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Behaviour problems are most common cause of Euthanasia

Sadly, more dogs are euthanised for behaviour problems than for any other single reason. Dogs being surrendered because their behaviour is dangerous, stressful, intolerable or illegal is at an all time high.

Aggression, escaping, destructiveness, injuring people and killing children, is it any wonder why.

But ask yourself this question, with such advances in modern, dog friendly training concepts and us as trainers and dog owners being so across all the scientific methods to keep our dogs happy and stress free, why are dogs are behaving worse than ever!

There are people roaming the world that can spot stress in a dog at a thousand metres, they teach us that submersing dogs in food will solve every problem and they help us understand that even as little as saying “no” to our dogs can cause them major trauma, anxiety, stress and they will lose the will to live.

So we are taught that we must cuddle and comfort the dog, no matter what he or she does or doesn’t do, and when that doesn’t work, medicate or euthanize our dogs because they have psychological issues and fears that they cannot control.

We are told that using rewards only, is backed by science, when in fact that is far from true. Science actually details how each four of the quadrants effect behaviour. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operant_conditioning)

These same people have been for years attacking anyone who may use a training aid that “they feel” is unnecessary, unfair, cruel or inhumane and coaching us all of the more “positive and kind” ways.

Well I have a few problems with this thought process and I wanted to share them here: –

  1. If “positivity and kindness” are going to be the best and most effective way to train and teach, why are those who practice these beliefs so vicious towards us humans?

I mean I read things like “you’re a barbarian and I would like to put that on you and hurt you for a few hours!“.

I hope you and your children die of cancer!

Seems to me that those who say they believe in positivity and kindness don’t display it to others but instead dive straight into Positive Punishment to change and motivate people’s behaviour.

  1. If modern, dog friendly training is more effective than “other” training methodologies, then why are dogs still being killed because behaviour problems are unsolvable?

People are coming to me every week that have been working on behaviour problems for years without any noticeable changes with others that have said their dog is frightened and anxious. These frightened and anxious dogs are given all the freedom in the world and bite owners and guests for daring to sit on the dogs couch… Anxious?

  1. I understand that certain training tools can be used to abuse dogs, but where is the evidence that abuse is occurring when the tools are used correctly?

I mean everyone has seen the ONE picture that floats around the internet of the dog with holes in its neck from a prong collar. But the fact is that the collar was fitted and left on for months until the dogs neck grew too big and the collar just would not stretch.

There are many more pictures on the internet of injuries by flat collars, harnesses, head halters and so on.

But these are what happens when people MISS use the tool, any tool. What about the actual evidence that tools cause harm when used correctly?

Seems for all that I hear about it, no one seems to able to provide it.

Why things need to change

In the last 10 or so years, I have come to work, worked with clients training and rehabilitating dogs in the ways that I have developed over my career with dogs. When others have been running around, attacking tools, attacking me, attacking other trainers who ARE providing results, I just kept doing my job.

Why? Because I am very confident that what I do is helpful, that it is effective and the large majority of my clients find it very helpful.

But, out there is a strong presence of people who will, if they can, make sure that all methods and training aids that they do not like, are removed from access to you, me and everyone else.

It seems they think that we, that is you who loves your dog and me who has trained and worked with tens of thousands of dogs, are too stupid to tell if we are causing any harm to our dogs.

They seem to believe that us dumb, ignorant, non modern scientific method loving people cannot be trusted to use certain pieces of equipment in case we just decide to let our evil side out and punish our dogs to near death levels.

So let’s for a moment suggest that we are not allowed to use these training aids, and you will not be able to purchase any correction collar such as a prong collar, check chain, remote collar to use to effectively train your dog.

As we are at the highest levels of dogs being euthanized for behaviour problems now, am I the only one that see’s this number increasing exponentially?

Is it more “positive and kind” to do ANYTHING that would increase the number deaths of our dogs?

behaviour problems
My dog FREE to enjoy life

I see a lot of people that have chosen to never allow their dog off leash anywhere because the dog “may” not come when called, or “may” display a behaviour they don’t want to see.

When I say that every dog can be trained to recall but you may need to use a training aid, some people tell me that they would rather keep their dog on leash for the rest of its life rather than use a training aid.

So if your reading this and have never seen the modern use of a remote collar or modern use of a correction collar, then you probably are thinking that these “training aids” must be pretty terrible if a person would avoid using one and remove any chance of freedom their dog may have had for life rather than subject their dog to awful pain.

I would not in any way blame you for thinking that and I would probably join you in your choice, but let’s look at the facts.

 

Modern remote collar training is teaching the dog to respond to a miniscule static pulse cue.

In simple terms here are a few comparisons.

You rustle a food packet in your home, and your dog comes running.

This is a plastic bag cueing a recall right?

You click a clicker and your dog expects a treat. This is called a conditioned response.

You tap a button on a remote training collar set at a level so low, your dog can just perceive it, and your dog keels over and dies?

Well that is what some would have you believe. But if we are such good trainers and know so much more, why can’t the miniscule feel of a static pulse be conditioned to mean reward, just like a clicker can?

The answer is that it can, and has been done many, many times.

The dog in the picture below used to be dog aggressive, would race after dogs and display aggression. This meant that any off leash time was rare if it happened at all to manage the risk.

But his owner chose to use a remote collar to train and solidify a solid recall, here he is now after a big off leash run through the forest, in pure BLISS!

All the dogs around are safe, and so is he. The owner is stress free as she can guide her dog to the correct behaviour.

behaviour problems

Some tell us that whilst the dog is learning this conditioning, they are stressed. Perhaps that is true, but is it possible to avoid all stress in life? Maybe this article can help (Using pressure in dog training)

I see people who despise the use of any aversive, then they clip a dogs nails that is absolutely phobic of it and deliver a treat after each cut. Well I guess that’s ok, right?

Dogs need their nails cut, so it is totally ok to stress them, but not ok if training a dog to recall for example could cause stress…

So that means it is ok to: –

  • Give a dog a painful injection
  • Micropchip a puppy
  • Groom a dog that is fearful of being groomed
  • Hold a dog back on a head halter from something it wants to get to
  • Clip a dogs nails that is fearful of it
  • Desex a dog that never asked for it
  • Put chemicals onto their body to control pests

and anything else as long as it is not a remote collar?

My own dogs are trained primarily with the use of positive reinforcement and negative punishment, which leads into negative reinforcement.

How does this work? Well some rules of operant conditioning need to be considered.

behaviour problems

Positive reinforcement occurs when I add something in training that reinforces a behaviour. So let’s say my dog sits and I reward with a game of tug. As my dogs love playing tug they develop a strong sit behaviour through positive reinforcement.

At some point I cue the sit and the dog decides that he does not want to sit, I make it clear that I am not going to play tug with him.

Taking away a valued reward that is expected is negative punishment and punishment reduces the likeliness that a behaviour will be displayed.

Over a number of repetitions, the dog always sits, and whether or not I reinforce the sit behaviour with the tug, the dog sits anyway, and in doing so negative reinforcement occurs as the punishment of losing the reward is avoided by the dog.

In that model I am making use of 3 out of the 4 quadrants of operant conditioning.

All my dogs have come to me as puppies, they have superb genetics (I feel) and I taught them these behaviours when they were young. My dogs have all got a high drive for reward and this is what creates the ability to use the removal of reward (negative punishment) to reduce unwanted behaviour.

The video below is of my five year old daughter training her Labrador Rosie Cheeks, Rosie is about 10 – 12 weeks old here and has such focus that she is undistractable! All trained using ONLY rewards.

Now when I meet a dog that is past puppy stage, and has developed a desire to display a behaviour even when rewards are offered, rather than kill the dog, I will move to the fourth quadrant, Positive Punishment.

Remember that punishment comes in many forms and at many levels from very low to very high. Most people will resort to very high levels of punishment in an emergency, so when training dogs we create the environment and emergencies don’t happen, meaning high levels are not needed.

Now this is where the laws of using punishment seem to get lost because our modern understanding of terms such as punishment or discipline have been skewed by people who are trying to fool you.

Punishment (psychology) MEANING

Discipline MEANING

Many would have us believe that punishment and discipline simply mean being cruel or mean and claim science based methods do not use such elements, when in fact they do.

There are better ways

I have been training dogs in some capacity most of my adult life, I have trained tens of thousands of dogs, I have trained thousands of dogs to work in high performance roles from working with Police, Military, Customs, Armed Forces, High end sport, Assistance dogs and many other facets.

Most performance work I trained through my Training in Drive program in which very little punishment is used and mostly it is Negative Punishment (removal of reward).

In my own Team K9 Pro, we have a few dozen members that compete in many different sports and we have people winning at the top levels, podium finishes and highest accolades, I think I can say that I am qualified to say when I feel using rewards only is going to be effective in a situation.

I can train dogs, no right minded person would argue that, but in some situations, the behaviours that some dogs are displaying are highly dangerous or risky and the dogs may find these behaviours highly rewarding.

More rewarding than anything you will ever offer.

In these situations, training aids such as remote collars, prong collars and so on may be helpful to motivate and reinforce alternate behaviours and without these aids, I can absolutely guarantee that: –

  • More dogs will die
  • More dogs will be kept on leash rather than enjoy any freedom
  • More dogs will hurt people, other dogs, other animals
  • More places will not allow dogs
  • More breeds will be banned
  • More size restrictions will be imposed
  • Dogs will be banned from public places (already are not allowed in playgrounds)

Why are some training aids illegal

There is no sensible reason for this, here is why I say this. You can be in Queensland and drive south with your dog wearing a Remote Collar and Prong collar, legally.

You cross the border and you can still keep the prong collar on but the remote collar just became illegal. Now keep driving and when you cross the border from NSW to Victoria, you can refit the remote collar but you have to remove the prong collar to stay legal.

No really, that IS true.

So if it has to do with risk of abuse, damage they cause, cruelty or better ways, why do the rules change topographically?

Whilst most states in Australia have no restrictions regarding which training aids a person can use, some do. Some have restrictions on certain tools that other states don’t.

But let’s rest assured, it is 100% LEGAL in EVERY STATE in Australia to have your dog euthanized for any reason you choose.

Should all training aids be legal everywhere?

My personal feeling is that, some training aids could and should be classed as “specialist behaviour modification tools” and I would very much support a set of laws that were standardised throughout our country that said that: –

These could be used by professionals to aid in behaviour modification of dogs with certain or severe behaviour problems.

That anyone using these aids has been correctly educated on how to use them effectively and in a manner that the dog can learn from without unnecessary stress.

That anyone using these aids outside of the agreed method will be heavily fined and the future use of these aids be removed from this person.

What I am promoting is EDUCATION.

What have we got to lose? Well some would lose the ability to scaremonger people about misuse of the tools.

Every dog should be trained on a remote collar

No! I don’t think this is necessary and that is not what I am suggesting at all. What I would prefer is that all dogs as puppies are trained effectively to behave appropriately before they learn to behave inappropriately, but until that happens, we will have dogs that have behaviour problems that range from a little bit of a bother to deadly.

Now as this can be avoided by better training, it tells me that the dog, regardless of sex, breed, size or genetics can behave well if correctly trained, so when not correctly trained, killing them is out of the question!

I have run hundreds of dog training and behaviour workshops and seminars in my life, all over this country and in some other countries as well, and in those events we have used toys, tugs, food, leashes, affection, prong collars, remote collars, whistles, clickers, position markers and many other training AIDS.

I would estimate that well over 10 000 people have attended these events and never once did anyone ever say the way any of these were being used on THEIR dogs was cruel, painful, nasty or most importantly, ineffective.

But I guess that all the people that come to my events and lessons and have trained with me, along with me must be dumb, barbaric, stupid and non scientific and cannot tell when a dog is in terrible pain.

Even though I am known for getting results where many others have failed with some of the worst and dangerous dogs in the country…

Truthfully though, dog owners are NOT STUPID, they KNOW their dogs and they DO WANT WHATS BEST FOR THEM.

I work with people who REALLY try, they INVEST themselves and they do their best to LEARN and help their dog overcome fears, phobias and dangerous habits.

Many of them have previously been told by others (who have not been able to make ANY difference to their dogs) that anything other than the use of rewards is cruel and mean and the dog will get worse.

They have been brainwashed with this rhetoric even when the training they have been providing has not been working, and the dog IS getting worse.

They keep telling people this along with the advice that euthanizing their dog is the only kind option left…

Please lets promote ethical, professional, educational and EFFECTIVE training and behaviour modification programs which include as necessary, the use of rewards and training aids that will help the training move forward.

As a professional I do not seek out other trainers, vets or handlers to critisize their choices, but rather promote what I feel to be the right choices for the dogs I work with.

Our field could really do with an ethics committee that promoted this type of professionalism because our clients, the general public who own dogs would truly benefit from it.

Thanks for reading, all our articles are free to share far and wide.

About SteveK9Pro

Steve Courtney is a Nationally Accredited Canine Behaviour Specialist, Obedience Trainer, Law Enforcement Dog Trainer and ANKC Breeder. Steve has been training dogs all his life and in these articles he shares with you his experience...

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8 comments

  1. While the debate continues on what is best for dogs, they are the ones that continue to suffer. Lets get back to the instinct of the species and treat them as dogs not apply human conditions. Look to how the mothers apply discipline to the pups, around the head/neck area. Pups play rough and grab on the neck. If a dog is being disciplined in the pack pressure is applied to the neck area. The correct use of the training aids can only benefit the behaviour change so the dog can be stress free and happy. The stress the dog feels in altering the behaviour can only be less than the stress and anxiety it feels on a daily basis struggling to keep up with the bad behaviours it has learned. These are behaviours that I have experienced having had a life time of dogs and interest in what they do. I am not a professional but passionate about the species. I am happy to be corrected with constructive views.

  2. It’s funny this comes up today in my feed – I have only just had this debate (2 days ago).
    It was regarding a person who has rescue dogs (with issues) and was basically asking for help.
    I suggested you and your team because of the success that I’ve had with Zig and Nix, following your (and Bec’s) advice over the years.
    They both have great recall, walk nicely on lead and are a joy to own (most of the time, Nixxy still does the occasional naughty puppy stuff).

  3. I have seen dogs sitting under a car or trailer, and get up and bang its head with such great force that would make a human cry, however the dog will carry on as if nothing has happened. I’ve also seen a dog jump out of a trolley onto its head, and many of us have seen dogs jumping out of moving cars. Every time I see it, I’m shocked that they dust themselves off, and are completely un-phased. On the other hand, clip their nails and they might want to rip your head off.

    If we consider where the largest number of nerve endings (receptors) are, then we can conclude what areas are likely to cause an animal the most stimulus, which can possibly then be interpreted as pain. Humans have large numbers of nerve endings (of various types) in the hands and fingers. Its what makes us dexterous, but it’s also why paper cuts hurt like hell. Since dogs would naturally use their paws for a lot of activities, it would make sense that a large number of nerve ending will exist there, hence why they are sensitive to having their paws manipulated. Just like humans, other animals will have varying pain/stimulus thresholds, so what we know would cause us great pain, can’t be assumed to cause another person or animal to experience the same.

    When I see ‘Horned’ animals fighting by clashing heads, I do think, gee that must give them a massive headache. But the true is that it wouldn’t, as the heads would be designed to take it. Dogs would naturally fight with their mouths, if they were to exert dominance for mating or territory. They would naturally sustain some injuries to the face and neck. But like the horned animals, they would have a head and neck structure designed to cope with it, otherwise they would have gone extinct from the wild years ago, or dogs would have never been good hunters and may have just become herbivores (Canis herbivorus).

    A lot of biological structures (unless vestigial), exist for a purpose. So a person could ask, what nerve structures would exist in the area of the dog where a collar is placed (or other training aid), and further ask, what kind of structures are they, and how will they be impacted by a particular training stimulus. This may help people make an informed and logical decision, over purely an emotional one.

    I’ve never used a training collar of any type, but I have seen many dogs react the same way to just a gentle touch. Essentially its an unexpected stimulus which catches them by surprise, and it certainly did not hurt or harm the dog. Humans can experience certain foreign stimuli, and in the first instance it may give us a terrible fright. But we can learn what that stimulus is, what the potential harm might be, and what can cause that stimulus to occur or go away. We can then rationalise certain situations, and endure certain stimulus knowing it will be over soon, it won’t be long lasting, it won’t cause great harm, or its actually benefiting us. Dogs on the other hand, may not be able to rationalise a bizarre and foreign stimulus that happens to come out of nowhere. Which might explain why a dog might seem to be reacting adversely to a stimulus. It could quite possibly be that the dog is not experiencing any pain (or great pain), it’s just that it doesn’t know where the stimulus is coming from, it’s not something it would normally ever experience or know (e.g. electrical pulse), and the dog doesn’t know how to react to it, or what to make of it.

    Many humans experience some very unpleasant stimulus i.e. abuse. Its not good for them, but they can get use to it, endure it, and survive it. Dogs can experience the same, and just like the human they can continue to return to it, as they know/have no other option. (Better the devil you know). I don’t think anyone armed with a bit of basic biology, some life experience, and using a bit of logic, could put a very short training stimulus (that is correctly and responsibly administered), remotely anywhere in the same basket as an abusive situation.

  4. Steve, another great article. Unfortunately I think you are preaching to the choir. You, me and other heretics would be burned at the stake for suggesting we use anything than pieces of food to train the dogs.
    As I explaind to a lovely lady today about her Schnauzer of 8 months that she feels she cannot take out in public anymore. Trying to give a highly stimulated dog when seeing another dog the offer of a treat will not work. She knows she will get fed that night anyway.

    Heaven forbid we do something to save some of these poor animals that are either placed on drug therapy or euthanised. Another issue is poor breeding. We seem to breed more for looks than temprament therse days. Sure, I like a dog to look ther part but rather than colour I want a stable well balanced canine citizen.

  5. Here is a reference for a sientific paper which provides a limited critique of ecollars. 10 Oct 2014: The PLOS ONE Staff (2014) Correction: The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Electronic Training Collars in Comparison to Reward Based Training. PLOS ONE 9(10): e110931. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0110931

    • This “study” makes use of high stimulation training without warning, which is not the way I propose that e collars should be used. All of the studies I have seen have similar approaches so I find them unhelpful.

      • Hi Steve, I am not sure of the public policy relevance of your reply. Here is a set of conjectures that speaks to public policy.
        1. All equipment is misused by at least some handlers.
        2. The percentage of handlers who misuse ecollars is higher than the number who misuse flat collars..
        3. The harm created by the misusage of flat collars is relatively easier to undo than the harm from the improper application of ecollars.
        4. Since most dog handlers don’t receive any proper obedience instruction (and no government will ever require such education), government will reduce harm if ecollars are regulated.

        The basic point is that proscriptions on ecollars are not intended to thwart your use of them. It is to stop the uninformed from doing harm. The study does indicate elevated cortisol levels.

        I realise that you speak in favour of only experts having permission to use such equipment. But public policy will be swayed also by the opponents who argue that ecollars do harm, even by experts. Perhaps the policy debate would be enhanced by an academic study of say cortisol levels of dogs treated under your preferred application.

        • 1. It is likely that all equipment could be missused, so should we not ban all equipment?
          2. The percentage of handlers who missue e collars is higher than the number who missuse flat collars? Where can I view this study? A dog walking down the road on a flat collar and pulling is the collar being missused, and I will find you two million of those to every e collar miss user.
          3. The harm created by misuge of flat collars is relatively easy to undo than the harm from e collars? Says who, what is the size of your data collection? I see frustrated dogs pulling owners down the street to get to another dog. I have seen the drustratioon of not being able to access anoher dog displace into aggression and that saw the dog euthanised, that harm will never be undone.
          4. Government will never require such education? They do when it comes to driving a car, owning a reptile, owning a gun, so never say never.

          I would be more than happy to participate in any study.

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