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Organic Dog Training is a term first coined by Kathy Sdao.

There are many excellent dog trainers in the world, and most have discovered something along the way.  There needs to be some reciprocity of learning happening, and this has to be in the moment.  Too many people view dog training as an act of teaching rather than an act of learning.  My philosophy is that when you observe things from the perspective of the learner you change the way you teach.  Nothing can be taught, only learned.  With this in mind, we set up the situation where learning is most likely to happen, and respond properly when it does.

Kathy Sdao had the following to say about her definition of Organic Dog Training in the following blog post.


Organic Training by Kathy Sdao

I was pulling weeds in front of my house recently when a neighbor stopped to chat. He asked why I was wasting energy gardening “the hard way.” Mind you, this man’s yard is immaculate. Putting greens look shabby compared to his velvet emerald lawn.

When I first moved to my neighborhood, I coveted this perfection. You might say I was “green” with envy. Soon though, I realized that his tidy splendor came at a cost. Every week, a truck absurdly emblazoned with a killer whale pulled up to his house. A white-suited man got out and unrolled a hose used to spray buckets of chemicals – pesticides and herbicides – on the grass and shrubs. On the surface, it looked immaculate, but those chemicals destroyed the microorganisms and insects that support long-term viability of the soil. The result: an illusion of a healthy garden.

I’m committed to the principles of organic gardening. Admittedly, my yard is less than perfect. It’s a bit unruly, but it’s also full of life. Worms and ladybugs, bees and butterflies abound. I spend time tilling the soil, enriching it with compost. I choose plants appropriate for the soil and light conditions. I welcome diversity and am often pleasantly surprised by the volunteers that sprout in the beds. The eventual result: a truly vibrant garden.

I see many similarities between gardening and dog training. Both attempt to direct the growth and behavior of living organisms. Both try to exert some control over messy Mother Nature. And just as the techniques you use to nurture your garden affect the overall well-being of the plants and animals there, the techniques you use to train your dog can have a dramatic and lasting effect on his overall health and well-being.

I’m committed to using positive reinforcement techniques (such as clicker training) with the animals I live with and work with. Like organic gardening, positive dog-training methods have gained legions of faithful adherents in the past decade, but they aren’t yet customary in many places.

To those who have achieved success using “traditional” methods, (e.g., spraying toxic pesticides on their apple trees or using a shock collar on their hunting hound), these newer philosophies may seem labor-intensive, extreme and unnecessary. Why bother doing it “the hard way,” they wonder?

We dog-friendly trainers know why. From the start, we devote time developing a fertile, rich rapport with our animals. We build trust, the tilth of relationships. We commit to the dictum, “First, do no harm.” We acknowledge the potential for irrevocable fall-out resulting from indiscriminate and widespread use of aversives, the all-purpose “defecticide” in a trainer’s toolbox. We value diversity and are grateful for the myriad behaviors our animals offer us, because we realize that behavioral variability is the foundation of efficient training. When unwanted, weedy behaviors crop up, we nurture desirable substitutes as replacements. And we know that just as weeds take advantage of sterile lawns, undesirable habits (e.g., destructiveness or whining) require a behavioral void to take root.

And always, we remember that no living thing is perfect. Whether we aspire to create a flawless perennial bed or a faultless pug, the chaos of real life always intervenes. The best we can do is invest time and energy from the beginning, sowing seeds of cooperation and nurturing the natural strengths of each unique being in our care. All that diligent effort will lay the groundwork for a later explosion of accelerated growth. The garden will burst forth with color and abundance; the animal will learn new tasks with incredible speed and ease. This peak performance will require maintenance, of course, but the bulk of our job was completed with “the hard work” of the early days. In time, we will have earned the right to sit back in our chaise longue, soaking up compliments, content in the knowledge that no creatures were harmed in the making of our masterpiece.

Hollie Robinson Provides the only other information about this concept in a blog post on her site.


The first time I was presented with the concept it was from Kathy Sdao at Clicker Expo in 2007 and it was eye opening.  To better explain what Organic Dog Training is, let’s start first start with what organic farming is.

Organic farming is defined as an “…integrated farming system that strives for sustainability, the enhancement of soil fertility and biological diversity whilst, with rare exceptions, prohibiting synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, and growth hormones.” I would even take this definition of organic farming a step further. The organic farmers that I know strive for food that is packed with vitamins and minerals, want to enhance the health of the soil, earth, their bodies, and of the world at large. Organic farming is not just a process through with food is grown, it is also philosophy about how to live healthfully and mindfully.

Organic Dog Training is a system that strives for sustainability, a fertile mind and diversity of behavior. As organic dog trainers we avoid overly harsh training methods. We use training tools like shock collars and prong collars extremely mindfully- if at all. Adverse training tools are like synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that kill the soil, these tools run the risk of suppress learning and eroding a dogs desire to try new things. Organic dog trainers are mindful about motivation, as we are always searching for ways to motivate our dogs to work to obtain desirable things, and only use our dogs desire to avoid unpleasant things when absolutely needed.

As organic dog trainers we look for what our dogs are doing well and pay them for a job well done. We maintain focus on creating an environment in which they can be successful. As humans we have all had that job where the deck was seemingly stacked against our success. These environments are oppressive and feel like you are working in the shadow of failure. Is this what we want for our dogs? We also want to strive for consistency. If we a correction is required, we need to make sure we’re fair and consistent. You’re dog has a correction for jumping today, but tomorrow you smooch them between the eyes and recite a sonnet about how wonderful they are- this isn’t fair. this is the human equivalent to an office that has a rule against cell phone use, but texting is ubiquitous. Then after 3 months on the job, and texting only occasionally, you’re written up for breaking the rules.

This is why organic dog training has the power to change lives. Organic dog training demands you focus on the good things. It demands mindfulness, thoughtful planning, and creative management.  Organic dog trainers don’t throw their dogs into the deep end of the pool only to watch them struggle; we plan in such a way we are almost certain of success and then we pay our dogs for their cleverness. If they do make a mistake, we correct fairly and consistently. Our dogs always know the rules and are confident in their leaders.

I’m so happy for my clients and colleges that strive to train compassionately, and are ever evolving. Dog training is a journey, not a destination.

Train compassionately, train fairly, pay your dog for a job well done!

more on this soon!

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