Not Again?

I have just been involved in yet another tedious discussion with other trainers about their defense of using overly forceful methods to train a dog.  Tedious because there was a time when I had thought that many of these rationales were long buried in the past, and it’s hard and annoying to travel along those lines of discussion once more.

The problem is, in my opinion, that there is no consistent measure of how much is too much pressure to put upon an animal in training.  Therefore, when you find yourself in these arguments you never really know your opponent’s perceptions, or what they really mean when they say that they “use tiny “nicks” with an e-collar”, or “barely yank” with a choke chain.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen for myself that there can be a huge gap between what someone is saying, and what it really means (from my own perception, at least).

First you must know that I believe that it is possible to use any tool in a humane manner, and that it’s possible to misuse any tool as well.  So, it’s not the tool.  It’s the individual using the tool who can wield it too forcefully.

I walked into a grooming/training/boarding place recently with my daughter, who was holding her 4-month-old Chihuahua.  The owner came out and asked what kind of collar we were looking for – we were actually looking for a cute little harness – but the owner went on to tell us that a collar would “leash train” the puppy, and give us “control”. I had to ask, “I don’t know that I’m so worried about control with a Chihuahua this size, but what kind of collar would you recommend?”  And out of her rather large mouth came the words, “A choke chain.”  And she then said, “It doesn’t hurt them too much, unless you hang them.”

What?  I stuttered, “Well, I always like to use the least force possible, you know, you can always use more if it’s necessary”.  “No”, she said, “They need to know you’re the alpha, they need to know you’re the pack leader from the beginning.  You shouldn’t use food, you need to use a choke chain, and my insurance won’t cover me unless I’m using a choke chain anyway.”
What?  I have the most comprehensive insurance plan possible as a professional dog trainer, and it never has said anything about the requirement of using a choke chain.  And I have only “hung” a dog once in self-defense when being attacked by a large Chow Chow – just to hold him away from me, and I still got several bites in the process  (I had grabbed him as he had gone after his owner when his owner annoyed him).  I began a brief argument, but left as soon as possible before I simply lost my mind.

She was like some rare archival object found long-hidden, walking and talking with no awareness of the world having changed around her.  Again, I have no beef with the tool if used correctly and humanely (though why I would use it on a four-month-old Chihuahua puppy with that slender and tiny neck, I don’t know) – it was her uneducated and nonsensical advice that I found so surprising.  I can only wonder about all of the unsuspecting clients, and their dogs, who find their way to her door