Don’t be an idiot; don’t use shock collars

While renewing my commitment to training our dogs and brushing up on the literature, I am reminded of a few simple dog-training truths. You know all of these things already, but I am scribbling these principles here as a strong reminder and encouragement to myself.

Rudd Weatherwax training Lassie. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Dog training is hard, you feel me?

Good training requires a lot of commitment.

People are lazy. Myself included. This is why we have dogs with behavior problems that don’t seem to improve. This is why our dogs frustrate us and we feel like neither party is clearly communicating with the other. This is why young dogs are getting adopted out and then returned to shelters a few weeks later.

The truth is that we’re always training our dogs to do something, even when we think we aren’t. Successful training requires a lot of commitment, awareness, and conscientiousness on the part of the dog owner.

You have to be intelligent to be a good trainer.

Time to be offensive!

If you want to be a positive reinforcement trainer, intelligence may be a prerequisite — or at least a mild level of intelligence. The less intelligent or less patient among us resort to shock-collar training because it’s easy. This may seem like an extreme statement, but I don’t know of any great positive trainers who aren’t also very intelligent. I also don’t know of any people using shock collars or physical or psychological intimidation who know much (if any) canine science.

Lately, I’ve become increasingly enraged by the success of a shock-collar “training” organization in my area. The “trainers” are not certified by any national training organization, at least according to their website — because why would they need to be? All you need to know is how to push a buzzer to shock your dog in the neck. Small children can be “successful” shock-collar trainers.

I’m very dismayed with the rescue that we got our dogs from, as they have become increasingly involved with these shock-collar trainers. Whenever the rescue gets a slightly difficult German shepherd, they ship them off to “board and train” with the shock-collar folks. They love posting before and after videos of these dogs (in fact, the incisive Eileen from Eileen and Dogs has sampled from their videos in some of her excellent posts against shock collars). The rescue’s presence on Facebook and constant promotion of their “training” techniques is actually one of the main reasons I got off Facebook; I couldn’t take it anymore.

In their videos, you see a similar pattern: In the “before,” we get an energetic dog, with the trainer in the background saying stuff like, “As you can see, Roscoe isn’t trained at all, and he is crazy,” while the trainer yells “SIT!” at the dog when the dog is looking at someone else or playing with a toy on the asphalt. And then we get the “after”: All of the life in Roscoe’s eyes is gone. He now walks slowly and tensely next to the trainer, who is gripping the shocking device, and Roscoe now does everything the trainer asks him to do. The trainer exclaims, “See how well he heels now! Look how calm he is!” Yes. And see how you’ve utterly crushed his spirit. That is not a calm dog; that is a broken dog.

Just watch some videos of people working with clicker-trained dogs and compare. There is so much JOY in a positively trained dog. The positive dog is having fun with her human; they are strengthening their bond as mutual trust and encouragement is exchanged. The shock-collar-trained dog? No joy — and of course there isn’t! Would you be happy when you were working with someone who electrocuted your throat at various intervals? There is compliance, yes, but at what cost?

I’m not saying you need a PhD in animal behavior to clicker train your dog. But you do need to understand the basics of canine behavior and psychology, to understand why and how you need to do certain things. Otherwise, you will create very serious problems for yourself and your dog in the long run.

People. Be kind to your dogs. Learn some basic canine behavior and science before you start shocking them in the name of obedience training.

First day of school at Canine Campus
A poor photo of me working with Pyrrha in her first class, back in 2012.

How do we break the pattern of laziness, and thus the appeal of shock-collar training?

I’m just as lazy as the next person. If I hadn’t been welcomed into this dog blogging community and found Patricia McConnell before Cesar Millan, I might have resorted to intimidation-based training tactics. I understand why physical and psychological domination appeals to so many dog owners. But knowing what I now know about dogs, it chills my blood to see those techniques used on dogs.

What aspects of dog training do you wish more people knew? What reminders about dog training do you need to hear yourself?

 

My hot-button topics in the dog world

The more I learn about dogs, the more opinionated I seem to get. Anyone else feel that way? 😉

It’s hard to keep my mouth shut sometimes. I don’t like writing combative or purposefully aggressive posts here, but I do have strong opinions.

Secret garden shepherd. #gsd #backyardliving
Secret garden shepherd.

Over the years, here is what I have come to feel most strongly about with regard to dogs. So, without starting any kind of ranting and raving session, here — simply put — are the topics that I have a hard time keeping quiet about:

  1. Inhumane breeding practices, merely to fit the sacred “breed standard.” (See: bulldogs, pugs, most brachycephalic breeds, many toy breeds, most any breed without any current working line.) The more I read, the more I am convinced that we all just need to get mixed breeds. (Says the woman with a purebred German shepherd, one of the most physically effed purebreds there is. I know, I know…)
  2. The deeply damaging use of shock collars (euphemistically termed “e-collars”) in dog training. Many of the most respected trainers, behaviorists, and dog bloggers have written about the detrimental effects of shock collars (see Patricia McConnell and Jean Donaldson, to name a few). Eileen and Dogs also has compiled helpful articles and videos on this topic. What particularly interests me about this divide in training is that the people with the most expertise, academic background, and scientific credentials are always against the use of shock collars. The people without scientific credentials always seem to be the most vociferous proponents of shock collars.
  3. Cesar Millan being respected as a “trainer.” I always cringe as soon as someone starts throwing around the words “pack leader,” “dominance,” or starts making that silly “tsk, tsk” sound and then poking their dog in the side. God forbid they follow his other tactics at home (flooding, alpha rolling, wrestling fearful dogs to the ground, etc.).
  4. People who use retractable leashes for everyday walks. As the owner of a reactive dog, I think that is all I have to say about that.
  5. Toy or tiny breeds that are not trained, simply because they are small and “cute.” My Mega-E Dog recently wrote a post on this that resonated with me. I often see toy breeds get away with behavior that is simply appalling, merely because they are tiny and can be scooped up in one’s arms. They are still dogs. They still need to be trained.
  6. Breed-specific legislation. And as the owner of a frequently maligned breed, I am well aware of how silly and damaging these regulations are.

What are YOUR hot-button topics, related to dogs? And feel free to share if you disagree with some of mine! This could be a healthy way to release steam without starting an Internet war…

And, on a happier note: Trina already has a slew of approved adopters interested in her (no surprise there). Now we just have to choose the best family for her! Wish us (and the little pup) luck!