By: Patti Strand  Date: 05/7/2004 Category: | Canine Issues |

Twenty-three veterinarians met in Florida in May 2004 and proclaimed to the world that dog training techniques and equipment used by thousands of trainers for decades are both cruel and outmoded. Instead they recommended that pet owners seek trainers who subscribe to the latest craze - a program that rewards dogs for good behavior, ignores bad behavior, and blames owners for not being diligent enough or caring enough to produce a perfect pet.

Led by Dr. Karen Overall, a researcher in the psychiatry department at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Dr. Kersti Seksel, a board certified veterinary behaviorist in Australia and the US, the group echoed claims of cruelty blathered about by animal rights activists, issuing a blanket condemnation of electronic collars, prong collars, and chain training collars and labeling all who use them as abusive to dogs.

Overall and Seksel recommended using treats and praise to motivate dogs (hardly revolutionary methods), and head collars, harnesses, or flat collars for control, gear that is widely available if not uniformly embraced as effective by trainers. But here's the rub. In their zeal to promote a different way of training that has efficacy for some dogs, they branded all other training methods and tools as brutal.

Seksel maligned the majority of dog trainers in the US claiming: "In general, trainers who tend to rely on choke and yank training or electronic collars tend to be punitive in their methods. They punish the dogs for what they don't do, rather than rewarding the dogs for doing something right."

Seksel is wrong in her assessment of the vast majority of dog trainers who use electronic collars, chain slip collars, and prong collars. Professionals use these tools as part of a training regimen that begins and ends with praise and rewards and uses the collars for control until the dog learns to obey commands and internalizes good manners instead of indulging in unsuitable behavior.

"Sadly, the recommendations made by these veterinarians are likely to result in more dogs surrendered to animal shelters," said dog training instructor Norma Woolf. "One training method does not fit all dogs or all dog-owners. Pet owners need methods that allow them control while teaching their dogs to walk on a leash and come when called, two critical behaviors for pet safety and owner satisfaction. In addition, some dogs will bully owners who fail to use appropriate discipline and may begin to bite if they don't get their way. These dogs often lose their homes, surrendered by owners out of frustration or misunderstanding of dog behavior and effective training."

The tools condemned by Overall and Seksel have been used both successfully and humanely by generations of trainers to teach their own dogs and to help pets develop good manners. The prong collar and chain slip collar help keep the dog's attention and allow the handler to correct inappropriate behaviors. The prong collar is particularly helpful for correcting dogs that lunge against the leash. Neither of these collars is tight on the dog unless he makes a mistake. Electronic collars (the very same collars that are used to keep a dog within the boundaries of underground fence systems) are used in training hunting dogs and to teach dogs to stay away from rattlesnakes and other wild animals that could injure or kill. They are also used by experts to teach basic commands and to correct inappropriate behavior of the sort that is responsible for 96 percent of owner relinquished shelter dogs.

Pet dog training is becoming a competitive field with new trainers arriving on the scene all the time. AKC dog training clubs and others continue to offer training classes to pet owners as they have for more than 50 years, but they are no longer alone in the market place. Shelters may provide classes for adopted dogs; chain stores often add training classes as a service to get dog owners into the store; and new private businesses seeking a market niche advertise 'humane training' or 'no-force methods' as if well-established clubs and businesses use only abusive tools and techniques.

Too many PhDs and some other pet behavior specialists peddle their 'humane' methods and taboos in a manner that implies that other methods are sadistic. The fact is when these tools are properly used, they are not only humane, they save lives. Accordingly many experts disagree with limiting the trainers' toolbox to the few tools and techniques approved by Overall. Both the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors and the International Association of Canine Professionals and scores of private trainers question the wisdom of developing a set of guidelines that limit the resources available to trainers. Noting that dog training is an art as much as a science and that trainers need access to a broad range of equipment to assure success, NADOI drafted a position statement against such limitations in November 2002.

Long-time trainer Matthew Margolis - "Uncle Matty" of television and book fame - wraps up the idea with the mantra he teaches all of his clients: love, praise, and affection. Margolis uses chain slip collars on the dogs he trains.

The NAIA Position

The National Animal Interest Alliance supports the use of training equipment and techniques used in accordance with widely-accepted practices that incorporate the science of canine behavior and the judicial use of corrections to prevent, control or eradicate unacceptable dog behaviors. NAIA congratulates the thousands of successful dog clubs and private trainers who provide unparalleled benefits to dog owners who want a well-behaved pet that is compatible with their families and lifestyles. Because dogs and owners come with different personalities and learning styles, NAIA believes that having a broad range of training tools available greatly increases the chance of success.

NAIA recognizes that dogs don't live in a vacuum; they inhabit busy households with families that have active work and social lives. Pet owners often have little knowledge of normal and abnormal dog behaviors and may have no experience in translating what they do know into a lesson the dog understands. In addition, they often lack the skill, time, patience, or inclination to use methods that leave it up to the dog to make good decisions about his behavior. Children who train dogs for 4-H and other youth competitions are especially vulnerable; their relationship with their pets can be severely hampered if they are not allowed to use collars that give them control over strong dogs.

Academics and clinicians who specialize in animal behavior tend to see dogs with problems, not ones that have been successfully trained using one or more of these tools. Indeed, they may see a disproportionate number of dogs whose owners misused a given tool. They often work with unruly dogs that are in a second or third home, dogs that have been rescued from shelters or neglectful homes, dogs that are fearful or aggressive, and dogs that were not trained or socialized properly as puppies and have become incorrigible as adults. The limited tools they approve of may help these dogs when used appropriately by experienced professionals, but they may also exacerbate or simply fail to correct the objectionable behaviors, especially in the hands of amateurs.

In a perfect world, all dogs would learn everything they need to know by osmosis or observation or would be so eager to please that they beg for instruction and obey every request. However, since dogs will be dogs, they learn early in life to rush out the door, chew on furniture, mouth and nip family members, refuse to come when called, act as if a walk on a leash is training for the Iditarod, steal food off the table, and do other doggy things that are unacceptable in a human family.

Unfortunately, these academics and many activists fail to realize that pet owners and training instructors therefore need access to tools and methods that help retard the growth of bad behaviors and instill good behaviors in an active dog. Otherwise, the hapless canine may be abandoned to a backyard or to a shelter or rescue when it becomes unmanageable.

Effective training starts with the use of a collar that fits the dog's neck and suits his behavior and temperament and his owner's needs, skills, and desires. All tools - even the flat buckle collars, harnesses, and head collars touted by Overall and her minions - can be misused.


About The Author

Patti Strand's photo
Patti Strand - NAIA President

Patti is a recognized expert and consultant on contemporary animal issues, most notably responsible dog ownership and the animal rights movement. She often appears on radio and television and her articles on canine issues, animal welfare, public policy and animal rights have appeared in major US news publications and in trade, professional and scientific journals. Patti and her…

All Authors Of This Article: | Patti Strand |
Like this article?
Don’t forget to share, like or follow us



blog comments powered by Disqus