Today, we're going to talk about a more controversial topic. If you know me or have been following us for a while, you'll know we say things as they are and are passionate about sharing the truth even if others don't like it. So today, i'm going to talk about a common myth that generally causes a lot of hate, rudeness and divide in the dog world: training tools.
Now depending on who you ask, depends on what response you get to this question; are certain training tools abusive?
A lot of people will respond by saying 'yes, some tools are inherently abusive and should never be used.' Sadly, in the dog world there is a divide between those who follow one way and those who choose to question other ways. I am such a person who likes to question, learn and experience different methods, tools and learning styles to make my own opinion and not just follow the masses and so today I'm going to explain to you why training tools don't abuse dogs.
Whatever your opinion is on different training tools is, if you're interested in learning facts and making your own opinion, keep reading! I am a firm believer that everyone should make their own decisions on what is best for their dogs based on facts and personal experience or knowledge. This post won't be me forcing my opinions on anyone, just sharing facts, my personal experiences and hopefully, educating people.
So first up, lets talk about some of the training tools that are available for dogs.
Anything you put on your dog to 'aid' with training or basic tasks is a tool. Despite what some people think, tools can't teach your dog something for you and every tool you use, even a basic collar and lead, requires you to do 'training' with your dog to use it. This, sadly, is where a lot of people go wrong. People seem to assume that dogs simply know how to act as pets and only require training if something goes wrong or they show behaviours that are unwanted. However, the reality is, dog's aren't a washing machine and you can't just programme them on the first day and then they'll work perfectly forever after.
Whatever tools you use, everything should start with you training your dog how to respond to that tool and what you are asking them when you use it. Whatever tool it is, you should always (in my opinion!) be using the tool in softest, most beneficial way for the dog to learn quickly and humanely how to respond. I like the LIMA method of training which follows the ideals to be 'least invasive and minimally aversive' and this is the take I follow especially with training tools. I want my dogs to enjoy training and to learn in the most effective way. If I'm using a tool with a dog and the dog isn't learning effectively or is finding the tool too aversive (which means the dog is finding the tool unpleasant) I'll switch to something else.
Every dog is different and what one dog may work really well on, another won't! That's why we have so many different training tools out there.
Training tools are a fact of life, there is no such thing as 'force free' as there is no way in today's world that you can't have your dog on the lead and if your dog is on the lead, whether you're meaning to or not, you are applying some sort of force. The issue isn't in the force itself but instead how you use it and what your dog finds aversive.
To most dogs, wearing a collar and having a basic clip lead isn't aversive and the force on it's own generally doesn't instil behaviour change. It's for this reason that people generally look for something stronger like a head halter, slip lead, front clip harness or prong collar.
Now depending on your dog, depends on what kind of force you then have to apply with other tools and whether your dog finds that aversive or not. I've seen an awful lot of dogs in my time who HATE head collars and harnesses, will drag their faces across the floor, scratch their faces continuously and hide under furniture if owners even bring these tools out. Any tool has the ability to be used wrongly and cause pain, fear and suffering to the dog, the issue lies in the user and not in the tool itself.
If you google injuries from tools you'll see a multitude of physical and mental injuries caused by pretty much any tool you can get. Dog's who's collars have been left on and cut their necks, harnesses that have altered the gates of dogs causing pain and discomfort in their back and legs, dogs with wounds on their faces from trying to scratch off head halters. That's not even looking into the psychological stress and fear that some tools can cause when used wrongly but just because a tool can cause injuries doesn't mean it's bad and shouldn't be used.
Now there are of course tools that (again, in my opinion!) do more harm than good and that I personally have chosen not to include in my training.
Things like citronella spray collars and sonic devices I personally have seen a lot more harm caused and there are plenty of other, more kinder tools I could use to teach the same things without damaging a dogs sense of smell or hurting their ears. Again, this is just my opinion on those tools from personal experience and extensive research.
Keeping our dogs under control is a fact of life and one way or another, we need to remember that. There are so many people out there that label certain tools 'bad' or 'abusive' when actually they know nothing about them and have simply heard or only seen bad things about them. If we decided what tools were good and bad based on the number of injuries caused by misuse, there wouldn't be any tools we could use and we wouldn't be able to enjoy every day life with our dogs by our side.
Every dog learns differently and every dog sees different tools differently. To one dog, a harness may be an aversive and cause stress and pain when they're wearing it where a slip lead may not. We need to remember that every dog is different and what may work for one dog may not work for another. We need to stop trying to 'cookie cutter' dog training based on what we like and what we don't and instead look at the dog in front of us and make decisions on what works and what doesn't for that specific dog.
The key here, is educating ourselves and others. Do your research on all tools and make a decision yourself on the pro's and con's on it before using it. Ask those who have experience on those tools, lot's of different people and ask to see them being used properly. Make yourself a person who seeks the truth and doesn't just follow in the opinions of others.
It's for the benefit of all of our dogs that we are open minded, truth seekers who's aim is to learn how best to help our dogs and not to simply rule tools out because we perceive them to be 'abusive' when the reality is that if there is a negative emotion associated with a tool, it's more likely than not, the user's error, not the tools.