How Dog Training Works

"Sit" and "stay" are usually the first commands that dogs learn.
"Sit" and "stay" are usually the first commands that dogs learn.
Photo courtesy Hannah Harris

Although dogs have helped people with specific jobs for millennia, today most resemble family members more than employees. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, in 2005, American pet owners spent an estimated 39.5 billion dollars on their pets, more than twice what they spent in 1994.

While this represents a golden age for lucky dogs, the status of family member may also require that the dog meet certain standards of behavior. Although you might guess otherwise from the abundance of doggy fashions now available, dogs are not tiny, furry people. They have their own way of thinking and doing things. Thousands of dogs are surrendered to animal shelters each year, or permanently relegated to a backyard pen, simply for acting like dogs.

Dogs and people can live together happily, but this requires that owners make the effort to bridge the species gap and train their dogs to behave appropriately in human society. There are many different ways to train dogs and just as many trainers who will say that their way is the only "right" way, but the reality is that there are multiple methods that all work. The main difference between them is how quickly they work, and how enjoyable they are for dog and handler.

In this article, we'll explore the history and ideas behind most methods of dog training and talk about one of the most popular methods today: Clicker training.