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  • Taryn

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

As science continues to show us that traditional coercive training techniques are not as effective as they were supposed to be and are in fact extremely detrimental to the emotional and physical welfare of dogs as well as the bond between dog and owner, many traditional trainers, aware that the tide is turning rapidly, have started using the language of positive trainers, without actually changing their methodology.

I recently saw a proudly displayed photo from a well-known dog training club of an entire puppy class being pinned down on their sides by their owners under the guise of teaching the dog to “settle”. It was quite clear from the fact that all the owners were keeping both hands firmly on their dogs that they were not there by choice! This was a clear case of forcing the pups to accept being held down in the traditional “dominance” philosophy while giving it a pretty name!

Then, there is the case of the increasingly infamous “behaviourist” who in between throwing “rattle snakes” (shake cans) at dogs and spraying them with water, throws them a few treats and calls it all positive reinforcement! The mind boggles!

But enough venting - the point is that when you look for a trainer or behaviourist, do not simply accept that they use scientifically based, positive training techniques just because they say so. Ask the following questions:

  1. Will you physically push or pull my dog into position when teaching an exercise? (Training relying on physical manipulation such as pushing bottoms down or pulling up in the lead, is NOT positive reinforcement training, it coercion.)

  2. What will you do if my dog does something you don’t like? (Yanking on the lead, smacking, squirting with water, shouting, growling, forcing the dog down and throwing shake cans at the dog or near the dog is NOT positive reinforcement, it is punishment.)

  3. What training equipment do you use? (Choke chains, slip collars, prong collars and shock collars are coercive training tools. Even the use of Haltis where a dog is so restricted that he cannot move his head is a punishing experience and Haltis should NOT be used as a matter of course - they are only appropriate in certain circumstances and when used correctly.)

Another clue is to listen for words and phrases such as “pack”, “alpha”, “dominance” and “pack leader”. No modern, science-based trainer has any use for these terms. So if someone advocates training with treats one minute and tells you how to be a good pack leader the next, they are very confused and probably don’t have much understanding of what they are actually doing! Rather find someone who does!


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