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What Is Holistic Dog Training?

Sep 20 / Sally Gutteridge
Traditionally dog training was carried out to change behaviour,
usually unwanted behaviour but sometimes to create new behaviours in order to teach the dog a new skill, for example search or guiding. A long time ago dogs were considered machines and it took a very long time for them to lose that human given label by Rene Descartes. Next we considered them wolves trying hard to be the pack leader, and dog training morphed into a strange mixture of pretending to be the head wolf and showing the dog who is “the boss”. Then as our own species became a bit more aware, educated and empathetic we realised that wolves don’t act that way, dogs don’t act that way and neither should we.

Along came some ethically dodgy (we have to admit it) experiments and observations and we ended up with a clear idea of learning theory, meaning we know how dogs learn through reinforcers and punishers, and we started to apply it. Now we find ourselves in a huge growth stage within the training of domestic dogs, we not only try to change the behaviour but we question why it occurs and whether the methods we use are good for the dogs.

The forerunners in dog training and behaviour are now embracing what I like to call Canine Coaching and what is in essence Holistic Dog Training.

Not only do we take into account the behaviour but we look at the dog’s right to display it. We stand up for the dogs and state that problem behaviours are often just normal dog behaviours and the dog has a right to practice them.

Which actually they do.

We also started to look at the emotions, motivations, physical and social health and wellness which often lie below the choices that dogs make, the same choices that lead to habits which become behaviours. We wanted to know not only how dogs behave but why they behave that way and how well they are underneath. We then add all of that knowledge together, whilst continuing to educate ourselves, and create a plan for the wellness of each individual dog. We know that if a dog is well, happy and fulfilled with an outlet for their natural behaviour, they will be easy to live with and not be filled with frustrations based on misunderstandings.

To teach the dogs new and alternative choices we learned that they find overt punishment distressing and stressful. So we leaned towards creating opportunities for the dog to succeed and be rewarded for it – therefore be motivated to try that same alternative behaviour again.

We are moving into a different and healthy future with the domestic dog, we now know more about their emotional experiences and how our emotional experiences affect them. They are literally in the eye of ethical research and interestingly we are finding that they a just like we are. They need healthy emotional resilience, social skills, learned confidence, physical outlets and basically to use their natural dog behaviours to be healthy and happy – just as we do. A fact that tells us exactly why the good dog trainers, the forerunners and the educators are all naturally holistic. Behaviour doesn’t happen in isolation – it’s part of a bigger picture, the whole picture.

The holistic picture.

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