EPK Dog Training Philosophy & Practices


Uploaded: October 21, 2016 at 1:43 PM


German Dog Training Commands

"There are 101-ways to train a dog. BUT - not all methods are created equal..."

At Eschbach Performance K9 the science of animal behavior and canine cognition is at the root of our program. From University backed trials and unbiased peer-reviewed journals, to all other empirical evidence based on meticulous research, canine studies, and other discoveries that shed light on how canines think, learn, and perceive the world. All of this is the foundational role that results in what are regimens are today, and is the specific reasoning as to why our dog training plans are custom-adjusted to suit each individual dog & handler that we serve. This is how the 'evolution of training' advances, and it's what Top Tier Competition trainers and Working Dog Trainers around the globe take advantage of to stay ahead of the curve toward producing the most impressive canines possible.

" the science of animal behavior and canine cognition is the root of our program"

- Eschbach Performance K9 -

With each dog having unique traits from one another (even when from the same breed and even the same litter, due to differing genetic and environmental influences), it is important that each dog training regimen be suited specific to each dog on an individual basis. What determines the best method(s) of action is based on what the dog displays psychologically and emotionally to stimuli, settings, and tests, during their initial 'EPK Evaluation' via their Eval Visit with us (free of charge). During the EPK Evaluation, we cover a plethora of different points of behavioral interest by observing the dog's behavior through subtle assessment of reaction to stimuli, environmental factors, mock scenarios, and via purposeful and non-purposeful inputs from the owner/handler. This helps aid in the dog being able to hit its highest potential, learn at a more rapid pace, and ultimately end up with rock-solid results and reliability out of the dog long-term.

With a heavy emphasis on balanced approaches, "Marker Training", and full-on engagement, our Philosophy relies on using the RIGHT TOOLS for the RIGHT JOB, rather than looking at everything as if it's a nail just because we have a hammer...

- Eschbach Performance K9 -

Just as a mechanic can never have "too many tools", this also holds true in dog training. The saying also holds true that "some people with hammers will look at everything as if it's a nail" via: using outdated singular approaches on ALL dogs, even amidst the dog displaying very particular, individually unique, and different behavioral traits from one to the next that are easily seen by everyone else. Although there are die-hard fanatics and multiple groups in all areas on the spectrum that believe in the variety of "one-size fits all" favorite tools or methods as the "end-all be-all" to training needs, we take great care to not fall into those trains of thought or get wrapped up in the constant gimmicks that come through the training industry in waves and fads. We prefer to use the plethora of tools, techniques, tactics, methods, and vast information science has provided for us, to achieve the unrivaled results that everyone is ultimately after. By utilizing the right combination of tools, tactics, methods, and techniques per each dog's needs, you have greater ability to get through to the dog that makes communication between the handler and dog much easier.

"there are just far too many variables and vast differences (within each dog's psyche, instinctual drive levels, anxiety thresholds, and other environmental-based factors) to still rely solely one-size fits all methods, while the latest in science shows otherwise as being the best options"

- Eschbach Performance K9 -

When you are able to clearly communicate to the dog in a way that it fully comprehends, it makes it infinitely easier to teach that dog new behaviors by way of the dog being able to easily comprehend and discern what it is that you're asking of it. This is an area where the majority of pet owners and many novice trainers fail miserably. They assume that because "Fido" has sat 50 times out of 50 requests in the kitchen or in the living room when they were working on training, that he now knows for sure what "Sits" means and should perform this behavior flawlessly anywhere and anytime they're asked. Then, when in the backyard they look over at Fido and tell him "Sits" and he just looks at them nonchalantly and then continues to play while seemingly ignoring the request to Sit down his human counterpart. Now, this singular mistake is responsible for probably around 80% of training problems and is a major part of what leads individuals to hiring trainers for help everyday all across the country. The mistake comes from this: The dog truly didn't learn the verbal portion of the command and has been relying on a certain visual cue that it noticed every time they commanded "Sits". Something as simple as a little head bob, a finger snap, the exaggerated shape of their mouth, the position of your hand, eyes darting a certain way, or some other tiny and minute' subconscious movement, that may've been present when teaching the dog "Sits", acts as a visual cue that the dog began associating as the indicator for "Sits". Ie- The dog didn't learn/associate that when they HEAR "Sits" their butt has to touch the ground. Instead the dog learned that if it SEES "mommy/daddy's eyes look down a litte very quickly"" or when "mommy/daddy's head jerks forward toward me ever so slightly while they're standing straight upwards stiff" my butt needs to touch the ground.

The way to avoid this mistake above from ever occurring to begin with, is by using the very clear and concise methods of communicating to the dog that EPK uses as our foundational basis of what all other training stems off of. One of the very first things we teach to humans and dogs both, is HOW to communicate clearly and concisely by using methodology and technique that the human can easily convey and that the dog learns and understands without a shadow of a doubt. This, coupled with fun, high-level engagement, and clever learning games all end up leading to an all-star dog that every owner can be proud of. Remember: This problem stems from the dog's inability to fluently talk or understand the verbal language we use, which has lead to dogs possessing spectacular skill level of learning through observation. Without being able to speak to the world around them, from the day one of each dog's birth and everyday of its life, it's had to rely purely on their observational ability to be able to pick up on things, learn about the world and environment around them, and understand us as humans. Thus, dogs are ridiculously good at creating observational associations, which is why you see many dogs that will perform via hand commands flawlessly but fail miserably when it comes to the verbal portion of their commands.

"Our core program goals can be broken down into three general phases that explain the general progression of how each final result is achieved."

- Eschbach Performance K9 -

After going off the rails into mistakes and canine observational prowess the past couple paragraphs, let me digress back to the basis of what we were talking about: How EPK trains. Now, although approaches and techniques are custom blended, tailored, and chosen per each individual dog's needs based on the myriad of genetic and environmental variables, all EPK regimens still rely on the core of canine cognition and learning theory to shape, form, and finish dogs. Our core program goals can be broken down into three general phases that explain the general progression of how each final result is achieved. To learn more about each of the three phases, see the brief outline & in-depth explanations below:

  • Phase 1: TEACHING
  • Phase 2: GENERALIZING
  • Phase 3: PROOFING

PHASE 1: TEACHING BEHAVIORS

All behaviors begin by teaching the dog exactly what it is that we are asking of it. This is achieved by utilizing a clear and concise method of communication between the dog and the handler that the dog readily understands. We then apply that method of communication to begin shaping the behaviors it is that we desire out of the dog. We typically begin with free-shaping the dog's behaviors via luring and rewarding, and then fade those lure methods into hand signals. Once the dog shows a beautiful grasp of the differing hand signals and is readily responding to each of them with enthusiasm and accurate response, we move on to Phase 2.

PHASE 2: GENERALIZING BEHAVIORS

Dogs, with their inability to speak or use verbal language, have become MASTERS at observation and picking up on even the slightest visual cues or micro-expressions that us humans would never dream of noticing. Often times it is these minuscule visual subtleties that the dog is responding to and the human only THINKS the dog is responding the verbal cue (such as when someone says "sit" and their head may slightly jerk or mouth twitch in a certain way, and the dog is reacting to the mouth twitch or head jerk, rather than the actual word being spoken. A good way to test this theory, is to turn your back to your dog, with the dog being around 5 to 10-feet behind you, and say the command you've taught them. More often than not, the dog is not going to perform the command because he/she is used to reacting the visual cue and hasn't the foggiest idea what the verbal cue part really means or is for. As far as the dog is concerned, that verbal "Sits" or "Platz" that comes out of your mouth is just static noise. Since the visual cue cant be seen by the dog, because your back is to the dog, the dog fails at the verbal portion of the command. Or, sometimes the dog may have learned or properly associate the verbal portion but doesn't understand or associate that it has to perform the behavior ON THE SPOT directly where it is when it hears the command. Ie- the dog may hear "Sits!" and ends up running up to your front and sitting directly in front of you, because during the teaching phase you only taught them to sit when they were DIRECTLY right in front of you. So, the dog may have associated that when saying "Sits!" that it's supposed to do so ONLY directly in front of you. When, in actuality, you want to teach the dog to stop, drop, and perform each behavior on a dime in the exact spot they are when given the command.

So, Phase 2 is where we begin incorporating the verbal command, fading out hand signals entirely, and begin getting the dog to actually understand the verbal portion of the command alone and to "Generalize" that each command is to be performed at the exact moment and relational distance they're at when the command is given - regardless of how you are oriented toward or away from them. This is a rather challenging Phase for the general pet owner, and it takes some decent know-how and understanding of canine cognition to be able to successfully get the results it is you're looking for in a simple verbal command that is absent of any visual cues whatsoever. After establishing the verbal cues, it is then time to GENERALIZE the command. "Generalizing" is making sure the dog knows 110% without a shadow of a doubt, what the verbal command means and that it MEANS what it means DIRECTLY where they're currently at. This is established by running repetitions of each command throughout different no-distraction settings, during high-engagement, from different positions relative to your body and even through walls to the point the dog has zero physical cues to rely on and only the sound of your voice. Once established that the dog knows for sure what behavior is being requested from the verbal cue, without a shadow of a doubt and no hesitations or confusion on the dog's end, we then start moving on to the final phase - Phase 3.

PHASE 3: PROOFING BEHAVIORS

"Proofing" a dog is usually the absolute most challenging, frustrating, and troublesome part of training for the vast majority of pet owners and even many newer trainers. Proofing is the point at which we start ensuring that the dog performs the desired behaviors to verbal cues or commands under ANY and ALL distractions whatsoever. This process works in a very meticulous and carefully planned way, by slowly introducing higher and higher levels of distraction for the dog to work through ignoring, while sticking to performing the requested behavior. There are many clever games we use, ways of forcing associations through manipulation of environmental interests, and other tactics we use in order to get the results we're looking for.

"The dog begins to learn, and associate, that ignoring distractions enters him into a lottery at a chance of a big payout"

In order to really get the most out of this, we use and implement a lot of positive rewards, playtime engagement, and sometimes eventually allow the dog to check out and engage with the very distractions they were interested in - all of which, comes AFTER the dog successfully works through the enticement and ignores the distraction successfully while staying in compliance with the requested behavior from the handler. This begins instilling in the dog that that there is a lot more to be gained and a lot more fun to be had, by listening to the handler and following the requested behavior, and that failure to abide by the requested behavior results in zero fun stuff, non-fun experiences, and the chance to "engage with the distraction" at all whatsoever disappears entirely and they lose out completely. The dog begins to learn, and associate, that ignoring distractions enters him into a lottery chance of a big payout/beneficial experience, whereas non-compliance ensures that there will be no payout whatsoever/non-beneficial or un-fun experience. This works much in the same way we associate fishing and "catching the big one".

When we go fishing, we rarely "catch the big one", and many times we will catch nothing at all the entire day! But, for some odd reason, many will not think twice to go again the next day and keep on going fishing, repetitively casting that rod into the water mindlessly... But, why do people do this asides from the "entertainment" value? (after all, not very entertaining to fish for 8hrs straight and not even get a bite) So, why do we continue to go fishing day after day? Because the sheer CHANCE at "catching the big one"! The addictive feeling of getting that exciting thrill and adrenaline rush while fighting a big behemoth fish all the way to shore is something we have experienced at least once before and was so exhilarating that we want to obtain it again! That amazing final moment when landing the fish in the net, realizing you didn't lose it, and getting it up away from the water. Then comes that awesome feeling of pure elation and satisfaction while thinking about how it's all been worth it, even amidst those days of catching so many pitiful sized fish and even those days of getting skunked with no fish at all.

This is much like why the dog will continue performing behaviors while ignoring the distraction. "The dog ignoring the distraction" is operating on the same pre-conditioned responses as we do in our fishing example above. The dog has learned, and been conditioned, that if they keep going fishing and casting their rod into the water (staying in-compliance/ignoring the distractions), that sometimes they will catch some so-so, average, or semi-decent fish (every once in a while get a couple fetch throws or maybe just a couple pats on the head or etc). But, the dog knows that there is a mere chance of them "catching the big one" just as long as they keep on trying and going (getting to to go and interact with the distraction and/or a super game of fun tug, fetch, some high-value food rewards, and/or free-roaming)! The dog also knows, through prior condtitioning and experience, that if they don't go fishing at all (non-compliance/doesn't ignore the distraction) then they absolutely will not get ANY kind of fish and that there is then ZERO CHANCE of "catching the big one" and the coming experience, or lack thereof, is going to suck miserably.

"The dog is operating in compliance just for the sheer chance at catching its own version of "the big one."

A dog getting to play with its favorite thing, after patiently having to wait for it as the dog's desire builds up more and more, or getting to engage with something it had to patiently wait for, satisfies an instinctual itch within the dog. It gives the dog intense euphoria and excitement to finally get to do that "exciting thing" or "engage with that distraction" or whatever else it is that drives that particular dog. (think of how many dogs salivate heavily and go crazy when waiting for a scrumptious tidbit of a burger, or steak/something it loves but only gets once in a while as a treat or etc, and its feeling when it finally gets it. Or, think about the dogs that go absolutely NUTS over their ball or getting to play fetch). The dog is operating in compliance just for the sheer chance at catching its own version of "the big one". With dogs being MAJOR opportunists by nature, this is by far the most advanced method of proofing available and it produces some of the most stellar and unrivaled results you could possibly imagine.

This process is by no means easy, nor is this explanation above all inclusive as there is MUCH more that goes into all of the above phases and etc, but it is extremely rewarding in the fact that it produces absolutely amazing results and rock-solid dogs. Once the dog is listening at all times, every-time and on-time, the proofing process is finished. When correctly finishing the proofing process the dog should be ready for the real world off-leash virtually all times, at any location, in any environment, and under any levels of distraction (within the dog's nervous-system capabilities and threshold of course).

- Eschbach Performance K9 -


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