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DarnFar Ranch LLC Professional Dog Training
Changing the actions, aptitudes and attitudes of dogs and their people

Challenging Our Methods

The following note was posted at a YouTube video displaying our training methods (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1U5WC1k1S4) “Just because you cant find a trainer that will use positive reward-based methods doesn't mean you can justify using choke chains and hurting the dog. Of course it will behave around you- it WILL comply but it'll only be a temporary fix and be more inclined to be agressive when you or the owner are away. If you claim to have taught it in a matter of hours then that's proof of a 'quick' fix which is usually achieved by hurting and frightening the dog.” My response: It annoys me terribly when I read the same old sound-bites in response to a balanced approach to dog training. Apparently, the person who posted this comment believes there is only one way to train a dog, and that is with positive reinforcement, exclusively. If you have not seen us train a dog you have no right to describe the processes or the results of our methods. I encourage anyone who has the same attitude to simply come and watch us train a dog. We hold Workshops every month. Attend one. Then, you may judge us. Aggression is a state of anti-social behavior. Our methods are rooted in helping a dog move from an anti-social to social state of existence. That is the definition of what we do. Often, a dog has become anti-social (including aggressive, but also fearful or excessively exuberant) because no one in its life ever took control and set clear standards for the dog’s behavior. We do not routinely use positive reinforcement to address unacceptable behavior. We use positive reinforcement to create good behaviors, which, to me, is the way one should employ positive reinforcement. We use corrections / negative consequences to eliminate bad behaviors. My book, The 4-H Guide: Dog Training & Dog Tricks (Voyageur Press 2009) provides ample detail on when we employ positive reinforcement and when we use corrections in our quest to provide fair and balanced instruction for the dogs that we train. You may find out how to purchase my book, here. It is completely ridiculous to suggest that sound training methods result in harm to the dog and are only temporary fixes. Watch a parent teach his/her toddler to remain in a highchair for dinner. The first two, three, four, perhaps five times that the child tries to climb out, the parent “touches” the child by placing him back in the chair (preferable before the child actually makes any progress to climb down to the floor). If s/he is a good parent there is no emotion in this action (no frustration, no anger, no disappointment). There is just a consequence for the child's unacceptable behavior. Sometimes the child will protest by whining, crying or having a tantrum. The protest should not be considered evidence of parental abuse. It is evidence that the child is protesting the situation, nothing more. The child is testing the resolve of the parent. A good parent will win the battle without getting upset by simply being more persistent than the child. By the sixth attempt, when the child begins to climb out of the highchair, the parent need only stand up and appear to be walking towards the child and the child will sit back down. This should not be considered a threatening gesture. It is just a parent letting the child know that, once again, attempting to climb out of the chair will not be permitted. A good parent will not harm her own child when teaching him to remain seated in the chair. But, she will have to touch him to give him feedback that she does, in fact, control his destiny and she will impose her will upon the child. To ignore this duty will probably result in an injured child (and a really terrible teenager). Of course there are times when the parent praises the child for doing a good job. She could even praise him for staying put in the chair. But, if he begins to climb out, praise won’t keep him in the chair. A consequence for non- compliance is needed. That is how the mind of a social primate (and social canine) works. It is based on establishing a social order. Mother trumps child. Full stop. Bribery could result in a dangerous power shift. The child must not believe that he can outmaneuver his parent. He is not emotionally or physically equipped to do so at his age. Those are the times when the parent may need to physically control the child for its own safety and to teach it about boundaries. That physical touch is important since a small child doesn’t have the capacity to follow verbal directions, yet. Curiously, the way that we groom a child to follow verbal directions is by touching them when they are little. They learn that we can and we will touch them. Then, they heed the verbal warning and comply so as to avoid the physical touch. The touch is not painful. But, it is clear information that if the child doesn’t heed the verbal request the parent will simply control the child physically. The desire to be granted free-will motivates compliance to social norms. Dogs do the same thing with their puppies and lower ranking adults. They just happen to do it with their teeth (since they don’t have access to their “hands”). They touch a pup if it doesn’t heed the initial warning (such as, “don’t come near my rawhide bone"). They make contact around the neck or face – hence the use of a collar when interacting with a pup regarding standards for its behavior. Our methods attempt to emulate this natural form of communication. One big difference between a child and a dog is that the dog will never "grow up" and have the capacity to function in a fully autonomous manner. He will always need to be subordinate in our family and the humans must remain higher ranking for the dog's whole life. They remain "children", forever. Of course there are behaviors that we can teach our dogs and trust that they will perform them quite consistently. We believe we are most reliable in doing so when we use methods that employ the concepts of obedience to authority. When we tap into the dog's natural ability to behave out of reverence for a "leader" / "top dog", we can permit the dog to perform autonomously and the dog will do so without taking advantage of the freedom we grant in those cases. Service dogs, herding dogs, SAR dogs all perform jobs that, at times, require the dog to take the helm (a little or a lot). Dogs that hold a keen understanding of their position relative to their human partners can be granted more autonomy and they will not disrespect their humans who allow such free will. This relationship, in my opinion, cannot be forged with an exclusively incentive based method. Curiously, it has been my experience to note that folks who subscribe to an exclusively positive reinforcement method often permit their dogs to pull them on a lead. One can hear the straining, choking sound when they walk as the dog's windpipe is smashed shut. The humans lunge forward if the dog chooses to leap towards a distraction, perhaps to the point of injuring a shoulder or elbow. Rather than providing a negative consequence to resolve pulling behavior, the all-positive folks simply allow their dogs to exist in constant restraint with tension on their necks. To me, that is far more cruel than to simply and effectively address the pulling behavior quickly and directly. We do that by delivering a negative consequence for the undesirable behavior that is sufficient to change the dog's behavior. We routinely present this method and show its success in our Workshops. It is not abusive to physically manipulate a child or a dog in order to teach a valuable lesson about survival and obedience to authority. It is good parenting or dog ownership. If you think a child can be “clicker trained” to remain in a high chair without falling out first, go ahead and try with your own kid. But, don’t accuse other parents of harsh methods if they choose to grab the kid before it plummets to the floor. That analogy is, to me, a very direct comparison to the methods that we use to train dogs. We simply adjust the touch to the species with which we are working and emulate the manner in which dogs perform this same type of "parenting" or "teaching social norms" to younger dogs. Please do not be so ignorant of the methods we employ in our dog training to proclaim them to be overly harsh, temporary fixes. Doing the tough job of establishing standards for behavior requires the proper attitude; calm, confident, deliberate clarity regarding the message about dog’s behavior. And, sometimes, it requires physical contact rather than treats. When it is done properly, it has long lasting, positive effects on behavior, is kind and fair and results in a very happy dog that understands the expectations of his owner. © 2010 Tammie Rogers - all rights reserved. For permission to reprint email Tammie.