"Yank his head off!" roared the instructor for my daughter's 4-H dog class, as kids and dogs struggled to heel in a large oval pattern.  I was somewhat taken aback at this, as it didn't seem to be appropriate for children learning to train dogs, nor for their hapless charges. Fortunately, I had found a training book on sale at a store going out of business, and because the method had worked so well on my Dalmatian, I insisted that my daughter use it, as well.  The rest is history as can be seen on the ABC page, where Buffy is pictured with her trophies.
     The following year, we moved to Michigan where I enrolled "Training Experiment #3"  in a class (that would be Dutch Boy.)  Once again, the training pattern was a large oval, and I just about lost it when I heard the familiar words, "Yank his head off!"  I guessed that this was standard procedure in those days, but the Koehler method sure made a lot more sense, and was much more humane than yanking a dog's head off.
     Dutch Boy proved to be quite a challenge, drowning out the instructor with his racket, and threatening to beat up on any dog in his personal space, which seemed to be much of the building.  The second week, I was met at the door by the instructor, who handed me a flyswatter and told me that if that didn't work, we'd use a cattle prod.  I wasn't planning to shock the daylights out of the dog, so I was diligent with the swatter, and it worked just fine.
     I trained faithfully, rain or shine, indoors or out, motivated by the novice level competition that was to take place on graduation night.  Off-leash in just eight weeks!  Koehler came through for me, and so did Dutch Boy.  We took home his first trophy that night.
    
     In the years since I first began training dogs, many new ideas and methods have come forth.  The only one that I was familiar with before Koehler (pronounced Kay'-lor,) involved yanking on the leash and repeating the heel command, which seems unfair, as it punishes the dog for something he hasn't learned to do.  Teaching the down involved forcing the dog into the position, by running the leash under your foot, and pulling on it, thereby strangling the dog into compliance to a command he doesn't yet understand.  The Koehler method is fair and humane, and is understood, as well.
     I don't give a collar correction unless the dog has disobeyed a command he has learned.  When teaching him to walk on a leash without pulling, he learns to restrain himself by making mistakes that are self-correcting.  In other words, he knows why the leash tightened and how to fix the problem.  He doesn't hold me responsible for what happens because he's doing it to himself.
     Same thing with heeling.  He learns by trial and error, what to do and not to do, and it makes sense to him.  If he runs out in front of me, and I do an about turn, he rather suddenly runs out of leash.  What to do?  Watch where I'm going, and turn when I do.  If he moves to my right side, I don't stop and I don't turn.  I let him correct the position himself, and he'll want to do that because it's downright uncomfortable over there with the leash all tightened up.  Moving to the left side relieves the pressure and he learns that it's to his advantage to stay there.  It's the only good place to be.  And I didn't yank on him once!
   
     The Koehler method teaches the dog who's in charge.  That's the dominance principle.  If your dog tried some of his stunts with a pack of wolves, that he practices in your home, he wouldn't last five minutes.  This makes one particular student I had, look even more foolish.  When her dog refused to sit, she refused to correct it.  None of that violent stuff for her!  So she just kept repeating the command, the dog kept ignoring it, and the poor woman ended up in tears.  She couldn't understand why her dog didn't love her enough to sit for her.  One day her husband made the dog sit, and she wouldn't let him come to class with her after that! 
     The Koehler method involves very little in the way of collar corrections.  None are used for walking and heeling, and it only takes one to three corrections for disobeying a command such as sit, down, stay, etc., and then they are no longer necessary.

     I have found that many people who readily criticize the Koehler method, do not actually know anything about it.  It is anathema to anyone who refuses to correct a dog, or use a training collar.  All they have to know is that it involves a choker chain and a collar correction, and they're ready to scream, "Abuse!"  These good folks imagine how it would feel to wear such a device around their neck, and they think it feels the same to a dog.  They haven't been paying attention.  Haven't we all seen, and probably experienced, the tenacity of a dog lunging along at the end of a leash, chain collar so tight he can hardly breathe, yet fairly dragging his handler behind? 
     When Dutch Boy was young and very strong (weighing in at 76 lbs.,) and we lived in a rental house without a fenced yard, I tied him to a tree with a forty foot rope.  After many seeming attempts by him to uproot the tree, which was by no means a small one, I tried fastening the rope to his choker chain instead of his regular nylon collar, thinking this would teach him not to pull so hard.  One day he spotted something out in front of the house, and I watched in horror as he began his run, from somewhere near the tree, and hit the end of the rope full tilt.  One end-over-end-and-a-grunt later, he got up off the ground and tried it again!

     I admit I'm not a purist when it comes to using this method.  What I mean is, that I have embellished it with such things as name-response, sit for a treat, voice corrections, and a neat little trick involving a bean bag, that I came up with after reading Paul Loeb's book
Smarter Than You Think.  But I have found such things as play-training, treat-training, clicker training, positive reinforcement only, and any method that strives to produce a happy-happy ring performance at the expense of true obedience, to be fairly worthless in the daily scheme of things.
     The Koehler method isn't for everyone.  It isn't for someone who is physically unable to do the footwork or administer corrections.  An elderly person trying to train a strong out-of-control dog on a 15 foot leash, is at risk of injury.  A person who is successful in teaching the dog what to do, but doesn't require that he do it, is pretty much wasting his time.  A dominant type person with a cooperative submissive dog, may get along without any formal training at all.
     I have found that children are generally very good at learning and using this method, and I teach it in my 4-H classes, but dogs don't readily accept children as pack leaders, so the older kids are more successful with it than smaller ones.  In conclusion, I have tried other methods, found them wanting, and have always returned to Koehler, but for those who are unable to use it, there is always Plan B.  I do try to be flexible!  
Why Koehler?
~ ABC Dog School ~
Copyright 2004 Carole J Sulser
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