Dog training concepts vs technique

This is an article I wanted to write for a while, and if you’re smart, a light bulb should go off and you begin to look at training in a new, more effective, and powerful way.

First of all, some thought producing things that might help, set the scene.

Often when we are training our dogs with food and the dog looks amazing, people are desperate to know “what food is that!!!!?

It does not really matter…

Often, we are heeling a dog and playing tug as the reward, people want to buy THAT tug because it will produce THAT heel work.

It does not really matter…

We show puppies in a clam shell with balls in it and people buy clam shells with balls.

It is not about the clam shell or balls…

You go to a seminar and go home and try copy what you saw, but it does not work.

It isn’t about what you saw…

You watch the video and do exactly like the guy in the video does, but his dog looks good, yours does not?

It isn’t about what you saw in the video…

Do you understand that in all the above, and so many more examples, your focusing on technique when you are looking at a CONCEPT?

And the chances of getting the results you saw are slim to none because of this very fact.

Every now and then, a new product for training a dog pops up, people flock to buy it and get the same results as the girl in the video.

How many times have you bought that “gimmick”, and nothing came of it?

Just copy what you saw is the message in the above video

Watching someone else train THEIR dog and then using the same food, holding, and delivering it the same way will not at all guarantee the same outcomes, why not?

Well because every dog is different, their values for reward, you and other things play a role, the reason your rewarding may not be the reason the dog thinks your rewarding him or her and about a billion other reasons.

Now, if you looked at the concepts at work, which may be elements like: –

  • The initial goal is to create a dog that expects a reward at a certain time
  • Then hold back the reward so that the dog must offer a behaviour
  • There may be reward placement, some shaping and communication skills that need to be pre taught before all this may work.

You might say, isn’t it easier to just lure the dog? Sure, but if you want outstanding results, luring alone will not get them.

Blow is a video from a few years ago that demonstrates my system, running IPO blinds at 16 weeks.

I work with a lot of dogs learning and working in some scent detection role, everything from fun scent games, nose work through to commercial professional units.

I ask them what their goal is, and all say something like “to get the dog to find the odour

I really am not that concerned about the odour at this point, I instead want to develop a dog that is desperate to get a reward, a dog that is struggling to get the reward no matter how hard he tries.

Then I want to set the dog up to “discover” that if he or she finds the odour he or she can “MAKE” me reward him or her.

Do you know how empowering that is for the dog?

Can you imagine how much the dog falls in love with the odour?

Can you imagine what lengths the dog will go to, to find the odour?

Can you imagine what it will take to stop the dog finding the odour?

A small plastic tube in a 300 square metre area found in seconds

Sure, the technique may even look the same, but the CONCEPT is vastly different. I do not ever put food or toys in containers to teach dogs to search.

I am not saying that is wrong, it is just not the concept I use to teach, train and motivate.

A “system”

When I am working with a dog and an owner, and the goal is to have the dog display a certain set of behaviours, it doesn’t matter if the behaviours are for performance, such as competition heel work, nose work, tracking or to rehab aggression or fear related problems, there is always an FOUNDATION SYSTEM in every program that threads through every step of the training.

We study and teach the foundations of the system and then teach all of the exercises using one concept, one language if you like.

Each exercise taught makes the next one easier to teach and learn, the further along your dog gets in the program the more you both realise how good you both are at the foundations and how those foundations are part of everything you do.

An agreement of terms, a work ethic, a system that makes sense and forms the base of every exercise.

  • Imagine how this means that you teach one foundation and each exercise is just an extension of that.
  • Imagine that no exercise is ever taught again from step 1 to step 100, with a system you’re always starting at step 90.
  • Imagine a dog that wants to learn more exercises so that he or she has more access to reward.

Now many people will tell me their dog is food motivated, or ball motivated, or tug motivated, but will your dog work with 100% accuracy when right next to them is a bowl of food or a swinging tug when no leash is on?

In my system they will because we identify the difference between work mode and reward mode.

Watch just 10 seconds of the below video and see why “what food” – “what toy” doesn’t matter

If your luring your dog, the dog may just be in reward mode all the time? Throw that lure on the ground whilst heeling and does your dog chase after it?

If the answer is “yes”, it has nothing to do with how drive your dog has and everything to do with your dog has no system that defines work mode and reward mode.

Perhaps your doing IGP (IPO) with your dog, and when the helper comes onto the field your dog comes alive and is hard to control.

So, you correct your dog and make him or her sit, right?

Let us take a little look at this picture:

Your dog see’s helper and wants to chase and bite, that’s good right? And your correcting the dog into a sit or a down?

Be the dog for a moment, previous training has the helper running around stimulating your dog with the sleeve and you cheering him or her on. Now, your dog see’s the helper and fires up, and you start correcting?

I guess I would say “make your mind up? One minute you want me to go for him the next you are pulling my chain when I do?”

I was watching a dog do a BH run out at a trial a couple of years ago. The heel work was lack lustre, more like Loose leash walking to be honest.

Just over halfway through the routine the dog, of course during the off-leash section, the dog shot off after the judge who was holding his clip board.

The handler screamed “NO!” to an uncaring dog and continued. The judge made a mild attempt to fend the dog off and the dog lost interest.

It was not intense in the heelwork, it was not intense in the bite work, it was just messing around trying to find a cheap reward.

If I were your dog, which of the below would I think applies to you and me?

  1. My handler delays and prevents access to the helper
  2. My handler will punish me for trying to get to the helper sometimes and reward me other times
  3. My handler provides me access to the helper and the sleeve, and I can increase that access by offering behaviours the handler likes.

Put your ego aside and answer that question…

dog training concepts
Handler can play a supportive, access to helper, giving role

A little before that day at a training day, I saw a dog running the blinds. The dog had to run 6 blinds but after running 1 and 2, chose to race to blind 6 where the dog knew the helper was. It happens!

This resulted in the handler correcting the dog with the remote collar.

This is the way I see it; he was correcting the dog for missing blinds 3, 4 and 5, right?

But I think you will find the dog felt corrected for running to blind 6.

The next run the dog ran 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and stopped before going to 6.

It was very clear that the dog felt corrected for running to 6 now, right?

The more he ran the dog the less confident the dog got, the drive and desire had been quashed and the intensity was gone, so was the speed and confidence.

I can share stories like this for ever, but I will limit myself here to two more, the reason I want to add these two is that the concepts were ignored in place of technique and that caused a problem.

dog training concepts
Herzhund Charlee rounding the blind with power and commitment

Nose work

A nice lady brought me a nice little terrier that was wanting to compete in nose work. She had been training for 2 years and could not pass the Odour Recognition test (ORT).

She brought in all of her equipment and laid out an ORT for me to watch.

She placed Birch in one of the boxes and some food alongside the Birch.

Brought her dog and let him go.

He saw the boxes and toddled over and started sniffing, dawdled around and eventually showed some interest in the correct box, by giving it a gentle touch with his paw.

His handler raced over and opened the box and he ate the food inside.

Everyone was happy.

She set up the search again with only Birch in the box, no food.

Let her dog go again and he again wandered around, eventually found the correct box, but this time he barked, then urinated on the box and started scratching the ground kicking his marking odour everywhere.

Then he would not let his handler catch him.

What happened? Well he knows what food smells like as he had been trained to find food in these boxes and enjoy it.

They had managed to have the paired odour of food AND birch to be good for the dog too, but what did Birch alone signal? NO REWARD!

And this pissed the dog off.

The concept I use is not to have the dog detect the REWARD ODOUR. Only the TARGET ODOUR.

This, in my system teaches the dog to look and search only for the target odour and ignore reward odour, the sight of reward until the target odour is found.

Dogs in my system will ignore boxes of food and toys, toys being waved at them, people tapping on boxes to help them and instead search methodically until they find the target odour.

The Directed Retrieve

A lady came to me and her problem was that “her dog had too much drive for the gloves”.

I have never had a such a problem. So I said show me.

She placed a glove down, got out her dog, heeled up, halted, dog sat slow, turned around and dog reluctantly turned too. She turned to face glove again and dog belted after the glove without sitting or waiting for the signal.

“NO!” she screamed.

Now, is not this the same as the blinds above?

Or the boxes?

Isn’t it the same as every problem?

This dog does not have “too much drive for the gloves”, it has no drive for the handler, the heel work, the halts or the turns.

Scream no and eventually the dog wont break, and it will heel with no enthusiasm, it will sit with no energy and it will fetch with no energy.

Is that what you want?

dog training concepts
Each behaviour should have the POWER to make you reward

Take this post as something to help you identify HOW to power into the future potential of your dog.

Is your goal to stop your dog misbehaving?

Is your goal to stop your dog from running off?

If so, you are missing the point and will probably never truly stop the behaviour.

Is your goal to get your dog to the exercises of the competition?

Do you just want to win?

If so, you will likely never win.

Do you watch someone with a near finished dog and just copy their moves on your learning dog?

Let me tell you that, they did not run those techniques on their dog when it was at your dogs level. They are applying these to a dog to finely tune a dog with a strong reinforcement history.

Do you like to “cherry pick” a piece from here and there?

You will probably make a great Cherry Picker, not a great trainer. 

Do you know how my system works combined with half a dozen other cherries?

Neither do I.

Do you go to training every week and give your dog bucket loads of treats and he or she is uninterested, flat, lack luster or unmotivated?

So it should be clear that it is not about treats right?

Do  you have a dog that whines, screams, barks, nips, bites, runs off or sniffs the ground?

There is a problem, your dog is frustrated, confused, conflicted, shut down or has given up. Your probably going too fast towards your goal and your dog cant keep up.

Do you need food or a toy in your hand, do you need to constantly coo and cheer lead your dog to keep his or her attention, tap the side of dogs face when they look away?

Something is wrong with that picture and remember, no rewards in ring means using things you wont have in the ring to cue your dog, is a road to no where.

I meet so many people that invest valuable time into their training, spend massive dollars on seminars and DVDs and classes only to be mediocre at best.

I see people all geared up with everything someone has told them to buy, but received no instruction on “how to” add this as a piece of a system. They end up with “all the gear, and no idea“.

Let me tell you, you are not alone, you need to focus and find a system.

A system is something that binds you and your dog into a known and rewarding relationship with each other.

You need someone to closely examine you, your handling style, ask you some questions and then look at your dog and examine “how” your dog feels about the exercises, about you and figure out what is actually going on.

I asked an experienced trainer to bring his dog into my training room and run an obedience routine and reward session.

He came in and started working his dog, after about 20 seconds I said, “yep that’s enough”, and we went through 15 things that I felt were not working for the dog.

20 seconds of work yielded 15 things to change… 

He implemented those 15 things over the following 8 weeks and on his return, the “light” shining out of his dog was incredible.

The trainer ran his dog for 20 seconds and stopped and looked at me, his face was hurting from smiling, so was mine, and I reckon his dogs was too!

Having a good system will not make it super easy, you will still have to work, but as long as you do and you give YOURSELF the time YOU need to learn it WILL work.

Short cuts, copying others, whilst that might work, it will never be yours, it is just like cheating, you may get the trophy but it will be meaningless to you.

Fall in love with the process, fall in love with training and you will love every moment, fall in love with winning and you may be happy for a moment.

Comments and shares welcome.


About SteveK9Pro

Steve Courtney is a Nationally Accredited Canine Behaviour Specialist, Obedience Trainer, Law Enforcement Dog Trainer and ANKC Breeder. Steve has been training dogs all his life and in these articles he shares with you his experience...

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