October 19, 2005

A Short History of Dog Training

In the beginning there was Colonel Konrad Most - arguably the father of modern dog training. Most trained military dogs in Germany at the beginning of the 20th Century. His book, Training Dogs - A Manual, was published in German in 1910, but wasn't translated into English until 1954, the year of his death. It has recently been republished.

Most's training approach was widely adopted as the model for military training throughout the world, and is still used today for many military, police and service dog training programs. Although his techniques, which rely a combination of “inducements and compulsion,” use collar corrections and punishments that are considered heavy-handed from today's perspective, Most's methods are based on the principles of operant learning that form the basis of clicker training. Most was one of the first to see dogs, not as moral beings capable of spite and eagerness to please, but as dogs with their own system of reasoning.

Most's training techniques spread throughout the world as his students and disciples emigrated to other countries. Josef Weber (The Dog in Training, 1939) and Hans Tosutti (Companion Dog Training, 1948) opened schools for training dogs in Philadelphia and Boston respectively. Tosutti, writes “Another piece of equipment against which I warn is the plain choke collar. In order to obtain results with a collar of this type, the guide must pull on the choke to the point of strangling the dog until he loses his breath. I have seen dogs with necks strained and seriously injured from being trained with choke collars simply because of the strength that can be exerted when the guide brings the dog up short with a quick, hard jerk.” He felt that felt that the choke collar, “though quite innocuous in appearance, is an instrument of torture in the hands of the beginner because of its unlimited choke.” He may be suprised to see the widespread acceptance of the choke collar as a beginner's training aid today.

Marion Bailey and her first husband, Keller Breland, were graduate students of B.F. Skinner. Leaving graduate school in the early 1940's, they started Animal Behavior Enterprises - a business that trained and provided scores of animal species for commercial purposes. Keller Breland was the first dog trainer to use a clicker - a tin cricket - to bridge the time between the behavior and the delivery of the reinforcer. He used the sound to mark the desired behavior when training field dogs and herding dogs work in a field away from the handler. Breland called the click sound a "bridging stimulus."

It's possible that Breland's training approach using operant conditioning with a conditioned reinforcer might have spread beyond his own business, had not WWII solidified the military model in pet dog training.

William Koehler, who like Most was a military dog trainer, was located in Hollywood and gained exposure through celebrity clients. His book the Koehler Method of Dog Training was, and may still remain, the all-time best selling dog training book, forming the basis for virtually all dog training from the 1950's into the '70's. This method is closely based on Most’s combination of praise and corrections.

Meanwhile clicker training was being used by Keller Breland with other species. In the 1950's Marineland hired him to develop a training program for their marine mammals. In a matter of weeks, Keller devised the system of marine mammal training that is still in use today. The Brelands worked with many trainers and associates who worked in a variety of locations, including Sea Life Park, which was then owned by Karen Pryor and her husband.

Skip ahead a few years to 1984 when Karen Pryor wrote Don't Shoot the Dog, a guide to human interpersonal relations. Serendipitously, the book's title brought Pryor to the attention of dog trainers. Pryor met Gary Wilkes - a professional dog trainer and the first person since Keller Breland to use clicker training on a wide variety of dogs in a wide variety of applications. Gary and Karen combined to do seminars together and the die was cast for the word of clicker training to spread throughout the dog-training community.

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nexushausk9services@verizon,net said...

Hey, read your article and although correct in a historical sense...I think you have misread Most...to compare Most to Koehler is a crime at best. Granted that newer technicques have been developed since 1910...that said, Most talks about the possibilities that are open to the triner...he makes clear that he traines for what was needed at that time and if I may add, the limitations of the day....read Most again I really think you may be missing something and clicker trainer is a big hustle. My blogger is Nexushuasworkingdogs.blogspot.com
I was thinking of posting something about C Most...but have been very busy...yet reading your article has sort of inspired me since there is a twist there somewhere...unless i am misunderstanding what you are trying to say...again, a great short outline of a partial history...for you say nothing of Bernard, or Raiser and many more...both German and American who have contributed to the development of real dog training...respectfully yours Jesus Gonzalez...

Marj said...

I think you have misread my post. I said that they were both dog trainers for the military - I made no other comparisons between them.

Koehler did used some methods based on Most - though he put his own spin on them.

Obviously in a single blog post on the history of dog training I have sacrificed complexity for brevity.

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