Why must love hurt?


Dog training, it can either be a pleasurable experience or an absolute nightmare. Trust me being a dog trainer right now can sometimes feel like dodging bullets from other trainers from different minds of thought.

I am a force free trainer, I use scientific evidence and a huge dollop of common sense and empathy, my job is helping a dog that may have issues or simply teaching an owner how to get their dog to do simple behaviours such as walk without pulling, it is not my job or my nature to play judge or jury with my clients, I wouldn’t be very good at force free if I didn’t adopt that ethos with the humans either.

So we move onto why I am writing this, I am slightly fed up with being accused of overcharging clients to advise a dog be euthanized, yes indeed this is the utter tosh that seems to be spouted by the “we learned dog training watching sky TV” brigade. Firstly it is not my decision to make such a monumental verdict on someone else’s dog, when dealing with cases that this subject inevitably rears its head (aggression) careful analysis and diagnosis is essential, medical reasons must be ruled out, is this aggression fear driven? (which it mostly is) is the situation best resolved with careful environmental management? Is the owner capable of following the correct program provided? Is the dog a danger to the public? This one is not on the dog trainers head but the law of the land and none of us are above the law. Has the dog bitten? Was it provoked? Is there a way of avoiding this in the future? So many questions it is impossible to answer unless you are dealing with that particular client at that particular time. So why is this the main retort thrown at force free trainers like myself when we question methods such as Rank Reduction; Believing you have to be some super power alpha in order to get the dog under control. The use of aversives; tools that aid in getting a dog to do or not do something in particular like choke chains, prong collars, shock collars, water bottles etc. Or using emotionally invasive techniques that put your dog into a state of learned helplessness; learned helplessness occurs when an animal is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal will stop trying to avoid the stimulus and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action.

Seriously in the past I have asked a trainer “why would you pin a dog when there are other options open?” answer “Its a red zone case & all you would do is euthanize it” end of discussion, and is usually followed by a stream of their previous clients who have also been cleverly subjected to the same emotional attack that they’ve been told to practice on their dog, personally attacking you for asking a simple question. I have little time for the person pulling the strings but can’t help but feel sorry for the conditioned fan club.

Big question why? If you can teach a killer whale to pee in a cup for health checks using patience and fish how difficult can it possibly be to teach a dog to walk next to you without the use of some medieval torture device? You can get a gorilla to move from one section of their enclosure to another happily for a banana so why give dog’s electronic shocks through their necks for barking! This creates aggression, makes me wonder if they haven’t produced the so red zone themselves to give them the excuse to their favourite rugby style tackle on your average Labrador and then spout “I am bringing him back to balance” Really? To me the dog looks desperate, nothing relaxing going on there.

So I decided to go on a little one woman mission to find out if there is a deeper reason for such behaviour and asked a friend of mine Tom, Tom has wide knowledge & experience of coaching & facilitation techniques, including psychometric, career coaching, NLP, Emotional Intelligence, Hero’s Journey, New Leader Transition & Dialogic Models. Tom like me is an avid follower of positive reinforcement and believes everything can be achieved using it.

After doing his own research not influenced by me in any way he got back to me with a stereotypical profile, this is a generalisation. Firstly he mentioned that these are probably people who are by their nature chaotic, more often exceedingly insecure and paranoid. This then produces a need to be seen to be in control and then feel like they must dominate in order to achieve this. Tom’s description reminded me of the head teacher in Pink Floyd’s “the wall”, where he was so abused by his wife that he in turn took his angst out on his pupils, beating them both physically and emotionally. I must say after reading recent articles about a certain celebrity trainer and his public split with his wife this sounds to be a true stereo type, paranoid, insecure & chaotic! Tom also said there would be the others that used a certain breed type as an excuse, having a ten stone dog somehow equates to its inability to learn like a toy breed, the need again to feel in control physically. He also talked about the self reinforcing aspect, a prong goes on the dog is compliant, but you aren’t controlling the dog, pain is!

I answer all these nonsense untruths with clear facts, prongs produce pain, shock collars produce shocks, choke chains choke….it isn’t rocket science, there is no mild discomfort only serious aversion and a miserable dog. I also have never said to client “you have reached the end of the road euthanasia is your only option”, I asked other FF trainers and they said the same. Carol McPherson said “PTS (put to sleep) is not in most force free dog trainers vocabulary; most FF trainers have a variety of proven techniques up their sleeves when it comes to modifying unwanted behaviours, including displays of aggression. In addition FF trainers are adept at teaching owners management skills, short term while training is in process, and long term should intervention prove difficult.”

I could go on with quote after quote of fed up FF trainers been tarred with an unfair brush to assist our local dog whisperers in their life mission to prove that only they alone hold the answers, their calm assertive energy alone is enough, their finger click and tsssshhhhtttt is something dogs learn in utero, fact is we can train dolphins, killer whales,  grizzly bears, lions using positive reinforcement it then escapes me that some believe the most naturally compliant animal in the world cant! We teach children using positive reinforcement as we know it works best for their psychological well being growing into rounded rational adults. I for one will continue to speak up against these intransigent people on behalf of my and other dogs.

Thank you for allowing me to vent this. As always The Power Of Positivity. XP1010180

8 thoughts on “Why must love hurt?

  1. So much common sense. I meet people on a daily basis shouting or hitting their dogs. Shouting louder does not make your dog hear you any better.

  2. Sounds a bit hypocritical. Your making out all the other trainers to look like insecure monsters just like they make all FF trainers ones to overcharge and put dogs down. Why do FF trainers always feel the need to push their beliefs on people. And when someone doesn’t fall into their guide lines they go on to attack them. Not very positive. That whale that pees in a cup, let it out of its enclosure into the wild and see what happens. And science has to be proven, so who’s doing all the testing on these dogs? Is there some scientist or behaviorist putting prong collars and shock collars on dogs and using them inappropriately to create this “self helplessness”? There are good and bad trainers on both sides and that will never change. And some FF trainers will use adversive as a last resort. Some adversive trainers will convert to FF and vice a versa. I know one thing, I get a lot of clients that have used a FF trainer and then there options run out because the trainers limited skill set and then I get the call after they have spent money and no are at a loss. Much like the Rottie yesterday who is starting to resource guard. The giving the dog a treat to drop or move away from something that she was taught wasn’t working anymore. Will I “alpha roll” this dog, will I intimidate the dog, will I use force? Not at all. But will I guide the dog into making a better decision? Yes. I don’t need force to do that, just creativity.

    • Hi Glenn, firstly I don’t see what is hypocritical. If you check the writting it does say that Tom expressed this was a generalisation, so I would imagine that are others that do not fall into the insecure & paranoid bracket.
      A force free trainer in the true sense of the word would not use aversives as a last resort and if you know someone that promotes themselves as force free and would use such methods then they are not what they say they are.
      I would add that i am not “forcing a belief” on anybody, I wrote how I feel about the situation, learning is educating if it was all kept quiet then no body would ever know. And as a positive trainer am I supposed to say “you use cruel and inhumane methods but I will smile because I am positive trainer who never has bad emotions about anything”?
      If you would like to check out the theory of “learned helplessness” you only have to google it and see the work of american psychologists Maier & Seligman’s findings on this, so yes that would be a proven.
      As for science be proven you really do not have to be super educated to know that an electric shock hurts, you can quite easily try this one out for yourself.
      Onto another point you made about FF trainers limited skills, be very careful on criticising that one if you are getting information second hand, taking the word of your potential client is only taking one side of the story and perhaps the BM program they were put on was not be followed as per instructed. Again I see the same “I am alone in my heroic world” when I see your comment “I get the call after they have spent money” I am sure every trainer in the world can tell a similar story whether FF or not.
      Question, “I dont need force to do that, just creativity”, as a FF trainer you have to be creative, you have to find a way of making every owner more appealing than the environment around them, that requires some pretty nifty work. How exactly are you guiding the dog into making a better decision?

    • Please make a video available of the technique(s) used to “guide the dog into making a better decision” in regards to resource guarding, as I have only found food to work here. I am a force-free trainer in America and would love to hear about these other methods that do not include any intimidation or pain. I’m not sure what to make of the idea about science. I’ve spent years learning the science behind positive reinforcement training. All of the evidence about aversives is what the “science” is based on, the body of knowledge collected over years and then analyzed. For someone to even mention the use of aversive means as an option evidences a clear and complete lack of or misunderstanding of this body of knowledge. In my opinion.

  3. What is it with those that take offence to force free trainers and educators?
    I have never portrayed another dog trainer as a monster, My job is to educate the dog owning public in how to care, manage, and train their dogs. As a responsible educator I do not promote aversion training; I teach positive reinforcement, and how to prevent future problems. I tailor what I teach depending on the family dynamics, so I am not a one trick pony.
    Unlike supporters of other more aversive methods, (which were deffinately on the way out, before Television re popularized them) I have no reason to feel picked on if my ways are questioned. If indeed I started to feel unfairly persecuted for my choice of tools, I may have to do some introspection, not blame those questioning them.

  4. Another great post. I totally agree with you, a lot of the clients I see have been brainwashed by tv shows with ‘so-called’ dog trainers using harsh methods and it is sometimes really difficult to bring them around to the idea of positive reward-based training methods. (I get a lot of comments like “why should I give him treats all the time, he should just do as he is told” . I think it would be great to have a qualified trainer on tv using all the positive methods that we all know work brilliantly. Keep up the good work and ignore the misguided comments of others.

    Veterinary Nurse at Castle Vets

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