Training, or “Educating”?

The crowning-achievement of my time in the dog-training field came when I realized that “training” and “educating” were two very different things. It wasn’t a realization that came in a thunderclap, but more like a slow, radiant, sunrise. There was no individual human mentor that revealed this truth, but rather, it was a sleek, black, German Shepherd that finally got thru my fog. That confusion was, simply, a complete misunderstanding of the difference between Training a dog, and Educating a dog.
Trained dogs are a dime a dozen. The right book, a couple of sessions or seminars with the trainer of your choice, a little bit of self-confident bluster, a big ole’ bag of treat morsels, and a method of discipline, and you can produce a “trained” dog.
On the other hand, producing an educated dog requires a keen intelligence on the humans part, imagination, a gentle approach both physically and mentally, a calm spirit, a lack of egotism, and the ability to understand what your dog is telling you. Those things are far more elusive to us, and nowhere near as fast. Educating relies far more on the humans ability to recognize the emotional and mental make-up of the dog. Today, most “trainers” rely on the physical aspects, as prescribed by various “methods” of training. If the dog obeys, and carries itself in a flattering manner, they are happy with their work. The work grows from the negative assumption that the dog is an inferior species, lacking in cognizant intelligence and forethought. Some methods even rely on the assumption that dogs are dumb creatures of instinct, and base behavior. They are “just animals”, to be dominated by their human overlords.
For millennia untold, the dogs that humans have employed have been treated thusly, and are products of this mind-set. More contemporary “science based” methods, have been touted as the ultimate understanding of how dogs think, and behave. Most of this thinking is intended to make the practitioner appear intelligent, educated, and clearly superior to the dog, and fellow non-practicing fellows. Both mind-sets are belittling to a creature of sentience, spirit, and emotion. Science has become religion to many modern humans, and the dog-training industry has more than its share of those who bow down at every behavioral study that an uninvolved Phd. can muster into a published paper. If training a dog is our only goal, then we are missing something sublime and profound.
Those seeking to Educate their dogs, and the paying customers dog, are doing exactly the polar opposite. They focus instead, on the emotional and mental aspects of building a relationship for the human with their dog. The physical will generally follow the emotional quite nicely with the right approach, and the dog doesn’t have to worry about catch-words like “conflict”, “drive”, or “operant conditioning”. The dog is treated as a fellow intelligent being with the potential to be capable of any number of behaviors, or “jobs” if you will, quite successfully. Helping a dog to use his own inherent intelligence, his ability to think and solve problems, enhances what instinct and experience provide him. Such mental health also has the added advantage of improving the physical appearance of the dog, and his behavior in social experiences with strange people, and strange dogs.
Educating a dog involves a long and sometimes tedious period of observation, experimentation, and response. Why does the dog respond in such a way to this, or that? What natural response is the most likely under this particular set of variables? What factor could change that response in an instant? How does my presence influence what the dog is doing? In essence, It’s All About The Dog.
We must always regard that the dog at our feet is a feeling, intelligent, and capable living soul. He is more than capable of two way communication with his companion human, giving and taking liberally. Teaching and Learning. It’s up to humans to sharpen our perception of how dogs learn, work, and live. Science can’t answer that call anymore than it can teach us to fall in or out of love with someone. Militant adherence to any single training method completely ignores the perception of a dog as a thinking being. We must combine these things for true success.
Dogs are imprisoned by this lack of understanding on our part. Inside them, are all of the wonderful qualities that we admire, honesty, integrity, cooperation, friendship, teamwork, and unselfish love. They are curious, humorous, adventurous, and willing. They want nothing more than to be treated well, and fairly. They want us to be a part of their lives, and they, ours. This might very well be difficult for the conventionally-minded to accept, let alone put into practice. Opinion is widespread and virulent today, and simplicity is often scoffed at by the high-minded. The belief that we, Man and dog, are “intended” for each other by an intelligent Creator, will produce guffaws from the intellectual purveyors of evolutionary development. But we are substantially more than fellow animals on this Earth. Understanding and utilizing that fact will enable all of us to understand that we can work together with our dogs to benefit both species.
I am not questioning or belittling any method of dog-training, unless it is actually brutal or painful to the dog.. Most modern methods have success stories to tell. As combative as they can be, I find most dog people to be engaging, intelligent, and great company. The numerous seminars available today, most always produce good learning experiences and new friends. Still, however, the constant battles between the different “quadrants” of training (pun intended) have all proven to fall short in the relationships that improve our dogs lives. All of us “know”, or at least claim to know our methods well. But is that enough? Are we ignoring the dog at our side as a lesser being, lacking in emotion, intelligence, and thought? That’s a tragedy, and we, and our dogs, are better off with a new way of thinking.


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