Over 3,000 dogs are put down in the UK every year. Fact.
A terribly sad, but unfortunately true statement. Dogs are being surrendered to kennels or abandoned as strays because their behaviour is dangerous, stressful or simply too hard to manage.
‘With such stellar advances in dog training techniques, tracking technologies and an increased understanding of animal behaviour, why are so many dogs abandoned due to behavioural issues?’
We are told by experts and scientific studies that using reward to reinforce behaviour is the only effective approach to take when it comes to training dogs. However, reality is far more complex. There have been numerous attempts to shame or silence individuals who take an alternative approach to training which employs less ‘cuddly’, albeit effective, methods of training.
The idea of always favouring ‘positive and kind’methods over other techniques with proven results, has led to a bashing of trainers who deviate from this soft training approach.
I thought I’d summarise my opposition to only using ‘positive and kind’ methods below, as concisely as possible, and why keeping an open mind to dog training is exceptionally important.
1 There is a certain hypocrisy in those who espouse the strict use of positive and kind methods in dog training yet do not approach interactions with people in the same way, instead diving straight into Positive Punishmentto change and motivate peoples’ behaviour.
2 If modern ‘positive and kind’ methods of training are more effective than all other approaches then why do we continue to see thousands of dogs destroyed every year in the UK due to bad behaviour? Personally, I have had many dog owners ask why, despite continued training effort, their dogs continue to show sings of stress, worry and situational anxiety.
3 Certain ‘training’ methods are certainly abusive. However, proven training methods can be deemed abusive if performed incorrectly. Incorrect use of prong collars, flat collars, harnesses and head halters spring to mind. Yet when used correctly, these techniques are highly effective, and no good evidence suggests dogs are negatively affected by their use
So, why do things need to change?
Over the last ten years in operation, myself, my trainers and even my clients have been repeatedly targeted by people attempting to disrupt sessions and destroy training equipment under the false belief that a stern and authoritative approach to training is completely out of the question.
I believe that after training thousands of dogs, I would be able to identify a dog in distress. I love dogs, and the dogs I train with my clients are committed, strong and happy.
A quick question for thought:What would happen to dog euthanasia rates if traditional training methods, that I and many others employ, were suddenly outlawed?
I would argue that rates would sky rocket. That a lack of structured training based around discipline and leadership would inevitably lead to increased bouts of bad behaviour.
I stand by my opinion that EVERY dog can be trained to recall to you but that you may need to use a training aid to achieve this. Yet, some people tell me that they would rather keep their dog on a leash for the rest of it’s like than use a training aid. Remote or ‘correction’ collars are the most recognisable form of training aid.
They are used to teach a dog to respond to a miniscule static pulse cue. For example, some correction collars are based on land perimeters so will buzz around the neck of the dog when they breach a certain boundary. The dog is completely unharmed but quickly learns to associate crossing a certain boundary with an annoying neck buzz so stays within set limits, even without a physical boundary. A truly fantastic tool for use in non-fenced gardens.
But, I hear you ask, why does the buzz have to be associated with something negative. Why can’t it be associated with something good? Not necessarily reward per-se but a positive outcome for dog and owner.
Look at that beautiful smile
Believe it or not but this bundle of joy above used to be aggressive; chasing other dogs consistently and refusing to recall. Due to this, any off-leash time was rare, very stressful for the owner and potentially risky.
His owner wisely chose to use a remote collar to train and solidify a recall response. Here’s the dog now after a long off-leash run in the forest. Fantastic result. Happy dog, happy owner.
It may be true that this dog experienced some stress during the conditioning process, but this is short lived and due to re-adjusting a lifetime of bad behaviour. An entirely stress-free life is unobtainable for dog or human.
So, if people have an objection to this sort of stress from training, which benefits the dog in the long run, would that some person have an objection to…
- Giving a dog a needed medical injection
- Groom a dog that is fearful of being groomed
- Clip a dog’s nails
- Put chemicals onto their body to control pests
and plethora of other things just so long as it’s not a dreaded remote collar?
As responsible owners and trainers there are lots of things we do to ensure the safety and continued health of our dogs (the same with our children!) that they maybe don’t like or understand.
My own dogs are trained primarily with the use of positive reinforcement and negative punishment, which leads into negative reinforcement.
How does this work? Well some rules of operant conditioning need to be considered.
Positive reinforcement occurs when we add something in training that reinforces a particular behaviour. As an example, let’s say my dog sits and I reward with a game of tug. As my dog’s love playing tug, they develop a strong sit-behaviour response through positive reinforcement.
At some point I cue the sit and the dog decides that he does not want to sit. I make it clear that I am not going to play tug with him.
Taking away a valued reward that is expected is negative punishment and punishment reduces the likeliness that a behaviour will be displayed.
Over several repetitions, the dog always sits, and whether we reinforce the sit behaviour with the tug or not, the dog sits anyway, and in doing so, negative reinforcement occurs as the punishment of losing the reward is avoided by the dog.
A better way to good behaviour
Throughout my career I have trained thousands of dogs to work in high performance roles from high-end sport to assistance dogs and even those in law enforcement roles.
Most of my training involves very little punishment and mostly uses Negative Punishment (which is the removal of reward). My experience tells me that although all dogs can be trained not all respond well to reward-only methods no matter how hard you try.
‘Some dogs which display dangerous or risky behaviours find these behaviours highly rewarding’
With these dogs, training aids such as remote and prong collars etc, can be very useful in motivating and reinforcing alternative behaviours and, without these aids, I believe that:
- More dogs will be kept on leashes unnecessarily
- More dogs will hurt each other and people
- Increase restrictions or where you can take dogs
- More breeds will be banned
- Size restrictions will be imposed
- Dogs may be banned from public areas
- And the hardest of all, more dogs will be put down
Unfortunately, in a move which I feel will do nothing but damage the situation for dogs in our country, the Government recently announced that ‘electric’ collars are to be banned in England. This has come on the back of relentless campaigning by animal rights activists who scream about cruelty without knowing the first thing about the intricacies of dog behaviour and training.
Now, there is of course a difference between full on shock collars and remote collars which produce a subtle buzz; but where do we, and more importantly, the government, draw the line? It sounds like a blanket ban on these sorts of devices is imminent, which is a true shame for trainers and the dogs that benefit from their use.
‘Perhaps a workable solution would be to classify some specialist training tools as such and require a license for their use. That way, only qualified professionals with the dog’s best interest at heart are permitted to use them, with a hefty fine imposed as a penalty for misuse. ‘
In summary, with all this talk of collars and specialist methods, it’s important for me to point out that I don’t believe ALL dogs should be trained with collars. Far from it. What I do believe is that each dog is trained effectively as per its needs, which would require all the tools available at a trainer’s disposal.
The true tragedy of all this is that many owners, having been fed this ‘kind training’ rhetoric over and over, believe abandonment (and potential euthanasia) may be the only option left for their dog if their behaviours fail to improve despite reward-based training.
Please, lets promote ethical, professional, educational and EFFECTIVE training and behaviour modification programs which include, as necessary, the use of rewards and training aids that will help the training move forward.