The Koehler method of dog training has been used for many, many years to train a great number of dogs. It has fallen out of favor in recent years because of its dependence on corrections and complete avoidance of food and toys in training. While effective, this method is largely thought of as cruel and inhumane by today’s standards.
In this post, I will discuss what motivates the dog with this method, whether correction-based training is effective or not, and my personal tips for someone who wants to use the Koehler Method. I will not be using this method on my new pup Maple. While I will use corrections when necessary, I like using food and toys in training, and I think dogs enjoy their training more this way as well.
What is the Dog Working For?
Many, many people who support correction-based training do so under the premise that the dog should work for the relationship and love for his master, not for food or toys. Let me make this clear… when using this method, the dog is obeying to avoid the correction, not purely because he loves his person so much. Sure, he might like getting petted for a job well done, but if that were enough the choke chain and leash wouldn’t be needed. When dogs are trained with food or toys, they are also working for that reward, not purely because they love their handler. From my own experience, with time some dogs do work for the owner purely for the joy of working with their person after being trained on food and toys, but most will still want the occasional treat or game for motivation.
Does the Koehler Method Work Better for Some Dogs than Others?
I think correction-based methods work better on some breeds than others. This type of training will probably completely destroy certain dog’s self-esteem. Personally, I theorize that many more dogs probably would do poorly with this form of training in today’s world than the dogs of fifty years ago, simply because dogs are probably being bred who respond well to positive reinforcement as opposed to corrections-based methods. A Belgium Shepherd that comes from a long line of dogs bred, raised, and trained for personal protection – where dogs are often trained with corrections – is a very different animal from a Cocker Spaniel that comes from a long line of house pets. But, this is just my theory.
Also, puppies tend to respond better to positive motivation, and because they are so young and immature, it is important not to expect too much from them.
Is the Correction-based Training more Effective than Positive Reinforcement?
This is purely my opinion, but I would say in some cases, yes. With the Koehler Method, the dog will be trained within 13 weeks to the point of off-leash obedience (at least, this is the claim). Typically what I have noticed is that trainers who set hard and fast timelines of when a dog will reach a certain point use tons of force and corrections in their training to reach these results, whether they are using the Koehler Method or electric collars. Koehler’s method does not take into account different breeds in the claim of off-leash obedience in a relatively short period of time. Most positive trainers recognize that some breeds are harder if not impossible to train to be reliable off-leash with positive methods. These breeds include sighthounds, scent hounds, and huskies. Amusingly enough, these same people say that positive methods are just as effective if not more effective than correction-based training such as Koehler’s method.
Does this make it better? I would say it depends upon what you want and how the dog handles the training. I used an electric collar (but not the Koehler Method) to train my dog, Lady, to be reliable off-leash. She was stubborn, confident, and took corrections pretty well. Training her not to run off was imperative, as she was an escape artist when we first brought her home, and she would bolt through doors and try to get out of her collar. After training with the e-collar, she was able to enjoy being off lead in the yard and when I took her to woods near our home without leash restrictions, and we were able to enjoy the peace of her not taking off every chance she got. Lady additionally was not food or toy motivated, so training was always a challenge.
With Raina, I didn’t feel comfortable with the amount of force that would probably have been required to get her trained to an off-leash recall, because her prey drive is even stronger than Lady’s, and she is scared of loud noises. To get her to a point where she would listen in the occurrence of a scary sound was something that would probably require a huge amount of force, and I feel would have damaged my relationship with her, as she took corrections more to heart than Lady ever did. Also, Raina does not actively try to back out of her collar or bolt through doors. So, for me I am ok with her only being off-leash in fenced in areas. Also, Raina doesn’t have the same desire to be off leash in an un-fenced area the same way Lady did, so the trade off isn’t worth it to either of us.
Take into consideration how you think your dog would respond to heavy handed training, and if you are comfortable with using such force, possibly at the cost of your relationship with the dog. Also keep in mind the dog’s safety. If a dog is at risk of being hurt or killed because of their behavior, more corrections and force may be warranted. Generally, when raising a puppy, positive training can be used since you can avoid severe problem behaviors that often necessitate lots of corrections, but every dog is different.
You Think you need to use the Koehler Method?
If you want to use the Koehler Method, I would at least have these suggestions.
- Make sure the dog preforms the behavior without a correction before adding corrections. It simply isn’t fair to the dog to be corrected for not doing something when they don’t understand what is being asked of them.
- If you have to use the choke chain extensively (ie. If the corrections are not having much of an impact), please try a prong collar. Prong collars do less damage to the dog’s neck muscles than a choke chain, and I have heard some state that they do less damage than even a regular flat collar, due to the way pressure is evenly distributed across the dog’s neck. But remember, the correction needed on a prong is much, much less than what is required with a choke chain, so start with extremely light pressure on the leash when using a prong until you discover what the minimum correction is to get your dog’s attention.
- Don’t use the method expecting a quick fix. This method, like any training method, requires one to spend considerable time working with the dog. On koehlerdogtraining.com, the author notes that the owner must be prepared to spend 45 to 75 minutes per day on training. The site states that it will take 10 to 13 weeks of consistent training to get the desired results. No matter what training method you use, you are going to have to put the time into your dog if you want results.
- If you just got the dog, take some time to bond with him/her first. I can’t help but feel that one shouldn’t start off the relationship with their dog by correcting them constantly. It just doesn’t seem like a good way to build a bond. I would recommend taking 2 weeks or so getting to know the dog first before starting this type of training. Obviously don’t let the dog be a brat for 2 weeks, but don’t start obedience training with this method right away before the relationship has had time to be established.
- Wait until the dog is 6 months old. This is Koehler’s recommendation as well. Don’t use this method on young pups! While some dogs may be mature enough at a younger age, err on the side of caution here. Also, beyond the mental maturity of the dog, a young pup’s neck is more likely to be hurt when he is younger than 6 months.
- If you want to do competitive obedience, this probably isn’t the best method for you and your dog. Today, obedience competitions seek for dogs to be intently staring at their owners during many of the exercises such as the heel. In my personal experience, this level of focus does not happen in dogs trained purely with corrections.
- If you have a tiny breed, I would recommend against this method. Most tiny breeds have delicate necks, choke chains and possibly prongs are not likely to be safe. When in doubt, ask your vet.
- DO NOT use Koehler’s recommendations to fix different behavioral problems. Koehler recommended very cruel methods of ending behavioral problems such as digging and barking. Do not use these methods, there is no reason to use them, and these will most certainly destroy or severely hurt your relationship with your dog and would be absolutely abusive to any dog or puppy.
For more information on the Koehler Method, check out my post here, where I discuss some of the controversial aspects of this method.
Thanks for reading!