Trainin’ hatin’

I am just rereading When Pigs Fly and am newly annoyed at this issue.

WPF is a nice, simple, clearly written book on introductory clicker training/freeshaping (and you SHOULD read it), sandwiched between two diatribes on how terrible it is that anyone ever gives a dog a signal that they are doing something wrong.

In between the rather nasty digs at the people who create dead, depressed, defeated (she actually calls them “frozen” and “zombie”) dogs by having the abusive instinct to actually tell the dog “no” are lots of examples of behaviors that are the ZOMG! “proof positive” that clicker is the only way to go – like the fact that “after years” of training her dog waits to be released from the back of her car and doesn’t just jump, or how after weeks of treats her dogs will respond to their own names and won’t do what she told another dog to do.

Here’s why this attitude drives me absolutely bonkers:

1) It ignores the fact that the entire discipline of dog training, for the last several hundred if not several thousand years, has been based on the two aspects of creating/rewarding drive and signaling to the dog that he or she just made the incorrect choice. All the obedience exercises were created because they build the vocabulary a dog needs to live a normal life in a conversation with you, not as an end in themselves, and ALL of them have been successfully taught to all breeds of dogs by working the tension between drive and “no, please.” I just don’t think ANY trainer, regardless of individual success, gets to say “The last 4000 years of dog training were all colossally wrong; aren’t you glad I’m here to save you from that.”

2) Trainers who successfully use wise and mild aversives to train will immediately dismiss anything good in this book – and there’s a lot that’s great – because they will look at their own dogs, tails whipping madly around as they complete an exercise, and say “This chick obviously doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

3) I am NOTHING special as a trainer, and within an hour of having a dog at the house it will look at me, TAIL WAGGING AND GRINNING, before it moves through a door or into or out of a car. When we have the giant crowd at the house, it’s two corgis, a Papillon mix, a dachshund/Jack Russell, a Rottie, a Catahoula, and a Malti-Poo (i.e, at least two of those are “Pigs Fly” dogs and I’d actually say more like three or four), and I can open the gate and say “OK, I want Clue and Ginny and the rest of you stay put,” or “No, not Bramble, just Sparky and Wilson,” and the right dog(s) separate from the HAPPY DANCING pack and come through the gate. Those are not miracle behaviors. They are very, very basic house manners that every breeder I know has firmly established in their SHOWY, GLEEFUL dogs.

4) I am completely, totally intimidated by the more advanced training involved in, say, forced fetch. I am not even going to FAKE trying to tell you how that’s done. But I can tell you that forced-fetch dogs are friggin’ maniacs in the field and are having the time of their lives. They’re making their own decisions, they are independent workers, they are ANYTHING BUT zombies. Forced fetching has taught them that once they pick up the bird or other animal, they cannot let it go, no matter what, no matter how much it hurts, no matter if the thing is still live and fighting. (It has nothing to do with natural retrieving instinct, by the way – it’s a learned response that they must maintain a calm, even bite at a certain pressure, even under the most unpleasant conditions. It actually has a ton in common with protection work bitework, which is how I got interested in it.) The old pointer and retriever guys (and a few remarkable women) that I’ve corresponded with – well, let’s just say that I would not want to be the one telling them they’re creating dead, depressed dogs.

The point of this is not that I am espousing one method. The point of this is that I’d be making the same list if someone was hating on clicker training.  I just plain don’t like hating. I don’t like blanket statements, I don’t like people saying that x method or y method is only done by dumb, stupid, bad trainers.

What you should do when you are training a dog is find the method YOU CAN USE RIGHT. I think that free-shaping behaviors is an amazing way to elicit phenomenal stuff. But I think that if I had to use it to teach seven dogs, only four of which are owned by me, to not run me over at the door I would go absolutely nuts. You may be able to see that as a fantastic free-shaping experience, which makes you a way better clicker trainer than me, and you should run with that. You have to find whatever method, combination of methods, or lack of method you can implement CONSISTENTLY (because a confused dog lives in a very icky world), GENTLY, ELEGANTLY (i.e., with the fewest wasted efforts or extraneous signals), and in a way that produces a happy dog.

If your tools end up being a clicker and target stick, if they end up being choke chain and leash, if they end up being e-collar and dummy, if they end up being a BANANA AND A WASHING MACHINE, you are in a big fat pool of WIN if your dog is happy and eager and can participate in every part of your life. Don’t forget that THAT’S supposed to be the goal.

PS: While I was typing this, Clue got annoyed because Ginny was being particularly obnoxious about a toy, and she trotted over, knocked Ginny over, and stood on her chest for about 30 seconds while Ginny swore violently from the floor but did not struggle. This happens about once a week – most of the time Clue lets Ginny have a lot of leeway in her status obsession, but every once in a while Ginny crosses a boundary and Clue flattens her and stands on her. Make no mistake; Ginny does not offer her belly. Clue uses her chest and front feet to push her over. When Ginny has relaxed enough, Clue gets off and Ginny stays there for another two or three seconds before getting up and shaking off. This is the exact behavior that a whole bunch of trainers say NEVER NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS EXISTS AND IT WAS ALL A LIE AND DOGS HAVE NEVER DONE THIS. But it happens in my living room reasonably constantly. One more reason that I really don’t like big blanket statements.

Edited: After I let this sit for a while I realized it made it sound a little too much like I’m anti-clicker-training. I am NOT. I think clicker is FABULOUS. I just hate the hating.


25 thoughts on “Trainin’ hatin’

  1. Hallelujah!!

    I cannot stand it when people argue against a particular training method simply because they trained their dog to do X-behaviour using Y-method, and so you should be able to train your completely different dog to do a completely different behaviour using the same method, and if you don’t then you are an animal abuser or worse.

    There was an interesting discussion on another site recently about canine dominance, and it’s role in dog training. Everyone who stated that either canine dominance was a complete myth, or that it might exist, yet humans shouldn’t try to be dominant used words like “violence”, “hitting”, “yelling”, “abuse” , etc. in their posts. It was shocking to me that that correlation was so prevalent, leading me to believe that either there are many bad trainers/handlers out there, or that people don’t really watch their dogs interact.

    PS – I don’t use a clicker, simply because I’m not that coordinated, and I found “bridge words” to have the same effect (and didn’t require me to grow a third hand). But I don’t rant and rave about clicker training simply because it didn’t work for me!

  2. I have to say, your blog regularly gives me food for thought. After your last discussion on Cesar Milan and Victoria Stilwell, I went and looked at a bunch of videos of both of them and tried very hard to consider the good and bad points of both of them realistically.

    This, too, is something that is a subject that I’ve not yet come to final thoughts on (or may never, for that matter). I’ve sat around a lot of obedience rings, and I’ve seen a lot of dogs that I would personally consider really, really shut down, barely reactive, and not at all happy. I watched a standard poodle flinch every time her owner twitched her hand, and drag herself around a rally ring.

    I think a lot of the problem for me comes down to this — a lot of everyday dog owners want perfectly well behaved zombies, dogs who don’t think, who don’t do anything at all, who are just there to be obedient and robotic. I spend a LOT of my time in beginning dog classes, and it really does seem that way.

    I firmly believe that using punishment (or positive punishment/negative reinforcement, to shine up my behaviorist side) is an effective way to teach most domesticated animals. I also believe that it is the most dangerous thing to put in the hands of people who are not very good trainers, and that it has the high possibility of not just not working but damaging the dog.

    On the other hand, hatred rarely does anyone any good, on either side. I would always prefer to see a balanced, reasonable argument against a training method that includes the possible downsides of using it than just hate.

    Which is to say, in the most long winded way possible, thanks for making me think again. 🙂

    • Obviously, whoever was training the SP was screwing up badly in whatever method she was using. I wouldn’t necessarily assume that she was physically punishing the dog, though – that’s how dogs react when they have no clue what’s coming next or how to behave, and the dog could never have been touched at all. Dogs become confident when they live in a predictable world that they understand. The trainer’s job is to build that.

      I wouldn’t have any problem at ALL if a trainer said “I think the most difficult tool to use correctly is hierarchical-based aversives, so even though they work I don’t teach them to beginners. We start with the most fool-proof method and that’s where the vast majority of them stay for their whole lives.” That’s a true statement and I can respect that. Saying that aversives are abusive, create zombies, etc. is not only factually wrong, it’s disrespectful.

      • And that I agree with completely, that you can use aversives and have a dog that is happy and contented. (I’ll refrain from going off on other topics too much, but I will point out that my believe that aversives are okay is strongly domesticated animal based. I spend half my time training dogs and half my time training parrots, and I will tell one set ‘no’ with an aversive, but not the other, which mostly comes down to how they interact. Dogs tell each other no. Parrots mostly just leave if they’re irritated.)

        Honestly, what would make me happiest in the world is if every single trainer of every single animal out there went out and found a GOOD trainer of their opposite viewpoint, and took a class from them, and focused on what was good about the methodology rather than what was bad.

        I think that’d be a really cool world to live in. 🙂 (This from a heavily positive-based trainer who is married to an old school Schutzhund trainer — we’ve had some really interesting conversations, let’s just say that.)

        • Speaking of making people think, that was a really interesting point you brought up about using aversives on dogs but not parrots.

          Wasn’t clicker training something brought over from training dolphins originally?

          I wonder what it is that makes dogs more ‘attuned’ to aversives than other animals. Is it just the social structure? Is it possible we’ve actually bred dogs to listen to ‘no’?

          Phew, that’s pretty deep for before 9 am.

        • I have no idea why it won’t let me reply to plantingoaks directly, but.

          Yes, clicker training is originally from marine mammal training. 🙂

          As far as using aversives with dogs and why it works better… I should write up my own essay on this one day, but my general theory at present is that dogs (and most domesticated animals) have been bred for years and years and years and years to have relationships with humans. It’s in their genes, so to speak, and thus the drive for relationship with a human is really powerful. Add to that the fact that we tend to domesticate animals with similar hierarchical social structures, and you get animals that deal really well with some amount of logically used punishment and animals that are really forgiving.

          Dealing with a wild animal who is not only not bred to like you, but is frequently bred to do the exact opposite (to have serious fear of new things, for example), anything that could possibly be relationship damaging is something to avoid as much as possible. As an example, one of the usual old school methods to teach a parrot to step up onto someone’s hand was to press your fingers against their abdomen until they stepped up. If this were a dog, it’d probably work. It’s the basic idea of how most horse training goes.

          Most pet parrots (who are also regularly kept clipped to prevent escape) are expert biters and borderline afraid of hands, to the point that people are told over and over again that owning a parrot means that you will get bitten, that it’s just part and parcel of it, and you should deal with it.

          I have nine parrots in my house and haven’t been bitten in years.

          (Wow, I got sidetracked. Sorry for clogging up your blog, Joanna!)

        • Great, great stuff.

          I’d also say that it depends on how well we can approximate a physical correction that the animal immediately interprets as a correction. Dogs, for all their physical mysteries, physically contact each other in a way that is remarkably similar to the way that we physically contact them. It’s probably one of the reasons the species came together; both of us give the same extended stroking and broad pressure (licking, rubbing, pressing) to mean positive and the same single-point-of-pressure (poking, hitting, biting) to mean negative.

          I couldn’t even begin to imagine what makes a dolphin feel positively reinforced or negatively reinforced. Food or the absence of food becomes the safest way to elicit behaviors.

          But I also have to wonder if dolphin training would change if you had to live with a dolphin literally 24 hours a day. Wouldn’t you HAVE to figure out how to tell them “no” even if the behavior was self-reinforcing?

        • But I also have to wonder if dolphin training would change if you had to live with a dolphin literally 24 hours a day. Wouldn’t you HAVE to figure out how to tell them “no” even if the behavior was self-reinforcing?

          This is the key difference between a lot of professional animal trainers (such as those that work with zoos and other things) and those who live with animals. There’s a famous bird trainer who does seminars that I’ve gone too twice, and the life and interactions with the birds are 100% positive reinforcement, all the time, seriously, honestly, nothing else, not even a little. They also have a REALLY structured way of interacting with them.

          I said up above that I don’t use aversives with my parrots, which is only sort of true. In general, I do signal no, but usually by removing them from the reinforcing thing, whether it be me or the woodwork that they’re chewing. I’m guessing that you’d do something similar with dolphins.

          So, as an example, if my baby macaw chews on my hand a little hard in his explorations, I’d warn him “Gentle”, and if he kept going, I’d set him down and walk away. (The dog high pitched noise tends to rile up birds WAY more than calm them down). A macaw who is eating something he shouldn’t is removed from the area, and redirected to something else.

          Any sort of ‘correction’ almost always backfires in these cases, because parrots aren’t dogs. As an example, I can halt most of my dogs in their tracks by saying “Uh huh”, and they all stop. In general, if I verbally attempt to correct a parrot, regardless of tone of voice or energy level (and in fact, screaming is EVEN BETTER), it usually reinforces them, and they go back immediately to try to do it ten or fifteen more times to get you to do fun things.

          Like with anything else, a whole lot of animal training comes down to understanding the environment you live in and the animals you’re dealing with, both that specific animal and their ‘wild’ histories.

        • Another thing about the marine mammels (That whatshisname quote about not putting a prong collar on an orca, for example) is that they are housed in SUCH a deprived environment compared to your average pet dog- or even your average dog housed in a training/boarding kennel for a sporting dog or schutzhund type pro handler/trainer! Of course they choose to work- it’s better than nothing- there’s literally nothing else to do!

        • This is an excellent point, and one that you CAN take advantage of in dogs, though the fact that people do so makes me very sad.

          There are a whole bunch of handlers who strongly believe that the way you create a show dog is to make the show ring itself the jackpot; the dog looks and acts thrilled because it’s the happiest he’s been all week.

          Unfortunately, the show ring ISN’T very interesting; it’s boring and frustrating. The only thing of value there to most dogs is the handler and the food. So the handler will deprive the dog of him- or herself for the majority of the time and only grab the dog as they’re about to walk into the ring. Dog turns on, dog wins. Then dog goes back to ringside crate until the handler’s assistant comes to walk the dog.

          It’s extremely effective but it breaks my heart.

          I’m lucky in that Clue is super, super, super rewarded by the judge. She thinks meeting judges is the best thing that has ever happened and she thinks all humans adore her and somehow she taught herself that self-stacking is what gets you attention. She’ll stack for a butterfly. She was, obviously, fantastically easy to show. A more normal dog, like Bronte, has to win on the strength of her conformation, because she looks like what you’d expect – a dog who sat in my lap and was petted by strangers for an hour waiting for the boys to get out of the ring, and then trots mellow-ly around the ring waiting for another chance to get back in my lap. She’s a dog who “should” be crated the entire show day and only see me when we’re going in the ring. She’d be much, much showier. But I just can’t bring myself to do it.

  3. The first training facility that I went to with Spencer was one of the strictly positive sort. Oh how they fussed at me when I said “no” to him. They would also talk about how abusive all the other training facilities were (because they taught both positive and corrective training).

    One day after being lectured for the umpteenth time, I asked if it was “abusive” when the mother effectively said “no” to her puppies when they bit too hard or whatever. They hemmed and hawed around and soon after, I found another place to train.

  4. Well, that sort of answers a little of my question in an earlier post about “any thoughts on clicker training?”
    I dont know anything about it. Not sure if it sounds right for me. I do get skeptical about any overly hateful commentary or blanket statements on anything. Despite the amount of years I’ve had and lived with lots of dogs I have never had time to learn other techniques beyond standard obedience that I learned from my parent’s dog training. And its always worked just fine. I say “no” if I need to and have never felt guilty about it. My dogs have been okay with it. No mixed messages. So maybe I shouldnt explore clicker training…just leave things the way they are. I’m entertained by Cesar Milan and find him intelligent regarding dog issues (or rather their confused owners) but thats a little different from your standard obedience.

    • Susan – I think clicker training is SUPER fun and it is absolutely wonderful in encouraging the dog to think for itself. When the dog becomes in charge of its own reward system, you get a level of creativity and ingenuity usually reserved solely for getting into the garbage :). Clicker training (actually, ANY reward training where the dog is in charge of eliciting the reward) builds confidence, it builds drive, it’s a genius tool.

      I just think that every trainer should be thrilled to have one more tool, to embrace the whole spectrum. Not bad-mouth tremendously successful and happy-dog-producing trainers for not glomming on to that one tool.

  5. I think that it has to be Balanced.

    “Yes, you are right. No, try something different.”

    If the dog never knows when they are wrong how will they learn? But- how you tell them they are wrong is where most people make the mistake.

    I am a clicker trainer. I love the clicker, and I love how it teaches dogs to think for themselves. To problem solve and keep trying- even when they make a mistake. I don’t free shape everything. I do lure, and will correct the dog (verbally) if needed.

    I don’t think there is such a thing as purely positive training. Even the “clicker purists” use a NRM (non reward marker) which in effect is a correction. I think that some trainers get so high on themselves they only see what they want to see, and of course only write about what is going to sound good.

    The problem is defining correction. Does the dog yelp, or cringe when you correct? If so, then that is an issue. There are “trainers” out there who think that dogs need to be fearful and submissive in order to live in harmony with us. Which is not the case.

    In my opinion, Dogs need to respect us, but not fear us. They do not need to avert their eyes, the don’t have to grovel on the floor when they greet us. They do need to listen when asked to do something (if they understand), and abide by the rules. But It is our job to teach them properly. Imagine if we all could teach our dogs right off the bat what we expected- there would be no reason for correction.

    I think that corrections are easy to overdo, and in lots of cases the dog still doesn’t understand how to do it right. People are quick to blame, and then correct the dog- lots of time unfairly. And let me tell you pet people will mimic what they see, combine that with the fact that everyone is looking for a quick fix and a guy like Cesar is disaster.

    In my classes I tell Pet People to reward what the dog does right, more often than tell them when they are wrong. Dogs are similar to people in that they will learn faster and be more eager through rewards (think Payday) than punishment (think being kicked)

    An example I use is something like this:
    If you were kicked in the ass the minute you took a step in the wrong direction- and you just couldn’t figure out which way to go, how long would you keep trying?
    If you were given $1.00 every time you took a single step in the right direction think of how eager you would be to keep walking.

    I do hate certain types of training.

    I will never understand the people who teach their dogs to work through the pain of an e-collar.

    I will never understand the people who slap a pinch collar on every dog in the class.

    It isn’t fair to correct the dog for what they don’t understand. And that, is the training I hate. I think it is okay to train the way you want if it works, if it’s fair, if you are consistent, and if the dog understands.

    This is just my opinion of course.

  6. I do put a prong on every dog that comes in my house. It’s my sole training collar, aside from the thin show chokes. Prongs are BY FAR the safest collar to use in training if the dog is EVER going to hit the end of the lead. If whatever dog I’m working on is putting more than a few ounces of pressure on the collar (I do want them walking out ahead of me, just because I’m a self-absorbed elitist show dog person and I want a dog that forges out and looks flashy, but they should never even put enough pressure on the lead to move my hand out from my side), they go right on a prong until they are re-trained.

    Prongs have got to be the most misunderstood tools on earth. They were created because they allow the dog to feel sensation (and I do mean sensation, not pain – I’ve put a prong around my own arm, leg, and neck and “corrected” myself MANY times and even on fragile human skin they don’t hurt) when the signal from the human is way down around level 2 or 3, as opposed to a flat buckle or martingale (which is the only actual “pinch” collar – prongs don’t pinch, you can’t even MAKE them pinch, unless the dog somehow has a 2-inch-diameter neck), which require a very strong and completely unnecessary level of signaling. Prongs were created so dogs wouldn’t get hurt on collars. The only collar with more sensitivity is a thin show choke, but those are super dangerous in unskilled hands. A prong is exponentially safer than a head halter and FAR safer than even a flat buckle collar.

    My ten-year-old walks Ginny on a micro-prong specifically because she’s not a skilled trainer yet. I don’t want her giving Ginny any corrections and I don’t want Ginny to put any pressure on the lead and hurt her weeny little neck. A prong keeps them both safe.

  7. Great post, Joanna. I firmly believe that the reason we have so many dog training methods is that there is no ONE correct method. Different things work with different dogs. AND, different things work with different TRAINERS.

    I’ve both taught and attended a number of different beginners’ classes, and it is surprising the number of novice trainers who Just. Can. Not. figure out how to properly use a clicker. For some it’s an issue of not having enough hands (leash, treats, clicker…). For others, they do not understand the timing involved and click either too soon or too late, which results in the dog being rewarded for the wrong thing and thus continuing behavior that the owner does not want repeated.

    That’s not to say I’m against clicker training or, more to the point, the philosophy of clicker-training. For myself, I prefer a quick “Yes” to the clicker, simply because I don’t always happen to have a clicker on me. I DO always have my mouth.

    I also have no problem saying “no” or “try again” to indicate an incorrect choice. It’s unfortunate that some of the “Positive Only!!” crowd equates all negative reinforcement with hitting, yelling, etc. I don’t need to do any of those things, nor even raise my voice, to get the idea across to my dogs that they did not perform the requested task properly. A quiet “try again” makes the point just fine, and in no way diminishes enjoyment nor creates zombies. For example, my Cardis vie for who gets to “go to work” first, and eagerly await their turns. Ian breezed through his CD work and elicited many comments on what a happy worker he is. He’s looking just as happy working on Open exercises.

    Like Janet, I’ve attended a training facility in my area that specifies absolutely no correction, positive training ONLY. I suppose it’s the owner’s right to insist on having things her way, and it’s a beautiful, wonderfully-equipped building, but I found another place to train.

    All of which is a roundabout way of saying figure out what works to give you the result you want, and don’t expect the same thing to work every time or with every dog. Be able to adapt to the situation. The more tools you have at your disposal, the more successful you’ll be.

  8. I don’t misunderstand the prong collar, and I do realise it has it’s virtues- but basically you aren’t allowing the dog to make a mistake without consequence.

    When a prong is properly fitted it is snug- so they are feeling that “sensation” the whole time. The pressure is never released no matter how nicely the dog walks. And if the dog can’t get away, or relieve the pressure of the correction how do they know when they are right?

    I have reccomended pinch collars to clients before; dogs who out-wiegh their owners, or for people who I know would just go out and buy one anyway. But I show them how to use it properly. People come in with these giant dogs, and slap these giant pinch collars on them- the wrong fit, and the wrong size. Then they start popping the dog- over, and over, and over again.

    In the wrong hands anything is dangerous- it is about learning to use the tools you have effectively and fairly. I don’t think the a pinch collar is right for every dog, and I can’t imagine ever putting one on any of the dogs I currently own.

    In the learning process I think dogs need to make mistakes, and need to figure things out for themselves. If we always make the choices for them or take away all the options how to we expect to ever fade that tool? How do you fade a pinch collar?

    Anyway, I could go on and on. Everyone has different ideas and opinions. My opinion is one that I don’t need/want to cause pain or discomfort to train my dogs. They train, and learn because they want to- not because they have to.

    • ‘Snug’ doesn’t mean digging into their neck. It means it sits properly, just behind the ears.

      I’ve worn a snug prong on my arm for an extended period of time, probably about ten minuets. It doesn’t hurt and it doesn’t exert too much pressure.

      I only use a prong if I’m raising the criteria in my training, and a correction might be necessary, or am in a highly distracting environment. I do clicker train, and I try to be as positive as possible with my training. I only discipline if it’s necessary, which is very rarely.

      I agree that dogs should be allowed to make mistakes in training. However, that doesn’t mean reasonable discipline shouldn’t be used. Dogs make the choice to behave in such a way that they do not need to be corrected. We do not make choices for them.

      I fade a prong by having the dogs only wear it when necessary, that way they learn to behave wether or not it’s on. I never use a prong during every training session. I never use a prong on every walk.

      You decrease the time the dog wears the prong through training. The dog wears a prong during a heel exercise, he does well, so you try it again without a prong.

      I liken it to shaping. Once you get the desired behavior, you don’t need to mark the previous behaviors, or in the case of a prong, you don’t need to wear it once you get the desired result.

      Just as a comment on your opinion on e-collar training, I’ve used an e-collar twice on two of my foster dogs under the guidance of a trainer.

      On virtually every collar there is a ‘nick’ button that emits a very, very low signal. It’s more of a vibrate than anything. I’ve tried the collar on myself, it’s not unpleasant.

      More of a ‘Hey, what was that?’ type of thing. You nick the dog when they need to refocus or orient to you. It’s like a tap on the shoulder.

      And as a final note, I’d like to say that my favorite trainer is Leslie McDivett. She is pure-positive, opposed to corrections, and is an amazing trainer.

    • I do think it is possible to “fade” a pinch collar- you simply train the skill of loose leash walking solidly enough that you just don’t need it any more. But I don’t think a lot of people do that. And in some cases, I think that’s completely ok. I can understand a person using a pinch collar while walking a dog that they need to be absolutely certain that they can physically control at all times as a backup precaution.

      Fitted properly, a pinch collar is NOT causing a constant correction any more than the snug waistband of your pants causes a constant correction. If there’s no pressure on the leash, there’s no pressure on the collar.

      But I agree with you too. While I don’t believe that pinch collars are cruel, they work because they cause physical discomfort. That’s how they’re designed and it is what they do, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve put one around your arm and jerked it and it didn’t really hurt, if it didn’t cause discomfort to the dog, it wouldn’t work. It’s no big thing for a dog to learn to pull through a prong collar- it happens all the time. Dogs simply learn to ignore the discomfort/pain/whatever.

      I have used a pinch collar on my female pit bull for a long time. I don’t need it anymore for the most part, but there are times when I’ll still put it on her as backup. I used one on my male pit bull and I should not have. It contributed to his reactivity problems. My BC pup is just a pup and I started teaching him leash manners early, but you don’t always get that luxury (both my pits were adopted as adults) and sometimes you need to use the tools accessible to you.

      • I agree with what you’re saying except for the idea that prongs work because they cause discomfort and if they didn’t cause discomfort they wouldn’t work.

        I just went over and scritched Bronte under the chin. I used my fingernails but did not put any pressure on her. This elicited a whole ton of responses – tongue-flicking, ears to the side, a bit of white around the eye, tail vibrating, body tension. When I stopped for a second she escalated the tail wagging and the ears came forward and she pushed her face back into my hand.

        This was a very rich response and told me that she was not used to this kind of physical contact with me (true) and was unsure what it meant and thought it might be some way in which I was trying to signal her (maybe about my own status, which is why the flicking and tension – the tension was her considering lifting a leg to show me her belly). But she found it quite pleasurable and when it was gone she wanted it back.

        That’s exactly the kind of response I’d expect from her. And it shows that she was VERY aware of this sensation and was going to offer a bunch of sketched responses to see if that’s what I wanted. If I had verbally praised her when she considered moving a hind leg, I probably could have her rolling every time I touched her chin within just a few repetitions. But at no point was anything I did physically uncomfortable for her.

        If you use a prong properly, you are giving the dog a signal that the dog can finally FEEL. The sensation changes from broad band of pressure that the dog wants to continue to push into to a sensation more like fingernails. This does two things: It demotivates the pull, because the dog doesn’t have the pressure to move into, and it gives you an opportunity to reinforce whatever aspect you wish of the behaviors your dog offers when he or she feels that sensation.

        If you’re using a prong collar in a way that causes discomfort to the dog, you are VERY definitely doing it wrong.

    • I agree that the dog should feel no sensation from a neutral prong collar. Put it on the back of your hand, which is WAY more sensitive than a dog’s neck, and let it sit there. There’s absolutely zero pressure.

      The idea that a prong is punishing is one of the reasons it’s so misunderstood. It’s NOT punishing. It works for the same reason that the rope halters with knots in them have become such a key horse training aid – because the animal can actually feel a signal instead of just a band of pressure.

      Speaking of, head halters for dogs? WAY punishing, and constantly so. It’s one of the (many) reasons I really dislike them.

  9. Balanced training FTW!

    (Although I’m annoyed that the term ‘balanced’ has gotten hijacked by Koehler folks who just hate being called crank-and-yank trainers.)

    The thing I found most valuable about Pigs Fly is her discussion of reinforcements. I *love* the way she lays that out. (I felt bad on ClickTeach when people were bashing her because “Oh, bull terriers are EASY to train, LawDogsUSA, pit bulls, blah blah blah” when bull terriers AREN’T APBTs.)

    Clicker is great, but in my experience (and I *started* with clicker in 1999 with my very first volunteer job with Sibe rescue) it has two main drawbacks (it makes it difficult to teach a dog responsibility, and it’s less than perfect when a dog has already learned to reinforce himself from the environment (which many former strays already have.) Those aren’t insurmountable, especially if ‘all’ you want is reliable pet obedience and are willing to really take your time. (IE, you need a SUPER reliable recall but don’t care about a precise front, you need a dog that has a FANTASTIC leave it but don’t care so much about a perfect DOR or a dog that downs on a sit-stay- reliability is important, perfect consistant precise performance not so much). I *do* find clicker is slower to get a dog to the completely reliable point- I LOVE it for introducing behaviors, but I *do* introduce collar and verbal corrections for proofing. I don’t WANT a dog that takes 4 years to be ready for novice obedience. (4 years to be trained all the way through utility and go out in novice with high scores? Cool. But just to be ready for novice, period? NO.). But at the same time, I think it’s also important to get people to realize that you’re NOT a bad person if you choose to use corrections to train basic pet stuff, as long as you are balanced about it- and that means rewarding the dog for RIGHT behavior too, and not just supressing all behavior that isn’t ‘sit down and shut up’.

    I *do* chatter to my dogs. I’ve gotten better about using tone to actual convey useful information (That was something I got from the Kayce Cover stuff, although some of hers is really woo-woo and the x-x-x-excellent was really, really awkward for me- I can use pitch more effectively). I’ve noticed that some dogs are more tuned into sounds than others, though, and you have to be careful to NOT use it sometimes too, so that if you’re quiet (for example, with my SD-almost-not-IT-anymore, I need her to work confidently WITHOUT any verbal cues if I’m taking a seat in a movie theatre after a bathroom break :P)

    on the collar thing… meh. I just bought a walking harness for Lizzie today- the princess managed to bruise her neck last week at agility practice. She’s learning not to pull, but it’s very much a work in progress, and she’s a TOUGH little dog- she’s happy to choke herself if it means she can get a better look at something she wants. We’ll continue to work on it, but in the mean time, I don’t want her hurting herself.

    • A front-clip harness?

      It’s really all about what you can use. Front-clip harnesses prevent pulling because the dog is physically inhibited from pulling (at least until it figures out how to angle its body across the leash and still pull like frack anyway, which I’ve certainly seen happen). Prongs (in my experience) prevent pulling because the dog can feel its neck again. You could also prevent pulling by carrying around a section of x-pen and putting it in front of the dog every time it pulls, or by devising as rube-goldberg a solution as you like.

      Either way, the goal is to get rid of the tool. The goal is a dog who walks beside you on dental floss, or at freedom with no collar whatsoever. However you can set up your own mental training process to consistently, gently, and elegantly use the tool to get rid of the tool, it’s perfectly fabulous training to use a piece of twine tied around the dog’s front leg. Go for it.

      Where I get very uncomfortable is when owners or handlers, and I’ve seen far too many trainers do this too, use the tool as some kind of end in itself. The dog doesn’t pull on a front-clip harness, great, so the dog wears a front-clip harness for the rest of its life. Or the dog doesn’t pull on a prong, great, let’s wear a track into the dog’s coat (don’t you love it when dogs have the permanent pewter staining on their fronts because the choke or prong hasn’t come off in years?). In that case nothing about the dog’s decision making has changed. NOTHING. It’s still a pulling dog, just one that can’t pull.

      • Lizzie does not pull about 75% of the time. The problem is, she still is working on self control, and when her little spitz mind explodes, she’s hurting herself- so the harness is just a management tool while we work on that. It’s a regular walking-type pet harness (like this – I tried an EZ Walk on her but it just doesn’t fit right- she has NO chest yet.) with the leash clipped on the loop in the front where the three pieces are attached to each other. The primary reason I’m using the harness is because it gets all pressure OFF her throat so she can’t hurt herself any further. The reason I’m using a leash clipped on the front is that as long as I’m using a harness, I may as well take advantage of the fact and use it in such a way that she gets redirected AWAY from whatever thing she’s trying to get to-agility equipment, small children- and it can’t hurt.

        Lizzie has been a really interesting dog to train. She has TONS of drive, and I feel like I did a great job of setting her up to LOVE training- but not so great on teaching her that sometimes things aren’t optional.

  10. IMO I think a dog being physical with another dog is totally different than when a person tries to do it. (ref your dogs rolling each other) Not to mention the key is that the one being rolled submits to it or there will be fight between them. When people do it many times they outweigh the dog or have physical leverage using force to accomplish the roll. Dogs communcate with each other better than people communicate with them and because of this will tolerate those actions better coming from another dog than a person attempting the same manuver. (in general-always depends on the dogs involved and their learned social skills)

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