Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Rin Tin Tin is Dead and Lassie Was Given Away

I just read a conversation in which someone said that Lee Duncan trained Rin Tin Tin without an electric collar, so why does anyone need them today?

It's pretty thin logic; a bit like saying the Egyptians didn't need construction cranes and plate glass to build their buildings, so why do we need them today? Why not wait for the miracle of martians?

Rin Tin Tin was dead in 1932 and the first patent for a very early e-collar was 1934 using a Ford Model T coil as the power source with a wire running down the leash. The first battery-powered radio collar was patented in 1955, and the first commercial rigs came out in 1968. The modern e-collar did not show up until the late 1990s and has seen dramatic improvements in the last decade. Rin Tin Tin was not trained with an e-collar because they simply did not exist. For the record, neither did talking movies.  All but four of Rin Tin Tin's movies were silent films

The original Rin Tin Tin seems to have been a one-off; Lee Duncan could not repeat his success with other dogs, and he was not the trainer for the dogs used in the 1950s TV series.

When I made that point, the response I got back was a Lee Duncan quote. Apparently Lee Duncan, the trainer of the original Rin Tin Tin, said that “…the first step in controlling your dog is to be able to control yourself.”

OK. Agreed. But how is that responsive to the question of e-collars? It isn't. If the notion is that people with e-collars might abuse them, then I would suggest thinking that through. Far more dogs are abused by leashes and flat collars than by e-collars. Are we going to ban all leashes and flat collars?

And why stop there? Are we going to ban swimming pools because kids drown in them?

Alcohol is the greatest threat to dogs, wives, and kids in any house. Are we going to ban all booze?

"We kill over a million dogs a year in this country because people fail to train their dogs, or because that training fails."

How about guns? Gasoline? Steak knives? Hammers? Chainsaws? Cars? Aspirin? All are potential tools for abuse. More dogs are killed every year by hammers than by e-collars.

The simple truth is that you cannot start banning tools because they might be abused or misused by a nameless, faceless, someone, somewhere, sometime.

Go down that road and we'll soon be banning chocolate, cheese, and ice cream.

Here's a simple truth: We kill over a million dogs a year in this country because people fail to train their dogs, or because that training fails.

Why does that training fail? Simple: people treat dogs like children, and they do not know how to correct a dog in real time when it is either on-leash or off.

And it's not simply a problem of an owner not having magic skills and an endless amount of time.

Rudd Weatherwax, the trainer of Lassie, could never could get the original Lassie (Pal) to stop chasing motorcycles and so his owner abandoned him to Weatherwax rather than pay for all those Weatherwax lessons that got the dog to stop barking. Yes, Lassie was abandoned because his famous dog trainer failed him!

Today almost anyone could stop both of Lassie's problem behaviors in short order with a bark collar and an e-collar, and with levels of stimulation so low you would not even be able to feel the "correction" on your own skin.

If we can do that, why would we not do that?

Steve Jobs said that "Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them."


You give people tools because most people are good and smart and will use them properly. The dim and the evil? They will do their business with rock or rope, water bucket and shovel, as they have since the beginning of time.

Removing tools does not stop the bad; it prevents the good and embraces the status-quo.

And in the world of dogs, the status-quo is a million dogs a year being killed or abandoned because their owners could not get them to stop barking or stop chasing motorcycles.


PipedreamFarm said...

Are those who are have dog training issues because they are too lazy, unwilling, inattentive to dog behavior etc really going to benefit from an e collar; or will they continue to be too lazy, unwilling, etc to train using an e collar?

geonni banner said...

Lassie (Pal - the 1st Lassie)was a die-hard motorcycle chaser. Rudd Weatherwax was never able to break him of it. Nobody could say he was not a good dog trainer. Lassie was only one (well, actually 7) of his successes. Maybe if he had had a modern electronic collar Lassie would have stopped with the motorcycle chasing.

Jennifer said...

I have nothing against e-collars, but they aren't iPhones. The basic design doesn't guarantee that almost anyone will get something out of them. You need a fair skill level to make them work.
I'm a poor dog trainer. My timing isn't good and I don't like to separate my dogs. Give me an e-collars and I'm still a poor trainer. Fortunately my dogs want to please and tend to figure out what I want. Attempts with e-collars have been a waste. I guess a skilled trainer with an e-collars could improve recall under distraction, their worst failure, but my attempts have not succeeded.
I expect there are people who abuse the tool and manage to jangle up their dogs nerves pretty badly. Good tool...but no panacea.

PBurns said...

I have written a number of posts on basic training and ecollar work, and there are thousands of others posts and video from very good trainers.

The basic point is that most people don't have too much trouble teaching a dog to sit for a bit of kibble, or do a "down" for a bit of kibble, or come when called (and for a bit of kibble).

This is Dog Training 101 and it take a bit of time (and a leash) but it's not rocket science, and it's pure positive and a clicker is an excellent tool I endorse.

What people are bad at is proofing - getting a dog to pay attention and follow instructions from a distance, and for a duration, and with consistency.

Proofing was not easy stuff in the old days. Dogs are smart and know when they are off-lead, and giving a well-timed (or even poorly timed) correction on a 50-foot lead is pretty close to impossible.

So what did people do? They threw chains, and rattle cans, and big knotted bonkers made of rope. That worked provided it was not too far, you had a half decent aim, and you didn't need to do it more than once or twice. But dogs are smart. They know they did it wrong, but they also know you have a very limited ability to correct from a distance. And bonking a dog is pretty harsh when all you really need to do about 90 percent of the time is break through the ADD of the dog.

The modern e-collar changes all of it. Not only can very mild corrections be given from a distance, but so too can positive signals. Timing is excellent, and the tap is variable in terms of how light or firm, and how long. A dog can be tapped to maintain a down stay for 2 hours at a distance of 400 yards while you are eating a pizza and sqiurrels are running about. Tone can signal "good work" or "carry on" at a distance and without noise or wind and noise interference. Try doing that with a terrier without an ecollar.

I think timing is a bit over-rated; another attempt to make it all seem a bit too magical. Good timing helps a lot, but even mediocre timing works well with a click-and-treat and an e-collar. As I have said in the past (see the post titled "Calm and Assertive Clicker Training") the main thing is to stop flapping about and talking too much so the dog is not getting flooded with nonsense signals. Clickers and e-collars both work to get the dog owner focused, at which point the dog will generally start to follow along even if the timing is now always perfect.

Until very recently, a decent manual on ecollar training was not available, which was a massive problem. A pretty good
manual is now available written by Larry Krohn. See that write up here >>

David Cunningham said...

When I was a kid (in the 50s) and probably before I knew e-collars even existed, I started my dog training lifestyle (it never has been a career) by carrying a pocket full of pebbles. Discretely (and harmlessly) thrown when a dog ignores you, it gets their attention immediately back to you, and they soon think your omnipotent and can reach out and touch them anywhere. I have never used an e-collar, but have no objection to them being used correctly. But I caught my own daughter (full grown and living in her own house) using one to punish her dog for getting into garbage. We had a "talk".

tuffy said...

..or as Vikki Hearne used to say: ''it's not the correction that trains the dog''. meaning yes, the correction must be there as an appropriate consequence, but more or more forceful isn't better; really it is the follow through, the consistency, the timing, the structure, the teaching, that trains the dog.
so whether chain, electricity, flat collar or shove(as Cesar Milan sometimes does), they are all consequences that only mean something coherent when applied by the trainer correctly in context. electricity has an advantage though--it is quicker, more instantaneous, and can be given at a distance.

however, e-collars do come with a greater burden of responsibility on the trainer: you better know how to use it correctly, you better understand dog training, and you better know how to give a well-timed correction BEFORE using electricity.
because it is so effective, it can also be quite destructive in the wrong hands. it can give the wrong message just as effectively as the right one. just because it's easy (ie, push-button) to give this type of correction, doesn't mean it's good or right for everyone.
choke chains and pinch collars, and flat collars are more forgiving in that regard--but are also more difficult physically and emotionally to administer coherently.

and Jennifer, well said.