Wednesday, February 22, 2012

You're Not an Abusive Dog Trainer, Are You?

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You don't believe in OUTDATED training methods do you?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.



The Midland Agrarian said...

I wanted to comment how much I am enjoying your blog and website.

I love e-collars for starting my farm dogs. Before I ever use one, I place it on myself and try out different levels. Seems only fair to subject myself to whatever I am going to do to the dog. Upper levels of my tritronic feel like about what a good quality low impedance electric fencer puts out. Those upper levels are only for those things that will get a dog killed in my world. Getting run over while chasing a car hurts a lot more than a shock.

geonni banner said...

Well said! People can be totally off the wall re: training methods. I wish I had a nickle for every dog-owner who said, "Oh! I wish my dog was as well behaved as yours!" And those same people are hanging on to their gyrating, nut-case dog on a Halti and waving roast chicken bits, and getting zip-point-nothing in the way of their dogs' attention.

My dog wears a choke-chain when she goes out on a lead. Why? Not so I can choke her into submission, (she learned early on to keep slack in her lead) but because she has a panic response to a couple of things, and I know she can't slip the choke and bolt if she is frightened by something. The panic response is steadily fading, but why should I take chances?

A flat, buckle collar serves most of my needs in controlling my dog. But I have her lead attached to the live ring of a choke as well as the flat collar as a safety. But I have had many comments with the word "cruel" in them over the fact that my dog has a choke collar on.

Linda Kaim said...

Spot-on as usual Patrick. Especially this:

"Don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining!"

Will be liberally passing this link along.

Matron said...

I even read a debate this week about what type of collars to use on a show dog so that it wouldn't break hairs and leave a mark when showing!

Jenn said...

Your picture omits the simple and effective slip/'choke' chain.

Training aids are just that. You use them as you need them, and then you move on.

Took me a long time to realize how to properly see that.

Viatecio said...

This line is pure gold: "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."

The problem comes when trainerettes insist that, rather than using "your NO," you must manage the environment and set the dog up for success so that he never has to experience a negative consequence. And if the dog doesn't WANT to work for you off-leash or in a high-distraction environment, then hou just get out a higher-value treat.

But don't tell the dog NO, rather, you must make a nasally "AH-AH-AH" sound (seems to be a very popular thing to do right now). And anything more aversive than a shaker can with pennies or a squirt bottle is using fear and pain.


Jenn, the slip collar in the picture is leather, it appears. Not chain.

Dog Man said...

My dog is an Old School Pomeranian, I rescued him from owners who were clueless. He is a Puppy Mill dog from Amish puppy mill, shipped up north and put in a crate by his new owners while they worked.What were they thinking? Then their kids got home from school and wrestled with the puppy for an hour or two, Mom and Dad get home from work to find a crazy puppy.
I got him at six months, he would not even sit on command! YIKES !
I AM sure he will never be off leash, he has a huge prey drive and a stubborn streak, and I don't give two beans about what someone thinks about my choices.