Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Stupid, Ignorant, Delusional or Terrified?

Tyler Muto has expanded a bit on his previous excellent post, and his basic message is as before:  There is no "one size fits all" when it comes to dog training.

Of course, this is new and troubling information for those who put all their eggs in the basket of click-and-treat. 

And so what do they do?  Unable to understand the not-too-subtle idea that there are no silver bullet solutions that work on all dogs under all conditions for all problems, they assume that Muto must somehow reject reward-based training, which is simply nonsense.

Read the whole thing here

Now ask yourself why pure click-and-treat trainers have such a hard time holding more than one idea in their head at a time. 

  • Are these folks that inexperienced with the full range of canine behaviors?
  • Are they that terrified of themselves and their clients due to (perhaps) some past trauma or perhaps their own inability to control their own emotions when training a dog?
  • Are they simply demonizing more balanced trainers in order to build their own brand, and so are willing to over-simplify and engage in intellectual dishonesty in order to achieve that goal?
  • Are some people simply so stupid that they cannot hold two ideas in their heads at once?
  • Is this simply a case of squawking parrots who seek to assimilate and insinuate themselves into the world of dog training by "flocking up" and repeating noises and behaviors they see others in the flock repeating?

This is a genuine question. 

The notion that consequences should always be positive is a bizarre idea that does not fit well within the real world of either human or animal learning. 

Neither does the rejection of 2,000 years of successful animal training.

So why hold on to an idea that does NOT reflect observable reality and that is not part of classical operant conditioning which is based on consequence rewards AND consequence punishments?

Has clicker training simply become a religion, as immune to logic and evidence as any religion, and now operating on faith and proclamation alone?


OT said...

Thanks for posting this, those articles are very insightful. I'm a novice dog owner, and when our now 2 year old dog was 6 months old we changed from carpet to hard wood flooring in our home. She then developed a fear of going upstairs the first time her paws slipped on the way up. We tried every positive method we were told to get her to overcome her fear, but instead her fear began to spread to all areas that were slippery, until she was on the verge of living on the couch and one rug. I happened to watch an episode of the "Dog Whisperer" (a bad example with the dog people I know) and he helped a dog with a similar issue by basically forcing him through his fears. I did this with my dog and it worked, she wasn't harmed but she wasn't given any option but to go up the stairs and get over it either. Her life would have been quite limited if I had stuck with lures and treating her for putting a paw on a step once in a while. Now she enjoys dog agility classes and whizzes over the obstacles.

Lon Lieberman said...

This has absolutely nothing to do with your post, but I came across it and thought you would enjoy it:


Nora said...

Here's the thing: every person I have interacted with who calls him or herself a "balanced" trainer uses e-collars in inappropriate situations, and has caused problems that weren't there before by using the e-collar (and yes, I know anecdote is not data). Whereas not a single person I know who regularly trains using a clicker is against using aversives in some situations.

I do Agility and Flyball with my dogs, and I do use a clicker to train in both sports. It's an excellent way to "mark" a behavior you want, and the enthusiasm of my clicker-trained dogs is a testament to that (when the clicker comes out, they start offering behaviors like crazy). However, all of my dogs have had "come to god" moments at one time or another, particularly in Flyball (where each has been scruffed and yelled at for attempting to chase teammates--once was enough, and they never did it again) or in Agility when they have been summarily removed from a course for doing something unacceptable (in that case, the punishment is "you don't get to keep running").

Now, granted, I have never owned what I would consider a problem dog, whether a rescue or from a breeder. OTOH, I'm also a pretty tolerant dog owner--I don't care if they bark (if there's something to bark at), get on the furniture, or jump on people (and anyone who comes to the house has to know that). But certain things ARE unacceptable, and everyone learns that from the moment they come in the house.

I don't think clicker training should be conflated with "purely positive", and I don't think that "training" should be conflated with "behavior modification." They are different things. I do think that if you establish the rules that are most important to you and reinforce them consistently, most dogs do what you expect of them.

PBurns said...

Every one?

Hard to evauluate that statement, as I do not know if this is 2 people or 6 people. It's not 100 people, that's for sure!

It reminds me a bit of the person who sent a comment a week or so back saying that he had "never known of a liberal terrierman before." My reply back was how many terriermen did he know? No answer to that! Not many, was my guess.

As for me, I know balanced trainers who use flat collars, chain collars, pinch collars, slip collars, and e-collars. I know balanced trainers who carry light pvc wands, and one that carries a light fly pole and more than a few who have sheep crooks. I know balanced trainers who use long lines, harnesses, head halters and all of them use food at times. Most are OK with a clicker. All signal and mark like pros. A few can throw a light chain or a hard rope coil with startling precision.

All the ones you know use an e-collar? You need to get out more!

As for me, I know a LOT of balanced dog trainers that both use e-collars and who do not use e-collars, and I know of no real dog trainer who has ever wrecked a dog with one. Notice that I said REAL dog trainer. Not someone who "calls themself" a dog trainer. We need more Victoria Stilwell's in this world like we need debt and ebola.

Question: do you yourself know how to use an e-collar? Do you think it's all abuout turning it up to "fry 'em"? I ask, because I find most people have no idea how to work with an e-collar or even what modern ones do.

And yes, that IS a problem.

If that's your point -- that it's too easy for someone to go to PetCo and buy a collar and fry a dog or fark one up without knowing what they are doing, I would agree.

However, I would also say that's true for EVERY SINGLE OTHER THING sold at Petco. Over 40 percent of dogs are obese and dying of it. Should we ban dog food? That dog toy rack at Petco is DESIGNED to kill dogs and cause misery when those soft balls and flimsy toys are ingested. And how about those massive dried cow femurs that crack and kill? Death, death, death.

And what is the cost of not training at all? Not zero! About 2 million dogs a year are killed in U.S. pounds, and a huge number of them are simply dogs with "self rewarding behavior problems" that their owner did not know how to fix.

As for myself, I do not use an e-collar other than for a single two-day pass in the woods with Mountain to make sure she was still deer-proof after she caught that very bad habit from another young dog I took out hunting with its owner. The collar never moved up past "tickle".

The people I know who ARE dog trainers, by the way, have demo dogs to show of what they can do. They all train dogs a little differently, one to another, but they are all ready to prove. Have you ever noticed that you never see Victoria Stillwell with a demo dog she trained? Hmmmmm.....


Nora said...

What I am saying is that the people who actually CALL themselves "balanced trainers" (as opposed to the many, many people I know who just train dogs without claiming to be any particular type of trainer) claim to know how and when to use e-collars, but from my observation, aren't using them for a good reason OR using them effectively (because they did, in fact, cause worse problems by using them).

Being involved in dog sports, pretty much everyone I know trains dogs, and few do it "professionally." Most of us just do what works--usually a combination of positive reinforcement coupled with some kind of punishment when a dog you know understands what to do fails to meet whatever criteria you've set.

So I don't watch TV trainers--they have nothing I need to know. I don't subscribe to any cult of personality. Now, I suppose if came to my house, s/he'd be horrified that my dogs run and bark and jump all over visitors--but I don't care if my dogs jump on me and my house, my rules (and yes, if I was run over by a bus tomorrow my dogs would go to someone with similar rules). And if were to watch me training my dogs, s/he might be horrified that I use "negative" verbal markers as well as positive, or will remove a dog from the course and crate him, or even scruff him if he does something like I mentioned above (trying to chase teammates).

From my perspective, the whole thing feels almost entirely manufactured. Most of us already ARE "balanced" trainers. We just don't call ourselves that.

SecondThoughtsOptional said...

The first time I knowingly saw and interacted with a dog was in 1983. I was 8 then and had grown up in the middle east -- dogs were creatures I knew only from books and films. When we went to visit my grandparents, I saw a curious local dog who was sweet enough to lick me instead of bite me when I stuck out my hand for her to sniff. Within two days, if I went walking, the house dogs would follow at heel. I didn't call them, certainly didn't have treats for them (it was the middle of a famine), and knew nothing at all about dogs beyond that I liked them. It's been a few years since and I've had a few dogs (buried a few of old age) and handled a few more dogs, though nowhere near enough to style myself as an expert. But this is the way of the dog: if you have a relationship, when you go, they follow. Where you stay, they stay. What you permit, they do. What you forbid, they abhor. And most of it needs little in the way of explicit commands.

That said, I *love* training, love using tools, love learning methods. Tools are extensions of our mind -- and it is the quality of the mindset and understanding that determines the correct or incorrect use of the tool, not the tool itself.

It's possible to misuse clickers disastrously. I *have* seen a few dogs (couple of dozens) who were dumped at the shelter after being clicker-trained. They'd learned such terrible things as barking at, lunging at and even biting. One of the worst was this lovely, sharp-as-a-whip staffy bull cross who had become a long-stay resident because she was a holy terror to any kids who even passed by her pen. How so? It was because their owners (and in the case of the staffy bull, other volunteers) had used the clicker as an *interrupter* of behaviour. What the person wanted was a way to say 'stop this behaviour and come back to me' -- and the click, in getting the dog to do just that, did it. Of course, what they were actually teaching was 'yes, do more of this, please'. And it becomes a vicious cycle. 'Stop this' is what 'No' is for... but that's supposedly cruel -- and so dogs get dumped instead after they become a little too monstrous. [personally, I think that words like 'yes' work better as markers for such reason -- you will *never* say 'yes' to something you consider bad, but I digress].

I love what Tyler Muto is saying, both on the specific issue of people killing dogs for want of a 'No' (or other aversive) and for the more general point of the problem being the mindset, not the choice of tools.

SecondThoughtsOptional said...

This is twice that you've revelled in your rude and pushy dogs, Nora and it's something I have to comment on.

One of the last dogs I took in while still living at home (we only ever paid for one dog -- dogs had a way of coming to us) was this large, crop-eared, light-eyed, black-and-tan dobermann whose owners had dumped him at the vet for destruction rather than wait to starve completely to death. His dog-skills were a bit of a disaster (we didn't help by messing up our introduction to the rest of the pack), but his people skills were amazing.

Now, where I grew up people do not like dogs. They do not play with them, do not let them into the house and many are downright terrified of them. Our dogs would not jump up on or bark at people once they saw us let them in, but we generally had to put them away before visitors would enter. And yet, this big scary dobermann could get people who had insisted all the years we'd known them to put away even the friendliest puppy to accept him. How? Watching, I realised that he'd wait at a respectful distance, without eye, without barking or whining, without wriggling, until the person invited him in. This was a dog that had spent most of its life locked up in a small cage. I've never seen a dog spontaneously do this before or since and it was a revelation*. I've kept it in mind as a model of good behaviour that I've inculcated in dogs since.

People want dogs that respect their space -- and it goes triple for people who are apprehensive of dogs. There's nothing nice nor responsible about the owner that allows dogs to be human-mugging hoodlums. Pardon me for commenting so on this but it's something that I am a bit sensitive to.

*Mind, he was as playful and rumbustious a dog as you ever saw -- particularly once he started to fill out -- but you had to invite him. Wonderful dog.

The Dog House said...

As a balanced trainer who has gone toe to toe with numerous purely positive trainers over the years, I have to say it sounds like Nora knows far more posers than dog trainers, which includes herself if guests are expected to "put up or shut up" when it comes to dealing with her poorly behaved dogs.

I rarely use either-collars on clients dogs, mostly because the average pet owner doesn't need or want to learn how to use one properly.

As for Nora's assertion that positive trainers are really "balanced" we clearly have different expectations.

The local training cult is the IPDTA, whose code of conduct includes the following insanity:

"Any tool or technique that was designed as an aversive or to cause fear and/or pain for the dog is not to be used by IPDTA members, anyone training at the member's facility or training in any capacity under the member's business name.

If at any point a tool or technique causes fear, other alternatives must be investigated. We understand that when working with fearful dogs this may be unavoidable. Under these circumstances the environment must be controlled and rehabilitation sessions must be kept short in order to keep the dog’s distress to a minimum throughout rehabilitation.

Any interrupter must not be aversive in nature and should only serve to get the dog’s attention – or to interrupt an unwanted behaviour in order to re-direct and reinforce an alternative behaviour. Unless the dog is in danger, interrupters that startle the dog or cause fear are unacceptable."

Want to try again, Nora?

Shame on ANY trainer who accepts these rules, and shame on anyone who defends them.

Nora said...

People who come in to my house know they're likely to get mobbed. (Well, one of my dogs mobs, the others stand back and bark until they're greeted.) As far as out of the house, I can walk my dogs off leash, call them off of anything, take them into stores (where dogs are allowed of course) without them stealing things or peeing on things or jumping on people (they have good "outside" manners), they get invited to parties, and they have achieved high-level Agility and Flyball titles. They're happy, healthy, and have good temperaments. They've not ended up in shelters (nor are they likely to, as I have people in line to take them if something should happen to us). They're even good and gentle with children.

Clicker training is great for things you WANT a dog to do (I clicker trained one of my dogs to howl on command, for instance, and they've all been clicker trained for Agility). For things you DON'T want a dog to do, it's not so good. So then you decide what you can live with and what you have to change.

I'm not sure why I should be called a poser for that? I know a lot of people who train dogs (like I said, as opposed to people who call themselves dog trainers) and everyone uses a mix of methods. I know a number of people who have used e-collars on occasion, and the ones who used it to fix one very specific behavior are the ones who succeeded with it. The others have only succeeded in creating worse behavior problems than they started out with. One of my friends who is kind of old-school and willing to use stronger punishment than I generally would is trying to "fix" a dog made aggressive by a badly-used shock collar right now (used by one of those people who call themselves "balanced" trainers). She's had some success, but it's hard to say if he can be completely brought back to his previous friendly, outgoing temperament.

The friend referenced above has achieved a relatively quiet household of 7 or 8 Shelties and Border Collies by using a super soaker. She also clicker trains.

Rich S, said...

Super soakers.....really. Why not train them super soakers sounds a little aversive, I get 6 pit mixes to be calm and relaxed with a simple place command. I would never shoot any of my dogs with water there way, waaay better ways of creating a calm household.

The Doubtful Guest said...

Nora, I respect your willingness to state your views here, and to do so with some civility.

I respectfully disagree that anyone who has "ruined" a dog with an ecollar is a balanced trainer.

Those folks might be ecollar trainers, but they aren't balanced. True balanced trainers respect the power of ecollars and are very insistent to use them on the lowest possible setting with great timing. Balanced trainers won't sell ecollars to clients whose dogs don't need them, or who would be too trigger-happy. Balanced trainers do not want ecollars to be sold at PetCo.

No tool is right for every dog. Period. Truly balanced trainers know how to use dozens of tools, and they fit the training to the dog, not the other way around. I know lots of trainers--lots--and not one of them uses any quadrant more frequently than R+.

One other thing. I do not compete in dog sports, but I have good friends who do and I respect the time and dedication that takes. That being said, I rarely attend sporting competitions anymore because so many of the dogs are horribly untrained outside the ring. I don't understand why this is. I hear a lot of competitors "apologizing" for their dogs' lack of obedience.

I want to think it's the culture; agility and other sports are all about winning, for the dogs at least...no corrections for missteps, only R+ so that the dog won't shut down, etc. I can see how that approach is good for the ring, but why are so many competition people unwilling to correct bad behaviors outside the ring? They just allow their dogs to leap all over people out in public, and they don't care.

It's weird. But then again, maybe it isn't.