I have probably seen, heard of and or tried just about every documented dog training method that exists, I want to be the best I can at my craft so this means that I constantly search for better ways to train the dogs I live and work with.
I had a link sent to me recently by a client who had come across a trainer on Facebook having yet another dig at certain dog training methods. I believe somewhere there is a marketing guru that gives this advice
If you want to boost your business, just splurge every chance you get that you only train positively and those that don’t have not stumbled upon the fountain of knowledge yet.
I am all for positive training, my all time favourite training method is my training in drive system, but I know full well its limitations in some circumstances and of course with some owners, so it is pointless pretending that is the only method I use.
I read what this fellow had written and shook my head at what I was reading, it wasn’t so much the poor advice he was giving but the lack of respect he has for his peers in the dog training field. No one knows it all and can fix every dog, no one, so saying you can do it better than everyone is simply false propaganda.
The day after I read his writing I had a client come to see me with their dog, they asked what “specifically” was I going to do as they had been to three other trainers that had provided them nothing but wind. The lady in specific was searching for “an effective trainer that uses punishment“, she said.
I don’t like to use the term punishment to describe the way a client should interact with their dog. I think it comes with a feeling that indicates I want them to be angry, mean or harsh with their dog, which of course is not what I am striving for.
I questioned her a little more and some time revealed that she had been drawn to the advertising some of these guys put out telling how anyone that doesn’t train purely positively is in the dark ages and that they would show superior results.
She had attended training with three of them now and this is what her description of the sessions where: –
She was quite harsh with me, seemed quite happy to “correct” me all the way through the lesson, she was telling me left right and centre how and what I was doing wrong. When I allowed my dog some slack in the leash so the head halter was not constantly pulling on his face she screeched “No! No! No!, leash freedom is equal to no rules! Keep that leash tight, don’t give him a millimeter” she screamed.
He was quite nice, he told me that we won’t be using any corrections at all, just like his website stated, because corrections cause the dog stress. He followed on by telling me not to feed my dog any food for 3 days, nothing. Then offer food for a recall. The trainer said if my dog doesn’t come, don’t feed him for a further 3 days.
She attempted to manage my dog on a halter also, my dog fought the halter until she gave up and told me that my dog has severe behaviour problems and needs medication.
So my client was looking for results not ideals.
I have worked with a lot of trainers over my time that use a variety of methods, some of the more common methods I have seen used and labelled positive, I have listed below.
Make the dog hungry
I have no problem with cutting back a dogs food, I have no problem creating a dog that is hungry so I can make use of a higher food drive, but I don’t think or pretend that in the initial stages the dog will not feel some stress when meal times go by and there is no food.
I do think that is controllable and manageable and so if I think it will have benefit, I might direct a client to “deregulate meals”. Now this doesn’t mean starve the dog, but rather take away the security of dinner time and offer it back in exchange for some work.
Is this easier on the dog than say a physical correction? I don’t think it is for some dogs no, I think if you dropped a dogs meals for 3 days some would rather be corrected many times rather than feel constant hunger and therefore stress that may come with it, whilst some dogs wouldn’t care at all.
Do I feel that the head halter is less stressful than say a Martingale collar or a Prong collar? Sometimes yes and sometimes no, and of course it depends on how it is used. Many people label head halters a positive piece of training equipment and they are wrong or lying.
I think as some label it positive, others use them as they feel they will be seen in a more positive light.
Ideally clicker training is marker training and I feel that marker training is a great way to communicate with your dog. I don’t use a clicker a lot but have no problem with those that do. The problem often comes when suggesting that there are no negatives, no stress or no consequences involved.
Asking the dog to complete a task and then not clicking and rewarding when the dog makes a mistake will add stress. It has to, the dog was performing the task to gain the reward and when it doesn’t achieve that reward, that loss is the pressure that helps remove the wrong behaviour the dog offered (negative punihsmet).
Again no problem with any of this as long as the people selling this method aren’t trying to do so on the purely positive wave.
A while ago the term shaping emerged as a system that had the dog offer behaviours in order to achieve a reward, a no stress, pressure method. In behaviour work, “shaping” is called an “extinction burst”.
The dog in training is offered a reward but that reward is withheld until the dog offers the correct behaviour, if the behaviour is simplistic and the dog figures it out early, it will be rewarded and all is well, but be aware that if the dog tries a number of behaviours with none of them being correct, stress, and a lot of it can occur.
Again there is no problem with this as long as we are not pretending it doesn’t happen.
I don’t avoid the use of dog training aids or tools based on public opinion, politics or how I will be seen, instead I choose tools based on how effective they will be at getting my client the best results.
I find more often than not people are not looking to fit into a group, an ideal or politically correct movement, instead they just want help with their dog and have be made to feel guilty about how they could have avoided this problem if a year ago they were more proactive.
Some protest and attack those that use some tools or methods, saying that these tools should be banned. Many of them haven’t used the tools at all, but can state that of course they cause harm, are cruel, don’t work and are many other things that are untrue.
Do the people who would banish aversive tools really believe they can solve every dog problem with every dog both now and in the future, or do they simply not care?
Have they decided on a method that works for them and in their situation that they find works, and believe that it will work on all dogs, everywhere in every situation, forever ?
I say forever because if a tool is banned it will stay banned.
It is a real shame that people focus so much on promoting themselves as better trainers because of the methods or tools that they use, rather than on the results they get.
Can we really take the chance at removing a training or management tool from the available choices because we are 100% sure that we will never, ever need it again on any dog, any time in any situation?
Because that is what is being said…
I had a friend of mine stay a couple of days at our home, she is also a dog trainer by profession and runs a nice business of her own. She dropped in on a few consults to see how things are done and after seeing a few of the dogs that I had that day, she said quote “I don’t know how you do it, these are the worst behaved, most frightening dogs I have ever seen, and you are getting them moving forward in a very short time“.
She doesn’t “attract” the clientele that I seem to, I have a reputation as the guy that won’t turn any dog away, and I won’t, but I also won’t pretend that all dogs can be rehabbed purely by rewards, this isn’t always possible, practical or effective.
I guess one message that I would like to pass to other trainers or behaviourists that read this blog is:
Try to take a proactive approach towards others in our field, instead of discrediting them, highlighting what they can’t do or things they use that you wouldn’t, be a professional and be confident in the work that you offer, those who are confident don’t need to attack others, their work and results speak volumes.
My overall advice to anyone looking for someone to help train their dog is as follows: –
Pet dog that needs basic obedience: – How fast do you want to learn? a good Private Trainer will get you farther than a group class faster, but of course you pay for that. The main consideration is making sure the trainer you choose meets your needs, I personally would not choose a trainer by the method they use but the results they get with dogs like yours.
Pet Dogs that needs behaviour modification for problems such as aggression etc: – This one is more complex because the first consideration you need to make is that, you will not have endless chances to overcome this problem. Some problems are hard enough to solve even on the first attempt. A dog that has been presented with many methods is one that will become resilient to change.
Next is that, you need to see a Behaviourist not a trainer, the difference is that trainers teach steps and behaviourists work on the psychological aspects of your dog. I still feel that assessment of the behaviourist may be best done by making sure they have worked with these problems previously, with dogs like yours (in terms of temperament) and have some good results behind them.
Qualifications are nice but not essential and I would prefer experience over qualifications, but seek both if you can get them.
Working Dogs: – Your run of the mill pet dog trainer may struggle with working line dogs, they are often more driven, resistant to some reward styles, fast and at times resistant to pressure. If you have a working line dog, choose your trainer well as you will find many that will be out of their depth with these types of dogs. If your working dog develops a behaviour problem then you will need a behaviourist that is also familiar with working with them and how to deal with them. Results speak volumes here.
Sport Dogs: – This can be tricky too as most dogs that compete at top levels have a foundation structure that needs to be adhered too all the way through the training program. Dogs that have trained in one foundation then had other layers applied over the top often look confused and inaccurate. You can’t un-teach something, so if you are using a method and it is working, stick with it. This in hindsight means, choose your method well.
Someone who does well with their dog may not do well with yours at all, there are a number of reasons for this including the very common one, not all people are trained to teach others.
I think in today’s world, time is short, but know that for every hour of good training you put into your dog, you get back 100 good hours in return!
Do the math, it is totally worth it!