What Is The Koehler Method of Dog Training?

It’s hard to imagine, but at one time there were no structured dog training methods.  Today, of course, we have lots of dog trainers and several different approaches to training dogs.  The Koehler method of dog training is the oldest formal method of dog training, based on the traditional dog training methods that were used to train dogs during World War I.

William Koehler, who wrote the book The Koehler Method of Dog Training, wasn’t actually the founder of this method, but he certainly popularized it with his bestselling book.  Koehler was also the Chief Animal Trainer for the Walt Disney Studios for many years.

The Koehler method, or traditional dog training, relies on correction and punishment to train dogs.  Training is typically done using a choke or slip collar. If you took a dog training class at any time from the 1950s to the early 1990s it’s likely that you and your dog were taught using this method.

With the Koehler method you would teach your dog to sit by pushing on his hips to put him in a sitting position.  Your dog would sit to avoid the pressure.

You would teach your dog to heel by walking with him at your side and performing short corrective jerks on the choke chain each time your dog tried to move ahead of you.  You would stop and start, teaching your dog to sit at your side when you stopped walking.  It might be necessary to continue this practice for a long time to make sure your dog thoroughly followed your commands.

To teach your dog to lie down you would push on his shoulders (from the sitting position) until he lay down to avoid the pressure.

As you can see, this method focuses on forcing the dog to follow your command without question.  It’s a no-nonsense approach to dog training.  There is no room for fun or play.  There is only the right way to do things.

Punishment is part of this training method.  In this method you let the dog punish himself when he doesn’t do what you want — when you push on his hips he will feel pressure until he gives way and sits.

In most classes that teach this method it is all right to offer rewards for good behavior, such as treats for getting a lesson right, but treats are not a big part of the Koehler method.

The Koehler method has largely fallen out of favor in the last 15-20 years.  Dog training methods using positive reinforcement techniques are more popular right now.  However, proponents of the Koehler method and traditional dog training point out that this is still the method that gets the most reliably accurate results from dogs.

Many times in training dogs it’s most effective to use a combination of training methods.  Training by positive reinforcement methods are sometimes not effective enough and dogs can benefit from some traditional dog training methods.

When used appropriately there is nothing inherently cruel about the Koehler method of dog training.  This method can be used safely to train dogs and with a little creativity, can even be used to train dogs with a little fun.  If you are looking for a good dog training method for your dog it’s always a good idea to take your dog’s temperament into account.  Some dogs do better with different methods than others.

If your dog likes a lot of structure and following definite commands then he might do well with traditional dog training methods.

Mark Mansfield

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