Tag Archives: Obedience Training

The Koehler Method: Should I use it on my Puppy?

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!

Always take into consideration your dog’s individual personality. Different methods work for different dogs and different situations.

The Koehler Method: Dog Training or Dog Abuse?

Who was William Koehler?

William Koehler was a dog trainer for over 50 years. During his career, Koehler trained dogs for the army, Walt Disney Studios, and wrote 6 books on the subject of dog training. While he passed away in 1993, his training methods are still used by many today. Koehler’s techniques are effective, or else he would have not been so successful in his career. Although Koehler’s method works, it is criticized by many for its excessive use of force and harsh corrections.

The Koehler Method:

The Koehler method of dog training relies heavily on the use of the leash and choke chain. I have not read all of Koehler’s books, but I have read The Koehler Method of Dog Training. In the introduction, this trainer makes it very clear that he is not a fan of using treats in training, which he refers to as the “tid-bit training technique.” He does encourage the owner to profusely praise the dog when the dog obeys so the dog knows he has done well.

Koehler emphasizes early on in his book that most dogs do not want to do as they are told just to please their masters; rather, they need to be taught the consequences of not obeying. It is true that most dogs don’t want to do as they are told simply to please their masters, but there are ways of teaching behaviors that use motivations that are meaningful to dogs.

One issue for people with puppies who wish to use this method is that Koehler recommends beginning training once the pup is at least 6 months of age. Since most people get new puppies when they are around 8 to 10 weeks of age, waiting this long wastes a whole lot of valuable time that could be used to introduce the puppy to training.

This method of dog training begins with teaching the dog to be attentive to the owner on a long line. Basically, you have the dog on a long line, and you move about. If the dog is not paying attention, they end up getting checked by the long line. This attentiveness training sets the foundation for the basic obedience commands.

The basic obedience commands are taught through use of the leash and by manipulating the dog into position. As stated above, no food rewards are used, even when teaching new behaviors. Excessive force is recommended when ‘necessary.’ For instance, if a dog is reluctant to sit, Koehler advises training with the dog next to a fence to avoid the dog’s ability to struggle. Then, he recommends that the owner “put a lot of downward pressure on the rear and sufficient upward pressure on the leash to make his breathing quite a chore. Don’t ease up until he weakens and sits.” (The Koehler Method of Dog Training). Needless to say, it is much kinder and just as effective to teach a reluctant dog the sit command with a food lure or through clicker training.

When teaching the down command, Koehler once again uses lots of force and corrections. For dogs that don’t want to lay down on command, he recommends being in front of the dog, so if the dog doesn’t obey a correction can be given. If the command is given and the dog doesn’t listen, but moves to the down when the owner gets into the position to issue a leash correction, he states that this should be corrected as well, as the dog obviously is trying to avoid the correction without obeying as soon as the command is given. Sadly, he fails to consider the real possibility that the poor dog simply hasn’t learned the word ‘down’ yet but recognizes when he gets a harsh correction and is trying to avoid the pain. This theme of harshly correcting the dog before the owner is certain that the dog knows what commands mean is seen throughout the book and is unfair to the dog. Why should a dog be corrected for not obeying a command when the dog didn’t know what the command meant in the first place?

Controversial Aspects of the Koehler Method:

Koehler’s training requires the use of either a choke chain or a prong collar (he seems to prefer choke chains). Both collars are considered inhumane by many. Choke chains in particular can damage a dog’s windpipe, but people who quickly snap the leash and release the pressure, which is recommended by most trainers who use a choke chain, may limit damage to the windpipe. I had also previously read that lifelong use of a choke chain can damage the muscle on a dog’s neck, and I believe this was when the collar was correctly used. So while damage to the windpipe may be avoided by correctly using the collar, muscle damage can still result. Prong collars and choke chains both provide uncomfortable (possibly painful) stimulus to train the dog, and some people are against the use of any such tactics when handling dogs. Personally, I think that prong collars and choke chains can be very useful, particularly the prong collar, but I don’t like the way Koehler uses them.

The use of the choke chain is not the most controversial aspect of Koehler’s method. When training the recall, Koehler recommends a throw chain, which is flung at the dog when he does not come on command. But this is not the only time this trainer suggests physically punishing a dog into behaving. For dogs that bark when left alone, Koehler recommends beating the dog with a leather belt. If a dog is difficult to housebreak he advises taking the dog to the place where the accident happened and smacking the dog while holding his face at the mess.

One of the most disturbing recommendations of Koehler is when he advises owners to dunk their dog’s head in water to break him of digging holes. Koehler states that if a dog digs a hole, that the owner should fill the hole with water, take the dog over to the hole, and dunk his head in the water and hold him there until the dog really feels that he is about to drown. Needless to say, I don’t know many people who would feel comfortable doing this to any living creature, let alone a beloved dog.

When justifying his methods of correcting bad behaviors, Koehler mentions that often times if the dog does not learn to stop doing the said behavior, euthanasia is the only option left. While behavior problems can result in a dog being given up to a shelter or put to sleep, there are many gentler methods that won’t damage the relationship between dog and owner that are very effective. Koehler ignores this, and offers his harsh punishments as the only alternative.

Overall Thoughts on the Koehler Method:

Corrections can be very useful when training a dog. I have used electric collars, prong collars, and other forms of correction when training my dogs. The trouble with Koehler’s method of training is its over reliance of corrections and the use of abusive measures for many problem behaviors. All the training techniques revolve around some sort of physical punishment, whether that be the use of a throw chain, choke chain, or a leather belt. While such forceful methods can be VERY effective, they can also be very damaging to the dog, and can create problem behaviors in the dog, such as fear and aggression. For dogs with behavioral issues, Koehler’s solutions are nothing more than animal abuse. Many effective, humane techniques of dog training exist, but they are not to be found in the Koehler method.

With this said, I do want to mention that I think Koehler was doing what he thought best. Several of the recommendations in his book for dogs with severe behavioral issues are abusive, but I believe he thought his solutions were the best way to prevent dogs form being killed over training issues. So while I do whole-heartedly disagree with many of the methods, I think he did his best to save dogs from being abandoned or killed for behavioral problems. Today, we have better ways and more options in training, so no one should have to resort to such harsh tactics.

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There are many ways to train a dog. The Koehler Method may be effective, but it can also damage the bond with one’s beloved pet.

Koehler’s book is an interesting read for anyone who wishes to see just how far dog training has come, but not the book I would recommend as a “how-to” manual to produce a well adjusted, happy dog.

If you enjoyed this post, please check out: The Koehler Method: Should I use it on my Puppy?, where we further delve into the Koehler Method. 

Sources

The Koehler Method of Dog Training