In the past few years, I’ve notice a resurgence of outdated tools and methods used for training our dogs. Choke chains and slip leads, pinch collars, electronic collars, air horns and other tools that cause discomfort, pain, startle, and fear. I want to very clearly state that we do not use these methods at Good Dog Santa Cruz, and I hope you won’t use them with your dog either.
Why? Don’t they work? Isn’t it sometimes easier?
All training methods, when used following the laws of learning theory, will work—and I know this because in my lifetime of living with and training dogs, I’ve used pretty much every training tool at one time or another. But over the last 20 or more years, as our knowledge of learning theory, behavior, ethology, and neurobiology has grown and expanded, it has become evident that:
- You do not need to use these tools to get desired results. Trainers from all fields, from service dog training, to police and military dog training, to agility and other sports training, and of course pet dog training are getting great results from reward-based training.
- Training using tools that cause pain, fear, or intimidation can sometimes cause physical and emotional harm. And this is a chance I never want to take.
- Leading veterinary, behavior, and humane organizations (in the US and across the globe) have come out adamantly in support of positive reinforcement training and just as strongly opposed to methodology that uses coercion, discomfort, pain, startle or fear. For example, in their position statement on the use of punishment in training, the “American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) recommends that training should focus on reinforcing desired behaviors, removing the reinforcer for inappropriate behaviors, and addressing the emotional state and environmental conditions driving the undesirable behavior. This approach promotes a better understanding of the pet’s behavior and better awareness of how humans may have inadvertently contributed to the development of the undesirable behavior.”
- Personally, I don’t want to have a relationship with my dog that is based on fear and punishment. And I wouldn’t expect my clients to do anything that I wouldn’t do with my own dog. I want to build my relationship with trust, mutual respect, and yes, even joy. And, I’ve had fantastic success with this approach.
First, do no harm.
No trainer, myself included, can be 100 percent positive all of the time. Things happen, dogs are sensitive beings, and sometimes even simple actions such as pressure on a leash or leaning too close can be aversive to a dog. And like everyone I am a human who sometimes gets short tempered or frustrated (ha, and my dog barking at squirrels is MY current nemesis–boy do I get overexcited and lose my impulse control when that happens!) But we can try to be more effective, kinder, and work towards the goal of a mutually respectful relationship with the animals we choose to bring into our lives. And while punishment and negative reinforcement can be effective at stopping unwanted behavior, so can a lot of other techniques and tools. We can choose how we want to interact with our dogs and make the decision to first do no harm.