Sunday, June 12, 2016

Never Off Leash on Field or Farm? Never!

I went for a very long time (more than a decade) without leashing the terriers up until the last few feet before the road -- if I ever leashed them up at all.

This is not to say everything always went right.  In fact, quite frequently it did not, and for a very simple reason; my dogs are game-driven Jack Russell Terriers, and they not only run free on thousands of acres of land, they hunt in deep forest and thick brush, and can slide underground, and out of sight, and out of ear, in an instant. I have, literally looked for a dog for an hour, and my pack was sitting almost right on top of the hole!

Why not train the dogs to simply come when called? Well, the dogs do come when called, provided they are not in a hunting location with quarry right in front of their nose. The dogs rarely wander far. Most of the time they are not more than 100 feet or so from me while we hunt.

But a 100-feet in very thick brush can be  as good as a mile when it comes to line-of-sight, and it's just as far for sound if the dog slides underground, and they always do.

Was that a dog barking underground, or a Canada goose honking? I have spent a lot of time, in a cold wind, trying to sort that one out!

Big game in a tight pipe is strong stuff for a working terrier. The dogs know they are not on a leash. They are not dumb. They know this is a farm, and not the local park, the back yard, or the sidewalk in front of Starbucks.

I was reminded of all this yesterday, when I read Gary Wilkes' piece entitled What is Clicker Training?. Wilke has trained thousands, of dogs and was the person Karen Pryor turned to when she needed to actually learn something about dog training. Remarkably Gary appears to live in a reality-based world based on experience and observation rather than theory, hope, and wishful thinking.  He writes:

This bias in favor of positive reinforcement is the primary flaw in both behavior analysis and main-stream clicker training. Serious dog trainers raise a skeptical eye at the suggestion that aversive control isn’t really necessary and that any use of compulsion is merely the first resort of uneducated, incompetent or brutal trainers – the common mantra of all-positive trainers. Likewise, anyone who has trained a working dog realizes that there isn’t any treat in the world that will stop a Jack Russell from chasing a squirrel. When Karen Pryor claimed that she could do that at a seminar in Toledo, Ohio in 1992, the rational trainers rolled their eyes. I did too. I restated reality at the expense of contradicting my fellow presenter. I knew Karen’s dog. She couldn’t have called him away from sniffing a bug, let alone stop him from chasing a squirrel. She only said it because she was trying to counter the logical objection to her positive ideology. A connection between reality and her claims of effectiveness was completely absent during the time I worked with her. She said what she thought would advance her mission. She’s still doing it, more than 20 years later – and still hasn’t clicker trained a dog to any standard. Contemplate that for a moment – an expert who has never actually done what she claims is her specialty.

Bingo. Life is not all sweetness and light.  I suppose in theory, theory should jibe with reality, but in reality it frequently doesn't. How inconvenient!

Moxie became bomb-proof with a tap.

Gary Wilkes writes:

I have given exactly two seminars that did not include specific information about the ethics, practice and wisdom of using aversive control.... The first was at Karen’s request and the second was a prohibition from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers in Britain... I was required to do an “advanced” seminar for the UK APDT. I didn’t think there were any advanced clicker trainers but I did it anyway. I asked the audience the critical question. “How many of you have clicker trained more than one dog.” One woman raised her had. She had trained two dogs – both her own. Hubris is often laughable....

Traditional dog training methodology has worked for more than 15,000 years in hundreds of different applications with hundreds of millions of dogs. Science-style training has repeatedly failed to give dependable performance in the same settings. The examples of “positive” based failures are endless. Watch any agility competition and you will see dog after dog that will not reliably hold a “stay” at the start line, has trouble with the pause table and has to be distracted at the finish to prevent the dog from biting the handler. Likewise, they periodically “dope-off” and simply leave the ring – often to pursue instinctive behaviors like attacking other dogs.
Yes, yes, yes.  Gary Wilkes is simply voicing what anyone with even the slightest bit of experience in the real world has seen and knows.

Which is not to say clicker training does not work.  It does. It's fabulous. But it does not proof, and it does not work well (or quickly) on a lot of things.  One tool does not a house make!

But, of course, not everyone has much experience with dogs in the real word. Which brings me to the Kennel Club in the U.K., where the only purpose of a dog is as status symbol paraded around on a string leash in order for someone with thick ankles to be able to get a rosette made in a sweat-shop in China.

You know the Kennel Club. These are the folks that, for 100 years have turned a blind eye to torturing dogs.

I say torture because the pain and discomfort caused by inbreeding for deformity, defect, and dysfunction lasts years, if not a lifetime. These are the bloodhounds and Mastinos with wrecked eyes, the German Shepherds with wrecked hocks and hips, the Westies with permanently itching skin, the Bernese cancer bombs, and the Bulldogs that cannot breathe... the list runs for pages.

All of this is a "never mind" for professional paid apologists and liars for hire such as the Kennel Club's Caroline Kisko. She and the Kennel Club have decided that rather than fix their own house, they will turn their attention to e-collars where they actually have no experience at all. The official Kennel Club position:

The Kennel Club is against the use of any negative training methods or devices. The Kennel Club believes that there are many positive training tools and methods that can produce dogs that are trained just as quickly and reliably, with absolutely no fear, pain, or potential damage to the relationship between dog and handler.

There you have it;
complete and total ignorance. "Any negative training method or devices" covers a lot of ground. It means no leashes or slip collars, no shepherds crooks tapping a dog. Apparently all "negative training methods or devices" invariably cause fear, pain, and damage according to the preening peacocks at the Kennel Club who think nothing of breeding, registering, and showing damaged dogs in constant pain.

The notion that modern e-collars, properly used, produce pain or damage is laughable. Anyone who says so is waiving their ignorance and inexperience from a flag staff.

And here's the good news:  the American Kennel club says the exact opposite. It touts e-collars as the most humane and effective way to develop a well-behaved dog.

So what's going on here?  Simple:  the Kennel Club in the U.K, which has been under the gun for the last eight years for winking at breeding practices that predictably wreck dogs and leave them struggling to breathe, to walk, to see, and even to mate, is looking to put themselves in a new light, while trying to change the subject. Along has come a small group of pet dog trainers who are selling clicker training as a be-all and end-all, and never mind if that is not true.  

The idiots at the Kennel Club jump at the chance to position themselves as smart, modern, and concerned about animal welfare.  Ironically, they have done nothing so much as remind us how little they actually know, and  how little experience they actually have.

So what will come out of the lie?

Nothing less than millions of dogs and owners which will have less than perfect lives, at one end of the leash or the other.  No dog will ever be allowed to run free in an unfenced park full of squirrels and deer as no dog, whether it is terrier or poodle, chihuahua or Irish Wolfhound, is entirely bomb-proof without a program of proofing and reinforcement of that proofing.  And, of course, proofing is not done with a cookie!

Ironically, this accent on all-positive, and nothing else, actually kills dog and tortures them by creating bad and unsettled relationships with every person around them.

Lot, and lots of dogs die, every year, because of the failure of only-positive reinforcement.

Over at Growing Up Guide-Pup, they tell the tale of Dexter:

What was his crime? Being humongous, young, strong, and silly. That was it. A terminal case of no manners. “Incorrigible,” it was said. Dexter was one of the many silent victims of the R+ movement, which advocates the use of only positive reinforcement in training. He had been turned into the shelter twice, because he was not a dog that responds 100% to R+. Perhaps if he had been taken in hand by a phenomenal R+ trainer with excellent timing and a true talent for training, maybe. Herein lies one of the problems: the average dog owner is not cut out to train a high-drive, incredibly strong, adolescent dog with only R+. These dogs need a little guidance and some boundaries to go along with all that bounce. But because of the prevailing attitudes in most dog training available to the average dog owner, corrections are synonymous to abuse.

The end result is Dexter. A Weimaraner-Viszla mix that was twice relinquished to a kill shelter, because potential death at the end of a hypodermic needle at ten months of age was considered kinder than a leash correction and the word “no.” Many people will tell you that the notion that R+ can cause things like this to happen is a myth. I am here to tell you I own that myth. He’s drooling on my foot as I type. And he’s my service dog.
Her service dog. Bomb proof.  A solid canine citizen, rather than another dead dog tossed onto the burn pile created by the failed theory of pure positive dog training.


Federico said...

The 'positive training only' approach, which works so well for dolphins and exotics does not work well for dogs for one reason: dolphins and exotics are kept in horrible condition where are dying of boredom, and the only thing they can do is to interact with their trainer. No fish to chase, no natural distractions, because these animals live a sorry artificial life. Hence, ignoring the behaviour we want to suppress is an aversive, because it is like having a prisoner in solitary confinement who either gets someone to talk to if he is 'good', or gets someone who does nothing if he is 'bad', reverting to the solitary confinement status.

Because people do keep dogs in environments where dogs can express natural behaviours, training dogs has the added complication of natural distractions, some of which we want to control in full, for good reasons. Would a dog rather chase some deer or come, sit and get a treat? shall we place bets?

The 'positive training only' people seem to misrepresent the science behind the behaviourist approach, and dog owners should not be so gullible to trust them.

Final though: thousands of cats bring dead animals to their owners every day. The owners are normally far from happy, and to the best of my knowledge their reaction tracks very well the 'ignore the behaviour until it stops' approach. But cats keep bringing dead animals in. If you ask the cat owners they would just say 'they are hardwired t do it, there is nothing I can do'. Maybe there is a lesson here for dog owners too.

seeker said...

Occasionally I do feel guilty for never letting my Jacks off a leash in a public setting. I go walking with a group of dogs of various breeds. Some are let loose in a proper setting, dog parks etc, but not my dogs. But, then I have seen some situations that could have proven to be nasty for Jacks. Aggressive large dogs, a runaway rabbit, or a spaniel who tried to swim the whole San Antonio River after a raft of ducks comes to mind. I have considered the e-collar but know it will only control MY dog not the odd Vishla or Chow. And I have seen some misuse of the collar by so-called experts that disturbed me, as I'm sure you have also. I don't hunt like my grandfather used to do with his Rat Terrier pack along the Cibolo Creek (and his dogs loved to blend their voices with his hounds) because we are suburbanities and I am on the high side of 60. So my dogs are always leashed (and sometimes carried) when not in our large back yard. I do admire your gumption on behalf of your dogs and love reading your adventures. So, hiking and the odd Trial or obedience training is our level of excitement. Keep it up and long may you dig.

Debi and the Jack Rat Pack.

Patterson said...

I tend to get cranky with the R+ only folks. I have gotten a fair number of nasty looks when I state that I have no problem giving a hard stare to a dog trying to horn in on my food! Somehow I have managed to train both cats and dogs using a mix of methods and have come up with cheerful, fun pets. Sounds much better than euthanized R+ only rejects.