Dog Manual

The Psychology of Dog Training

The popularity of the police dog in Europe, and the almost unbelievable results accomplished by dog training during the first World War inspired scientists and animal experts to undertake the study of dog psychology for the purpose of improving, if possible, upon the training systems then in vogue. Successful training is possible only in the presence of perfect understanding between the trainer and his dog. Clearly then, there can be no such understanding without full knowledge of the dog's mental capacity; that, plus an understanding of his character. For years controversy has raged regarding the dog's ability to reason. And because of the close bond of affec- tion between everyman and his dog, many have held to what they believed to be true, that the dog can and does reason. But I agree with those scientists and intelligent students who claim that he cannot. I do not believe there is any such thing as reasoning power in the dog. I believe, rather, that he merely reacts to directions given by man. In other words, those feats of certain wonder dogs which so often arouse astonishment and admiration are not the result of independent thinking on the part of the animal: quite to the contrary, they are no more than obedience to some visible or audible sign, signal or command.

It is not my purpose to under-estimate, or to overestimate, mental capacity or the ability to learn which differs markedly in dogs. Some will learn quite rapidly.

To  my   best  pal,  Bodo  von  der  Muerttz
(1921-1932); and to the 3,000 pupils in my
dog training classes in Boston, Massachusetts,
from 1928 to 1940, this page is dedicated.

All, however, need signs or commands. How often we hear someone exclaim: "My dog understands every word I say to him!" But he doesn't. Let me explain. A dog responds to like sounding commands having different meanings but a similar inflection of the voice. For example, a dog that has been trained to the command "Heel," if ordered "meal," "reel, "steal" or "veal," will obey as readily, despite the fact that he has been told to do something entirely different or that he has heard an expression devoid of any meaning at all as a command word. That, I consider, proves that the dog cannot think independently.

Again, in support of my contention is the fact that the dog will not alone obey like sounding words given as commands, but that he will observe and interpret various tones of the voice with apparent disregard for the words employed. For instance, a dog caught in the midst of a destructive act and given a severe scolding in a sharp tone of voice will slink away with his tail between his legs; whereas under exactly the same circumstances, he will continue his destructiveness if admonished in a soft, loving tone of voice.
Still another example is concerned with many dogs which had been trained in Europe' and which, when brought to me, did not understand English words. It was of course comparatively easy to change into English the complete list of commands, signs and words so that the dogs could be re-trained in that language. I soon discovered however that a dog trained to the order "Gib Pfote" (shake hands) would not respond to English, but that when I offered my hand he would respond at once. Though he could not understand the words, he did recognize the sign which, like the inflection of the voice, is the same in any language.

Further proof of the dog's lack of reasoning power is supplied by the dog that lies in front of the fireplace. The moment the log burns down he seeks a warmer spot. Other logs, close at hand, have only to be put on the fire to keep it burning, and this the dog upon innumerable occasions has seen his master do. Yet he will not do it nor can he be taught to do it for himself. If he can reason, then why does he not do exactly what his master did in order to provide more heat! Thus far in our analysis we have discussed the voice as a means of attracting the dog's attention through the ear. The voice then is for his sense of HEARING. Next is the sign for his sense of SIGHT; and third, the quality of sensitiveness or perception through FEELING. On these three senses we will build our entire scheme of training. Later on we will take up the sense of smell for trailing. But first we must have an obedient dog, so we will use the three senses—hearing, sight and feeling—in order to lay the foundation stone of all training which is OBEDIENCE.

Bearing in mind that our object is to train a dumb animal for companionship we can, by appeal through these three senses, accomplish great things. We can, for instance, save the dog much unnecessary punishment brought about by our own impatience: we can save ourselves the physical strain of the dog's constant pulling upon the leash. True, we do not want a mechanical robot, rendering blind obedience to our every command, but we do want a real companion as close to us in understanding as man and dog can ever be. The three senses, then, operate in combination by our use of short commands issued in varying intonations; by certain important signs of the hands made in conjunction with the voice, and by appeal to the sense of feeling by encouragement or punishment.

Perhaps right here I should caution the reader against the wrong impression which the word punishment may connote. Because punishment in this discussion does not mean whipping or starving the dog, I dislike to use the expression at all. It signifies, rather, correction, so for present purposes let us employ the term correction as more exactly indicative.
Like bright colored threads predominating in a pattern, the use of the three mentioned senses will follow through the whole of our training. And just how important the combination of the three becomes, we will realize when we see how the dog associates with HEARING, commands given by means of words; with SEEING, commands given by means of signs; and with FEELING, such things as petting and leash correction. Were the trainer to disregard even one of these senses, he would straightway find out why he, or the dog, failed in one or another lesson. Particularly are there signs, frequently almost unnoticeable to the layman and the amateur, which will mean the success or failure of the lesson. And what of the trainer himself! There are three fundamentals with which he must be concerned—PATIENCE, CONCENTRATION and SERIOUSNESS OF PURPOSE.

Patience is probably the trainer's most necessary tool. Nervousness, quick temper or the slightest impatience never go hand in hand with successful training, and a person subject to any one of these failings may well think twice before he undertakes to train a dog. Easier far is it to spoil a dog than to correct him afterwards. Of almost equal importance is the matter of concentration. No one in the whole wide world can train a dog and carry on a conversation at the same time ... it would be like attempting to drive a car while reading a newspaper. It cannot be done. Immediately sensing a trainer's divided attention, the dog will respond to it not by implicit obedience but by a type of obedience perhaps moreto his own liking. And the trainer, not quite aware of the pupil's mistakes, can never obtain correct results. So he places the blame on someone else; rarely on himself. If you would train a dog, then, forget everything that goes on about you: if you would do a really commendable job, CONCENTRATE.

Many times have I been criticized for apparent rudeness when I have refused to take part in conversations during the training period. But a serious trainer must realize how much is involved in schooling a dog untried, and of character unknown: throughout each lesson,he must study his pupil without interruption, and his attention must be given equally, in succession, to each and every dog. Training periods are comparatively short, hence it is not unduly difficult to concentrate entirely upon the dog in hand.

Another consideration vital to successful training is SERIOUSNESS OF PURPOSE. Ask yourself whether you are really determined to train your dog. Is this dog under your hand to become a well behaved animal? Or is he going to be a spoiled pest, inclined to destructiveness; vicious with people, an eternal barker, constantly committing nuisance! Once you have decided to train your dog, study of this website will constitute the initial step toward that end. Then study it. Don't just read it and forget about it..  Study it, and study it again and again. You will find that the work of training entails some sacrifices, but they are sacrifices worth while. For in addition to the pleasure derived from participation in organized obedience test competition, you will discover before very long that your dog is admired and respected because he is so well behaved. And if you are sufficiently interested to continue on with your training, who knows but that this dog of yours may some day prove to be a real, front page hero by virtue of some outstanding act! Dogs owned by several of my pupils have already served the public good by helping the police to find lost persons, and by trailing and so leading to the capture of criminals. Founded upon a thoroughly tried and approved system, the patient training of a dog by his beloved master is a worthy and satisfying work which not alone actually benefits the dog but which reflects credit upon him and upon his owner. All this at a sacrifice of but fifteen or, at the most, thirty minutes a day!