Thursday, 14 May 2009

Thoughts on training methods/philosophies

I'm sort of starting this thread because I've been thinking a lot about it recently. From ending up in a discussion about choke chains with a woman who attended a clicker training workshop (she thought 'check chains' were really good if you knew how to use them properly) and then following up comments/discussions online about using e-collars and the like, I feel like my brain is going round in circles.

Some of the issues I find swimming around in my head:

  1. there are several straight forward laws of learning, which describe how pretty much anything with a nervous system and brain makes associations, learns to perform or not perform behaviours, and connects consequences or emotions i.e. classical and operant conditioning which give us precise terms such as positive/negative/reinforcer/punisher
  2. there are some behaviours that certain people consider to be 'pack' related or 'dominance' related and therefore are not about training or lack of, but should be prevented from occurring, or gotten rid of via aversives
  3. its difficult to choose between training methods based purely on the apparent outcome of training as we have no insight into the dog's mental state (assuming you believe such an insight would be useful or relevant)
  4. 'calming signals' as a term has become more and more accepted, but even for these behaviours there are multiple possible explanations for them, we are making assumptions about internal states based on our observations.
  5. some people have moral positions on whether it is appropriate to use aversives when teaching; for children, dogs, any other adult too! This seems to lead to very emotional discussions, and of course exactly what defines an aversive may well vary between person/dog/etc
  6. and sometimes we might have philosophical principles which guide how we interact with the world and people/animals
  7. almost any tool can be used as an aversive in training, but some are inherently designed to do so.
  8. Humans often get very caught up in and emotional about their training relationships, taking things very personally which increases stress levels - possibly leading to punishment in the normal sense of the word, seeing it as confrontational?

Like I said I've been reading and watching clips about folks that train with 'remote collars' - and mostly I'm left just not understanding why these methods would be a first, second or even a last choice? They claim, and appear to show that in some cases the stimulation level is very low, more of a vibration than anything. So presumably its acting as an interruptor? Fair enough, but still not convinced its needed! But once these things move onto higher levels....why train with pain?

I have used
  • flat collar
  • limited slip collar (not too tight though)
  • various harnesses
  • headcollars, various
  • vibe collar - well we're trying it anyway for my deaf dog

While the headcollars were useful when Finn was really reactive in terms of being able to hold onto him, and we did loads of work to get him happy wearing it, I don't particularly like using them. Essentially except when they are used as backup control for a very strong dog, they work IMHO by being aversive. i.e. dog pulls, headcollar tightens and pressure on face is uncomfortable, dog stops pulling, pressure releases and all is good??

I don't think I ever 'make' my dogs do anything. I only ask them to do things that they are capable of, and when I know I have successfully helped them understand the cue. If Finn didn't happen to recall straight away in a new park, I would assume that I have not yet taught a strong enough recall in the position of very exciting distractions. By thinking of that as 'disobediance' or 'stubborness' I'd be setting up a confrontational situation and presuming that Finn had made some kind of a choice?

Do I use 'no'?? Yes, actually I do, but I'm careful to make sure that 'no' means "don't do that, or even think about it, look at me to see what to do instead".

I guess I have underlying principles about trying not to use force/coercion on anything or anyone, about being non-confrontational, trying to communicate clearly and compassionately, building relationships and co-operation, being willing to listen to the other side.....so I find it hard to understand where someone is coming from when they think it is appropriate to use choke chains, prong collars, leash pops, e-collars, harsh voices, physical intervention/violence. But does that mean its wrong for them to be using methods that fit with their principles and philosophy???

I am very aware that I'm posting this on a motivational, rewards-based type forum :laugh: but its helpful for me to type it all out! And no I'm not planning to 'convert' to any of the more aversive methods, but teaching beginners classes is forcing me to think very hard about all this!!

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