Training Tips from the 1950's


This relic, a Lassie-themed dog-training play kit, was preserved by animal behaviorist Mary Burch (AKC's Canine Good Citizen and S.T.A.R. Puppy Director), who was gifted the game as a child. Its contents, complete with tiny agility equipment, was to be used for training a 6-inch tall plastic Lassie.

In the box is a booklet on how to train your dog. It was written in the 1950s by Rudd Weatherwax, Lassie’s trainer. Because positive reinforcement training didn’t become popular until many years later, we expected a heavy dose of advice about the need for corrections in training. We were surprised to see that while there were certainly trainers at that time giving out correction-based advice, Weatherwax’s advice isn’t all that different from the positive reinforcement methods we promote on WOOFipedia. Here are 10 training techniques of yesteryear:

1. Train on a regular schedule.

2. Keep training sessions short-not over 15 minutes.

3. Have one person teach the dog initially; gradually involve other family members.

4. Work in quiet, non-distracting surroundings.

5. Be consistent (same tone, etc.) when giving the dog commands (such as “sit”).

6. Encourage your dog when he performs correctly by petting him, speaking in a friendly tone, and rewarding him with a tidbit.

7. Don’t rush training, have patience.

8. Teach one trick or skill at a time. As you teach new ones, review what the dog has already learned.

9. If your dog is not feeling well or is out of sorts, give him a vacation from training.

10. Never shout at or strike your dog. Your patience, understanding and kindness will be rewarded.