“Hey, have you heard the one about climate change and dog training?”

So a man walks into a bar and sees a dog sitting at the counter.  He turns to the dog and asks, “So what do you think about all the controversy surrounding the best methods and tools for training dogs?”

The dog takes a sip of his beer, briefly licks his butt, and replies, “What controversy?”

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This past spring, Adam Frank–an astrophysicist–wrote for NPR about a conversation he’d had on a plane with a fellow passenger about the fact that while the public and political spheres continue to argue endlessly about whether or not climate change is real, the scientific community involved in the daily practice of climate study has been working on its consensus piece on the subject for well over a decade.

In other words, while the nonscientific community has been busily shouting away, creating controversy, inciting anti-scientific skepticism, and creating an unmatchable din that no rational voice will ever match, Frank and his colleagues have been piling up mountains of evidence confirming exactly what they’ve been saying for years:  Significant climate change and human beings’ undeniable role in it are a given.  It’s assumed knowledge now.  And yet the average person might never hear their voices confirming that incredibly important point amidst all the other noise drowning them out.

Similarly, the Adam Franks of the animal behavior community–Bob BaileyJean Donaldson, Nicholas Dodman, Patricia McConnell, Sophia Yin, John Bradshaw, Marc Bekoff, Ian Dunbar and countless others–have not only been in agreement on how dogs learn and the most effective and humane methods for training and caring for them for over a decade, but they’ve been presenting, writing, teaching and researching the topic in as many public forums as possible for just as long.  And yet still, voices throughout the animal welfare community ranging from average uninformed dog owners to self proclaimed animal “advocates” and “trainers” guided by egos rather than ethics, continue to suggest that there are multiple views to be considered, alternative philosophies to be acknowledged, personal preferences to be respected, and methods to be “balanced.” And it seems that not only is there no amount of scientific evidence to the contrary that might persuade them, but they seem thoroughly intent on attacking anybody who suggests otherwise–even those pesky experts and scientists.

Every single contemporary voice with a legitimate claim to the field of dog behavior and training has researched, demonstrated, stated, written and repeated, unequivocally, that punishment-based training and pain-inflicting tools that support such training beliefs are out of place in the dog and animal training community, and are not only ineffective in comparison to more humane and science-based training methods, but in fact can exacerbate existing behavioral problems, create new ones, and cause physical and psychological damage to the dogs involved.

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Recently, while walking around at a summer festival in the small town where we live, I watched a scene unfold before me that I have seen dozens of times.  A young woman was walking down the street with a big, beautiful Doberman wearing a prong collar (I mention breed here because it’s an historically discriminated against and abused breed, and this was an incredibly beautiful dog that was hard not to notice).

As we stood on the opposite side of the street, waiting for the crosswalk signal, I watched the painfully familiar saga play out before us.  On the corner directly across from us, a man was standing with his dog on a leash chatting in a large crowd of people.  Also moving towards this same corner from one direction was another owner and her dog.  And from yet another direction came the young woman with her Doberman, inching toward the corner with the other dogs, looking increasingly nervous about whatever she anticipated her approach towards the other dogs might mean for her own dog’s behavior.

As she approached the other dogs, she visibly tightened her grip on the leash and attempted to move off the curb and walk in the street around the area where the other dog owners were congregating.  As she did so, her own dog showed some visible interest in the other dogs by staring a little more closely at them (and yet at this point was in no way displaying reactive or aggressive behavior of any kind).  The second her dog showed an interest in the other dogs and pulled a bit on the leash, she jerked back the leash, tightening the pinch collar, and whacked the dog’s hind quarters with her hand–all this in front of throngs of people in a small town community at a fun summer’s evening festival.

Shocky was featured on a Dogtown episode a few years ago. I took this picture while I was out walking her at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary (the group responsible for taking in the majority of the rescued Michael Vick dogs). Did you know that Best Friends ONLY uses Martingale collars and harnesses for walking dogs? You won’t find a choke, prong, or e-collar anywhere near the 300+ dogs that they care for at any given time.

A million thoughts run through my mind at this point, most of which lead to me mentally strangling the woman holding the leash.  If you know your dog has issues with leash-reactivity, why would you choose a loud, crowded street festival with hundreds of other people, many of whom are also walking dogs, on one of the hottest days of the year to take your dog for a walk?  What do  you think you accomplished by jerking that leash and hitting your dog, other than making yourself look like an ass in front of a large crowd of people?  How about trying to reward your dog’s calm interest in another dog by offering some verbal praise or a treat and just quickly walking on without stopping to choke and hit him?  And the mental list went on.

And yet I can’t really be angry with the owner of the Doberman.  Because she is simply a victim and unavoidable outcome of the noise drowning out the astrophysicists of the dog behavior community.  The noise made by those in the animal welfare and training fields who continue to muddy the waters of dog training with outdated practices, ineffective tools and egotistically-derived choices.  (Yes, prong collars are considered outdated and ineffective, regardless of the handler.  And every expert cited above has written and presented on why.)

That owner had a prong collar on her dog and felt the need to hit him in public for looking at another dog because someone, at some point, suggested to her it was a good idea.  Some popular television show told her, “You need to dominate your dog.”  Some Doberman fanatic on Facebook posted his 500th video of how he asserts control on walks by jerking the dog’s head into position.  Some “dog trainer” (with no professional credentials to speak of) told her that it was a good idea to train a reactive dog by taking it to a crowded place and physically forcing it to act as undoglike as possible.  As long as uninformed dog “advocates” and imposter “trainers” keep talking loudly about things they know very little about while failing to listen to and fully support those who know exactly what they’re talking about, educating the public on dog welfare is a pipe dream.

If we want to make a difference for dog welfare, we do not have the luxury of picking and choosing which facts and information we’d like to listen to, regardless of what the experts tell us.  It doesn’t matter how much good you do and what your intentions are if at the end of the day you’re still deliberately clinging to bits of knowledge and practices that directly contradict everything you’ve set out to accomplish.  You can’t teach history, call yourself a historian, but ignore vital historical information that is essential in shaping our perception of the world we live in.

We don’t get to talk about relationship-based training and claim we use positive reinforcement techniques while putting prongs and shock collars on our dogs.  Many experts have also tried to explain why cropping ears and docking tails is inappropriate, and interferes with your dog’s ability to communicate through body language, and yet owners and breeders still continue to believe that hacking off their dogs’ ears and tails (even when done “responsibly” by a licensed vet) is an okay choice to make.

To clarify, I fully appreciate and empathize with owners out there who are trying their best with their dogs, trying to do right by them, and either don’t yet know, or have just learned, that punishment-based tools and training are not effective or necessary, but they’re just not in a position yet to make the transition comfortably.  I totally get that.  I once used prong collars too.  And if a prong collar is what makes the difference in keeping a dog out of a shelter, with the understanding that the goal should be a better alternative down the road, no problem.

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This diatribe is directed at those who should know better and yet continue to get on their podium and dominate public forums, claiming that using punishment-based tools like prongs and shock collars is okay as long as you “know what you’re doing.”  Nevermind that most of these folks have no legitimate professional training or expertise in animal behavior or learning theory.  Those who do, are usually more thoughtful and nuanced with their message.

All the education in the world can’t make up for the damage that you are doing with that take away message for the average dog owner, who will walk into a pet supply store tomorrow and grab something off the shelf with no knowledge of why it’s designed the way it is and how to safely use it.  Prongs, chokes and shock collars are incompatible tools with modern dog training methodology.  Yes, they technically fit nicely within the operant conditioning quadrants of positive punishment and negative reinforcement–but most experts will tell you those are the two least useful quadrants when training, and the average dog owner is never going to take any interest in knowing the difference and responsibly implementing them.

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For me, this isn’t so much about the prong collar as it is about what it’s a symbol of.  The sad reality is that the prong collar is one of the more moderate components of a wide spectrum of outdated, punishment based protocols that range from screaming at a dog or using a choke chain on the nicer end, to the Cesar Millans of the world engaging in daily and dangerous physical intimidation and abuse of dogs.  It will take a while for that other end of the spectrum to go away, because they are the extremists.  The fringe group of the dog training world.  And there will always be a few of them around.

But the key difference between that group of people and those who claim to be using a “balanced” approach, mixing tools like the prong with positive reinforcement training, is that the latter group lacks a guiding set of principles.  The extremists believe whole-heartedly in the old mentality of dominating dogs and punishing bad behavior, and that’s what drives everything they do.  The so-called “balanced” group members have no grounding methodology to speak of, because they’d rather hand pick their facts themselves, or blindly follow others who do. (And by the way, if balanced training did have a philosophical underpinning, from the dog’s perspective, it would be called Confusion-based training.)

What I’m advocating isn’t an all or nothing approach that discourages independent thinking.  What I’m saying is that no legitimate independent thinking and thoughtful inquiry starts without first acknowledging what we already know to be true, based on scientific evidence. What I’m suggesting is that according to the experts in this field, we are many years of work and mountains of evidence beyond having to balance our training philosophies because the real scientists, knowledge producers and expert practitioners have confirmed ten times over that the new art and science of animal behavior IS the field.

Some might think, hey, we don’t have time to argue about this one issue.  We’ve got 4-5 million dogs being euthanized in the US every year.  We’ve got shelters and rescue groups bursting at the seams.  We’ve got rampant BSL/BDL and puppy mill madness on our hands.  We can’t nit pick over training tools and philosophies.  Yeah, you’re right we have all those bigger problems to address.  And do you know why?  Because we’re not effectively educating dog owners and the public in general about issues regarding dog behavior and training.  And that’s because too many of the people doing the educating don’t know what they’re talking about and yet have somehow managed to edge out the voices of those who do, thanks in large part to a popular culture and social network that rewards mindless, incessant shouting and discourages more tempered reading, writing, thinking and acting . . . which of course is what the real experts in this field have been busy doing for the last several decades.

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Returning to Adam Frank, he writes:

For folks working in the field, and those scientists like myself watching from the sidelines, the situation feels like being Alice as she plunges down the rabbit-hole. Everything you’ve learned about how science works, how it judges what we know and how we know it, appears in public reflected back through some crazy, fun-house mirror.

It’s not a pretty sight.

Someone told my science-loving seatmate there was great debate going on among scientists about climate change. Someone told this smart, clever guy that the reality of climate change was a great scientific controversy. But the truth is so much simpler. That controversy ended. The field had already moved on.

But the rest of us — him, you, me and everyone else — we’re not being allowed to do the same.

The real difference between the notion of a climate change “controversy” and that of dog behavior and training is that not only are we all not being allowed to move on, but in the case of dog training, the field itself can’t move on either. Because while not everyone pretends to be an astrophysicist on any given day, any random person who’s walked a dog in the last 20 years somehow thinks that suddenly makes them a canine training and behavior expert.

Speaking of experts, here’s a fun sampling from that mountain of expert information and evidence to which I’ve been referring:

Dr. John Bradshaw talks to NPR about the new science of dog behavior and a range of related topics discussed in his book Dog Sense

Dr. Nicholas Dodman talks to BARK magazine about how “prong collars are yesterday” and so are the trainers and handlers who use them

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s Position Statements on Dominance and Punishment

Dr. Sophia Yin discusses military dog training from an historical perspective

Trainer, Casey Lomonaco talks about why so many people (wrongly) believe their dogs love their prong collars

Deb Monroe considers pet supply stores’ problematic role in the collar argument, and writes about the widely available alternative to the collar–The front-clip harness (which is what I use with all of my dogs on walks)

Dr. Mark Bekoff talks to Forbes about the complex relationship among human and nonhuman animals and our environment

Dr. Sophia Yin systematically unravels the dominance controversy using examples from her own practice, along with popular culture and evidence-based research–a number of illustrative videos are included

About emily douglas

Emily Douglas authors The Unexamined Dog blog and writes regularly about "pit bull" advocacy, humane education and the parallels between the education field and the dog world. Emily and her dog, Peaches volunteer as a registered therapy dog team in the Southeast Michigan area, where their visits are affectionately known as Peach Therapy.
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69 Responses to “Hey, have you heard the one about climate change and dog training?”

  1. Well done. Glad our paths crossed in puppy class with the Peach🙂

  2. Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic! Thank you so much for all your inspiring work and writing.

  3. Mary Debono says:

    GREAT post! Thank you!

  4. Linda says:

    I love it. I was at a class recently in which I was told by a “balanced” trainer that you can’t get a good recall “with clickers and cookies” Then he proceeded to shock his own dog who would not keep a down stay about 10 times in the hour I was there. We never went back. I will continue my positive training, not only do my dogs respond, but they love training. When I bring out the clicker they sit in front of me asking, “What are we learning today”. Thanks for the informative article.

  5. Tory says:

    (Standing on my desk clapping) Bravo!!!

  6. Great article. I was constantly seeing places where ai would have liked to quote your thoughts.

  7. Puzzles says:

    This is a fabulous post, thank you very much. I can only hope that someday all dogs have trainers/owners who understand them like you do. I do have to comment though, that in an article so devoted to science, you should be cautious in the conclusion of Dr Dobias’s article. While I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that dogs should wear harnesses instead of collars for MANY reasons, the link to cancer here has zero science behind it and it upsets me to see it correlated in this way.

    Once again, thank you for this post.

  8. Fantastic. As a trainer who will not allow such collar in her class and have had more than my share of dogs come to me AFTER the owner have used them on the dog I this so true. I always say– If you feel as a trainer you need that kind of adversives– you are not a trainer.

  9. That is extremely well written! I’m definitely sharing this wherever I can! I love the Alice in Wonderland / Adam Frank quote.

  10. Thanks for an intelligent treatment of the issue that continues to hold dogs hostage to a system of pseudoscience that is not in their (or our) best interest. Heavens, we still have a trainer in our area who still thinks that puppies should just veg out until they are six months old before starting training. That, despite evidence to the contrary and a position statement on the matter from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. It makes me wonder why even people who have been in the business for a long time are refusing to keep up with advances. What are they so afraid of? That positive training techniques might actually work? (They do.)

  11. April Lott says:

    Amazing article. Shared and shared again. I tell people those are lazy tools of management, not training.

  12. So cogent! So smart! The comparison with climate science and climate-change denialism is totally apt.

  13. Dianne says:

    Ohhhhh, Thank You!! (windup “oh” means it’s the best!)

  14. Can you tell….I am standing up and applauding! Bravo! Bravo! (or would it be more appropriate to click/treat/praise – very good job)🙂

  15. Susan says:

    AWESOME POST !!! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  16. Inge says:

    From a clicker-horsetrainer to a dogtrainer: I feel your pain. We have our own Cesar Milans, and I’m afraid we’re even further off a climate change than the dog world.
    Kudos for your article.

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  18. Ada Simms says:

    This couldn’t come at a better time. I called a most popular compulsion trainer in my area and asked the person out for coffee to discuss methods. If this doesn’t get them thinking, something “AIN’T” right!

  19. Jack Douglas says:

    My daughter wrote this! I am not surprised in that she has been teaching this old dog new tricks from the day she was born.

  20. This is a fabulous article. I love the comparison with climate change denial and the poignant quote at the end. This article needs to be shared as widely as possible

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  24. Katherine says:

    This may very well be the best post I have read about the “debate” between R+ training and P+ training. Bravo!

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  26. Gen bergeron says:

    I must share this post

  27. Renee Hall says:

    Great post and great use of mental imagery! Sharing away!

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  29. marty sitnick says:

    Excellent narrative …..Kelly Dunbar with the guidance of Dr. Ian Dunbar , developed the Open Paw shelter program some years ago . This program establishes shelters as community education centers with staff and an army of volunteers demonstrating reward based training all day , every day with shelter animals . These kind of creative approaches to informing the public will work , and we must insist that shelters implement such programs . Eventually , punishment based training will go where it belongs….Out of Business !

  30. Thank you, and thank you again. For the issues you raise, and for the fantastic diatribe. I’m tired of being expected to be nice about sheer stupidity.
    I particularly like your question to all of us “animal advocates” whether we are part of the solution or just part of the noise. That made me think. I’ll carry it with me into my learning about dogs, and when I engage with my dog, other dogs, and humans in issues about dog training.

  31. Great post! Great analogy!

  32. properpaws says:

    Thank you for a well written, throrough examination of the subject and great corellary. I just wish all the ‘balanced’ trainers could read it!

  33. Jen Robinson says:

    As an atmospheric scientist who has kept a lot of dogs, I see this argument as bunk. No question, positive methods have a lot to offer, but the dog training debate is no parallel to the climate debate. The greenhouse effect was proposed based on first principals more than a century ago. The hypothesis has been tested with voluminous weather data, reconstructed climate data, and some of the most sophisticated mathematical models ever constructed.
    Unfortunately, the philosophical underpinning of a lot of positive training is dogma rather than science. Science has NOT shown that reward-based behavior shaping is always better. A fence, particularly an electric fence, or a stern ‘no begging’ is an aversive. I know from long personal experience that some aversives, appropriately used, work well. Can you provide any scientific evidence that positive reinforcement is better than aversives for keeping your dog from going outside your yard?

    • marty sitnick says:

      Jen….you may be missing the point . Yes , aversives work and represent 2 of the 4 quadrants of Learning Theory . That said , the equation must include your relationship with your companion , their emotional well being and humane treatment . The 2 examples you give ( invisible fence & no reward marker ) can be substituted for reward based training , however using shock and NRM may also cause fear , frustration and aggression and any number of additional superstitions . It is simply impossible to educate based on all the wrong things in the world a dog can do , which are quite unlimited , using aversives , without damaging the animal and the relationship ; while reinforcing good behaviors like rewarding a dog for staying within property boundaries , or going to place at dinner time are simple positive operant conditioning trained behaviors with no downside and the upside of a continuing positive relationship with your dog . Classical conditioning ( Pavlov ) is another effective , non aversive tool to be used in training your dog humanely .

      • Jen Robinson says:

        Who can claim the title ‘SCIENCE’? From the little I know about ethology, the science owes as much to Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen as it does to BF Skinner. Would those in the field (eg., ISAE) would agree that ” the real scientists, knowledge producers and expert practitioners have confirmed ten times over that the new art and science of animal behavior IS the field” . . . in the context of Learning Theory. In the blog text I sense more axe grinding than references to testing of hypotheses or systematic observation. This rubs me the wrong way.

  34. Rosie says:

    Behaviorists cannot prove that their assumptions, with respect to behavior, are necessarily true to the exclusion of all other explanations.

    Behaviorism is not a science but speculative philosophy in that it’s primary paradigm, which is the absence of mind and mental effects, does not lend itself to experimental validation or invalidation. All real sciences have experimentally validated foundations. That’s what makes them science.

  35. Brilliant article – thanks! “Dog experts” give me the screaming pip! My favourite quote “As long as uninformed dog “advocates” and imposter “trainers” keep talking loudly about things they know very little about while failing to listen to and fully support those who know exactly what they’re talking about, educating the public on dog welfare is a pipe dream.”

  36. Chris says:

    There’s a big distinction between knowledge and facts VS skill in application. All appliances use electricity and knives are sharp, but the skill of when it should or sholdn’t be used can save your life or cost you your life. Everything thing has pros & cons, to say that only one method is acceptable and humane is fanatiscism. I’ve seen fancy thin dog collars do as much damage as the alleged archaic ones. I’ve also seen Positive Trainers recommend euthanasia stating that since their method didn’t work…the dog cannot be fixed, the owner’s sought a second opinion and their dog was fixed. Does it matter what type of method the second trainer used…or the end result that any tool used CORRECTLY by a skilled professiona/tradesman or woman is what really matters? A tazer shoots electricity into the body…the e-collar (of today) is not a tazer (scientifically proven). A TENS machine is used by professional athletes in which two metal probes stimulate the muscle for healing between the probles. The e-collar is structured to deliver electrical impluses between the probes. Therapeutic applications are on low, some people need higher stimulation in short bursts. E-collars correctly utilized (on the upper muscle of the neck) give a “finger tap” type of sensation. How can this be inhumane? Now for the idiot who used the equipment incorrectly should be made to answer for their incompetence.

    Again, if we used the witch hunt approach of fanatisims, then there would be censorship, no freedom of speech, no freedom of religion, no medical research, no driving vehicles after one ticket or accident, etc.

    Education…YES….Skill…YES…Accountability for neglectful application of any equipment..YES

    By the way, shock treatment is used on children and adults with learning disabilities by the scientific and behavioral studies communities with positive accolades, so why is that not inhumane?

    • Hi Chris-

      Thanks so much for your reply and for taking the time to read the post. A few thoughts:

      1. You seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of the way analogy and parallel ideas work. The electricity given off by appliances OR the sharpness of a knife cut are not parallel concepts to the pinch, shock or pressure given off by a prong or e-collar. Because the tools were designed for entirely different purposes and to be used in entirely different realms. Sure, anything could be used to hurt someone, I suppose. But the difference is we don’t use prong collars or e-collars for anything other than for pinching and shocking our dogs in order to suppress their behavior. Knives and electricity have far more diverse applications. A more appropriate analogy for you to have used would’ve perhaps been a horse whip, for example, which is another tool specifically designed to offer a particular animal incentive to do or not do something via physical discomfort. I know nothing about horses, horse training, or horse training methodology or tools. I’m simply making the point that it would help a bit if you learned how basic analogous thinking worked before you offer up a barrage of non-analogies to support your argument.

      2. Feel free to click on and pursue any one of the numerous links I provided in the article that will lead you to professional animal behaviorists, ethologists, veterinary behaviorists and evolutionary biologists whose work will introduce you to the body of contemporary evidence available that clearly explains the four quadrants of operant conditioning, the historical context of collar design and usage, and how non-aversive techniques and tools grounded in contemporary canine science methodology are proving to be more effective than punishment-based tactics.

      3. I don’t think I’m knowledgeable enough to talk extensively and thoughtfully about the use of shock treatment in human behavioral studies. However, for starters, I can give you one glaring example of the difference between the two: Humans get to choose; Dogs do not. Humans are able to rationalize and understand why they are being shocked; dogs cannot. I’m also guessing that shock treatment with humans is not only used as a last resort scenario, but that it is not something that any average Joe can just go purchase in a box for their children off the shelf at Target, which is exactly what dog owners are able to do with prong and shock collars, regardless of how clueless they are about animal behavior or proper use.

      4. There is no accountability for misuse of already-detrimental and damaging tools designed to cause pain and discomfort to dogs. This is because dogs are viewed, legally, as our property, not as our family members, friends, or pets. Therefore we will never have regulation on the misuse of tools whose sole purpose is to cause pain because our society doesn’t get to tell one another what to do with our own property, which suggests a more likely approach should be educating everyone enough to help them understand that those tools, in fact, are not necessary or appropriate given what we now know.

      5. As was stated multiple times in the post, this is not an argument about training tools or specific “methods”. This is a discussion about our failure to respect an entire body of professional disciplinary knowledge in the field of animal behavior that has been telling us through evidence for the last 10-20 years that our fundamental understanding of dog learning and behavior is flawed, and therefore many of the tools and techniques we’ve been using to support that flawed understanding are now inappropriate.

      Please do pursue some of the wonderful articles, scholars, resources, and links I’ve included in the article. It’s wonderful and enlightening reading.

      All the best,
      Emily

    • me says:

      I’ve had TENS therapy on my broken foot. I’ve also tested many makes and models of shock collars around my neck. They’re not one and the same. Higher levels of shock HURT. But we can use lower, non-painful levels as well. Why? Because they’re what’s known as “conditioned punishers”. Alone, they’re pretty neutral and non-motivating, that’s why we HAVE to condition them to mean something because neutral just doesn’t motivate. We pair these levels with higher, painful levels of shock so that the dog knows that not heeding the current, non-painful level of shock means that a stronger, painful level of shock is coming.

  37. This was one of the best blogs on the subject of the “dog training debate” I have ever read. Period! I am a force-free trainer in St. Louis, MO and appreciate, so much, that you so articulately communicated the biggest problem in the world of dog training and behavior. THANK YOU!!!

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  39. marisa says:

    Thank you thank you thank you. Just reading this article helps me de-stress from all the sadness im constantly overwhelmed with in seeing how much “catching up” needs to be done as far as the general acceptance of scientifically proven methodology. Keep it up!

  40. jasmine says:

    I would like to see the animal behaviorists that teach positive only train a dog to a Schutzhund 3 or in the retriever world, a Field Trial Champion using the techniques they espouse. I have yet to see it be done. When you have a Malnois in full prey drive or your retriever is 300 yds out on a mark, I fail to see how positive only training will be able to control the dog.

    If there is a trainer that has done that, please give me a link to their training sessions.

    • Hi Jasmine, this trainer, who has won world championships in IPO, now uses 100% positive training techniques: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5DIUvyOGJ8

    • Hi Jasmine-
      Thanks so much for reading and for the comment. I guess I’d first re-emphasize that this isn’t about “positive only” training. This is about learning theory, professional expertise, and the average dog owner. My personal view on Schutzhund training is that it’s totally inappropriate for the public to be engaging in with their dogs, and should ONLY be used by experienced professionals and law enforcement type trainers. Why anybody thinks it’s a good idea to let the average Joe pursue attack training with their dog is beyond me. But setting my personal bias aside, the vast majority of the dog owning public are NOT people who engage in Schutzhund competitions and field trials with their dogs. Their dogs are just family pets and members who they’re trying to learn how to live with safely and successfully. And outdated punishment-based training should have no part in that. Particularly if you are interested in incorporating ethical decision-making into your relationship with your dog.

      A paradigm shift from focusing on false notions of “control” (or the illusion of it) to learning how to manage/shape dog behavior would also help tremendously as you continue to pursue more information on this subject.

      Finally, when using punishment, it is essential you know exactly how to use it effectively and appropriately based on its role and place in operant conditioning. Steve White, a well-known, career K-9 trainer has several videos available explaining and demonstrating that punishment should really be reserved ONLY for emergency, life-threatening situations rather than as a default mode of operating. Otherwise, it quickly loses its effectiveness as the dog habituates to it.

      • You are somewhat misrepresenting what Schutzhund training is about. I was just an ordinary pet owner, having a little experience with Kennel club methods and not getting great results, then learned a lot about postitive training from the Schutzhund method. schutzhund is not “attack dog” traiining. It teaches obedience, tracking, and protection in very specific circumstances. A properly trained Schutzhund dog is a lot safer in public or around children than some of the coddled or abused, or badly trained dogs I see everyday.

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  42. Amanda says:

    “What I’m advocating isn’t an all or nothing approach that discourages independent thinking.”
    Are you sure? Because it really, really sounds like you are. I didn’t see any evidence in your article of being open to anything outside of what you believe is “right”. Where is the allowance for critical thinking and an open mind in this article? I’m not finding it.

  43. I don’t know how many times I’ve read this article now. It really helps me stay strong some days to remember some points made here. I also like to print it out and give to people who…need it.
    THANK YOU for putting this into words for the rest of us.

  44. Elizabeth C says:

    “But the key difference between that group of people and those who claim to be using a “balanced” approach, mixing tools like the prong with positive reinforcement training, is that the latter group lacks a guiding set of principles”. Well, thanks for not judging people who might disagree with you, even slightly. It’s not that I’m wrong, I just lack guiding principles! Well, ok then.

    Let’s not pretend this is a post written to educate or change minds (because frankly, insulting and condescending to others doesn’t change their minds); this is simply written to talk about how “right” someone is to others who already agree. This is my least favorite part of the “animal rescue” world: the need for people to put down others who are less “knowledgeable” or educated. It’s ugly, and annoying, and worse: doesn’t accomplish ANYTHING.

  45. Pingback: Catching Flies… | And Foster Makes Five

  46. Reblogged this on MyPositiveDogTrainingBlog and commented:
    This was posted almost exactly one year ago and yet the average person might never hear the scientific proof because of all the other noise drowning it out. I wanted to share it again because too many people are still victims of TV shows and uneducated “dog trainers”.

  47. Pingback: Dog Training Methods - Which Do I Use?

  48. martasyoung says:

    Reblogged this on Barking Up the Right Tree and commented:
    This is exactly what I would have said, if I had thought to write it first (minus the astrophysicist stuff)! Positive reinforcement is the most effective way to train you dog. Period.

  49. Chris says:

    My thoughts are, if you know how to communicate, you can enjoy total control over your dog using only gentle, kind commands. No shouting or abuse needed.

  50. me says:

    “All the education in the world can’t make up for the damage that you are doing with that take away message for the average dog owner, who will walk into a pet supply store tomorrow and grab something off the shelf with no knowledge of why it’s designed the way it is and how to safely use it.”

    I wonder if you meant experience, not education? Because we both know how big these people are on education. They know all they (think) they need to know from training old school for X decades.

    • Thanks so much for the thoughtful comments! And yes, I agree with you that genuine education is rarely valued by a lot of the old school folks out there. That particular sentence (“All the education in the world . . “) actually refers to the message just above it and is in relation to education for the public. Meaning, no matter what we do to educate the general dog-owning public on animal behavior science and professional knowledge about dog behavior and training, it will never be enough to fix the damage done by the folks out there telling them that any technique and tool is okay (and ethical) “as long as you know what you’re doing.” That’s the damaging message.

  51. Pingback: WHY PRONG is WRONG – physically and psychologically | The Pet Professional Guild

  52. wentona says:

    Reblogged this on Busenkelt! and commented:
    “Every single contemporary voice with a legitimate claim to the field of dog behavior and training has researched, demonstrated, stated, written and repeated, unequivocally, that punishment-based training and pain-inflicting tools that support such training beliefs are out of place in the dog and animal training community, and are not only ineffective in comparison to more humane and science-based training methods, but in fact can exacerbate existing behavioral problems, create new ones, and cause physical and psychological damage to the dogs involved. ”

    Det torde inte vara någon skillnad i hästvärlden….

  53. Great post, and well written. I am a professional dog trainer from Australia, reward-based for many years. There is an organization here that runs a course advertised as “balanced”. It gets a lot of people in. It sounds plausible on the surface. “we teach both sides of the story – other courses only teach one method”. So a lot of students take their course in preference to the Delta society positive course. Of course, if they don’t know, how can they be expected to know?

    So my question is when did the term
    “balanced” first come into use? It is used here in quite a deliberate, strategic way.

  54. Mel says:

    Hear! Hear! Well written and well-said.

  55. Dee Goings says:

    Thank you for this post! As the owner of a rottweiler AND a pit/akita mix I often hear how I need to dominate them and get them in line. What people don’t realize is that I have a background in animal behavior and behavior modification. When I try to explain to people that my male dog is fearful and we are working on keeping him under threshold (hence why him and I are always on the outskirts of groups of people) I get cut off and told how I need to call Cesar Milan or how their “trainer” showed them how to work a prong or shock collar and their dog is perfect now. I work with aggressive dogs every day and it blows my mind how many people “seem” to be in my field who have never cracked open a textbook or have written a case study. Truly, truly terrifying!

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