My Mistakes With Old School Dog Training – Phoenix Scottsdale AZ Dog Training – Dog Trainer – Behaviorist
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When I started out training my first dog, starting in 1986, the training I received, both from instructors and from the materials I had available to me, were rough and sometimes abusive. All old time dog trainers will tell you this. We were taught things that we’d condemn others for doing today. We didn’t understand dog behavior, we only understood force and tools.
I feel good about what I do these days. I’ve eliminated all that bad stuff from my toolbox. But, hopefully by discussing this openly, other dog trainers will follow suit and change what they are doing…
We will honestly say that the way we used to train wasn’t done out of anger or a desire to hurt our dogs. We did it because we were taught that was the way dogs learned and that was the way all the top trainers did it. And truthfully, that WAS the way all the top trainers used to do it from the 1980’s and back. The experts also had years on us: experience, number of dogs trained, famous dogs trained, obedience titles, work with police departments, and such. The same is true of old time horse trainers who used to “break” horses by tying them up and even beating them. That’s just the way it was done. (I must say, so you don’t get the wrong impression, I never did beat a dog, but you get the idea. I never injured a dog, or did any of the really bad stuff you hear about, but still, the methods were too rough and had no relation to how a dog actually learns. And from an objective standpoint, they also didn’t work. But, like a lot of trainers during those same years, what I saw started bothering me. I actually quit one of my obedience classes with my first dog because they were doing things I thought were abusive. Looking back, I was right. It was too rough. I knew my dog.
I remember an early book I read on dealing with aggression. It was all about dominating the dog, very firm obedience work, sharp corrections, and so forth. Every technique was punishment based. It didn’t work. There was that famous “Method” book we all read. That didn’t work, and some of it was clearly over the top and abusive and you knew not to do it. I had trainers tell me this or that… and those stupid ideas didn’t work. I saw a lot working around competitive Schutzhund clubs, too… a lot of theory spouted by both the helpers and the club members… and most of that was garbage, too. These folks didn’t read their dogs, they just did what they were told by their heroes.
Things really started to change for me around 1999, and I started to move away from these old methods. I started to learn to develop a very light touch. These new methods worked, too. I also regret those things I did those early years, even though I know I was only doing what I was taught by the trainers I paid, and doing it with the best of intentions. But, those dogs suffered as a result.
Many trainers today are still in the ditch, using very rough methods. I’m critical of them because so much good information is now out there that there really isn’t a good excuse for it. Some trainers, and especially behaviorists, are also in the ditch, just on the other side of the road… now almost afraid to even touch a dog or to verbally reprimand a dog for defying a known command, some to the point of just giving up, putting all behavior dogs on drugs, and relying on harnesses or head collars. Both of these types will also one day regret what they have done because these approaches ultimately harm dogs and people, too. You’d think they would know more about dog behavior.
So, I’m here today to confess I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes. I regret some of the failures I’ve had over the years. And I promise to keep looking for better ways to train dogs. I can provide references today to show you that I’ve changed. You can see from all the articles I have written about how I do things today. Some of these old school guys from decades ago now are telling their stories of regret about what they all taught us back then. What you’ll find is that they were also bothered with the harshness of their methods, and were making the changes at about a decade before the same time I was starting out, but the word hadn’t made it out in books or videos to the worldwide community of dog trainers. The world didn’t know that the leaders had changed direction. Because of the natural delay in how new methods replace old methods, the old methods are still being used. But, because some of these top trainers who didn’t change, alive and dead, still have followers and defenders, these old ways are still being used but now just under a different disguise. The old books and videos are still out there for sale or in libraries even though a lot of these people are no longer around.
Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.
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