Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Failure of Fenton's Owner

I am told that the "Brits are celebrating the 6-year anniversary of a dog chasing some deer."

The celebration involves the posting of the now famous "Fenton" video in which a man's dog bolts off to chase a herd of deer across a multi-lane highway.

Ha ha!

Did the deer die?
How about the dog? Any humans killed or cars wrecked?  How many limbs mangled?

Oh yes, this video is a laugh riot.

Here's the background to this story: a lot of British dogs are not reliable off-lead, the same as a lot of American dogs are not reliable off-lead.

The result is a lot of lost dogs, dead dogs in the road, dead cats on the porch, kids with serious bites, and a heck of a lot of sheep-worrying going on in rural parts of Britain.

In all fairness, it's not easy to train a game-bred dog to not chase wildlife and farm stock, and it's nearly impossible if all you have to use as a tool is a treat bag and an all-positive training manual.

Karen Pryor, the queen of clickers, who now sells franchise dog training opportunities across the nation, never got her own Border Terrier to stop chasing squirrels, and she could not even keep her own terrier in the yard until she put an Invisible Fence shock collar on it.

The good news is that technology has come along to help.

For example, a flexi-lead is pure crap as walking leash, but in the right hands, it is a very useful tool for teaching recall.

Of course, teaching recall is only half the job.

PROOFING recall is the other half.

A recall for a dog cannot be a suggestion; it has to be a Commandment.

When you tell a dog to "down" or "come," it has to be so solid that you know for certain that you can walk your dog past squirrels and deer right next to the freeway.

Fenton's owner failed Fenton in this regard.

So what's the good news?

The modern e-collar.

These are not the cheap Chinese jobs sold on Ebay, and which are based on 40-year old off-patent design. These modern collars are more expensive (about $200) and come from companies like E-Collar Technologies and Dogtra, with 100 levels of stimulation, as well as tone and vibration.

These things work like new money provided you follow directions, start with some actual training (see flexi-lead, above), and use a very low "tap" level of stimulation (which is actually much less aversive than the vibration mode).

Heads up, however.  When it comes to modern e-collars  there is a very vocal cabal of dog trainers who make their living based on a dependency model. 

For these "pure positive" dog trainers, "time is money" and it's YOUR money and time that they are most interested in getting a great deal more of. 

The efficiency of e-collars are a threat to their business model.

To be clear, an e-collar is not a universal spanner that fixes every nut.

You still have to learn how to train a dog, and an e-collar is just like a 6-foot leash, a bag of kibble, a harness, a flat collar, a slide collar, or a pinch collar in that it can be abused by fools and willful ignorants. 

But can it save lives and could it transform the life of dogs like Fenton and his owner?  Oh yes! Absolutely.

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