100th Post – Von Stephanitz on training: The Art of Compulsion.

Posted: May 30, 2012 in Dog Training, German Shepherd, Omorrow German Shepherds, Working Dogs

This will be my 100th post here on “German Shepherd Adventures”.  As of this morning, GSA  has almost 13,000 subscribers. (11 to go!)  We surpassed 100,000 individual hits a couple of months ago, from 84 different countries, and every continent.  I’m not bragging, I’m awestruck…Gobsmacked for my European readers.  All I can say is “Thank You” for finding us, and coming back repeatedly.  What’s in store for the next 100?  I can’t say for sure, but I’m charting a course of growth, expansion, and learning.  And I plan on staying right here on WordPress.  No more waxing rhapsodic here, I’ve got writing to plunge into!!!

I had always made the assumption that dog trainers of the  early 20th century were probably of the old “Grip and Rip” style.  Discipline so brutal and painful that the dog feared it’s owner and obeyed so as to avoid  punishment.  I believe I was wrong…at least in part.  I recently came into possession of a reasonably rare copy of The German Shepherd Dog in Word and Pictureby Max von Stephanitz.  I may have prejudged his relationship with dogs altogether…     

1925 photo of the Captains herd dog.

Reading Max Vom Stephanitz’ own words, has lead me to find a man that must have loved his dogs…And I believe left a legacy that we can recapture today for the dogs he dreamed of developing.

” Training that is severe and loveless causes agony to the soul of the dog, his possibilities will not unfold, because his trust in his trainer is lacking.  Sound training keeps itself within its bounds…producing joy in work…”

See what I mean?  He was expecting to create joy in his dog.  I imagine the Capt. with any of his new breed, on a grassy meadow, working a flock of sheep together.  The dogs happily going about the work they had been trained and bred to do, their tails wagging, eyes beaming, and hearts bursting with joy.  THAT’S what we all want to see our dogs doing!  Perhaps not the sheepherding, but in any activity we pursue together!  There was more to Vom Stephanitz than meets the casual eye.

“The Art of a good trainer consists in making (any) compulsion as imperceptible as possible…compulsion is not punishment, and the trainer must make sure that the dog understands this by his tone and countenance…”

   This quote will probably raise eyebrows.  “Compulsion” is a dirty word contemporarily speaking.  Perhaps Von Stephanitrz didn’t think of the definition as the dictionary describes it…but he is addressing the individual doing the training.  Our voice tone, our attitude, our way of interacting with the dog is of the utmost importance!  Your dog fells your frustration or joy before we do…and it affects his performance or lack thereof…More evidence that the two-legged component of the team needs more help than the four-legged!  Here’s yet another passage that supports this…

  “To obtain good results…(A trainer must possess) even disposition, decisiveness, clearness, and a loving understanding of the animal and it’s nature…”

  The Captain has apparently been saddled with a seemingly undeserved reputation as stern, unyielding, and opinionated.  Or perhaps he was just that way with humans.  Being a military man, that might well have been the case. 

photo by Mike Jacobs.

” Training is sine qua non (“Without which not”-meaning that the two are inseperable and necessary for the other.)and obedience the foundation of every training;  both go hand in hand, and both are inseperable.  Blind and servile obedience is not rooted in trust, but in fear…such we do not demand from our dogs, but an obedience that is joyful & willing, founded on love for the master…

  The real point that comes across to this dog lover, is that when we criticize other methods of training, or other trainers because of verbage they may use, (i.e “compulsion”)  we must by necessity identify clearly what the true meaning of there words are.  “Positive Reinforcement” might mean something different to two different trainers, as might  “Pack behavior” based training.  Any one of us that automatically assumes the worst, and it spawns mis-understanding and misconception. 

  I believe the words of the Father of the German Shepherd give us all pause to reflect…

  1. Denine Phillips says:

    Quite a milestone! Congratulations! This is my first experience with blogs, and yours has me hooked.

  2. congrats on the 100th Post My friend Look forward to many many More….