Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Welcome and Growing Trend

In the past few months we have seen a very welcome trend emerge as common-sense trainers, offering a balanced approach to training dogs and resolving behavioural issues, began to come together to form a humane dog training movement. While there already are several associations for dog trainers (to which some within the emerging group still belong) others have felt it necessary to dissociate from these organizations.

What makes this movement unique is that rather than focus on 'corporate self interest' and association growth, its focus is on the training needs of the consumer and the gaps in what often is currently being promoted in the name of "dog training." Because of the cancerous growth of the positive dog training movement (sometimes referred to as the pure positive or pp movement) dog owners have lost sight of effective training, limit setting that works, the need to teach "NO" and how to truly be an owner and leader.

This is all good news for dogs and their owners because unless we begin to demonstrate effective training and put the brakes on some of the undesirable behaviours, our very relationship with "man's best friend" may be strained past the breaking point. Anyone reading this and wondering who to contact for help in training their dog should really look past the rhetoric of the Ideologue and search for a balanced humane trainer that focuses on reliable results. Look for real dog training you can live with.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


It’s been said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” This statement is fundamental to understanding what so often goes wrong and how we sometimes manage to derail the best made plans for our canine buddy. Despite our intention to properly train him (or if there is already a problem, do “whatever it takes” to get him back on track) we ofttimes simply don’t follow through. In this section I want to examine what makes it so hard to succeed even when we know what needs to be done.

When the owner desires to train their dog or solve a problem, it would seem all that is needed is the right information combined with the correct application. “How to” advice is available from a variety of sources and in all kinds of media. For every endeavor there exists reams of sound and useful suggestions. Knowledge alone isn’t enough. It is not unusual for a new client to tell me what they need to be doing but ‘something’ (they are not always sure what) has prevented them from applying that knowledge. For some of those answers, I encourage owners to look inside themselves, to what makes them “tick.”

The following case illustrates some of the more common traps owners can fall into:

B.T. is a fourteen-month-old, very active and assertive Belgian Tervuren. Margaret is an easy-going woman in her mid forties. They had been to class when B.T. was just a puppy for some very basic puppy training exercises and socialization. About a year later I had occasion to become reacquainted with her, her husband and the dog.

This was not one of those occasions which all trainers enjoy when someone drops by to say how wonderful everything has been going; this was a much more serious occasion. B.T. had inflicted several bites on his owner, a few serious enough to require medical attention.

When this puppy had been obtained at 7-8 weeks (from a local first-time breeder) they had every good intention of raising him right and turning him into a great companion. They heard socialization is critical and so from the time they got B.T. they took him everywhere with them.

Margaret had heard dogs make better companions if they are trained and so she arranged to bring him to my beginners training class when he was 3.5 months old. The dog caught onto things very quickly and demonstrated a keen working ability. It was also in the context of the class that I could see (and pointed out to his owner) the potential for serious problems in the future.

Margaret is an intelligent person and grasps most concepts without difficulty, yet she was having a lot of difficulty training B.T. He pulled her all over the place, didn’t pay attention to her and ignored any attempts she made to set limits. Her generally permissive style and the fact that she always seemed prepared to lavish affection upon him, saw B.T. continually gaining the upper hand.

When I met with her to address some of the problems, she admitted that even though she knew she needed to, she just didn’t seem able to assert herself when it came to dealing with B.T. She had a hard time setting limits and saying NO and tended to make excuses for maintaining the status quo, rather than look at the changes she needed to make.

As bad as things had become, I likely would not have heard from her had it not been for her vet urging her to call me. The vet was very concerned that she had a serious aggression problem, was not willing to acknowledge it and, therefore, was not dealing with it. The staff at the vet clinic were becoming intimidated by this dog’s behavior and, as already mentioned, he had already bitten the owner a few times.

According to her all the bites occurred when she was running to get to the ringing telephone. In addition to this however, she noted the dog (who is never confined in their home) often blocks their ability to move freely about the house. He challenged the husband once and got kneed in the chest for his trouble; since then he has backed right off when the husband gets firm with him.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Margaret remains exactly as she was when I met with her a year previous. She was still far too permissive with B.T. She was still resistive to changing how she interacts or to setting limits with the dog. She still was making excuses for his behavior and even though he could behave himself quite nicely with her husband, he would not listen to her. Though a treatment plan was agreed upon and put into place, it will not be easy for Margaret, but the outcome very much depends on her ability to stick to it.

On an intellectual level Margaret knows what the problem is and what steps must be taken to rectify the problems she is having with her dog. She readily admits that she needs to change if she is to have any hope of getting things under control with B.T. On an emotional level however, she is having some difficulty taking those steps. Certain feelings she is having are clearly interfering with her effectiveness. For example, she speaks about feeling guilty if she corrects B.T. and fears he won’t like her (rejection) if she imposes limits. She also becomes anxious when contemplating asserting herself and the possibility of a confrontation. Ultimately, what is stopping Margaret from succeeding is the same thing that all of us stumble over from time to time - personal inertia and resistance to any changes which requires us to operate outside our comfort zone.

While everyone has their own unique personality style, it generally encompasses common elements which others can identify with and share. Our own personal style will contain traits and sub-traits that, when combined, determine our comfort zone. Generally changes within that zone are fairly easy to accommodate but being required to operate outside that zone will be experienced as uncomfortable and is usually resisted.

Even when willing to do so (and convinced of the necessity of operating outside that zone) energy and conscious effort are required. Depending on our state of mind and the length of time required, this can be quite draining and anxiety provoking. Anytime we are tired, stressed or operating on ‘autopilot,’ we tend to revert to old comfortable patterns. This is something to be watched for and guarded against because, while we can adapt and learn many new skills, our core will remain as the place we are most likely to go to when pushed hard enough.

Let’s use Margaret as an example: she is an easy going woman with the personality traits of patience, persistence, thoughtfulness and friendliness. What she needs to practice more to correct the imbalance in her relationship with B.T. is assertiveness (expressed through the sub-traits of efficiency, self-motivation, independence and self-confidence). These qualities need to be utilized when B.T. is pushing her, testing her limits and resolve and when he is most stimulated. Once he calms and is more accepting, she can then calm as well and move more into her comfort zone - but always with the understanding that she would move back into the “more assertive Margaret” role whenever necessary.

In order to be able to move into this role, Margaret would have to work on developing those sub-traits she was currently lacking or low in, i.e.,. Could she do it? Yes. Would she do it? That depends on how much she is committed, motivated and willing to change.

The examples of both Mocha and B.T. help illustrate that whatever changes are being sought must be worked for. In order to effect a change in each dog, the owners also had to make some changes. The metamorphoses of both dog and owner are often connected, with the changes evident in the dog reflecting those in the owner.

Reality & Seductions

- by Roger Hild

When it comes to training dogs, the reality is there are many techniques which can be employed. This fact becomes readily apparent when you do a little research. Such research will also reveal some fairly entrenched views about the moral/ethical superiority of one’s preferred approach over that of their competitors. Some approaches, you will note, have been around for quite awhile and will have withstood the test of time while other approaches will be relatively new and not as well proven.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of the approaches per se, there is often a seductive quality to the marketing pitch advocates of various approaches use to gain converts to their cause. The seductiveness is to be found in the assurances that, whatever the desired results, they can be had with very little investment of oneself outside their comfort zone. This means for the person with very little patience, the promise would be for immediate results; for the individual that sees themself as too busy, the promise would be accomplishment with no additional effort and for the individual that hates having to set limits or engage in any sort of confrontation, the promise is never having to correct your dog or say “no.” Also, in addition to the marketing of their chosen approach, there is often an attempt to discredit and even demonize others who utilize different, and ofttimes more effective, training approaches. A wise dog owner will watch for traps that play to or attempt to exploit vague moral or ethical ideals. Other trainers (that use more traditional approaches) may be labeled as less humane, less “enlightened,” old-school, less scientific etc in an attempt to avoid objectively looking at the facts as they relate to effectiveness.

The type of learning we are primarily concerned with, when it comes to training dogs, is experiential i.e. learning from experiences. We provide and repeat the experiences from which we want the dog to learn. As we do this, we set up and manipulate cues, consequences and behaviour so that the dog will learn the lesson we are trying to teach. Regardless of the type of training techniques, all training approaches will be fundamentally based on this concept. Those experiences are then organized in such a way so as to teach more complex lessons.

Those advocating for the new will often make reference to words like “latest” and “scientific” with the desire to link the two terms wherever possible. However, the fact is that when it comes to how dogs learn, there is really nothing new - dogs really haven’t changed much since we began keeping them as companions and neither has the way they learn.

In recent years many dog trainers have jumped on an “Operant Conditioning” bandwagon. The practitioners of this variety of “OC” are quick to make claims about how dogs learn and declare them to be based on the latest scientific knowledge. Unfortunately, there is nothing new nor scientific in their assertions or methods. It is also noteworthy that more efficient and effective training alternatives are available.

True Operant Conditioning is a reasonably balanced learning theory. It is a four-quadrant model that attempts to explain learning in terms of the consequences related to an action. Within that 4Q model are the different contingencies of positive and negative reinforcement as well as positive and negative punishment. Those who claim to subscribe to Operant Conditioning theory but who only are willing to work with the “reward” side of the equation are in reality practitioners of a bandwagon variety of OC that might more properly be called “PROC” or Positive Reinforcement Operant Conditioning. Where true OC offers a reasonable chance of success through balance, “PROC” is a very protracted and unrealistic method for attempting to train. The results are mediocre at best and more often simply disappointing. The motivation for “PROC” is not better training but a seductive philosophy (sometimes pursued with almost religious zeal) of abolishing all painful life lessons. It is indeed unfortunate that this almost narcissistic need (for a “warm and fuzzy,” feel good above all else approach to life) gets packaged and marketed as “animal-friendly” or “more humane.” It is a selfish approach designed to place the trainer's need to feel good above the learning needs of his student.

In psychological terms, conditioning means, “causing an organism to exhibit a specific response to a stimulus.” The conditioned response must be specific, reliable, highly predictable and reproducible. Any response (other than the “conditioned” response), any randomness or any failure to respond correctly, must be accounted for and explained. As I said earlier, there are several ways to cause the sought after response, using positive and negative consequences. By definition conditioning, particularly Skinners Operant Conditioning model, does not acknowledge or take into account any internal events such as thoughts, feelings, or motivations and therein lies its weakness. If these internal events are not acknowledged as contributing to the conditioning of the behavior, they cannot then be used to explain any “conditioning failures.” Conditioned performances, (particularly utilizing only positive reinforcement) while often improved, are often not the best that one would hope for or expect. When performance falters (as it frequently does) more conditioning will not solve the problem whereas addressing some of the internal factors (excluded by OC) or looking at relationship related issues, very often does.

The main problem with the theory of conditioning (and particularly with Operant Conditioning) is in the understanding and application of the learning process. Operant Conditioning is simply one kind of conditioning (made famous by B F Skinner) which seeks to explain all behavior and learning in terms of the associations made between responses to stimuli and the resulting consequences. Although behaviorists believe all thought processes can be accounted for through associations of stimuli and responses, other psychologists strongly reject such an approach as inadequate to explain many kinds of behavior.

A good training program, on the other hand, addresses the whole dog and not just the behavior. Along with utilizing all four quadrants found in the Operant Conditioning model, it also seeks to deal in those areas that behaviorists refuse to acknowledge (such as choice, motivation, drive, and various mental/emotional processes). It would flow from a philosophy which acknowledges that, in addition to (or regardless of) any conditioning, dogs make decisions and sometimes become contentious. Real training is about working with the dog to teach him what is expected – what choices to make and how to behave. It holds him accountable for the choices he makes. It acknowledges there is a difference between knowing and doing and that difference can sometimes represent a point of contention, rather than a lack of conditioning.

Training (for me) is as much about the interactive dynamics between student and teacher as about what is being taught. In the learning process (some of which will be a conditioning process) the student also learns about the teacher. Often the emerging interpersonal dynamics will influence subsequent behavior far more than any single training or conditioning sequence. At some point, tasks will be performed as taught because a choice has been made to do so - not simply as the result of some stimulus-response reflex (read conditioning) action.

On the other hand, behaviorism and its tool (Operant Conditioning) is, “neglected by cognitive etiologists and ecological psychologists convinced that its methods are irrelevant to studying how animals and persons behave in their natural and social environment,” according to a recent article on behaviorism published in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Also of note in the same article: “The deepest and most complex reason for behaviorism's demise is its commitment to the thesis that behavior can be explained without reference to mental activity. Many philosophers and psychologists find this thesis hopelessly restrictive. They reject behaviorism because of it....”

Punishment vs. Correction

In the course of a recent discussion about dogs pulling on leash (and what role corrections might play) a colleague queried me about the following:
“I change directions frequently, especially if I sense she's about to course ahead. If she moves to the end of the leash and there is pressure, I'll get her attention with a sound, and signal her to follow my new direction, and reinforce her for doing so. Of course any pressure is released for her doing so, but I did not deliver it. I keep my hands as still as stones. Now in your opinion, are there any leash corrections involved here?”

Without a doubt there are corrections in that example. The subject of the discussion is “learning theory,” not teaching theory. The intervention, as experienced by the dog, was effective and therefore “corrective.” Learning theory does not address who supplies the stimulus (pos. or neg.) only what its effect was on the subject. If, either by pulling the leash, simply stopping or changing direction, the dog experienced a stimulus that made him stop what he was doing, the effect was the same and the handler caused the correction to happen. The dog is not stupid, he knows from whence the correction came. If the correction was effective, the next thing the dog did was to look at you and move into a position beside you – he knows. He doesn’t stare off into the sky and wonder, “Lord was that you? Why me lord?”

If we were to all gather together in a large park and began training our dog, many of you would see that what I do probably isn’t a whole lot different than what you do – even those of you who say you use only “positive methods.” I am not a punishment based trainer, yet I do correct my dogs. The correction can be anything including redirection, removing a reward or applying an unpleasant (physical) consequence.

The first, (and most obvious) problem is deciding what the words themselves mean. Secondly, (and most important) we must begin to appreciate how the average layperson understands those words. JQP is seldom a scientist and yet these words have been part of the common vocabulary since long before there were “behaviorists” attempting to give new meanings to everyday words.

Terms such as “positive punishment,” “negative punishment,” “aversive” etc. for a variety of reasons, have all become a part of the ‘behaviorspeak’ movement. In the laboratories where they were studying behavior, people like B. F. Skinner began using many common words (such as the terms already mentioned) to describe their observations, philosophies, actions and beliefs. It likely was not their intent to change the meanings of many of these words but what they ended up doing was to add a somewhat different meaning to some of them. The problem comes when we don’t all sing from the same book (nor should we feel we must).

The meanings given these words by behaviorists are not what I (as a part of JQP) mean when I use them and herein lies the problem. Take the word “punish,” the Oxford dictionary definition is: “Cause (offender) to suffer for offence; chastise; inflict penalty on (offender); inflict penalty for (offence); (colloq.) inflict severe blows on (opponent)….” Punishment is defined as “punishing penalty.” Nowhere in the definition is there any mention that a punishment is to correct or change behavior; it is simply the penalty handed out, after the fact, for unacceptable behavior. These definitions are in line with what most people think when they use the word.

The word “Correct” does have as one of its meanings, to punish but it is with the intent of making right. Other meanings are: Set right; substitute right thing (for wrong one); counteract; bring into accordance with standard; eliminate aberration etc.

The “behaviorspeak” definition of punishment is any action that is used to stop a behavior or reduce its occurrence (and the definition is based on the outcome). According to those that subscribe to this definition, corrections would be included under the heading of punishment. When they talk in terms of positive or negative punishment, they mean to add something to punish (positive = to add) or taking something away to punish (negative = take away). This gets further complicated by the use of the term “aversive” by which they usually mean the “punisher” which was added to make the behavior stop.

The interesting thing is that some of these “opposed to punishment” types, who would label any “aversive correction” as punishment, have a different standard for themselves. A few years ago, I was at a seminar being put on by a rather well known PROC (Positive Reinforcement Operant Conditioning) trainer. He decried the use of any form of “punishment.” One of the participants wanted help with her dog that pulled on leash. He took the dog and began to walk it. As soon as the dog charged away from his side, he stopped, dropped all slack and held on to the handle tightly. The dog hit the end of the line rather hard (I’d be hard pressed to leash correct any more effectively). This was repeated two more times and then the dog “miraculously” began to walk beside him. Someone asked him about his use of punishment and he denied it saying what he had shown us was not punishment but rather the dog correcting himself. (Note: there is suddenly a distinction being made between punishment and correction?)

The aversion some trainers feel (to acknowledge an action as a correction) is an interesting phenomenon and it speaks to the person’s personal issues more than it does to dog training philosophy. Two possible reasons come to mind (there may be more) why someone would be reluctant to acknowledge a correction:
1. Economic – they want their training philosophy to seem politically correct so that clients will want to train with them.
2. Emotional – they may feel caught on the horns of their own “moral dilemma” and want to assuage their feelings of guilt.

The fact that JQP does make a distinction between correction and punishment is important. Those in the “positive behaviorspeak” camp know and exploit the fact that there is such a strong emotional reaction to the term “punishment” (as evidenced by this very discussion and many more just like it). If they can convince potential clients that they are “punishing” their dog (rather than correcting him) they can then make the argument to both the new client and to themselves, that theirs is the more “humane” way to train.

So to get back to that gathering in the park, I would expect to see a variety of techniques with some very good training going on. Pushing aside the different philosophies and terms others might use, I would expect to see an interaction between each dog and handler that connected consequences to behaviors. Beyond this I’d also expect to see (especially with the really good trainers) a level of communication that transcends anything the theorists could have imagined.

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So..........Define Training

Someone once told me that in their opinion, most dogs (90%) are untrained. I don’t know if that figure is accurate or not but I’ll agree that a large number are not very well behaved. One of the problems I have with that assertion is I’m not sure what the claimant means by the word “trained.” To muddy the water further, we have heard all kinds of ideas about how some kinds of early training can interfere with other (future) training.

Here are a few more rambling thoughts to add to the above subjects:

It has been estimated that an alarming percentage of high school students are functionally illiterate when they graduate. Similarly, I see a number of dogs that have been through school and permitted to graduate that are “training illiterates.” I think there is a correlation that is reflected in the prevailing cultural/political attitudes.

Politically, I can only speak for my small part of the globe (Ontario Canada). Prior to the 2004 election here, under a Conservative government, we had seen a return to standards and testing. The result was an improvement in the literacy rate. The teacher unions led the fight against reintroducing testing and standards and we heard some pretty crazy claims about how being forced to pass tests might damage a student’s self-esteem. They stated the ability to meet testable standards didn’t indicate a student is really learning or gaining anything. Parents, however, thought the standards were great and approval for standards and testing was very high. We once again have a Liberal government and there is already evidence that the academic standards will be abandoned for a more “feel-good” socially correct agenda. I see the same arguments used against holding training and trainers to any standards. The problem is thus a human, politically motivated one and not unique to teachers or trainers.

Does an average family dog (that has learned to abide by the house rules and do as she is told), qualify as trained? I have an actual dog in mind. I did not train this dog – her owners did not seek out any trainer and she did not go to any training classes. I met her because she lives next door to one of my former clients. She is an AussieXCollie mix about three years old. She stays off the road and the only place she is permitted to go is next door to play with the Newf (my clients dog). She always comes when whistled for and will stay put if told. I am told that in the house she is perfect and never gets into anything she isn’t supposed to. When outside and told to stay in her own yard she does. If a stranger walks in to the yard, she will bark and follow them to the door but other than sound the alarm, has never made any aggressive move toward anyone coming on the property. Let’s call her “Dog A” and hold her up for comparison to a couple other dogs.

Dog B is also three and has been going to school since starting puppy class at 12 weeks (has never been my student – only saw the dog in consultation). This dog has been through several beginner and “second-level” classes plus trick and agility classes. The dog supposedly knows all the obedience commands but when I asked the owner to get him to sit the owner was ignored – no sit. The dog also would not come and pulled on leash. The reason for the consult – the dog is “reactive” and has gotten into several fights with other dogs. The dog would only “perform” obedience commands once the owner bribed him with treats and only then for a brief period.

Dog C is a Standard Poodle I saw at a correction match. This dog was observed entering the building on his hind legs pulling for all he is worth. The owner’s arm was fully extended and the dog was all but hauling her off her feet. Inside the building people moved to get their dogs out of this poodle’s path and there were a number of growls from several other dogs. At one point the poodle jumped up on a table holding a bunch of premium lists. I was told (didn’t observe) that the dog would be better behaved once inside the ring.

Dog D lives next door and spends much of his time on the end of a chain. He does go inside when the family is home but otherwise he will wander the roads and they have to go running after him to get him back. Given the chance, he’ll shit in any yard but his own.

To my way of thinking the only dog that qualifies is Dog A. What dogs do you think qualify?

Variations on a Theme

Once upon a time in a far distant place, there was a tribe of people that really loved cars. Indeed, some loved cars so much that they even had more than one. Things started to go a bit sour, in this far distant place, when word started to get out that some of these beloved cars were involved in some rather nasty accidents and people sometimes got badly hurt. What to do?

Initially, it seemed, many of the car owners seemed to be content simply ignoring the problem – hoping it would go away. As the number of incidents reported each day continued to increase, ignoring was no longer an option. As the outcry increased, the people demanded their tribal leaders do something. The leaders, ever sensitive to the demands of the crowd, asked for clarification as to what exactly is the problem.

It was at about this same time that a group of the more astute folks began to identify a number of issues. Some of the things they noticed were:

- The large number of “problem cars.” It was noted that many people were not able to get their car do what they wanted it to. Some folks had to make several attempts just to get the car going where they wanted it to go. (This realization sparked a new industry [trainers] dedicated to teaching people how to safely make their cars do what they wanted).

- Many of the more serious injuries were caused by Chev. Pick-up trucks.

- More “accidents” seemed to happen at locations where more of the tribes people tended to congregate.

- Some of the cars were very poorly put together and not properly maintained.

- There was a segment of the tribe that believed it was wrong to own cars.

As pressure mounted to “do something,” the leaders looked at a number of actions. They considered where the accidents happened and decided to limit car access to these areas. This led to the formation of “car parks” these were small enclosed areas (complete with guard rails) where people were free to take their car and drive it in circles for an hour or two. This seemed to help some but the pressure continued so they looked at banning certain makes of cars.

Since many of the injuries were from Chev pick-ups, they decided to ban them. Meantime the trainers were saying there is no need to ban vehicles, people just need to learn how to drive properly. They argued that it is not the vehicle but the driver that needs to be dealt with – punish the bad drivers, they urged. They also pointed out the poorly built and poorly maintained vehicles and said, “someone should do something about that.”

Still the carnage on the roads continued and the experts continued to argue about what the real cause was and what the solution should be. Meantime the group who didn’t think people ought to own cars began to get excited because they could see that in time, they just might get their wish. They would just push for more and more 'vehicle ban' legislation and also push for more and more “No cars allowed” locations. They thought it great that the "experts" couldn’t agree and seemed unable to get over their “pissin’ contest.”

As all this was going on, there was a group that kept asking, “Why not hold people responsible for their actions?” Why not make people prove they can actually drive and if they can, let them take their car in public. If someone can’t demonstrate safe driving, remove them from public areas until they are once again safe.

Others thought this might be a good idea but they had a number of reservations. They wanted to know how they could identify those who qualified to be in public with a car. When the concept of certifying or licensing was floated, they cried “No way, we don’t want the tribal leaders having that kind of bureaucratic power” (they seemed to forget that the leaders were getting set to ban the vehicles.) The most curious objection seemed to come from the trainers: they seemed to be very concerned about their own liability. While they agreed (in principle) that everyone who has a car should learn to drive, they could not agree that the owner should have to demonstrate that they can drive. Curious indeed.


The voice on the other end of the line was not one I recognized. “I’m having a problem with my dog and my vet says you’re the person to call. Can you help me?” I listen as she describes a problem I’ve dealt with many times before, assure her that I can help and arrange to meet her and her dog the following week - you will meet them later in this book.

These days when my phone rings, it is usually someone looking for help with their dog. Most often the dog is intended as a companion for the family. A small percentage of those contacting me will be looking to prevent problems before they start; while a larger group seeks help resolving behaviours that have already become troublesome. In many instances the relationship has already reached a crisis point where quick intervention is called for. This crisis is not only a problem for the individual owner but is rapidly emerging as a collective, societal problem where legislators feel compelled to explore, and at times implement, various kinds of anti-dog legislation.

Judging by the type and number of “issues” people are having with their dogs, someone who didn’t know better might conclude dogs just arrived on this planet - certainly not the loyal friend we’ve lived with for thousands of years! What has gone so wrong, in the past few decades, to threaten such a long and enduring relationship? Can something be done to get this relationship back on track? I believe the answer is a definite yes. Once we understand what the problems really are and what needs to be done, I believe the motivations are there to resolve the issues and the solutions are not that difficult to implement.

With this message of hope in mind, I want to look at the whole dog, all of his behaviour and everything surrounding him that influences how he is/acts. These postings, therefore, are intended to be much more than yet another ‘how to’ about training. While training is certainly an important factor, it is far from being the only important consideration. Far too many trainers teach/view training in isolation but fail when it comes to generalizing the training experience to normal everyday life. I get calls all the time (and I’m guessing other trainers do as well) complaining that their dog has already been “trained” and is still behaving in a completely unacceptable manner. Sometimes the dog has been through more than one course of training and can perform many behaviours in a circus-like manner; but outside those performances, the dog remains out of control. The good news is that many of the ingredients for successfully resolving most issues and gaining the control you need, are already within your grasp.

Trends Part 1 - Dog Training Methods and Philosophies

About 4 years ago I was encouraged to run for office in the Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers. At the time, I had been rather vocal about the need to maintain some balance in training and I was opposed to limiting trainers options. I was encouraged to put my money where my mouth is and stand for office – I didn’t think I’d have a hope in hell but I agreed to run anyway. My message was simply that we should remain inclusive. I was not interested in banning methods or tools and I was opposed to a mandatory certification proposal. In the election that followed, I was elected vice-chair of the CAPPDT – no one was more surprised than me.

That same year, I was asked to present a case study at our annual conference and I decided to present a case that I was pretty sure would make some people think and would likely stir up some controversy. For that particular case, given the complexity of issues that we were working with, we used a wide range of options – but it was when I mentioned using the remote training collar that an audible gasp could be heard. The net result of that presentation was very interesting. Some hated it – in fact some left. Many were very curious and there were many questions and discussions which occurred outside the seminar hall. Some were curious how someone that would use a pinch collar and later an ecollar could end up as vice-chair of the association. I was particularly struck by the comments where some said that for the first time, they felt like they had found a group to which they could belong. The point is however, the more options you are able to offer, the more likely you are to find something that fits and works well.

This post is the first of several on the topic and is based on a talk given a year ago to the Lindsay Kennel Club. More to follow - watch for them.

Trends Part 2 - The Ever-swinging Pendulum

No doubt most of you thought this article is about dog training – but that’s only partially true. This piece is also about human nature and how we are constantly struggling to incorporate new ideas while resolving issues which commonly arise out of a resistance to change. It’s also about dealing with basic disagreements and resolving interpersonal conflicts – these are human problems, the subject in this instance just happens to be about training dogs. Helping people with their dog related goals might be our primary motivation but regardless of what it is we set out to accomplish, we will get derailed if we cannot resolve the basic struggles that inevitably arise.

If any of you were to ever take a look at some of the stuff I’ve hung onto over the years, you’d see that I’ve collected a lot of stuff with a hope that someday I’ll be able to use it again. My closet is filled with hope – “Hope this comes back in style and hope I’ll be able to wear that again.” Platform shoes and bellbottom trousers are coming back – I just know it! Someday this will all be back in vogue! Ever notice how often “new trends” are often nothing more than recycled older patterns?

Ever hear the expressions, “everything old is new again” or “we’ve now come full circle?” Like most common expressions, these are grounded in a basic truth that comes from our human experience. It has also been said that we are doomed to continue repeating patterns and experiences from which we have not learned.

Anyone new to dog training is going to be in the same place I was when I began. That place is your own personal starting point – we all have one. You are all no doubt aware of the impact of first impressions … well, your own personal starting point is nothing more than a kind of first impression. Many of the views we have about something are strongly influenced by and grounded in, the prevailing views which make up that starting point. We like to view our beginning at something as fresh and new, unencumbered by the stale outdated ideas of the past. Your growth starts from that point and it may take awhile before you realize your starting point is probably not new and that the pendulum has in fact passed through that point before. Fact is, there is very little that is new when it comes to training dogs. The proof of this statement can be determined by reviews of old training manuals and through conversations with trainers that have been around a long time. Fact is that man has been working with dogs quite successfully for thousands of years. Still, there are many different views concerning the best way to train dogs.

Let me tell you about my starting point - back in 1982, when I first began trying to train my own dog. This may sound strange but the motivation was this: My wife and I had bought two Lhasa Apsos and I wanted my dog “Boots” to sit on command but I had no idea how to properly go about training him to do this. My wife found an advertisement for classes in the local paper and suggested maybe it would be a good idea for us to take the dogs to dog training class. Experience over the years has taught me that she is usually right – and debate only prolongs the inevitable - so off to dog training classes we went.

At that time the school we enrolled in described it’s method as “Praise and Correction.” The first handout they gave everyone stressed this point. We were to praise the dog when he was right and correct him when he was wrong. They did not believe in using food to train, saying it was an inferior method because if training is based upon “Bribery,” the dog will never be reliable. They stressed the importance of the owner taking charge as the most reliable approach. The owners were happy and everyone seemed to clearly love their dog. The dogs did very well and seemed to glow with the pride of accomplishment and the praise of their owners.

For my part, I not only ended up with a dog that sat – my original goal - but also learned a whole lot more. From this experience I was hooked and I went on to take Open and then Utility. It didn’t stop there…I also entered trials, got titles and joined the training staff of that club. Thus began my journey with dogs.

No doubt there are others reading this right now that had a similar experience. Am I correct?

Since I began my training experience, I’ve seen “new” methods emerge and I’ve seen techniques come and go. I’ve seen people with very strong opinions bring forward all manner of ideology – some of it quite extreme. The pendulum was swinging and me along with it. Likely the pendulum will continue to swing as it is driven by the energy of human viewpoint and endeavor.

Now consider this, despite the pendulum swinging, despite the changes in methodology that we’ve seen, the basic need remains. That need is to train the dog so that we can continue to live together in harmony and enjoy each other’s company. We are simply always on the lookout for better ways to meet that basic need.

It’s been said that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. In other words, if you can understand what the need is and find a better way of meeting that need, the public will insure your success. It also implies there will always be mice that need trapping and for us, there will (hopefully) always be dogs that need training.

Trends Part 3 - What do you mean by Training?

When I put myself into the shoes of the average dog owner... and from my own first venture into dog training, I would say this: It is my belief that most folk, when they get a dog, simply think along the lines of, “Well, I don’t want him to pee on the floor, I’d like to be able to take him for a walk without having my arm ripped out of it’s socket and maybe have him come back when I call.” When it comes to training, most people simply do not have any idea of what they should expect or even what is possible. Because most people want to “do it right,” when it comes to their dog, sooner or later they run headlong into the conflicting ideas of what constitutes good dog training and what they should be doing.

Before we, as trainers, get into the “how to” questions, I believe we must address the “what is” question. If we can first decide and agree on what it is that we are trying to accomplish and what we should expect as the final outcome, then we will be in a better position to look at how we might accomplish those goals. Therefore, lets focus first on the question: what is training? and, what should one be able to reasonably expect from a trained dog? How would you recognize a trained dog (from a behavioural point of view)?

These days many of the people that call me will ask, “After we complete your program, what will my dog have learned?”

Back when I started, as is the case today, there were many different methods and techniques for training dogs. Some approaches used primarily praise and corrections while other methods included treats and toys. Any given exercise could have numerous ways to teach it and there were a wide variety of training aids and tools to draw on. However, regardless of approach or methodology, the training itself would be known best by the results it produced. All training approaches had – and continue to have – their own set of pluses and minuses but there was a generally agreed upon standard against which all training could be measured. Indeed, in many cases the motivation to develop different techniques was to overcome certain training obstacles and thus improve upon the results. This was true for any given exercise. Sometimes when some enterprising trainer grouped together a collection of these evolved techniques it would often end up labeled as a “new” method.

I remember going to some of those early obedience trials and watching others work. Some exhibitors were very good and when we saw someone that did an exceptionally good job, we all wanted to know the same things:
Where had they trained - what school were they from? What method were they using? And how long had it taken. Students always reflect their school.

All dog training, regardless of the approach used, shares a number of common factors. First we have the combination of a dog, someone that wants to train it and a source of information and help – possibly you, the trainer. Once we know what will be addressed through training, we will proceed with our plan which will include the use of a motivating stimulus, shaping a response to that stimulus, timely effective feedback (consequence of some sort) and we will stress the need for consistency of application. We will provide for enough variety in training experiences to complete that particular learning task. Some methods will be primarily reward based some will be more correction based and some will seek a balance somewhere on that continuum. We will look a bit more closely at some of these approaches a little later on.

Before we go any further however, I believe it is important to define training. Here are two definitions for training that I view as particularly relevant.
1: activity leading to skilled behavior [such as the preparation or grooming for a later role or job]
2: the result of good upbringing (especially knowledge of correct social behavior) To teach and form a particular skill or type of behaviour through regular practice and instruction designed to impart proficiency or efficiency; to educate; to exercise; to discipline; as in training the exercise.

It is therefore a systematic process of developing knowledge, skills, and attitudes for current and/or future endeavors.

We know that there are many different breeds of dogs designed to perform many different kinds of work. Training these dogs is really the process of making them “job ready” to herd, hunt, guard, pull etc. The list of jobs that dogs may be required to do is long but somewhere in that list is the very important task of being a companion. Regardless of the training task, the outcome of training is the specific desired behaviour that is observable, measurable and, most important, reliable. The trained behaviour must reflect the knowledge and skills that have been taught.

Trends Part 4 - Reliability Factor

Central to this discussion is the concept of reliability. The dog whose performance is unreliable or unpredictable is not trained. The herding dog that may or may not round up the sheep, the retriever that might fetch and the guard dog that might listen are all liabilities. None would be considered trained. All would require further training before ever being permitted to do the work for which they had been selected.

Performance standards for working dogs are used to determine if the dog will reliably do the work he’s been trained for. The dog whose role is to be the family companion serves an equally important function but the job may not be as clearly defined. Up until recently, however, there was general agreement on skill sets that would be basic to any well behaved family dog and which could be used as the foundation for further, more specialized training (should this be desired). These basic skill sets were what made up the minimum performance standards for the companion dog.

These skill sets are the foundation of the Canadian Kennel Club obedience trials and their purpose is cited to be, “to demonstrate the usefulness of the purebred dog as a companion of man, not merely the dog’s ability to follow specified routines in the obedience ring. The basic objective of obedience trials is to produce dogs that have been trained to behave in the home, in public places, and in the presence of other dogs…” The American Kennel Club says essentially the same thing and adds the concept of, “at all times and under all conditions.”

Getting back to my dog Boots for a moment. Despite his training for the obedience ring, he was primarily my companion. His obedience training, because of the exercises being taught, resulted in his being a much better companion. This has proven true over and over again.

In the early 1990’s we saw the emergence of the “Pet Dog Trainer” movement. While it was never their stated intent to abandon the existing standards for a companion dog, nevertheless, this is what they effectively did. This has been problematic for the consumer as there is no longer any consistency or minimum expectation of results they should reasonably expect from someone who takes their money in exchange for dog training services. Some programs offer a fair amount of substance while others offer almost nothing. Among pet dog trainers there has been a real resistance to defining measurable performance standards that a trained dog should be able to meet.

This issue bothered me so much that it became a personal cause I pursued through the IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals). Through the IACP, we debated this issue after which a committee was struck (of which I was a member) and we formulated standards that were subsequently adopted. The intention of these standards is to serve as guidelines for consumers so that they will have something by which they can evaluate outcomes they should be able to expect for their training time and money. A copy of these standards is available on the IACP web site and can be downloaded for information purposes.

I’ll conclude this segment with a couple questions:
What is a trained dog? What is the client paying for? If you decide to abandon the Novice standard as the basic measure of a trained dog (and many have) what standard do you replace it with?

Trends Part 5 - Emerging Methods

To treat or not to treat; should I ‘click’ or simply praise – if so, when; do I correct or not correct and if so when and how; is a correction really just punishment or is there a difference and for that matter, is it OK to simply say, “No?” These are just a few of the questions that emerge out of a swirl of confusing and conflicting ideas as one contemplates how to get Rover to listen and behave.

As I mentioned earlier, my entry into training was via a method based on praise and correction with no food used. We were told a trainer called Jack Godsell developed the method. With a few noticeable differences, this approach was similar in many ways to “The Koehler Method of Dog Training.”

I remember being at a seminar where the speakers actually brought a small amount of food into a training exercise. This was the first time I had seen how food could be used and it made me feel very uncomfortable at first. I watched as they combined the use of the food (as a tool) with appropriately timed corrections, and were able to accomplish so much. As the pendulum slowly swung, and I along with it, we witnessed an ever-increasing use of food. At first the results seemed very impressive.

What followed, over the years, was a succession of personalities, each of whom contributed something to the views of trainers. I’ll mention a few here and would be happy to discuss their approach in more detail should there be a desire to do so.

The 80’s saw the emergence of Job Michael Evans and “The Monks of New Skete” along with their best seller, “How to be your Dog’s Best Friend.” Later, the monks would come out with a great puppy book called, “The Art of Raising a Puppy.”

At about the same time as the monks, there was Carol Lea Benjamin. She wrote a number of good books but probably her most well known is, “Mother Knows Best.” Carol Lea also wrote a regular column for the American Kennel Club Gazette.

While we’re still in the 80’s, how many here can remember, “Walkies?” This was the trademark expression of Barbara Woodhouse. She was quite an entertaining character that wrote a few books, produced some cassette training tapes and did a dog training show on television. Even people without dogs were amused by her presentation and she did help increase public awareness that dogs can be trained.
All of the influences I’ve mentioned so far were primarily praise and correction based. Their differences were based mainly on individual techniques and the timing or introduction of various exercises.

Then along came the Volhards and their “Motivational” method. This was the rising star that attracted many trainers. Within a very short period of time there were “Motivational Method” classes springing up all over the place. It was at one of Jack and Wendy’s early seminars that I first saw any food being used to help teach an exercise. Their system of training included four steps: show, induce, induce/compel and finally compel if necessary. For me they represented the crossover point – all the other trainers I’ve mentioned thus far were primarily concerned with making the training an inherent part of the dog/owner relationship and used mostly praise and correction. The Volhards used praise and correction but they moved some of the motivation away from the primary relationship and toward the use of external (food) rewards.

From there, the pendulum swung more toward “reward based training” and the first name that emerges is Ian Dunbar. Ian’s method was referred to as Lure/Reward and while he did not eliminate correction in his training, he de-emphasized it considerably. Incidentally, Ian is often seen as introducing the concept of puppy training. However, this is not correct. Some 15 - 20 years earlier, Milo Pearsall introduced a concept he called KPT (Kindergarten Puppy Training) and he wrote about it in his book “The Pearsall Guide to Successful Dog Training” copyright in 1973. If one reads Pearsall and then reads Volhard, they will see Pearsall also had a strong influence on Volhard’s work.

Lets get back to Dunbar. Ian’s training views were, and still are, strongly influenced by behaviorism and the theory of operant conditioning. This is the pseudo-science based on the work of B. F. Skinner. However, the result is that Dunbar views training more as a conditioning process and he uses OC terminology. Rather than view a correction as just that, he would describe it as punishment. Ultimately, this subtle shift led to the idea that anyone using corrections was utilizing “punishment based training.” This served to delineate two camps of trainers, i.e. reward based and punishment based. Dunbar’s views spawned a whole group of followers through the 90’s. Rather than try to mention everyone - that would be very difficult indeed - I’ll simply make mention of them as a group.

I’ll mention just three other names that I believe influenced trends. Karen Prior who wrote the book, “Don’t shoot the Dog.” Gary Wilkes of “Click and Treat” fame and Jean Donaldson author of “Culture Clash.”

I’m sure many of you have heard of some of these people and some of you may have heard of all of these people. It is important to note that all of these folks were influenced to some degree by those who came before and we can trace that influence back through previous generations.

Trends Part 6 - Effects

Effects of those Emerging Trends

It would be impossible to have any discussion about dog training without acknowledging it to be a subject on which people tend to be deeply divided. In the previous section I referenced two camps that have been labeled (by some) as “reward based” and “punishment based.” Those in one camp would have us believe all that is necessary is to reward the “good” and ignore the “bad.” The view held by those in the opposite camp is that punishment solves everything. It is important to recognize that both positions represent extremes. Somewhere between these two camps are the rest of us looking for balance in our approach.

When Koehler emerged, he provided dog training with a method that was both well organized and reliable. The method, when followed as intended and written, is humane, predictable and effective. With a well-established history stretching back over 50 years it is not simply a theory, the results are there for all to see. Bill Koehler developed the Koehler method over a period of about 15 years beginning in the mid 1940’s. His first book on training was copyrighted in 1962 and throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s it was the dominant method of the day. Even today it remains quite healthy and thriving as more and more dog owners once again look to its solid track record and the reliability this method produces.

As I mentioned earlier, other trainers emerged around the same time – many (but not all) influenced by Koehler to some extent. Whether or not food was used, the timing and order of exercises, manner of cueing/directing the dog, timing and type of correction – all were some of the factors that served to differentiate trainers and their methods. Some of you may be surprised to learn that using treats is not a new concept – in fact, it is a very old one – some trainers of the day used tid-bits others didn’t. Despite the method, the focus of that time was primarily on the results. What are the goals and what is the most efficient and effective approach to reliably achieve those goals? This question was a prime consideration.

By the way, for those who might wonder if Koehler ever used food, I have it from two different sources that he would for certain specific reasons. Occasionally a student in his classes would ask Bill if he ever trained obedience with food? His stock answer was, “No, that is for tricks. If I ask a dog to walk on a high wire on his front feet, balancing a ball on his butt, when he gets to the other end, I will give him a treat because he completed the trick. When I ask him to; heel, sit, down, stand, stay where he's put, or come when I call him - as soon as he complies, I will give him good honest praise.”

The overall effect caused by the result-based trainers of this period, was a rapid growth in training for dogs with a corresponding increase in dogs completing obedience titles. Trained dogs were noticed and became ambassadors for the sport and for the concept of creating good canine citizens. In communities where dog training had caught on, people on the streets could expect to see more and more mannerly dogs. There was not a strong anti-dog movement – and certainly no movement to ban breeds. The chief concern of the average citizen, related to dogs, was not about getting bit rather it was about stepping in poop – and this was seen as an owner problem which was addressed by introducing the concept of poop and scoop.

Don’t get me wrong, not all was ideal. At that time, just as today, there were some bad trainers. Unfortunately, whole philosophies are sometimes judged by the few bad examples – people claiming they represent what they truly do not. My concern however, has never been with Koehler (or any of the others I mentioned earlier that use a balance of praise and correction). My quarrel is with those at the extreme ends of the continuum. For lack of better terminology, I’ll refer to one end as reward based and the other as punishment based and I’ll say more about both later.

The Volhards, as previously mentioned, represented a crossover point. As they gained popularity, the ideology of their “motivational method” grew. This resulted in the dog training community gradually shifting the focus toward finding external rewards that the dog would want to work for. Training outcomes generally remained good and the method was well organized and consistent. However one significant outcome was the loss of some efficiency with the result that training times were more than doubled. Up till this point Novice training was about 10 weeks in length. The Volhard approach saw that increased to 24 weeks by breaking it into 3 levels of 8 weeks each. Since then there has been a worrisome trend of adding more and more levels to the beginner or basic programs which results in a needless increase of time and money.

When Ian Dunbar began to emerge on the scene, the pendulum was already swinging toward more external rewards (mostly food). This combined with his personable approach and good sense of humour made him a huge hit at dog training workshops and seminars. Even though Pearsall had already introduced the concept of puppy training, Dunbar was the one who really made it popular. He introduced a much more liberal use of food into his puppy training and called his method “Lure Reward” training.

Along with making puppy training popular, Dunbar was very instrumental in two other areas:
1. Shifting the focus more and more toward reward-based training and away from results. The method taking on more importance rather than the outcome.
2. Serving as a motivating force in the creation of various Pet Dog Training Associations.

Initially, dog-training associations were proposed to help trainers get organized so they could be better able to control their own destiny. At the time (early 1990’s) there was mounting pressure from some veterinary associations to seize control of much of the lucrative pet industry, including the whole field of dog behaviour. Their argument was that the industry, consisting largely of unregulated individuals, lacked professional oversight. Dunbar’s idea was to counter this by having an organization already in place and filling this “need” first. The associations were intended to be inclusive with a focus on education, networking, business skills and general organizing. Having been there right from the very beginning and being a founding member of CAPPDT, I can say with a certainty that the associations were for those mentioned purposes only and they were never intended for regulation or policing.

What many of us could not see at the time (I know I certainly didn’t) was how the education component could be manipulated to promote a “positivist-trainer” ideology – a kind of social engineering. The process was insidious. Gradually conferences and seminars featured more and more personalities of the type that hold to the philosophy that “rewards are good – punishments are bad.” Many of us simply didn’t foresee that such “spin” would come to replace the facts.

I think it was a good idea for dog trainers to come together and form professional associations. However, I think the creation of the Pet Dog Trainer concept was a mistake. I believe it has proven to be both unnecessary and ultimately detrimental. Combining the two concepts i.e. an association for trainers with the concept of PDT was also a mistake.

Having a professional organization that has measurable performance standards is important. It is the ability to consistently meet these very standards that the public seek and pay for. At the time the Pet Dog Trainer evolved, we already had standards for a Companion Dog. The PDT movement rejected those standards and replaced them with nothing. Not only that, many continue to resist performance standards with the excuse that the dogs they are working with are just pets - not for competition. However, whether one wishes to compete or not is really not the question and there is nothing wrong with training to the same standard. If anything, family pets should be better behaved, and more reliably so, than just a competition dog.

A lack of standards has gradually seen dog training devolve to the point where many now believe it is not possible to teach a dog to even walk nicely at your side or stay put when told to do so. Management devices are becoming a common substitute for good training, dog aggression incidents are causing officials to pursue very restrictive anti-dog legislation and more dogs are being surrendered or killed. This may be just part of the legacy of our liberal standards. Personally, I’d rather have very high standards and sometimes fall short of the mark than have very poor standards and always succeed.

Now to get back to the extremes I mentioned earlier. I believe those at each extreme mainly push the agenda and the pendulum tends to swing between the two as a result. With regard to dog training, one end is the punishment extreme. Generally their training is unproductive, ineffective and inhumane. At some point, many of the methods employed by these extremists, can only be described as downright abusive. The trainers on the other end of the spectrum are reward based to the extreme. Sometimes they are referenced as “pure positive” trainers and they believe all that is necessary is to reward the “good” and ignore the “bad.” Many of them zealously seek to convert everyone else to their belief system and would ban all training and training tools that fall outside those parameters. However, in terms of effectiveness and long-term outcome, pure positive trainers have an abysmal record on both counts.

The problem with any extreme position is the idea that “one size fits all.” Anyone attempting such an approach (and not achieving the results they are looking for) is somehow left feeling that it was they, and not the approach, that failed. A sensible approach would be to recognize that the individual dog’s personality and temperament play a much more important role in deciding what strategy to take. Many good dogs are lost to doctrine from both sides.

A sensible approach to discipline might be to balance the offerings from both camps, while taking into account the needs and challenges of each individual dog. It would focus on and reward “the good,” but would not ignore “the bad.” Such an approach would be positive but not permissive or over indulgent. It would employ the use of “corrections,” but would not be heavy handed or abusive. Finding this balance is sometimes like trying to hit a moving target and it is possible to end up facing criticism from both sides. On the one hand, there will be those that say you have become too correction oriented, while on the other hand some will accuse you of being too reward focused. All I can say is, “Oh well…!”

Personally, I do not support the pure positive viewpoint because I believe it is important to address the unacceptable behaviour with immediate corrective action; the dog must learn that there are some things you simply will not allow or tolerate. This is, in fact, a very important pack dynamic. Leaders, indeed other pack members do not ignore or tolerate that which is unacceptable. I believe that a balanced approach which includes both rewards and corrections is the most effective manner to address and change behaviour.

Gary Wilkes (who is one of the earliest pioneers of the current fad of “clicker training”) has drawn some fire for suggesting that both rewards and punishments must be employed if behaviour is to be successfully and reliably modified. In an article he wrote and presented at a CAPPDT seminar, Gary describes how to go about shaping behaviour then putting it on cue. As part of this process he talks about “Integrating the behavior into the dog’s repertoire and then adding consequences for failure.”

He writes: “By definition, operant conditioning is ‘behavior that is determined by its consequences.’ To create a performance repertoire that is precise, crisp and unfailing, there must be consequences that maintain that level of performance. That means pleasant consequences for success, and unpleasant consequences for failure. WHILE IT IS OFTEN SUGGESTED THAT “ALL POSITIVE” TRAINING CAN CREATE SUCH PERFORMANCE, I AM NOT AWARE THAT ANYONE HAS EVER ACTUALLY DONE IT WITH DOGS IN OBEDIENCE COMPETITION. (emphasis mine). For performance animals, I include another step in my order of training – aversive control for failure.”

Such aversive control was discussed at length and he conceded it could include anything from yelling “NO!” to spritzing with water, to time out, to good old-fashioned collar corrections. Those trainers of the extreme “reward based” camp liked everything he had to offer except his position that there needed to be “consequences for failure.” Several years ago he got in trouble with the pure positive zealots when he introduced a rolled up towel he called a “bonker” and used it as a mild aversive which he threw at a dog to chase it out of an area where it wasn’t permitted. Some insisted throwing a rolled up towel was abuse!

One of the worst effects that the emerging trends has is something I’ve already alluded to and that is the divisiveness and the needless conflict resulting from some of those emerging ideologies. I think you all know what I’m talking about but if not, a quick surf on the web through various dog training sites and discussion groups should give you a pretty good picture.

The fact is that the average dog owner doesn’t care about these things but dog trainers seem to – passionately! However even though the public basically doesn’t care to get caught up in the endless arguments, they are, nevertheless, hostage to the conflict. Often the help they seek is filtered through the trainer’s own personal ideology. As a result, legitimate options are not discussed depriving the client of making informed choices because the trainer has already made it for them. Many a good dog has been given up because the owner was never told of all their options.

Many trainers are also hostage to this conflict. While many trainers are disciples of various philosophies, there are also many that are trapped by the same belief system. When they look for information or seek to expand their learning experience to something outside what their peer group supports, they often face hostility, ridicule and rejection. Quite often I am sought in confidence by young trainers that are looking for help or information and terrified their friends will find out. It really is a shame and ultimately it is the dogs that end up paying the price.