the Animal Kingdom and the Dog family of Species. Also, the Body takes the form of a Male or Female Gender. Also, the Body takes on another level of form, i.e., the Breed aspect of the dog.
Mind: At the level of mind, there are various levels of mind. The deepest level deals with the instinctual, animal and breed aspect of the dog’s behaviour. Then comes the subconscious and then the outer mind which is commonly referred to as the conscious mind.
Life: At the level of the deepest core it is life itself. It is the primal force and intelligence that animates and gives life to every life form and is connected to everything else.
Dog Training Categories
Broadly speaking, the training methods that are existing in the dog world can be classified into two categories. These two categories differ in the level of the mind it deals with. The first one largely deals with the conscious and subconscious mind. The other one spans across all levels of mind from conscious, subconscious, breed, dog and animal and instinctual. The methods also differ in the direction of approach that is taken i.e. from inside-out or from outside-in.
This method is primarily an outside-in approach. It deals and interacts with the conscious mind to train the subconscious mind. Habits are formed in the subconscious mind by the process of repeating certain activities over and over again in the conscious or outer mind. Here is where clicker, commands, treats, positive reinforcement based training falls in. The approach is to get the attention of the conscious mind through commands, sign language and/or clicker and then follow up with encouragement through a system of rewarding with treats, appreciation, affection, etc. Through the process of repetition, the subconscious mind learns to do the specific activity whenever the
stimulus of command, sign, and reward is given. With this method is that the dog can respond to any human who knows the stimulus that the dog has learned. Here we are effectively conditioning the dog’s mind to respond to human ways of interaction.
This method is primarily and inside-out approach. It deals with connecting with your dog from within, i.e., instinctual, animal, species – dog, breed, subconscious and conscious mind. The approach is to observe the nature of the deeper mind levels of animal, species – dog and breed, without any human interference and learn how mother nature has programmed it.
We as a human race have created various breeds but we have not created the way the dog lives and behaves. It certainly behaves differently from a cat or a bird. So in acknowledging and appreciating the power and intelligence of mother nature in its beauty and magnificence in producing such loving and intelligent species, we automatically get connected to the deeper levels of the dog’s mind. Here is were Behavioural training comes into the picture. The behavioral approach follows the ways of mother nature and creates a primal relationship with your dog based on mutual trust and respect. In this method, the human needs to learn the mind and psychology of a dog and learn to follow the way mother nature has programmed a dog’s mind. The dog is not necessarily trained as it already knows the inner program of how to behave like a dog. By following the natural ways of mother nature, the human automatically forms a deep bond with his or her dog.
Comparison between the different categories of training methods
In the evolution cycle, humans are higher up in the life chain compared to our dogs. A human mind has more capabilities compared to other life forms. These enable the human to understand and adopt different methods of communication of other species. The same is not true the other way around. You can condition a dog to understand the behaviour of sitting through the word Sit by the process of repeating the word Sit and associative action of sitting down and rewarding it. But if you use a different language to say sit, the dog will be clueless about the desired behaviour. In contrast, in the behavioural method, the dog will sit out of mutual trust and respect not because of a command, treat or appreciation. It’s a powerful and deeper way of connecting through deeper levels of the dog’s mind. The advantage of the behavioural method is that it will work even if the dog is distracted by something instinctual like say another dog or cat on the street. The conditioned mind method will fail to work in scenarios where the deeper and more powerful instinctual mind of the dog has taken over. That is why commands or treats sometimes fail when a dog is taken over by its instincts. Conditioned mind approach works beautifully and like a charm if the instinctual, dog, breed level of the mind is calm and not in charge.
Which method should I choose?
So which approach is good and which is better? Well… it depends on what kind of dog you have and your own way of dealing with things. Dogs are born with a certain level of confidence and energy. If you have a mild energy, happy go lucky type of dog, then conditioned mind based approaches will serve your purpose. At the same time, your bond will be primarily at the level of conscious and subconscious mind.
In some cases when the dog is super confident and high energy and some dogs that are not too interested in treats than the behavioral approach will give you the results, you are looking for.
In the end, it’s best to bond with your dog at all levels so a blend of all approaches is the best. No method is either good or bad. What is important is properly understand the method and know how to do it correctly and then using the appropriate method which is suitable for a given situation.
Written by Rajiv Saini, Dog Behaviourist