by Jeanine Renzoni
“Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child.”
The writing challenge was to write an entry based on a recent argument, but from the other side’s perspective. So I chose an argument that unfortunately did happen personally and it is happening generally as methods in dog training (Traditional/force based vs Modern/reward based) clash across the dog-owning countryside.
Restating the other side’s argument – 1. Well known trainers, who are paid a lot of money – more than you, use force and corrections to get their dogs to be well-behaved. 2. All the people in my class have to at least try my methods so they know how it works and sometimes we use food treats to help motivate the dog, but you can’t use food in the competition ring. 3. It’s easier to understand, people get it faster than trying to understand what you’re telling them…dog is wrong, correct him – that’s easier. 4. My kids have done well, my daughter went on to 4H state competition and got thirds in her class. 5. You just stay out of obedience and train them about agility training. 6. We don’t use clickers! We use force. And they’re satisfied and they come back the next year.
Making the Other Side’s Argument
I think the strongest reason to use both force and rewards is that consequences in nature and between dogs come in both shapes and forms. There is a long history of using forceful methods, they were used in the military dog training, Leader’s for the Blind used corrections and traditional methods until recently (over the last five to 10 years they have changed to the reward-based methods used by the other service dog groups) and hunting groups continue to mostly use correction based training. Leader’s was the first service dog organization and were very esteemed and successful in training dogs as guides. There’s no reason to throw all that away, it worked for a lot of dogs and their handlers.
People in hunting will tell you that electronic collars have revolutionized training. The dog that before might have been lost or run off now comes back wagging their tail. They look happy, so they are happy and working. What’s a little shock to a dog, they run through things all the time, they don’t feel things the way we do. It is a mistake to anthropomorphize animals.
The traditional methods are time-tested, the dog knows he wasn’t supposed to do that, just look at him. And if they didn’t get on his case, he’d be up on things, all excited and jumping. You’ve got to get him off and make him settle down. My dog knows I’ll make him do it if he doesn’t, so he understands who is boss, who is the leader of this pack. I like a quiet dog, one that lays down and stays there.
And the concept is easier to understand because it’s easier to see when the dog is doing something I don’t like and react to that. In class all we’d have to do is teach reactions instead of thinking about rewarding when they are doing what we want them to, I mean, it’s hard to wait for that when I can just make them do it. And who wants to have one extra device to carry, I can’t remember to click and then reward. It’s too much, I just want him to sit, down, come and walk on a loose leash, and stay, be friendly, well-mannered, be loyal, guard me if I need it, let me clip his nails, like children, do a couple of tricks and stay home alone when I work. As a kid I really liked the old dog stories like Lad, Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, but those were just fictional, dogs aren’t really like that.
If my dog can’t learn all those things it’s because he just wasn’t right, wasn’t bred right, didn’t have the right stuff to begin with. The next dog I get I will know better what to pick. And this one, well, we can do the basic things and the rest, well, I have the e-collar, the no-bark collar, the yard is fenced, I use a leash, take him to the vet for his nails and crate him when company comes…I’ve got a system so it all works out fine.
As a crossover trainer, one that learned the traditional methods and changed over, I do understand the anger of those who don’t like to think that what they’ve learned so carefully might not be the version that actually creates the most learning and best team.
And it’s hard to discard reactions and methods. It seems stupid to think that all of it can be done with rewards and it takes a different way of thinking, almost inside-out and turned around to be able to see it. But positive/reward based isn’t permissive and really learning how to use it does take effort – mainly because we do have such long traditions of thinking in terms of criticism and corrections – despite evidence of the many, many poor outcomes with these approaches.
Frustration and the many ‘well paid’ trainers that promote use of forceful corrections make it attractive to just use that collar or that correction, just to get the ‘darn’ dog to listen and this is why the positive groups have to be extreme idealists right now, because the comfort zone is oddly on the ‘correction’ side. The other piece is nagging, poor interactions are so rampant that they are almost unnoticed, except they are noticed by the 2-year-old, teenager and the dog, who have all decided it might be better not to listen.
An effort to learn this different way, that’s worth it and changes the way of observation and of understanding about almost everything if…if you actually do it and really understand it (not just surface ‘I have a treat’, but really, really know how to create inspiration and value) your whole perspective will be changed and your ‘less than’ dog will be ever so much smarter (your kids might like it too).