Thursday, April 14, 2011

The minefield in the gospel of training

I got booted off the facebook group of positive dog trainers recently. I made the mistake of defending a friend, calling someone out for being rude, and making a negative comment about the actions of some of the members of the "Truly Dog Friendly" contingent. I think it was that last thing that pushed them over the edge. ~sigh~ Note to self, do not comment on facebook when angry. Sadly I didn't get a timeout or warning about my behavior before the punishment was levied.

For those that don't already know there are many different factions in dog training circles. The 3 basic ones are Traditional, Positive, and the newer guy on the block called Balanced. Traditional is also known as "yank and jerk" to the Positive camp. Positive is also known as "cookie pushers" to the Traditional camp. Balanced is a combination of both methods. They haven't gotten a cute nickname yet. I admit I dislike the term balanced because it makes it sound like both of the other methods are "unbalanced". I've long said positive isn't about being permissive. It is a great marketing gimmick tho. People see the word "balanced" and think it is a better option than the others out there. But I have to also wonder if it isn't about trying to distance themselves from the "purely positive" camp of trainers a little. Someone mentioned in a conversation recently about how some positive trainers make dog owners feel bad because they point out all the things they have been doing wrong with their dog instead of making them feel training is going to be fun for them both and that they will be learning a kinder way to work with their dogs. I have to admit, I can see that happening with some trainers. Not all positive trainers seem to be good with people. Certainly in my recent experience! Maybe the balanced contingent are just crossover trainers in the making. But only if the positive trainers stop beating up on them and just lead by example instead.

I really don't like to argue. I've been there and done that. A, it doesn't work. Nobody ever gave up their position based on being yelled at and B, it takes to much time and effort. Being angry is draining! I don't have the time or energy for that! So I do what I do and rarely enter into into conversations with the other camp about the why this is better than that technique. Instead I use my own dogs training as an example, and teach my clients why this will work better than that one on one. That is where it is more useful and certainly less confrontational.

Sadly when a group of dog trainers get together, unless they are all of the exact same mindset there will be crankiness at some point. I dislike this but it is a fact of life. Someone always gets upset and angry. Anger tends to make us say and do things we might not do otherwise. Today I am exhibit A. This is why not being upset when training your dog is important. Anger changes our responses to things. Pretty simple right?

So the bomb that set of this particular incident was a discussion on electric collars. Specifically e-fences. For those that don't know most positive trainers dislike the e-collar. We do not see it as a positive training tool because it causes pain for the dog. (even if you call the shocks a "tap") A friend of mine was accused of promoting them on the group because of her questions. In reality I saw it as an opportunity to help trainers know how to answer the questions a client might have about their use or help other trainers who have questions about them. You can see why this might be a hot button topic. In a "force free" trainer setting there is only one appropriate answer. Nodon'tdoittheyareallbadendofstory. Their answer was do not discuss because we are against it. I am of the mind that without discussion there can be no education however. The trick is to stay calm and rational, not easy when peoples hot buttons are being pushed. Mine included.

So for the record here are my thoughts on e-collars. For basic training I say never. There is no reason to have to shock your dog to teach him something that can be taught without it. I do not train dogs with them and never will. E-fencing - This one is a big fat "it depends but probably not" for me. Most people use it incorrectly, (they think its ok to leave dogs unsupervised in them) use it in unsuitable areas, (neighborhoods with people walking by) or have dogs it isn't suited for. (some dogs will take a hit to get out but not come back in) You can also cause anxiety or aggression in a dog with misuse of e-fencing. I see this fallout ALOT with clients. That said there are very specific times where an e-fence may be the only option. I know of a certain terrier that needs one INSIDE a physical fence because she is the worlds fastest digger and can be gone quicker than you can say "Stop digging that hole!" For her it is a safety issue. (ah the joy of earth dogs!) All dogs are indivuals remember as are all situations.

I very rarely train dogs to e-fences myself because most times they just aren't the best option for the dog, even if the owner thinks otherwise. I just will not take on the liability of it's likely failure, nor put a dog through it when I know it won't work to solve their problem. I think in the last 10 years I have only done it twice. Once because the people moved the fence to many times and the dog became afraid of the grass. The other time was because an owner had installed a home version and wanted me to drag the dog through it to make sure he knew where the boundary was. I refused. Worried he was going to do it incorrectly after I left, I taught him how to do it properly so it was fair for the dog. (I had been called there for basic training.) I do try to warn clients of mine that already have the fencing of the negatives they may not have thought of. Animals can still come into the yard so install some night lighting so you can watch out for skunks and porcupines. Dogs can still come into the yard and attack your dog. You dog may become motivated enough to run through for some reason but not want to run back. So while I do not promote the e-fence, I do not think banning them is an answer either. I wouldn't mind seeing electronic collars banned for everything but fence training. Banning tools is a slippery slope however. There are people out there who would ban the head collar for dogs as to aversive as well. Once we start with bans they can quickly get out of hand. Just ask anyone in BSL.

The Truly Dog Friendly contingent is not a bad group. They were created because in the realm of positive training there was disagreement about who was positive enough to be considered a real positive trainer. Even the factions have factions! It's enough to make your head spin! I actually admire them for their stance. They want to to what is best for all dogs. I get that. Who doesn't want that? It's why people unknowingly join PETA. I mean who isn't for the ethical treatment of animals? I even have friends who are members of the TDF group. Unfortunately I find some other of their members bullying in their tactics to spread their "gospel" of training. I also do not qualify to be a member because of my occasional training work with police dogs who wear and use pinch or prong collars. (Sidebar: Traditional training should ONLY be done on working dogs in my opinion. And even then with the least force to be effective possible and lots of praise as a reward. Thankfully some jobs are trained using positive methods, i.e. drug search, tracking and cadaver work. And you can RUIN a good dog with piss poor timing using traditional methods by the way. End of rant.)

I am thinking about starting my own group for trainers on facebook. Or look for another one more suited to what I believe in. One where trainers can talk about cases, get info from other trainers, share commiserations of tough cases and learn more about positive training. We can't do better until we know better after all. My friend Gina coined the term for this as, "evolution through education". I love that! I've heard some complaints about APDT allowing traditional trainers into the group but I think it's a good idea. If we don't share our knowledge in a civil manner with other trainers looking for that knowledge then how is that helping ALL dogs? I know being a member helped me during my crossover period. They can't become crossover trainers if no one shows them the bridge after all.

So that is my take on the minefield of training methods and their people. I dunno, my husband calls me an optimist. Perhaps I am expecting to much in thinking we should try to all just get along. The good news is that I know I am not alone. There is a faction out there for me too. I just need to find it.

(I will not comment when I am angry, I will not comment when I am angry, I will not comment when I am angry, I will not comment when I am angry, I will not comment.......)

For a great book on crossover training check out "The thinking dog ~ Crossover to clicker training" by Gail Fisher.


Ruth said...

I hate efences. Theres a pair of psycotic GSDs down the road from me restrained by one. Or not restrained when the betteries in the collar die unexpectedly. Watching them bounce off the "wall" as they frenzy at me and my dog as we walk by is disconcerting, especially since I know that the male's collar has failed at least once in the last 6 months.

gooddogz said...

Wondering how long it took you to write that! Well done. I agree with everything you wrote. I left that group as you know because of you and Gina being booted without so much as a warning, or a civil discussion. One would expect positive trainers to act in a positive manner when training people to follow their rules, and not out of anger or with a knee jerk reaction. On the other hand, I do totally get that the people on the FB list are sick and tired of arguing about the same old same old that they feel passionately about. . I totally get that, because so am I! Like you I have had many a job with Electric fences, usually they involve fear and aggression, but I also had many a dog who would not go in it's own yard. I recently had a dog who got a stray zap near the stairs in side the house!! that had to do with plumbing system that needed to be re-wrapped. Never heard of that before, but the fence company knew straight off what the problem was and came and fixed it. I ahe had dogs afraid of microwaves, and toasters and heaters outside their homes. I have worked with some pretty messed up dogs that were on electric fences. I bartered with my divorce attorney and spent a few solid weeks teaching her dog not to be afraid of it's own yard after she drove out the driveway with the e collar on the dog. We could go on and on. I do not train with E collars but agree that I do not agree on a ban as the solution. I want to reserve my right to use if I felt it was warranted , and I do know of a few cases of positive trainers dogs, where that was indeed the case. I also think it is not realistic to think that every single person who uses one is abusing their dog. But whatever. Moving on. -nancy

themacinator said...

i really like this- i've been thinking about this a lot, i think i'm moving back towards being a crossover trainer. i tried to write out some of my thoughts awhile ago but failed, but i'm still thinking it through. basically, people DO interpret positive training as permissive, and it can be REALLY hard to be consistent with positive training. dogs need consistency so much, especially with JQP owner.

i'm sorry you had a fallingout- dog people can be such- DOGS! :)

onebigassdog said...

The best well thought out response. It's a real shame that some people are so full of themselves they miss an opportunity to learn or even educate. I agree with you. I do not like Efences. But I certainly wouldn't turn someone away or bash somebody who chooses to use it. I would use the opportunity to educate.

I think it's a great idea to have a group that welcomes a healthy discussion among trainers. After all how else do you help others if we cannot help ourselves?

Banning is never the solution. As Gina said evolution through learning.

Thank you for writing this piece. Well written and honest.

Daisy's Mom said...

So agree with everything you wrote. The truth is that we CAN learn from one another if we're willing to listen.

I have several clients with e-fences. Are they my favorite thing? No. But, that's what they have for their dogs. (In two of the cases, the dogs have acres upon acres to run in and the e-fence as a perimeter. I may not like the fence and collars, but I do like that they get to explore and sniff and enjoy the great outdoors.)

Go ahead and create a group Marie! I like evolution through education!

Ashley said...

A very impressive post, Marie. As a person who loves to learn as much as possible about everything, having a friend who's a trainer is a great asset. I'm learning tons! I must say I am very sorry you got booted from that facebook page. Like Daisy's Mom said, we can, and should learn from each other and it's annoying that they didn't take this opportunity to learn from you.

Marie said...

Thanks everyone. I am planning on making a fb group for positive trainers to help crossover trainers make their leap. I'm just trying to decide on a name for it at this point. I'll be sure to post the info.

Katie said...

I tend to run with the "balanced trainer" contingent online for the most part, though I don't really agree with the use of positive punishment. I just don't think it's necessary in the vast majority of cases, and I think it's very often counterproductive.

But I find those people, for the most part, much easier to have discussions with, and that's the point of discussion groups after all. There is much less... well... arrogance. There is much less "My way is the only way". There are infinitely more shades of gray. I think there is so much more opportunity for learning and growing as a trainer when you're working with the shades of gray.

Marie said...

I think dialogue could be easier if people would just sometimes agree to disagree. I also find it odd that force free people think that forcing their beliefs on others will work. Ummm you are against using it in training, why would you use it in spreading your message?? Not a very thought out decision if you ask me.