I Wish We Could All Get Along

There are trends in things like dog training or child rearing that come and go through the years: to spank or not to spank; to use food or not use food, etc. Each trend reaches a peak and then slowly eases back until another new discovery or enlightenment comes along.

                  Dr. Ian Dunbar began the delightful trend of "dog-friendly" dog training all those years ago. What a revelation it was at the time: the idea of using food and positive reinforcement to teach basic commands; moving away from strict AKC-like standards to an outlook of more of a camaraderie between family and pet dog! Dr. Dunbar also emphasized reaching all dog trainers with these new ideas; not to turn anyone away, or revile anyone's style: it was more important to try and get as many trainers as possible on board with these new ideas.

                  And so the pendulum of friendly dog training slowly began to swing until it has now become nearly the norm to see dogs as individuals and to train each in a positive manner according to their unique temperaments and personalities. However, that pendulum continued to swing - higher and higher until it reached perhaps its highest point and got stuck there for a while. And a new "breed" of dog trainer emerged from that highest point: those who are no longer dog-friendly - they are "truly dog friendly". What does this mean? It usually means that such trainers are committed to training "without pain" and without any aversives. So why would I be writing about this, you wonder? Let me explain.

                  I have no issue with the concept of the most gentle training possible. Of course, every dog is different so we have to remember that what might be aversive for one dog might not be aversive at all for another. So we have to be careful when trying to determine what is truly aversive or painful to any individual dog. And I have a problem with those who, through the use of rigid statements ("I train without pain" - "stay away from those trainers who want to hurt your dog") are being dishonest in what they are actually doing in their training. I am a purist about rigid statements - if you're going to make them, then you darn well should be living by them, and not only by your own subjective reasoning.

Because - who is the one to define things such as "pain", and "discomfort"? Where do we draw the line so that one trainer is "hurting dogs" and another isn't?

                  There are obvious examples of those who do train harshly and punitively - we can all agree on that. It's the more subtle levels of discomfort that I have issue with. If someone is going to take a defensive and moral stance regarding their non-painful methods, then I can certainly hope that there really is no "pain" involved.

a) martingale collars: work because they tighten around the dog's neck if he pulls, causing enough discomfort to decrease the pulling

b) head halters: work because they control the dog's head, disallowing pulling or lunging. Many dogs greatly resist them; they can rub against the dog's face, causing loss of hair and discomfort.

c) no-pull harnesses: work because they tighten around the dog's chest or under their arms - causing discomfort.

d) crating: all too often used excessively - dogs are left in them for most of the day and all of the night. I have heard several "all positive" trainers advocating this sort of use of the crate for management, saying that it's "okay" as long as the dog is getting "quality time" when it is out of the crate.


                  I am not writing this to advocate the use of aversives or non-friendly dog training, or a return back to the darker ages before Ian came along....I am writing this in the wish that clear eyes and honesty could prevail. Rather than emotional advertisements and diatribes regarding whether someone causes "pain" when they train - look to the reality of what other trainers are doing. It could be that using patience and kindness with some of these other trainers might actually help some of those who are  harsh come  around to a more gentle way of training. And it is also possible that many of them *are* more dog-friendly than you might have thought - we all need to adjust our definitions!