science based

Science based dog training? Shut up and train the dog already!

In the last half a dozen or so years I see more people spruiking to anyone that will listen how their training is “science based” or “scientifically proven”.

This is a subject that seems to come up a lot when a client is telling me that they have been training elsewhere with little to no results to show after months and at times, years of training.

Now I feel that most people go on a training journey, and that is a learning experience and at times some people need to hear the same thing from a number of people before they will accept it and do it, but there still is a big problem with pushing methods over results I feel.

When a female dog has a litter of puppies, she has no clue what science is in play, but her instincts are very clear to her as she mothers, comforts, nurtures, disciplines and soothes her puppies.

Her ignorance or inexperience or not caring about science based programs doesn’t make her any less competent or effective though right?

Don’t get me wrong, I love science, science helps us understand why something is, but it doesn’t make anything better or worse.

Science can help us categorise, describe, explain and even help us predict behaviour in dogs, but it does not control dogs, limit or teach them anything.

It simply gives us a narrative if the science is correct, but often, VERY often, science is biased, it has been used to prove a point, it has been wrong, and it has been manipulated to further an agenda.

You don’t need science to train a dog, but you do need understanding, compassion, patience, determination, instinct and flexibility.

I think those who anchor their sole belief on science, perhaps lack some or all of the above.

Dogs are warm creatures, highly driven by their instincts and emotions,  they wear their hearts on their sleeves and rarely premeditate anything, but at times this can be their downfall when they try and live in our world.

We need to teach them how to regulate their emotions and when to turn off instincts and turn on behaviours we have (or should have) taught them.

If we are successful in these teachings, we may even explain how we accomplished such a feat with scientific terms and explanations, but science didn’t make it happen or not happen.

When we fail to effectively teach our dogs how to behave, they then can behave instinctively, even primally and with no thought at all about the consequences of their actions.

Like children really.

Are there bad children? Truly evil and with only the desire to hurt others?

Of course not, most will agree that children are largely a product of their environment, this covers everything from education to life experiences, and of course genetics play a role too.

Dogs are not so different.

Imagine you take a dog to a trainer and they explain in all the correct scientific terminology and that all their work is science based and how they have run through various reinforcement schedules, communication systems such as clicker or marker training and how this is all kind and friendly system is applied to your dog for months or years, with no appreciable change in the dogs behaviour.

The fact that you’re told that it is scientifically proven to work is not much benefit to you when your dog is just as badly behaved as before.

Perhaps they didn’t apply the science correctly? Perhaps they did and the dog doesn’t care.

Regardless, bottom line, no results.

We get some dogs come to see us that have been through a number of trainers, and I can tell you that a dog that has overcome trainers and programs becomes more and more resilient to change.

I am certain that there are many dogs that are very easy to train and will show success in any and or every method, science based or not. If you have one of those dogs, then likely I will never see you for rehab because you will likely be successful yourself.

But not every dog is like this, they can get much more difficult, MUCH more and we get MANY dogs that are INCREDIBLY difficult, but as I tell my staff all the time,this is K9 Pro, difficult should be a walk in the park for you [Mr Hunt.]”.

When you look at the chart below, which colour do you want to end up in, the Green or the RED.


We strengthen behaviours with reinforcement techniques, many varied techniques and we motivate dogs with many specialised systems and protocols because to be quite honest, they are not going to change because we want them to.

These strategies are applied and reapplied and for the most difficult dogs, we may be talking tens of thousands of times.

We recently had a Labrador stay with us and his name was Charlie. Charlie was not aggressive, he never bit anyone nor did he even try, but Charlie would be in one the of the top twenty most difficult dogs we have seen to modify their behaviour in the past few years.

The biggest problem with Charlie was that he had developed very unreasonable expectations. He felt it OK to rumble any dog he saw, pull to anything he wanted and barge his way through anyone and anything to get to what he wanted.

Now we have a few dogs like this but when Charlie was prevented from accessing these things, this is called Negative Punishment, this motivated him to fight very hard for what he expected.

Offering food or toys or leash corrections were a very dim second place and he simply just could not care less about anything other than what he wanted. Physically holding him back would motivate him to bark repeatedly at your face.

It took an incredible amount of ground work split into the tiniest pieces over thousands of repetitions to get him to accept that he just cannot do every thing he wanted.

This is what WE call a difficult dog.

We did not start our board and rehab program to take in dogs that will thrive on 5 minutes training a day by an expert, we started this to take on dogs that just simply would over come anything less than we have here.

Full control of environment, food intake (including raw fed no chemical diets), freedom and exercise, interaction, education, opportunity, repetition of behaviour and rehearsal of unwanted behaviour, stimulation and choices the dog makes.

This system I have developed has proven incredibly successful, and our Facebook and YouTube has the video’s to prove it, but there are some dogs that are so far gone, that even this level of intervention takes time and incredible effort.

Once the dogs leave here the owners need to continue supporting their dogs and helping the make good choices and generalising these new behaviours to be displayed with the owners.

Governments around the world have some control on the environment we raise our children in, from compulsory education to health and well being.

But when it comes to dogs, do whatever you like and no one seems to care until the dog kills someone.

There are no laws on education, early development or nutrition, but when a dog kills a person, the dog is killed before any investigation as to why is carried out.

No tests, scientific or otherwise, no investigation, no care and no responsibility is taken.

By anyone.

It’s the breed, the size, that it was abused or some other deferral.

What are we going to do about it?

What are YOU going to do about it?

If you want help, don’t look for science based, look for results based, you will probably find those delivering results will be meeting all the science too!


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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