If you are a first time user of the Koehler Method of Dog Training you may appreciate a few tips to help you and your dog achieve a successful outcome. For us, that means a dog and owner who can trust each other, on or off lead, at home or away.
That statement is not some arbitrary grouping of words, by the way, there is a test at the end of the training to allow you to evaluate whether or not you have met the training objective. For now, though, let me explain some of the steps in the process.
Wrap your head around this very simple rule of behaviour. It is the rule of Action->Memory->Desire, and goes like this:
An action which brings about the condition for some favourable memory will most likely increase the desire to repeat the action in the future. While at the same time, an action which brings about the condition for some unfavourable memory will most likely decrease the desire to repeat the action in the future.
You don’t need an advanced degree in the behavioural sciences to effectively apply the Koehler Method of Dog Training. All you need to understand is that good things usually follow good behaviour. “Good behaviour” being as we define it through the training process.
Use of Contrast and the Right of Choice
Dogs generally move from a state of discomfort toward a state of comfort. You can see an example of this by watching a dog out in the mid-day sun, or out in the rain. When the elements become more uncomfortable than whatever the motivating interest is occupying the dog, the dog will usually choose to abandon the activity in favour of seeking cover in order to make itself more comfortable.
The dog’s primal need to move himself from a state of discomfort to one of comfort is hard wired; making it a very powerful motivational factor in our training. And, in my opinion, it is even more powerful than his seeking food.
Why? Because a dog with a full belly no longer seeks food, but an uncomfortable dog will almost always choose to seek comfort.
In order to allow the dog to discover the self-empowerment that right of choice implies we will be using a 15-foot longe line and choke collar, each of proper construction, in conjunction with the absence of any verbal commands.
In the book the author describes, in detail, just how this happens; so there is no need for me to recount it here.
However, I would like to clear up a common misconception that teaching the dog to pay close attention to the handler is the same as the ‘watch-me’ game used by many of today’s new-age trainers. It is not. In fact, the two have very different goals.
The teaching of ‘watch-me’ will generally have the owner rewarding the dog for looking at his face or at his eyes. That’s all well and good, IF that’s your goal. But it is not the goal of the foundation longe line work.
The goal of Koehler method longe line work is far more comprehensive than it may appear to the first time user. But to examine that fully one needs to have actual experience with its effect; something you won’t fully appreciate until the seventh week of training (during the light line work). For now, what is important for the first time user to understand is that the longe line work, as instructed, is paramount to the successful end result. To short-cut this step will likely short circuit the end result.
The use of praise, corrections and distractions
The method follows a very simple format of teaching which puts together like this:
a. Teach the dog what IT is you want;
b. Give IT a name;
c. Praise the dog when he gets IT right; and only after the dog has demonstrated that he understand what IT is you want, do you
d. Correct the dog to help him keep IT right.
Somewhere between steps ‘c’ and ‘d’ varying levels of distractions will be introduced. These are done so as to deepen the dog’s responsibility and commitment to the command/response sequence.
It may be important for the first time user to understand what constitutes a fair distraction, a fair correction, and fair praise. For this I like to explain the rule of Goldilocks.
1. Not enough may not produce the desired outcome.
2. More than enough may produce some unintended outcome.
3. Just enough will produce the desired outcome.
The ‘desired outcome,’ as related to praise, correction, and distraction is always to deepen the commitment to the command/response sequence.
The use of mechanical placement
Many of the new-age trainers will have you lure the dog into a desired position (i.e. the sit) with a bit of food or the promise of a toy. Some will ‘catch’ the behaviour, when offered randomly, and then reward it. I am not going to say anything one way or the other as to someone else’s preferred practice, to each their own.
For our purpose, though, we want to give the dog every opportunity to honestly earn praise, and so the method follows the practice of modeling the behaviour we want. The dog simply cannot fail to succeed, and with each successful placement the dog is praised for the effort. In doing it this way the handler grows comfortable with handling the dog, and the dog grows accepting of being handled. The benefit of that should be patently obvious to anyone who contracts the services of a groomer, vet, or just wants to be able to clean his own dog’s teeth or cut his nails without a fight.
Mechanical placement is used for the sit, the down, the stand, the front and the finish. Follow along with the book and/or your instructor.
By the way, it is not because the author knew nothing about using bait to shape behaviour … he knew enough about it to understand that it can sometimes interfere with the honest development of the master/dog relationship. Yep, I wrote ‘interfere.’
The method teaches the use of mechanical placement because that is what works best in the bigger picture.
Managing your training schedule
Plan on 45 to 75 minutes per day for dog training, depending on what week you are working on. At the beginning the sessions will be on the shorter side. But as you progress through the middle weeks they will be on the longer side. Toward the end the work sessions will be short, but relaxation time with the dog will be delightfully longer.
The pre-training regimen (as explained in the book) can be handled by a family member, but the training itself needs to be one person on the dog through the course. The course is 10 weeks when done with the support of a class instructor, or with the aid of the Companion Dog Planners (mentioned below), and about 13 weeks when done out of the book.
For those enrolled in a Koehler method class, work especially hard to keep up with weeks one through three. Week four (of the classic ten-week course) is a heavy load, and you do not want to go into it under prepared.
Historically, those that can make it productively out of the fourth week of training will be well on their way toward the off lead result that we are known for.
To help motivate the first time user through week-four, please allow me to clue you in, the rest of the course is downhill. Just hang in there and get it done.
The Companion Dog Planners
For those who don’t have a qualified trainer near you, but would still like to move through the material following the same sequencing of exercises and timeline of the 10-week course, we offer the Companion Dog Planners. The planners format and instruct, as if you were in front of an instructor teaching the ten-week format (since 1966).
To order the planners, visit the Book Store from the navigation box on the left side of the screen, or (if you prefer) give me a call. I am always glad to help folks get it right … the first time.
Generally, and as evidenced in our classes, most problem behaviours will seemingly self-extinguish as you move the dog through the course.
Because the exercises are designed to instill a new level of responsibility that the dog must remain attentive to, and as he becomes more and more attentive to his new role in the master/dog relationship his character shifts from one of animal to one of responsible companion. He will become quite content to remain within the framework of obedience that you have worked to establish for him; a structure of rules which liberates him from having to wear leashes, muzzles, e-collars, etc..
Still, there will occasionally be those dogs who will flirt with old habits. Should that happen, the ‘Problems’ chapter of the book will provide you with problem solvers specific to the unacceptable behaviour. But, the dog must have completed the obedience section of the book BEFORE moving into it. Please read the first few paragraphs of that chapter before advancing into it.
In the meantime, consider that there are always three fundamental approaches to problem solving. They are:
1. Remove the stimulus from the dog.
2. Remove the dog from the stimulus.
3. Change the dog’s response to the stimulus.
Item three can’t fairly or honestly begin until the dog has had some fair and honest obedience training. But items one and two can be employed right away.
Your instructor has been trained to help you, but he does not read minds. If you don’t understand an instruction, or feel that you need some additional explanation, clarification, or instruction, just ask.
In some cases your instructor will refer you to the chapter in the book which explains the technique. More often he will work you through the rough spot right there in class. If the difficulty is something likely to require some one-on-one time he may want to arrange an appointment with you to meet him at his kennel. There, he will work you through the rough spot. Remember, you are paying him for his expertise and ability to teach you how to use the method to train your dog; expect that he will do just that.
If all else fails, my telephone number is at the bottom of this page. I invite you to call, but do keep in mind the time difference between you and me (I am in California).
The most asked question
Question: “My dog already knows how to sit, lie down, and walk on a leash. Can’t I go directly into the off leash part of the book?”
Answer: Not if honest off-lead reliability is your goal. Besides, there is no ‘off leash part of the book.’ Read on.
The Koehler method of dog training is a true method, and not some collection of various techniques that one can randomly place into use as they seem appropriate.
And because it is a method, there is a step-by-step procedure for each exercise. To break it down even further, some of the steps in one exercise are actually done to prepare the dog for some related experience that won’t come until much later in the course; but you don’t need to worry about that now.
However, you do need to understand this, the Koehler method is not broken into two parts, as in on-leash obedience and then off-leash obedience. In fact, and in practice, each lesson from the ‘Foundation’ to ‘Don’t lose it, use it’ (as well every lesson between those two landmarks in the training) are designed to either prepare or reinforce the progress toward reliable off lead control.
Simply stated, the method does not lend itself well to omission or embellishment. Each exercise was carefully developed, and each piece of equipment was carefully chosen to yield a reliable off-lead companion dog. Work the method exactly as instructed. It isn’t broken, it doesn’t need fixed.
This page will be updated as relevant issues come up. In the meantime, if you are having trouble with the instruction as presented in the book, or given you by a class instructor, or understanding the tutorial in the Companion Dog Planners … please feel free to contact us. Hopefully, we can help.