|My column from the March issue of Dogs Today.|
Have you noticed that the "instant experts" have decided that every kind of dog collar is the wrong one?
A flat collar, after all, does not stop the dog from pulling, while a slip collar can choke! Surely no one would greenlight either one!
A pinch collar pinches, while an e-collar shocks. Surely no one would greenlight either one!
What about a constriction harness or a head halter?
Good lord NO! The former squeezes the dogs insides and does nothing to stop the dog from pulling, while the later can scrape against the eye and cause corneal damage and neck injury.
After hearing this, if you are terrified that you might "do it wrong," with your new dog, then the message has worked.
You see, so much of this nonsense comes from dog trainers who are intent on selling their services, their books, and their CD-roms.
Their main message is that you are probably incapable of training your own dog without their input.
If you go it alone with a book from the library, you might injure your dog!
Never mind that hundreds of millions of dogs have been trained for thousands of years on six continents without the advice of professional dog trainers.
Modern professional dog trainers want you to know they are here to Save the Day ... provided, of course, you have a credit card.
Part of their pitch is fear.
You aren't an ABUSIVE owner are you? Because they want you to know they do not believe in ABUSIVE dog training.
You don't believe in OUTDATED training methods do you? Because they want you to know they believe in only the LATEST, MODERN methods.
Surely you want to be modern and non-abusive?
All right then -- sign up with any of the trainers to be found in the directory!
Now there is nothing wrong with going to a dog trainer (I am all for it), and there is nothing wrong with click-and-treat dog training (I am all for that too).
But do me a favor eh? Don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining!
Example one is the simple slip collar. It's been used for a thousand years and it works. I am past 50 years old and I have never seen a dog injured by one, and I bet you haven't either.
I have seen dogs injured by cars, fences, broken glass, hot tar, excess body weight, and roofing nails, but never by a slip collar.
Have you not noticed that your own vet puts a plastic slip lead on your dog before leading it out to the waiting room?
True! Is your vet an “abusive” veterinarian? Probably not!
Now to be clear, I am not advocating one kind of dog training over another, or one kind of collar over another.
I am all for click-and-treat dog training, and I have no hesitation saying that it works, and that it works well for most dogs in most situations. If you want to proceed with clicker training, then do so by all means and with my full encouragement!
That said, I would be very wary of any dog trainer who shows too little respect for the very real on-the-ground succcesss of thousands of other dog trainers who have employed dozens of other diverse techniques over hundreds of years. Konrad Most, Barbara Woodhouse, William Koehler, Cesar Millan, and very fine dog trainers training police dogs, military dog, search-and-rescue dogs, herding dogs, bird dogs, and fox hounds all over the world are proof that obedient and enthusiastically happy dogs can be had using a wide variety of methods.
I would also be wary of any dog trainer that says compulsion has no place in the world of dog training.
At its simplest, dog training is simply getting a dog to do what it will not do naturally and on your schedule, whether that is an entirely artificial act such as running weave poles or retrieving a shot bird to hand, or not chasing a cat or barking at the mailman.
Yes, earned reward and praise is core to training.
Yes dogs and children need love, support and praise. But both dogs and children also need time outs and an occasional jerk back to the straight and narrow as well. Leashes and collars exist for a reason, same as curfews and police stations. Anyone who tells you otherwise, is deluded.
Yes, by all means, teach your dog what it needs to do in order to get a reward.
Part of training, however, is also to train your dog what NOT to do.
Not every signal you send will be positive, and on rare occassion your signal may not be entirely gentle. There is no place for cruelty or anger in the world of dog training, but there is most certainly a place for clarity and some high-drive dogs are, truth be told, a little tone-deaf to mere suggestion.
If your goal is to take your dog off leash, your NO signal has to be every bit as strong as your dog’s GO signal when it comes to prey drive, sex drive, play drive, and food.
Who among us wants to become an international YouTube sensation for screaming out our dog’s name (“Fennnntttton!”) as it bounds over four lanes of traffic chasing a herd of deer? No one!
In short, collars and leashes have a place in every training regime, as does both positive reward and certain level of compulsion.
If someone comes along and tells you otherwise, be extremely wary.
And if that same someone tells you everyone else has been doing it wrong for 2,000 years, walk away in the opposite direction.
Nothing good ever started with a lie.