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.