Wednesday, October 08, 2014

All Dog Training Systems Pass a Minimum Test

I am not an e-collar trainer by any stretch. That said, I am also not a fool, and I keep my eyes open.

I know some very good e-collar trainers. Their dogs are happy, healthy, and almost always on the edge of ecstasy because their owners can take them anywhere, and so end up taking them everywhere.

I mention this because a few weeks back I was sent a link to this study about "The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Electronic Training Collars in Comparison to Reward Based Training."

The first alert was that this "study" was coming out of the U.K where there is a move to ban e-collars, and there are not very many experienced e-collar trainers.

Let me say it straight: there's a lot of bullshit that comes out of the U.K. 

Would you salute advice on sled dogs from someone who had never run a dog on 30 miles of snow? Would you accept as a "wolf expert" someone whose entire experience with wolves was feeding and playing with tame wolves at a theme park outside of London?

Right. And so it is with e-collars. You are about as likely to find an expert on e-collars in Britain as you are to find a serious wolf biologist or an expert on sled dogs.

Nonetheless, I popped the link

The second danger sign was that the "study" included all of 63 dogs, broken into three groups. For those of you who might be math-challenged, that's 21 dogs per group, which means any one dog represents about 5 percentage points for that group. Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!

The third indication we were entering the world of nonsense was that the dogs "received two 15-minute training sessions per day for 4–5 days." What? That was the entire extent of the "training?" 4-5 days (and which is it?)??

The report on this study is actually a bit of a mess.  It actually presents two "studies," which have nothing to do with each other.

You can read the paper itself, but here's the fascinating part: Despite all, the e-collars worked and when assessed at the highest performance standard, they worked twice as well as trainers not using e-collars. At the highest level of effectiveness, the worse results came from trainers affiliated with the Association of Pet Dog Trainers which got "very effective" scores that were half that of the e-collar sample.

A = dogs with e-collars.  B = same trainers, but no e-collar  C = the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

The "researchers" who put together this paper, of course, brush off the actual compliance of the dogs. Training? What does training have to do with compliance? And so the fact that non-e-collar training did not work as well as e-collar training (not that this was much training!) is buried in data about cortisol saliva production and tail carriage.

And speaking of cortisol, which is supposed to be a sign of stress, did I mention that the dogs trained by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers had the most of it?  And that these same dogs also whined the most (another supposed marker of stress)?  But guess what? The researchers decided none of that mattered.  Right. And I believe them. But would they have said the same thing if the e-collar dogs had been producing cortisol and whining? The researchers themselves say "no"!

The Kennel Club, which has shrugged off a lifetime of pain and discomfort when it comes to the wrecked genetics of show ring English Bulldogs, Pugs, Cavaliers, Shi-Tzus, Dachshunds, Neopolitan Mastiffs, and a dozen other breeds born with defective limbs, eyes, heads, airways, and spines, pup out its congenital liar and spokes-idiot, Caroline Kisko to comment.  Caroline Kisko tells the Daily Mail that the study "proves" e-collars hurt dogs.

Of course, Kisko is lying. Again. What the study actually says is that "there was no evidence of psychological disturbance" with the use of e-collars.

Not that everything is absolutely equal. The study found that the e-collar trainers, whether using e-collars or not, were consistently putting their dogs in action, and twice as many commands were given. Dogs moved when given to balanced trainers, and when they were not moving, they sat.  And what about the dogs being trained by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers? They seem to have mostly stood, sat much less often, moved less, and were given half as many commands. Apparently, they spent a lot of time just standing there sniffing and whining for treats. Imagine!

And what was the "study's" actual conclusion?

The bottom line is that all systems worked, that over 91 percent of the owners said they had seen an improvement, and "there was no evidence of differences between the three training Groups."

Which is not too terribly surprising.  As I wrote some years back:
Psssst! I'm whispering. That's because I am a dog whisperer. I know secret things that others may not be willing to tell you.

Are you sitting down? Good. Now brace yourself, because I am going to (pardon the expression) let the cat out of the bag. Here it is: there are a LOT of ways to train a dog, and almost all of them work.

Yes, that's right: William Koehler's methods work, and so too do Ian Dunbar's.

Cesar Millan's methods work, and so do Karen Pryor's.

Victoria Stilwell's methods work, and so do Tamar Geller's, Jan Fennell's, Patricia McConnell's, and Barbara Woodhouse's.

All of these people have made careers out of successfully training dogs.

Anyone who tells you different is a liar.

Yes, that's right. The people who slag Cesar Milan are liars. So too are those who sneer at Karen Pryor. It all works.

You want another secret? Fine. Here it is: Like everything else in the world, dog training is subject to fads, philosophy and branding. Everyone is trying to sell you something (if only their own expertise), and part of sales is to convince you that they have something better, and the other guy has something worse. Sometimes it's true. Mostly, it's bunk.

You want more? Fine. Here's a little about dogs -- the tabula rasa we are working with.

Dogs, like humans, are pack predators and scavengers that operate within a loose social hierarchy. Like humans, they have their own language, and like humans they learn best when instruction is clear and consistent and when it comes after a "recess" period involving physical exercise.

Like humans, dogs operate for rewards, but they also shy away from adverse consequences. Like humans learning the alphabet, dogs can learn to string small bits of knowledge together to form entire sentences of instruction, but first they have to learn the vowels and consonants.

There. That's the basics.

You want more? Fine, here it is: While there are a lot of ways to make a puppy or young dog learn the basics of walking, sitting, coming, etc., most out-of-control adult dogs are a mess for the same three reasons:

  1. Not enough ACTIVE one-on-one time with the owner (including real exercise and long walks);
  2. No consistency, and;
  3. A confusion, by the owner, that the dog is a child.

That's it.

Watch any dog trainer, and you will see I am right.

What most dog training professionals bring to the table is simply a routine: If you spend 10 minutes, twice a day exercising a dog, and another 10 minutes, twice a day, training a dog with ANY training system you find on a shelf, your dog will probably end up brilliant within a few months.

Of course, that will only happen if the owner/trainer is consistent. This is the second thing the trainer brings to the table. Most people and most families are wildly inconsistent and, as a consequence, are poor communicators. Professional trainers teach owners to be consistent in their messaging.

Of course, it is the third point where a great deal of the controversy lies. A lot of dog people are terribly confused about dogs. They think a dog is a child, and they think children should only have positive rewards. In their mind, no child and no dog should ever get a correction.

It is, of course, complete nonsense.

Here's a hint about dogs; dogs are the actual experts.

And guess what? Dogs do not click and treat. Dogs communicate through body movement, voice, and yes TEETH.

What? Dogs use "coercion" with each other? Yes, sometimes. A couple of times a day in my little pack.

And, of course, dogs have pecking orders every bit as developed as that of chickens.

And YES, dogs are looking for a leader. This last point is one of the secrets every successful dog trainer brings to the table.

Most dogs crave leadership every bit as much as they crave food, love, and time in the sun.

Most dogs have the capacity to be submissive to a true leader. Puppies are submissive to older dogs, and smaller dogs are submissive to larger dogs.

Submission is not fear -- it is followship, the analog to the leadership you should be providing.

Of course this notion of "leadership" runs riot in a lot of people's heads.

In the modern world, too many people eschew leadership. They want everyone to be equals, and they want every little thing to be talked out and negotiated, especially within the family.

What does that mean for children?

It means if you tell your teenager they need to be home by 10 pm, but move the hour to 11 pm after a half hour of argument, you are teaching your child that arguing works -- and you are sure to get a lot more of it!

The same goes for dogs.

Consider this: your refrigerator door is probably a better dog trainer than you are.

Why do I say this?

Simple: For your dog, the refrigerator door should be the most important door in your house. Behind it lies every type of food your dog has ever dreamed of.

And yet, your dog never barks at the refrigerator door.

Why not? Simple: because your dog knows that door will never open no matter how long it is barked at. When your refrigerator says NO, it means NO.

In some people's minds, this kind of absolutism smacks of "authoritarianism." They think there should be some give and take with the dog. "Just Look at Tricky-Woo. He looks so hungry!"

Here we come to the root of so many problems: Vacillating people who are unable to send consistent signals on the front end, and who are unable to deliver consistent consequences on the back end.

Let's think about the kids again.

Your teenager borrows the car and does not come home at 11 pm, as agreed, but sneaks in the back door at 3 am.

Best to ignore it, right? If you do, see if you do not get more of it!

And so it is with dogs.

Slip a simple chain slip collar on a dog, and give a decent jerk every time the dog pulls at the end of the lead, and your dog will straighten up and be walking at your side in no time.

Reward it with a small piece of hot dog, or a scratch on the head when it walks slightly behind you on a loose lead, and he will get the message even faster.

Yet, there are people adamantly opposed to simple slip-chain collars, just as there are people adamantly opposed to levying negative consequences on their own children for bad behavior.

Who are these people?

They fall into several camps.

Some are armchair philosophers who have no experience working with difficult dogs.

Because they have trained a few retriever puppies they are sure they know the score for all dogs all the time, and never mind that they have no clue as to how to handle an adult dog-aggressive Pit Bull, a deer-chasing Lurcher, or a sheep-worrying Collie.

Another group are folks who are emotionally incapable of being true leaders. These people will tell you they "love" their dogs so much they could never be so "cruel" as to jerk on a chain slip-collar, no matter that the dog quickly stops pulling and is not in pain from the correction.

Does that mean these people can never train their own dogs?


The good news, is that almost ANY dog training regime will work if it is done consistently (even pure click-and-treat training) provided it is done consistently, and the dog is young or has no other serious behavior problems.

Will a "pure positive" training regime be a bit slower than if the owner had used a more balanced training system with a chain collar? Probably.

Will the dog be as "bomb proof" as it might be if a more balanced training method had been used? Probably not.

Will a pure positive training system fix a sheep-worrying terrier? Nope.

But will it probably work for you and your young dog? Sure.

As noted at the beginning, almost any published dog training method will work provided it is done consistently, every day, by a calm owner who clearly communicates with his or her charges after a decent period of exercise.

This is the real "secret" to dog training, and it's really no secret at all.
A Short History of Do

1 comment:

Donald McCaig said...

Dear Patrick,

Good analysis. One more point: the study was indifferent to breeds but each dog was a sheep worrier (chaser). I would bet money it'd be quicker and easier to break a Labrador Retriever of chasing sheep than a Border Collie or Lurcher.

Donald McCaig