Don’t believe everything you read…

You have a dog. Maybe you just want to know more about training. Maybe you have a problem. For whatever reason, you decide to get yourself some education so you buy yourself a dog training book.

I love reading training books – usually. However there are some I avoid like the plague and, with only one or two exceptions, TV trainers usually fall firmly into this category due to their reliance on the  ‘Dominance‘ model or ‘Pack Theory’ of dog behaviour. But I’m open minded and when someone recommended me a new book by a well-known TV dog trainer I thought I’d give it a go.

The person in question has academic qualifications in the field of animal behaviour. He runs a very large and well established behaviour practice. I was feeling hopeful!

There is a lot of good information in the book.

There is a lot of good common sense; his puppy pens and ways to avoid the dog making mistakes around the house are solid and can be found in one form or another in just about every good training book out there. He promotes the use of clicker and treats; he obviously loves his dogs and wants them to have a good life. And then there is the rest. To say that I was disappointed is an understatement.

Don’t get me wrong, his methods absolutely will give you a well behaved dog that is unlikely to give you too much stress or show you up in public – assuming the dog in question is relatively well balanced to start with and you apply the methods absolutely correctly. And therein lies the rub. Most pet dog owners (his target audience) are likely to make mistakes applying much of what he suggests.

Apart from being rather muddled in much of the ‘learning theory’ explanations, (which is a bit surprising given his academic credentials), the actual methodology is very clearly laid out.

It can be summed up as:

Reward behaviour you like, make proximity to you a place of safety, and make the environment a place of uncertainty and potential pain.

Obviously he doesn’t put it quite like that!

However, his reliance on ‘join up’ (pressure and release training) and ‘contrast training’ (‘out there’ is potentially unsafe, You are a source of safety and need to be listened to) can result in a dog who is at best, a bit paranoid and at worst, suffers from generalised anxiety. Techniques like this, in inexperienced hands, are a recipe for trouble.

Given what we know about why dogs aggress: the fact that almost all aggression is rooted in fear, anxiety and low confidence to novelty, why would anyone want to associate discomfort/pain/fear with ‘stuff out there’? Beats me. Every day I see dogs who are not confident with the environment they live in. They watch the world warily, looking for monsters, and the world duly provides. I spend a lot of time building these dogs’ confidence and trust. They invariably have other serious issues, barking, lunging, even snapping and biting – all symptoms of a fundamental problem: lack of confidence and trust of the world around them.


Frightened dog showing his teeth

This most certainly is not the only training book out there that advocates these types of methods. The methods may be called different things. They may be dressed up in fancy talk of ‘safety’, or ‘calm submission’ or some other psycho-babble bull, but they all rely on one thing to get your dog to behave: fear of consequences. If the method relies on your dog RECEIVING OR AVOIDING A PAINFUL OR FRIGHTENING CONSEQUENCE you are eroding your dog’s confidence in his world. There are enough scary or painful things out there already, there is no need to add to them!

Trainer beware.

Please, before you train your dog using methods you have read in a book, think about what your dog is ACTUALLY learning at that moment. Is he learning to work WITH you because great things happen when he does (access to stuff he loves such attention, play, fun, food or friends and favourite activities) or does he comply because the alternative is scary, painful or just plain nasty? He’s your dog, you get to decide how his world treats him.

If you would like to know more about reinforcement based training and how it can help you and your dog please get in touch here. At Hotdogs only kind, humane, effective training methods are used. Fun for both you and your dog.

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