Monday, 13 March 2017

Don't try this at home!

It’s been a really doggy few days on the television and all over the internet recently between Crufts and a new dog programme* on Channel 4. Recently we’ve seen great programmes like Rescue Dog to Super Dog.

But I was saddened that this most recent ‘training’ programme on TV is showcasing punishment based techniques (leash jerking, telling the dog off). Both research and my clinical experience tell me that doing this will increase aggression in the longer term, and it definitely won’t help a scared dog feel safer or less worried.

Well Connected Canine was created to help people build better relationships with their dogs. Most problems are fundamentally about a break-down in communication and trust, leading to rubbish recall or even growling over resources.

You might have heard me say “positive doesn’t equal permissive”, and if you’ve seen me working with my own dogs you know that’s true”! However the boundaries and rules that are essential for my harmonious household are taught through careful training, good management and ethical consequences.

I’m not a “fluffy bunny”, or a “tree-hugger”, or even a “cookie pusher” (just some of the descriptive terms used for us). But I’m also not interested in using punishment based training tools to make up for my shortcomings as a trainer.

MOMENT OF HONESTY: trainers don’t have perfect dogs, it’s often why we became trainers. Freya is my youngest rescue collie and she arrived as a friendly, moderately confident dog who would growl and snarl at other dogs over food/chews/toys. Freya may have been used for or allowed to hunt in her previous life, and her laser focus on a squirrel is out of this world. We’re working on it, but progress has been slow.

Last night after reading some frank discussions by trainers across the spectrum of methods, I reflected on my options and whether I would have made faster progress with her prey drive by “telling her when she was wrong” through my voice, a rattle bottle of stones, a spray collar or worse.

(don’t panic – it was all theoretical)

The answer is maybe.

If I had been willing to use a loud noise, or spray collar at the moment she shows interest in a rabbit or squirrel. It might well make her less likely to chase them assuming she didn't just ignore it, BUT what about the potential consequences?

Freya might become more nervous of noises (we’ve already had to work through severe noise phobia last year), Freya might associate that particular walk or type of countryside with the noise/sensation. Freya might have connected the noise or sensation to me or any of my other dogs – and been unhappy being close to us.

It's just not worth it. So please, don’t try any of that stuff at home.

Instead, we’ll work on management with a long line (so she can’t practice chasing), work on attention and self control, and build in a default down when she sees movement. And I will do more of the training that I know will work without unpredictable side effects.

Take Action!
  • If you’re a trainer or behaviourist living nearby, reach out to the chap* like John McGuigan (Glasgow Dog Trainer) suggested because he may just not know what else to do. Gentle re-education works for all of us!
  • If you watched the programme and felt that it shouldn’t be shown on national television, add your voice to this petition
  • If you’re struggling with your dog’s behaviour right now, get help from a qualified and ethical professional. Ask them why they are doing things, and what will happen to your dog if they get it wrong. Choose your trainer wisely.
  • Want to know how to use the magic word “no” properly? Check out this blog by my good friend Sue at Muttamorphosis Training in Newcastle
  • Support a new initiative to raise awareness of ethical dog training – let’s shout about what works and is good.
I hope you have a thoughtful week

Morag and the collie girls

 *I’ve chosen not to link to the individual or the programme website to avoid giving them more exposure (positive reinforcement!)

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