To Shock Or Not To Shock…That is The Question
There has been quite a resurgence of compulsion training methods in the dog training world.
Almost 20 years ago I got started dog training on a professional level and learning the craft, and unfortunately I learned from a trainer that believed in compulsion.
I was 18 and I didn’t know any better, and that is my best excuse but even then I knew that putting prong or pinch collars on puppies was wrong. The problem was that, for the most part it worked and it was easier for the trainer than actually training all of the dogs in the class to complete a behavior.
Obstinate leash pullers turned into putty after a few temper tantrums and little screaming. It was ugly but it was fast and took very little effort from the owner. The dogs weren’t learning the behaviors they were simply learning how to avoid the pinch.
But, I also saw some spirits broken and some dogs abused under the guise of dog training.
That is not to say that all people who use these collars are abusive, it is just much easier to become abusive or to cause damage emotionally and structurally with these types of collars than it is with a buckle collar.
I think, that is when I decided there had to be a better way…
I am glad that my trip down compulsion lane was short lived and I have never chosen to train that way on my own.
The sad part for me is that this type of training is making resurgence despite the fact that positive reinforcement has been scientifically proven to be the best way to learn.
The newest addition is the idea that compulsion, followed by a little positive reinforcement, builds a dog with drive that can handle any situation; and I am certainly not convinced. Really? Now we have to yank, pinch, choke, or shock them so they can handle conflict if and when it arises?
I’m going to call a big fat BS on that!
This is especially prevalent in protection dog training and sports. But I simply don’t agree. And my dogs prove that corrections and compulsion is not a requirement.
I am not that kind of trainer and I refuse to succumb to this type of training, even if there was scientific evidence to prove it! Dogs love to learn if you make it a game and ensure it is fun!
Imagine if this was popular child psychology; hit your kid in the teeth and then give him a brownie that way if he ever gets hit or encounters a bully or some type of conflict he will associate with the eventual brownie.
It’s kind of crazy to believe that this type of training is acceptable.
It’s funny, but positive reinforcement does the same thing by itself without the ugliness! If you train for conflict and reward good behavior and ignore the incorrect response you will have a dog that learns very quickly how to respond in times of crisis and conflict and even pain without training for it.
A Great Example Is Snitch The Service Dog
One of my favorite stories is of my Service Dog “Snitch”; we went to a flea market one day to train and work and enjoy the day. All of a sudden out of nowhere he seemed fidgety and odd, but he never broke out of heel position or even looked back. When it continued, I stopped to look around there was a toddler attached to his tail, pulling on it like he was water skiing.
Although I had tried to desensitize him to children and had done a number of handling types of training, I had never pulled this hard on his tail. His immediate reaction to this conflict and PAIN was to look at me for a treat.
He knew, through positive reinforcement training, fun and games alone, that if he did something that was good that was hard for him, he would get a jackpot of treats or his toy and praise.
I never had to inflict pain, stomp on his tail (or any of the other Service Dogs I trained) to teach them how to control themselves in these situations.
In my article “Just Another Reason NOT to use Compulsion in Dog Training” I discuss how correction can sometimes make the bad behavior worse; i.e. make the dog bite harder, or be more possessive. This is usually not ideal and often causes the opposite of what most owners want.
You Should Shock Your Dog????
In the protection dog training world; using strictly positive reinforcement is almost as horrifying to admit to as admitting to using a prong collar in a group of positive reinforcement trainers. It is simply not done.
I competed with my dog in October, I didn’t think she was quite ready, but my husband dared me (I have a disease and cannot refuse a good dare) and signed me up for the competition. As I told a few others who were competing about my apprehension of trialing, I was told the same thing by more than 3 people. “Just put her shock collar on her and shock her right before you go in the ring, you’ll be fine”.
Admittedly, I was APPALLED! She has never had a shock collar on. It is not how I train. A shock collar would send her shaking in the opposite direction and leave me with a puddle of terrified fur. And, she should not be judged harshly as not being physically or mentally strong enough to handle a shock, as she has extremely high drives and simply doesn’t need this kind of training.
Unfortunately, she completely humiliated me 😉 in a cute and excited sort of way and we did not receive her title (although we were close), but if given the chance to use compulsion or positive reinforcement, I would not change a thing. The experience gave me a chance to see where my training was lacking.
Fury Wins Top Honors!!!
A week ago I again entered the field. She was PERFECT (except for one small sneezing fit). Using all positive techniques I was able to get the desired performance. After I had completed my routine I was approached by an audience member.
“What type of training do you use with your dog?” she asked.
I admitted; “I only use positive reinforcement, toys and games with her.”
“If she doesn’t do what I want,” I explained “She doesn’t get her toy or the ability to play”.
“I KNEW IT!” exclaimed the woman! “She is the only dog I have seen so far that has been overly excited to work and has shown no fear of making a mistake. Her tail is held high the whole time!” Then she whispered and bumped my shoulder “I could tell! And, good for you!”
And, just to set the record straight we had high honors in obedience and protection and she has been winning blue ribbons in obedience competitions throughout our little center of the country! She LOVES playing games and putting on a performance! We beat 30 and 40 year veterans with our operant conditioning skills and she never once coward, why would she?
If I have to use compulsion, then I don’t want to play! I want a happy, healthy, well adjusted dog that enjoys working for me and thinks life is a game. Then when I work with her I can escape into a world where life truly is a game and everything about it is FUN!
All you need is a little fun and some consistency! Just getting started is a big step in the right direction.
What do you think?
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.