The Koehler Method of Dog Training

Koehler's methods rely on reward and punishment.
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"The Koehler Method of Dog Training" is a book and a philosophy, containing a combination of principles, theories and practices that seek to empower dog owners to control their dog’s behavior using mental conditioning. While some of the practices outlined in the original book, published in 1962, are now considered outdated and cruel, many of the underlying principles, such as rewarding good behavior, are still used today.

About William Koehler

William Koehler was a specialist dog trainer who trained dogs for film. He was famously unsentimental and would use pain as much as he would he use reward in order to motivate a dog to perform an action. While modern trainers typically favor positive reinforcement, Koehler advocated a balance of positive reinforcement and positive punishment. In short, he introduced positive stimuli, or rewards, to a dog’s environment when the dog did good and introduced negative stimuli, or punishment to a dog’s environment when the dog did bad.

Goals of the Koehler Method

The Koehler method sets out to empower all dog owners to have off-leash control of their dogs. To achieve this, owners must first teach the dog that certain actions have good consequences and other actions have bad consequences. The outcome of this approach is that the owner need not rely on the leash to control the dog, because the dog understands clearly which actions are desirable and which are not.

Philosophy of Choice

Koehler, like many noted dog trainers, believed that dogs perform actions out of choice. For example, a dog will choose to tip over a bin to eat some of the contents. Because those contents taste good, he’s likely to choose to perform this action again. However, if the contents of the bin were distasteful to the dog, he would be unlikely to repeat the action. Koehler’s method utilizes this philosophy.

Learning Patterns

The key tenet of Koehler’s method is the learning pattern "Action > Memory > Desire." Koehler’s entire process assumes that when a dog performs an action, his memory of that action inform his desire to repeat it. So if a dog barks and is subsequently punished, his memory of that action is negative, lowering the chances of him desiring to repeat it. But if the dog is rewarded, his memory of barking is positive and the chances of him wishing to repeat it increase.