Animal Training: When Old is New Again

Earlier in the week I began posting my thoughts on recent questions answered by some of my readers.

This is a continuation of my thoughts…so start at the animal training perspectives beginning if you haven’t already.

Personally, I am a behavior consultant and trainer with a lot of tools in my toolbox.

I work at being progressive—which means I integrate tools and innovate.

This means that I also don’t believe in one type of training suits all nor do I fall for the marketing crap out there.

You see, I’ve been around a long time in different training environments and with a lot of different species and so I pick the tools that I feel are the most progressive and humane.

Over time things changed but the same old issues resurface again and again.

I’ve seen membership groups come and go.

Same thing with the celebrity animal trainers—they come and they go.

But animal training endures and the different types of animal training philosophies continue as well.

There are a large number on that market including those labeled:

  • Traditional Training
  • Relationship Training
  • Affection Training
  • Positive Reinforcement Training
  • Clicker Training
  • ‘Insert Your Term Here’ Training

Before I talk about what those philosophies appear to be, let me share a story.

When I joined up with a notable dog training facility some time back, the owner wanted to bring me into the company as a career move.

We spent a day debating each client’s situation and the strategies we would use after each consult and on the way to another.

He was from an traditional methodology that used an apprenticeship model that I gave up sometime in the late 1970s.

However, we both enjoyed the debates because although we had different strategies, the end result was the solution of the problem.

In some situations, the newer methodology would take longer.

He didn’t want to spare the time while I did.

So from a dollars and sense perspective, I could see his point but from a long term strategic perspective, I didn’t agree.

It was a valuable day for both of us because we had mutual respect for each other and agreed to disagree.

I declined his offer but enjoyed the banter as I always do when getting into the nuances of training.

Anyway, I bring this up because there are different philosophies that read this blog and comment.

Do I agree with all of them?

No, I don’t.

But, people work with what they are comfortable with and unless they have worked in a variety of systems I think it is a bit naive to pass judgment over one or another.

Also, there is a lot of bad information circulating about dog training rooted in old information that gets passed down through pop culture and so endures despite new discoveries.

In the wild animal world, people used to tell me women could not work big cats because they would be easily overwhelmed and dragged.

Excuse me? Gender has little to do with a 300-500 pound cat dragging a person.

My particular role in the animal training and management world has always been to rock the world of others.

Some people love what I say and do while others disagree and get mad—but seldom is anyone milquetoast over what I present.

So what I want to say is that animal training methodology has been around a long, long time.

Many trainers mistakenly think that current methods of training are rooted in efforts from the 1900s but they are mistaken.

Training goes way, way back.

In fact, not all of it is documented and there is the problem.

Think of the Egyptians and their interest in animals.

How about the Romans and their animal antics?

Falconry, elephants trained for the war (and work), horses used for a variety of tasks, and the domestication of companion animals–all indicate early training methodologies.

Early written references to ancient dog training methodology (circa 390 BCE) mirror modern training theory and the first references I’ve found to the dog slip collar (the modern choke chain is a slip collar) are in Assyria in the 7th Century BCE.

So nothing is actually that new–and although you might credit popular animal trainers or celebrity trainers with ideas and practices, that is a mistake.

The reason I bring this up is that most people think they know all about training when they actually only know a little bit.

Many ideas are limited by a species specific or breed specific alliance as well.

This is important to understand because it is why people develop certain perspectives and grab on tightly to them.

I’ll go into a bit more about the training styles in my next part of this series.

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  1. Who was the notable dog training facility, and why did you leave out their info? Are you also going to share the answers for yourself of the same questions that you posed to your readers? I am interested in your responses.

    I should also mention that I am wary whenever people start talking about show business training and wild animal training in the same light as domestic pet dog training (or working dog training for an animal that lives within a domestic family structure). do you agree there are large differences between handling, caring for, and training a wild animal vs one that lives everyday and most moments of their lives uncaged and in a domestic abode?

  2. I don’t disclose many of my past affiliations. If you read a lot of my posts you won’t find me mentioning many facilities–if any, unless they are defunct. Just like any client disclosures–I keep them anonymous.

    LOL Thanks, I’ll have to ponder my responses. I don’t tend to put anyone on a pedestal and most of my book choices are not usually mainstream–but I will ponder it.

    As far as my career experience, I have equal time in wild and domestic animal settings.

    Domestic animal training includes home life, shelters, kennels, etc., and the development, training and management of municipal training programs as well as pet owner programs conducted for pet stores, vets etc. (You know–group and private.)

    Personally I don’t find a lot of differences between wild and domestic animal training when it comes to the people–since humans handling animals make the same mistakes and miss the same behavioral clues or signals the animals convey.

    There are differences between training wild and domestic animals. Which might be a good idea for another post in this series.

    You seem to be wary about a lot of things…wondering why.

  3. I actually am not wary of a lot of things. But pretty concerned when one would compare training in one venue to another. Actually there is a large difference in techniques in different venues of training dogs –tricks, agility, hunting, search and rescue, service that are different for both the human and the dog.

    One thing about training people about wild or domestic animal is that one wakes up with the animal in their bed every day, and the other interacts only in the environment of the animal. That as far as I am concerned opens up the area of things to train much larger for the domestic animal than a wild animal, because where the wild animal sleeps is of no revelance, and you don’t have to worry about potty training the wild animal et et.

    Training while it may take behavioral cues into consideration is about more than behavioral cues. This seems to be going into the so called more modern training for domestic dogs that goes into a lot of behavioral analysis. I am more concerned with keeping a pet in their domestic home, and teaching them the real life skills to do that. Skills and concerns that are different or non existent to the care of a wild animal or an animal in captivity.

  4. Okay, but you’ve mentioned being wary several times–which is why I asked.

    Although you bring up some interesting examples, I don’t agree with your statements because training principles are the same no matter what species or environment.

    Sure you can break things down to minutiae but that is the problem with a lot of folks these days and why a lot of people can’t train their way out a paper bag because it has to be specific to “this species” or “this breed” or “this sex of this animal” or “this particular skill set.”

    Basically a lot of people as simply duplicating successful skill sets or patterns of training.

    Good trainers can transfer into any situation by getting the info they need from the animals, from observations, from the species/breed specialist, or from the “insert-area-of-specialty-here.”

    Any type of parameter, setting or condition is a variable.

    So are differences in environmental conditions (such as housing) and in socialization.

    Domesticated animals are different from wild animals–but so are predators versus prey animals.

    Plus, if you want to get into nuances then you have to consider naive animals/trainers versus veteran animal/trainers.

    So, I don’t think the externals are as important as the skill set and aptitude of the trainer and his or her ability to assess and communicate to get the job done.

    then habituation and other factors do come into play.