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.