What Is Humane Training For Dogs?


In 1998, the National Council on Humane Dog Training was established; its goal: define “humane training” and discuss related training methodologies.*

Here is their definition: Humane training enhances the lifelong relationship between people and dogs by:

Eliciting and/or rewarding desired behavior

Rarely using punishment (always striving toward its elimination)

Never causing harm

The fact that this council was founded and that there was a desire to call some training more humane than another training is perhaps even more significant than the actual definition. Punishment and an “it’s my way or the highway” ideology had become the norm in dog training for over 50 years. Punishment is a necessary and, under certain conditions, normal, aspect of life.

But dog training had been founded on militaristic control gained through physical force and emotional dominance. This can work wonders for dogs who can handle it and people who can deliver it (soldiers and police officers with Working breeds), but it can also cause unintended emotional and physical distress, as well as a strained (and potentially dangerous) relationship between dog and owner when the method isn’t well-matched to the dog and/or owner. It is in response to this fallout that the “humane dog training” movement began.

The council’s effort resulted in two documents: 1) Professional Standards for Dog Trainers, published by The Delta Society (www.deltasociety.org) and 2) Guide to Humane Dog Training, published by the American Humane Association (www.americanhumane.org). Both use clear and precise language to aid in the evaluation of training programs and the use of various “tools of the trade,” such as choke collars, electronic collars, and head halter collars.

The Humane Standards do not so much attempt to tell us what is right or wrong but to give us permission to stop and think if what we accept as ok really is the best way. Training that “broke” the dog’s spirit to get it to behave has been accepted as appropriate until recently. Now it’s accepted that training need not – should not – cause the dog to fear the trainer or have stress reactions to being trained (ears back, slinking to the ground, frustrated mouthing of leash or owner, urinating).

When it comes to training dogs, all methods work, and do no harm, in the hands of a competent trainer applied to the right situation. In that case, look for a trainer who earns your respect without causing you fear or anxiety; chances are your dog will feel the same about the training.

*The source of information for this article was: “Defining Humane Dog Training Update” by Daniel Estep, Ph.D., and Suzanne Hetts Ph.D., published in the Rocky Mountain News, Denver CO.

By Marilyn Marks
Certified Pet Dog Trainer and owner of The Good Dog Spot in Bloomfield.

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