In Lina’s article "What is well trained?" she briefly mentions that education and training are not the same, quote: “because I often lack the necessary motivation when it comes to training and education (which, by the way, is not the same)...".
Well, I would like to take a deeper look at this topic because in my opinion there is more to be added here. The words ‘education’ and ‘training’ are often thrown together or confused with each other.
- But what is the difference between them?
- What do I need to do when dealing with my dog?
- Should I educate or is a comprehensive training plan completely sufficient for a happy relationship?
This is where the dilemma begins because the question of which training method is THE right one triggers heated discussions not only among dog owners but also among experts (a separate article will follow on this).
Education is an essential part of socialisation and thus it already begins at birth.
Socialisation describes the process of learning and practicing important rules of behaviour that are necessary for a harmonious coexistence with the living and non-living environment. In this case, education can be understood as a conscious or targeted influence towards a desired behaviour. A dog’s individual needs, as well as personal character traits, must be taken into account here.
Among other things, a young puppy cannot concentrate for the same amount of time as an adult dog can and needs more or longer rest periods. The same applies to a dog during puberty. There is a significant change in hormones and the resulting mood swings from it, as well as emotional instability which causes inner restlessness, insecurity, and a tendency to overestimate themselves. This can be a tough challenge for many dog owners. Therefore, I should have a precise idea of what I want from my dog and to what extent my dog is capable of offering this behaviour. If I constantly change my mind about a behaviour, it is very likely to be confusing for my dog.
A personal example: I want my dogs to walk on a loose leash during our hikes. This means, when the leash is nearing its end, I politely alert my dogs by either clearing my throat briefly or even saying a quiet: "Hey"! If this is ignored, I stop and wait until they show me that they have understood my request. Then they make contact with me, for example by looking in my direction. I thank them, and only after do we move on.
There are days however when I am absent with my thoughts and the pulling on the leash doesn't bother me, simply because I don't notice it. I am distracted, which of course they take advantage of. So, every now and again they are "allowed" to pull on the leash. But if I allow it one day and disapprove of it another day, or even get angry for challenging me over and over again (although I have warned them so many times), then I am anything but clear in my communication and ultimately punish my dogs for my inconsistency.
In advance, I should think carefully about which behaviors are fundamentally unacceptable and which I can turn a blind eye to, depending on the situation.
It is important that I also adhere to the rules which I have established. For example, if I want my dog to understand fighting is prohibited, then I need to be consistent about it. Bloch & Radinger (2012) call this the ritualization of strict and flexible rules that each human-dog partnership can set for themselves individually and explains it as follows:
"Consistency is the trump card. Nevertheless, kind gestures often cause a partner to react in a relaxed and more open way to suggestions".
Who doesn't know this?
If we were allowed to stay up late as children and watch a movie with our parents, we were delighted and went to bed a little earlier the next night. But how can this be applied to dogs?
Let me provide you with another example from my personal experience: If I’m walking with my dogs and we meet other humans and their pets, mine are never allowed to simply run off and approach the others (strict rule). I call them to me, and we wait. Depending on who approaches us and in consultation with the other dog owner, my dogs are either allowed to make contact or not (flexible rule).
Education is always a give and take and it is up to us to determine what is OK for us and what is not. In doing so, I may look after my own interests as well as the interests of my dog. If I teach exclusively through pressure and prohibiting things, I will not be able to have great successes, as I am permanently controlling and restricting my dog's development. It is important to set specific limits because this gives my dog security and orientation, which makes life so much easier for our pets.
Nevertheless, successful education aims above all at increasing and taking into account actions based on independent insights and personal experiences (Gansloßer & Kitchenham 2015). Dogs are animals who want to try things out just as much as humans do.
The better I know my dog's needs and the more specifically I address and encourage them, the more likely I am to have a dog that is happy to cooperate voluntarily.
This in turn is an optimal prerequisite for a successful education. One last example from personal experience: My dog Zazu is a passionate hunter (as I’ve already mentioned several times before). However, I cannot fulfill his heart's desire of running wild through the woods for hours on end. So, one of our basic rules is: hunting (at least in this form) is taboo. But there are other options. And Zazu is allowed to dig like crazy. So, he can really let off steam, follow tracks, listen to mice in the ground, develop strategies on how and where to strike best, and do whatever he enjoys. I take plenty of time for this, sit down with him, and enjoy his good mood. You should see his face after a "successful hunt". He has a massive grin and is very pleased with himself. Fortunately, Zazu does not kill mice otherwise I’d have to think of something else, as I’d personally have a problem with that. But by trying to accommodate his requests as best I can, he (usually) listens when I refuse to let him chase a deer or a rabbit.
Compared to education, training refers predominantly to dog commands like “sit, down, heel” all the way to practising certain sports (e.g. dog pulling sports) or training to become a working dog (e.g. rescue dog or a guide dog for the blind). Medical training is also becoming increasingly popular. The main focus is on learning the theory behind it and conditioning processes. Since it is known how living beings learn, this knowledge can also be applied successfully to dog training. Motivation is an important component for effective training. For example, most retrievers will enjoy retrieving (e.g. fetching a toy or a dummy), whereas the majority of huskies will be enthusiastic about pulling dog sports (e.g. canicross or bikejoring).
When it comes to motivation, not only genetic predisposition comes into play, but also abilities, talents, or individual interests (in the case of my dog Haida, this most definitely would be food). Education and training can of course be combined. For example, I can set a strict rule that the dog should not be pulling on the leash during a walk. I can implement this by training my dog to walk on a loose leash.
Nevertheless, it is important to understand that training is not education and, in my opinion, cannot replace it.
Education always requires a relationship. I want my dog to be able to rely on me and trust my decisions rather than a piece of sausage. It is only worthwhile to partly reduce or even ignore one's own needs if it has a positive effect on my life long-term, such as a well-functioning relationship with the members of my group or family. Going back to the previous example, Zazu didn't stop hunting because I trained it out of him (I tried that for years without any success), but because we entered into a dialogue and found a compromise which takes both our interests into account and makes it possible to live together in harmony. This is by no means easy, and I'm sure many people would disagree with me.
But what do I do if this approach doesn’t work?
Training can take place independently of a relationship with humans. Mills et al (2014) found exciting results in distinguishing an educated dog from an obedient dog. They documented that obedient dogs (i.e. well-trained) showed desired behaviour immediately, but well-educated dogs acted more anticipatorily and had a deeper relationship with their humans. Trained dogs could recognise different behaviours of their owners in advance and were able to adjust or react to them accordingly. In this way, potential conflicts could be identified in advance and redirected. In training, we often work with the help of a primary reinforcer, like food. My dog shows a desired behaviour and I reward him for it. However, Gansloßer & Kitchenham (2015) point out that paying an action with a reward plays no role at all in the general training process. So, I can train my dog with food, but I cannot educate him. Owners visit dog training schools primarily to prevent possible misbehaviour from the dog or to correct their existing bad behaviour. However, various studies indicate that common training does not necessarily counteract behavioural problems that arise later (Blackwell et al. 2010; Rooney N. & Cowan S., 2011). Therefore, my dog can pass tests at the dog park with flying colours and still show bad behaviour in everyday life. This does not mean that I cannot do any training with him or go to a dog school. On the contrary, if both enjoy it, dog and owner, it is an enrichment for everyone. But coming back to my original question: A well-thought-out training plan is unfortunately not even half the battle.
My personal opinion
on this subject is that more and more dog owners are ignoring that they have everything they need inside of them - their intuition. Of course, a qualified dog trainer can accompany and support people and dogs on their journey through life. I also work with a great dog trainer in Germany, to whom I am very grateful. However, it is just as important to rely on your social skills or to reflect on them and change them if necessary. After all, we don't teach our children with ice cream or jelly beans, but by setting a good example. We are also allowed to simply try things and find out for ourselves what is important in our interaction with dogs, and above all, what feels right. According to these criteria, I would then (if necessary) look for suitable support in the form of a dog trainer, but these are always individual. For me, a perfect "sit, down, heel" is not one of them.
Haida, for example, doesn't know any of these commands, yet we lead a very happy life.