Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dog Training, A Look Back

Each generation stands on the shoulders of the last. I remember thinking about that statement with gratitude as a young woman. Then my thoughts were about quality of life issues for women.

Now, I reflect on changes in dog training over the decades. We’ve come from a harsher way of being in general to a respect that includes other beings.

After World War II men who handled war dogs came home and opened up dog training schools. Training of war dogs required the dog to be more “respectful” of the handler than afraid of bombs bursting. That, of course, is the mindset these guys brought home with them. Sadly, “If you want the dog to respect you, just roll up a newspaper” can still be heard.

By the fifties our dog training heroes became the fellows training dogs for the movies. Old Yeller, Big Red, The Shaggy Dog were movies that made us laugh and cry. “How did they do that?” was answered in books by Bill Koehler.

As families made their way to cities, so parents could find work, we lost our connection to nature. A dog in the backyard was the only animal most kids had to relate to any species other than our own.

Lassie, Rin-tin-tin and Bullet were regulars on tv. Dogs were thoroughly romanticized by Disney in Lady and the Tramp. The natural ability of our species to connect to others was being lost, while it was being idealized.

Jim Pearsall was the gentler trainer of the sixties and seventies. He wrote about technique from a perspective of a relationship with the dog. When it came to dog trainers, Koehler was king.

In the eighties along came a lady with a funny voice and a British accent. Barbara Woodhouse hit the talk show circuit with her, ”Walkies” and “What a good dog.” America fell in love with her and positive reinforcement.

Tell a dog it did right; what a concept. As people started telling the dog it was good, kids started complaining that they never heard praise from their parents. It was a revolution.

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