Influential Dog Trainers and their Contributions Part 2

Influential Dog Trainers and their Contributions Part 2

This is continuing series on the most influential people in dog training and how they effect how we train dogs today.

Most and Koehler

Colonel Conrad Most wrote Training Dogs in 1910.  This work is thought by many to be one of, if not the first, dog training “how to” manual.  Colonel Most began training police dogs in 1906 in Germany.  Soon thereafter he began to explain canine learning tendencies from a handler’s perspective.  In his manual Training Dogs the Colonel exhibited an extraordinary understanding of the principles of operant conditioning, this was nearly thirty-years prior to the publication of B. F. Skinner’s The Behavior of Organisms.  In the 1940’s Colonel Most was sharing his knowledge with the trainers at the German Dog Farm, a center that trained dogs for the blind.  Many of his methods would be considered “heavy-handed” by today’s standards; nevertheless, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the Colonel’s contribution to the training procedures used by previous guide dog trainers, many of which are still used today.

William Koehler (1934-1998) began his career by training dogs for the military.  After World War II, Koehler became the lead trainer of the Orange Empire Dog Club, which was well known, and envied for the large number of obedience titles that it’s members earned.

William Koehler, along with his son Dick, purportedly had trained in excess of forty thousand canines at their own training facility.  Just as with Colonel Conrad Most, Koehler’s training method would be considered “heavy-handed” by many and downright inhumane by some.  He based his procedure largely on a combination of negative reinforcement and punishment.   Negative reinforcement is built upon the premise of the canine complying in order to remove or avoid an unpleasant stimulus.  Punishment, on the other hand, is described as a consequence that will make a behavior less likely to reoccur in the future.  Just as with positive reinforcement procedures, the principles are built on the foundation laid by Thorndike’s Law of Effect.

Mary R. Burch, Ph.D., and Jon S. Bailey, Ph.D. met and observed Bill Koehler in the course of their research.  They stated that Koehler “…appeared then to be a kind and gentle man, and he clearly loved dogs.”

Many have described Koehler’s methods as “heavy-handed”, but in all fairness, he was one of the few trainers in the country in the 1980’s that was known for his ability to rehabilitate tough dogs, and was often the canine’s last hope.  Again, whether one agrees with his methods or not, Koehler’s impact on dog training procedures can not be understated. Nor can his contribution to the effectiveness of negative reinforcement be understated.  While dog training has indeed moved toward a friendlier, more positive approach, perhaps several of Most’s and Koehler’s methods are used today in a majority of police, military, and advanced assistance dog training facilities.


Robert Forto is the host of The Dog Works Radio Show and is the training director of Alaska Dog Works. Robert Forto can be reached through his website at