why do there have to be so many different dog-training systems? (rant)


Flock Mistress
12 Years
Apr 20, 2007
Ontario, Canada
Why do there have to be so expletive-deleted MANY different systems (sets of hand cues, words, approaches of how to get the behavior to start capturing it with cues, etc)?

[Really I am just venting not asking (I think I pretty much know the answer -- "b/c it is hard to teach group classes without a regimented system so people tend to create regimented systems and many of them work just about as well as many others so there is no reason for everyone to gravitate to just one"), although of course any commentary is welcome.]

I started on my own with one set of methods/words/motions for sit, stay, and down, based partly on books and partly on what husband's family "always used to" do. Husband took an intro obedience class that required changing almost all of them. Fine, we did. Then I took an intermediate obedience class with a different instructor. Somewhat different hand cues, and much more emphasis on shaping than on luring. Fine. Slight modifications, not entirely to her satisfaction but oh well.

Well, now I am taking another obedience class with yet another different pair of instructors with yet another TOTALLY different system. Their hand cue for down is what I'm using for sit, their sit and stand cues are different, they want major luring to get everything, different release word, no use whatsoever of "stay" (dog is supposed to just maintain whatever it was last told until released), etc.

I cannot cope with this. Really I can't.

I do realize that in a perfect world I would enroll in one person/school/club's system and stay there. However for some fairly good reasons that is not how it is happening, and this is driving me BONKERS.

I cried all the way home in the car from class last night, it was so frustrating. It isn't that my dog can't DO these things, he seems in fact to be considerably further along than anyone else in the class, but trying to change everything is confusing/stressing him and also frying MY brain. I end up just standing there unable to do *anything*, let alone ask the dog to Down.

One of the current instructors (a husband/wife team) is amenable, when asked, to *some* modifications. Last week when her husband was absent for the night I have showed her how Russell doesn't do well with food-in-hand luring b/c it is too distracting, and asked if it was ok with her if I motion with an empty hand, and she said sure, fine, she has a dog like that herself. This week I asked if it was ok not to keep rapid-fire rewarding the dog in position when trying to get it to hold position (without 'stay') because it just gets him too wound up, because I discovered a few days ago after two weeks of *frustrating* work that he actually does it pretty ok if I simply say "Sit" (or whatever) and then withhold rewarding him til I am good and ready. She was kind of "hmmmm" initially, but I showed her the difference in his reactions and she was pretty positive in saying "yes, ok, that obviously works better for him" and went over to tell her husband to stop bugging me to rapid-fire treat him in this circumstance.

But, they still seem really pretty set on me using their hand cues for things, and as I mentioned, their "down" is my already-well-ingrained "sit". (They do a raised left hand for 'sit', a raised right hand for 'down'; I've been doing a raised EITHER hand for sit, and a lowered either hand for down). I was told I do have to change this as my dog needs to be able to see the cue from a distance. Eh? I pointed out that when I park him in a stay at one end of the backyard and cue him from up to 250 feet away, I can run him thru sit-stand-down in any order on hand cues with no problem. They did not seem to believe me, and insisted I redo his cues. And they want every, EVERY thing really aggressively lured rather than using subtler prompts.

It's not that my dog can't learn all this, it's that a) *I* can't, not so many changes at the same time; and b) trying to change these basic things AND having me getting totally frazzled and upset in class is making *Russell* upset in class, and the main POINT of taking an obedience class with these folks was to get him more RELAXED in class so I can move on to their agility classes. (There are not a lot of options for agility classes within driving distance, and these folks have been recommended to me in particular as well)

I emailed them last night and said more or less the calm version of this, and asked apologetically if there was any way they'd be ok with maybe telling me what things are ESSENTIAL to change so I can limit my focus to that and to getting Russie more relaxed in class, rather than getting "auuuggh!" all over. I have no idea how they will respond; I know some horse trainers would be fine with that and others would be mortally offended, I assume the same range of variation exists in the dog world. If this is burning a bridge then so be it, though, because last night with the husband back in the class was REALLY not working for me at all and Russie got really stressed, I really don't want to keep going down that road.

WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE SO COMPLICATED? It seems to me that to a large degree, if the dog goes "down" according to SOME cue, and the cue is perceptible from some distance and with some distractions and does not interfere with other things the handler is likely to need to be doing, then what is the big deal? If I want to train the dog to stand up when I stick my fingers in my ears, why *not*? And if the dog deals better with less luring and not having food constantly shoved in his face, and learns things quickly and well that way, then why *not*? And frankly, does it make THAT much difference whether my release cue is "okay" versus "break" versus "all done" versus anything else? (The wife, of this pair of instructors, is very big on not using okay, yet she says that all her [pretty-successful] dogs except her current one WERE trained using okay as the release, so it is obviously not a *crippling* problem)

At the very least, why have all four of these instructors looked at me like I was from Mars when they found that I was already using some cues etc different from theirs? clearly there is HUGE variation in what people do out there, surely they must REGULARLY run into clients who are coming from systems different than their own, and ahve some efficient way of dealing with it other than to say 'well just relearn everythign this way'????


Well, I have much more sympathy for the adult-beginner riders I used to teach, I'll tell ya THAT!

Thank you for letting me vent,

Why is there so many systems and why are they so complicated?

Beause so many people want to make money off of training dogs.
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Because so many people want to make money off of training dogs.

Cynical though I am, I actually have trouble believing it's really that. At least in this area (I have NO clue bout the rest of the universe).

Because, around here the "basic pet dog classes" (puppy classes, beginner obedience/manners, and intermediate obedience) seem to be composed almost entirely (maybe *entirely* entirely?) of people who chose their class based on geography and time schedule. "Well, the closest one that's not on a weekend or a Monday night is the dude over in Newmarket, I guess I'll sign up for that one". Price would probably matter for a lot of people cept all the classes are priced pretty much the same.

I honestly have yet to meet someone, in classes or from just talking to dog owners, who says "well, I looked around for someone who specifically does serious hardcore clicker training as opposed to just using a clicker as part of a more old-school method, and then I asked them 'how does your system differ from these other two people I'm considering", and picked my obedience class that way".

It's more like "oh look, a dog class right here in town on a night when I'm free, I guess i'll sign up".

So they could all be using IDENTICAL methods and I don't think it'd affect anyone's bottom line.

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There's different types because people want to train their dog different ways. I would *never* go to a place that trained using clickers - I don't have the time for that. I need hardcore yes no training so that my dog learned -the first time-. Clickers always seem to delay learning to me... but... I do snap when I give a command (natural for me, I never intended on it) so it might be related. Either way, I don't prefer clicker training, so I would probably go to more of a hardcore show type training place that demanded perfection from it's dogs. I demand perfection from mine (and other than twice, she's provided it). There is no 'one way' to train a dog... HOWEVER.. a dog should ALWAYS be trained the same way if it began to be trained one way (and that way is working, if it hasn't worked for 3 years, you might wanna try something else) because dogs get confused and they should understand YOUR 'sit' is YOUR DOG'S 'sit' and you should never ever have to change that for a class.

But, in all fairness, I train my dog one on one and I find she learns muchmuchmuch quicker than in a group setting. If I want her around other dogs, I train her at a dog park, simple.

Maybe just do one on one training your way? Classes only taught ME what tricks I wanted HER to know. I just ended up looking at show behaviour dogs and teaching my dog to do those things. I'd say it was easy but mostly because in my house, not listening to me (if you're a dog) is a SIN. It's #1 on Ways To Not Have Dinner. So she listens, haha. (She does LOVE learning new tricks though, always eager.)

So... yeah... sorry it sucks and there's so many methods out there, but people prefer different methods... though you should definitely be able to use your own worded and signalled commands. As long as she's FOLLOWING the command, that's all that matters.. HOW she follows it doesn't. (Well, only if HOW is her jumping on the couch and *then* sitting, ha). I would be peeved igf a training place told me to change my hand command. MY dog, MY command.

Maybe try one on one since you know how you want your dog trained?
You have a hard time believing that there are so many, complicated dog training systems because you've met people simply choose a class that's near to them and conveniently scheduled.

I can understand how you'd get that impression, given your experience. There are a lot of owners out there who do as you describe.

However, they aren't all like that. Many people shop for dog training by buying dvd's and books on the internet, often based on what their friends recommend, but other times, based on the advertising.

Often today, that advertising is a video snip on youtube that gets them interested and sends them to a website where they can read more and order dvd's.

Many people don't ever attend a dog class. They won't go to a class unless the they can assure themselves the trainer follows method ABC or XYZ that they like. If they get to a class and something doesn't jive with the method they like, they're likely to quit and go somewhere else.

Many will fall for the 'guru thing', like with horses. They won't want to take regular dog training classes from an 'unknown'.

Everyone is appealed to by something different - different words and different logic appeals to different backgrounds/personality styles.

Many people want a system that seems to them like how they'd raise their children, but each person has a different idea of what would be best and what the rationalizations justifying the methods should be.

Marketing, in other words.
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Every method has it's own purpose. Different people raising different types of dogs in different types of situations for different purposes. What your goal should be is not to match the instructor but to take what is useful for your situation and see if you can work it in. All the classes I've been to did not have specific required cues, words, etc.... They just gave you suggestions for ways you could train it if you didn't have a method yet or if you were having trouble. Otherwise "sit your dogs" meant give whatever verbal or hand cue you want to get it to happen. So long as the final behavior matched the goal they don't care how you get there.

I would be wary of any instructor who insists you use their particulars when your way is working fine without giving a darn good reason and I would also not give as much weight to the opinions of someone who only knows one way to get things done. One way does not work with all animals and all people irregardless of what animal we are talking about and whether the purpose is the same. It all has to be adapted and the more ways you know to get something done the more adaptable you can be and the faster you can get results both from your own animals and other people with their animals. A really good trainer knows many ways to get to the same goal. A really great trainer knows exactly which one to use in each situation.

My dogs are taught in japanese. I love the confusion it gives people.
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Once again, sweetie I am SO sorry you're getting so much grief!

LOL, when I teach, I don't care what you do so long as you do it ONCE and the dog responds. Except whistles and shouting. Whistles in class are far too distracting for the other dogs and I just don't tolerate shouting.
But hand up, hand down, smoochy sound, Sit, German, Japanese - I don't care as long as you do it ONCE and the dog sits.

If that doesn't happen, THEN you get to do it my way

Here's what I would do. I'd talk to the instructors and say "Hey, I really wasn't looking for a basic this-is-how-we-train class. I wanted to attend a beginner class to proof my dog. So if it's ok with you I'd like to just attend the class and proof my dog in a class environment and if I need help I'd appreciate your input."

And might I mention again you can do and even compete in agility without taking a class. If a class is stressing you it's really counter productive. Agility is supposed to be fun.
Money does answer some of this, but another answer is that not all dogs learn the same way, and when you get into something specialized like agility, the instructor thinks that his/her methods are the best because they worked well with their dogs!! You can't have an effective group training class where everyone is using different commands, signals, and rewards. Thats why I don't like group classes, and why, until now I have not done them for a long time. I know its frustrating
You can't have an effective group training class where everyone is using different commands, signals, and rewards. Thats why I don't like group classes, and why, until now I have not done them for a long time.

I think our group training classes are plenty effective with everyone using different commands, signals, and whatever reward works for your dog. Some people bring toys. Some people bring treats. One person used those velcro treat pouches and stuffed it full of bedding from their hamster's cage.
The dog was not easily motivated by food or toys but lived for fuzzy hamster smelling objects. I just took our shiba through obedience 1 and not a single person had the same type of collar, leash, treats, toys, or signals and nearly every dog still came out more or less even by the end and most are continuing on to cgc prep where they will continue to use what works for them. We lucked out and got a special invite to the agility class that was supposedly full. I think it all depends how big the class is and even more importantly how good and flexible the instructor is.​

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