Confrontational Techniques Elicit Aggression

Remember the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray wakes up every morning to repeat the same day, over and over? That is a bit of what it feels like to write about the value of benevolence in dog training, and the problems associated with aggressive, confrontational techniques. And yet, I just can’t stop, because there is still a flood of advice about using force and confrontation to correct a dog for ….. (fill in the blanks)…. because 1) misbehavior is a sign your dog is attempting to dominate you and 2) you can only counter it by using force. Sigh.

Those of us arguing that we should be teaching our dogs, rather than forcing and threatening them, have an excellent study by Veterinary Behaviorists to support our perspective. Meghan Herron, DVM, DACVB, Frances Shofer, DVM and Ilana Reisner, DVM, DACVB, of the Matthew Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, asked clients what methods they had used in the past, and how the dog responded. (Applied Animal Behavior Science 117 (2009), 47-54). 140 people, selected because the dogs were brought to the clinic because of “aggression” problems, responded to their survey. Granted, surveys asking people about past behavior are never ideal, we humans being poor historians of our own behavior, but I would argue that this retrospective study has a lot of value. The owners were asked what methods they had used in the past, a question I also always asked of my clients, and to describe their dog’s response to the best of their recollection.

The authors divided the methods used by owners in response to their dog’s misbehavior into the following categories: “Aversive: Direct Confrontation” (alpha rolls, leash corrections, “dominance down,” hit or kick, neck jab, putting on a muzzle, etc.), “Aversive: Indirect Confrontation” (Yell “NO,” Say “Schhhtt,” stare down, growl at dog), “Non-Aversive: Reward-Based” (Food, “Watch Me,” Clicker Training, Sit for everything) and “Neutral” (Avoid, increase exercise, pheromones).

Not surprisingly, leash corrections were common, used by 71% of respondents and 74% yelled “No” in response to their dog’s behavior.  However, 18% reported using an “alpha roll” and as many as 26% used a “stare down” to “correct” their dog. 11% admitting to hitting or kicking their dogs, and 14% to roughly grabbing the dog by the scruff or jowls.

Here are the numbers that matter: The most confrontational, and I would argue, aggressive, behaviors on the part of the owners resulted in the highest levels of aggressive responses from the dogs. 43% of dogs responded with aggression to being hit or kicked, 38% to having an owner grab their mouth and take out an object forcefully, 36% to having a muzzle put on (or attempted?), 29% to a “dominance down,” 26% to a jowl or scruff shake. You get the idea. Of course, these are all dogs who were seen by veterinary behaviorists for aggression-related problems, but it makes the data even more important. Violence begets violence, aggression begets aggression.

An important distinction: Note that the authors, correctly, did NOT label the owner’s responses as “punishment” or “reinforcement.” For one thing, “punishment” is an action that results in a decrease in behavior, so if an owner stares a dog down (argh! who ever started that idea anyway!) and the dog becomes more aggressive, the stare down was not punishment. Second, there are all kinds of actions correctly termed as “positive punishment” that have nothing to do with force or confrontations. For example, I use tons of food (positive reinforcement) to teach dogs a solid stay, and respond to breaks in a stay with a Body Block (Here’s a video as an example.). A Body Block is an example of positive punishment (adding something to decrease the frequency of a behavior), but it is not confrontational or threatening if done correctly. (Note how little I move in the video, and how cheerful the entire episode is.)

Thus, the study is not so much about “reinforcement” and “punishment,” as about what happens when you threaten your dog, or forcefully and physically respond to misbehavior. Please be clear that I am not saying that if one of us occasionally raises our voice to our dog, or has a moment of humanity and loses our temper, we are going to destroy our dogs forever. Neither am I saying that aversives are always bad: aversive events are part and parcel of life, and we all need to know how to handle them, dogs included. However, as many of us have observed for years, using force and confrontation as a primary method of dog training often backfires and creates some of the very problems it is trying to solve.

One of my favorite parts of this study is that it was conducted by two Veterinary Behaviorists (Meghan Herron & Illana Reisner, both, DVMs and board certified vet behaviorists (DACVBs), who I suspect (I am just guessing here), are the experts most likely to effect the behavior of many others in the field of medicine. It has been my experience that quite a few canine professionals, included some veterinarians, are still quick to buy into the “dominance-based” theories of dog training, and it is great that we have data to add to the observations of CAABs and progressive trainers that force elicits force in return. Surely the study is a great addition for anyone who would like to have some good science behind their arguments for benevolent, science-based training, so don’t hesitate to remind people that if you force a dog to defend itself, it will. Canine defensive behavior does not include calling a lawyer or writing a letter to the editor. Teeth will be involved. I’m just saying.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm. It’s GORGEOUS!!!  I mean, it’s make-your-heart-sing, heart-breakingly beautiful this week. There are tulips scattered as if someone sowed jewels instead of seeds in the flower beds. The wild plums are blooming and the air actually feels heavier with their scent. The birds at the feeder are a riot of color: Scarlet Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks, bright yellow Goldfinch. The leaves are swelling from their buds, the grass is growing almost visibly, and the sheep are luxuriating in it.  Of course, the weeds are growing like…  wait for it…  weeds. The pasture needs reseeding, there are a gazillion plants to plant, thistles to battle, barns to repair, etc etc. Jim and I fall into bed after creaking up the stairs on the days we can work together on the farm. That’s actually one of the reasons for the extra work: we’re making major changes in the back yard so that 1) the basement will stop flooding and 2) we can put in a hot tub before fall. One more wonderful thing: the harvest has begun! Amazing, given that we had snow just a few weeks ago, but I’ve got rhubarb from the farm in the frig, resting beside asparagus from friends. I made a special dinner for a good friend last weekend, and we had fresh asparagus roasted in Meyer lemon-infused olive oil. Yummmmmmmm.

Here’s the Scarlet Tanager (thanks to Jim, he took the photo). The tanagers don’t nest here, not the kind of woods they like, but we got to watch them at the feeder for 3 days. Heaven! (And no, I didn’t boost the color, the bird REALLY is that bright. It’s crazy scarlet-orange-red, and one of the prettiest birds in the Northern Hemispheres, in my humble opinion.)

scarlet tanager 5-13


Here’s Rosebud napping under a willow tree with her triplets. Regrettably, she completely rejected one of them (Ralphie), the black and white one curled up on the bottom left. He never tries to nurse from her, but often hangs around with his brother and sister. He is completely imprinted on me, and if he had woken up he would have run to me, bawling for milk. It’s rather sad sometimes, he’ll watch the entire flock run up the hill, stand at my feet and look up as if to say: “And what are we going to do?”


rosebud lambs by willow 5-13



Some tulips to make you smile! I absolutely get why people became obsessed with these flowers, there are few flowers that make me happier. Smiles to all of you dear readers, with my gratitude for spending time with me.

tulips 5-13





  1. Mary K. says

    The whole “dominance” training ideology truly drives me bonkers! It seems so lacking in the basic principles of empathy and compassion. Nothing saddens me more than seeing a poor dog looking miserably at their owner all the while trying desperately to figure out just what the heck it is that the person wants and what it is that it did to cause such displeasure. Yuck :( .

    The one and only dog I’ve ever been bitten by (and I’ve had the honor of being with and working with alot) was a dog whose owner had been told by a dominance trainer to use an alpha role to “teach” the dog that it was submissive. I was simply giving the dog a belly rub and he very suddenly jumped up and bit my chin. I wasn’t made aware of the fact that the owner had been using alpha roles as a “training” technique until she sheepishly admitted it to me after the dog attacked. Obviously, the dog associated being on it’s back or side as a stressful thing even if a belly rub was involved.

    Today I was looking out the passenger side window of our car as my husband and I drove to our son’s baseball game and I saw the most beautiful little Aussie puppy (about 3 months old) being walked by it’s owner. The pup was prancing along at it’s owner’s side when the owner suddenly stopped. Evidently she wanted the pup to automatically stop and sit by her side. When the pup kept going, the owner gave such a wicked pop on her leash it caused the dog’s neck to snap back. Oh, the look of confusion on that puppy’s sweet little face is still haunting me. It was probably a good thing I was in my car because had I not been I’m not sure what I would have done or said.

    Actually, I’m wondering. If you see something like that what would be an appropriate response? I’m not one to give people unsolicited advice but still I see that puppy’s distressed reaction and I can’t get it out of my mind.

  2. Laceyh says

    I was saddened to read in “Mr. and Mrs. Dog” the author’s clear belief in old punishment techniques. I would not recommend that anyone else buy it as I did. The parts about Border Collies and herding trials were interesting, but the approval of Kohler (sp?) and the dismissal of Pat Miller and others was unpleasant.

  3. says

    Not surprising, but always great to have more research to back up our argument.

    The last time I used the old “hard stare” on a dog was many years ago with a family member’s new wolf-Malamute cross. Dogs might tolerate that behavior from us, but wolves certainly do not! Fortunately, I learned to adjust my approach and now Sparky and I are the best of friends.

    If only we could put all those who still believe in such methods into a cage with a wolf, we’d convert the entire training/behavior industry to reward-based methods in no time!

  4. Beth with the Corgis says

    I think one of the most harmful myths every visited on dogdom is the idea that every time your dog misbehaves, he is trying to “dominate” you. After all, when a two-year-old child tests her boundaries, we don’t say she wants to be the mother. We might say she is tired, hasn’t learned how to handle a situation, is trying to get attention, or perhaps is being willful or manipulative, but we don’t say she wants to be the boss.

    I do think there are truly dominant dogs out there who will correct their owners in the way one dog will correct another dog for violating space or rank. I don’t think rank is meaningless. But violence is not the way to handle it. Since controlling the resources is how most dogs seem to define rank, there are other non-confrontational ways to get the point across.

    In all the hundreds of dog-to-dog interactions I have seen, I have only seen a dog roll another dog as a correction twice, and the dogs doing the rolling are dogs I would consider unpredictable and a bit unstable with other dogs, not dogs I see as confident high-ranking dogs.

    I DO think there is a place for verbal corrections. But because of how I’ve trained my dogs, they seem to take an ah-ah as a simple “don’t do that” and not as a scolding. And I’ve taught “no” to simply mean the opposite of “yes.” I follow the principal that it’s easier to teach a dog to DO something than to NOT do something (so “leave it” instead of “no”, “off” instead of “no”, etc).

    That said, I am guilty of losing my temper on occasion, usually as the result of pain. When Jack was a young adult he bit me quite hard on the hand by accident, when he was not being careful with his teeth during play (we had already spent tons and tons of time over many months teaching bite control, followed by “no teeth on me” using a combination of positive reinforcement with play and then walking away from the game when he would not control his mouth properly). It hurt. A lot. And dogs who are not careful with their mouths are dogs who end up in trouble. My dogs never wear collars in the house. I did hold him by his scruff (the way you would grab a collar; I did not lift him, shake him, pin him, or anything but hold him) and sort of growled at him in a threatening voice that if his teeth ever touched me again, I’d have his head. The encounter lasted a few seconds, max. The thing is, if he were an aggressive dog to begin with, this certainly would have escalated the encounter. He’s not aggressive, though. I’m not sure what he thought of the whole thing. I do know he’s exceptionally careful with his teeth ever since then.

    I don’t know what to make of it. For me, it was the most severe correction I’d ever consider. I would not have done it with a cooler head. It did seem to make an impression on him about the importance of teeth, much more than the months of work we’d already done (but without the foundation of course it would have been a meaningless correction for him). My correction was neither as loud nor as long in duration as a correction from another dog would have been.

    However, saying “Ouch!” really loudly would probably have had the same impact on him with less risk.

    I do believe, though, that with most dogs if you are usually fair and predictable and use positive methods, they do forgive the occasional lapse on our part, in much the same way we might forgive a friend for shouting at us one day when that behavior is out of character.

  5. says

    It can’t be said too often. I just referred to this study in a recent blog post also. It still amazes me how many people don’t realize that force-free training is the best way to train. We must keep sharing the information for the love of dogs.

  6. says

    As a trainer, it is our job to turn people around. I know if I told people in class to pop the leash, yell at their dogs, flip them on their side, hold them down so they know whose boss, 90 percent would do it happily!

    It is my most frustrating part of being a trainer…to get through to people. Why do they accept advice on using the ancient old school techniques instead of proven scientific data? It is my job as a trainer to show them and convince them that it works. I truly believe that people like having that control over their dogs. make some of them feel powerful.

    We will definitely keep on plugging away however because that is what we do as trainers.

    Sara Pickett
    Obey-U Dog Training Academy
    Edgerton, WI

  7. amy martin says

    awesome article, and “back at the farm” is simply beautiful. thank you!

  8. says

    Thank you for writing about this study! My own post about it has been some time in the making, but unlike me, you’re a degreed authority with books and things. I love being able to refer people to your body of work!

  9. Ann Dahlen says

    Hi Patricia: You don’t know me. But you know my dog. Reactive border collie. I just wanted to say Thank you for your books, blogs, and endeavors to educate those of us genuinely interested in learning and helping our dogs to get through life.
    Just a few words, but you probably know what I have gone and am going through.
    He is the joy in my life and I am devoted to helping him. We appreciate your help! and Thank you for the inspiration to be a better person through our animals.

  10. Daniel says

    Leash corrections, saying NO!, and scruff shakes were a part of my childhood and much of my adulthood as well and considered a normal part of training – not abuse. Now that we know differently it makes me wonder how much of that history in western animal training is really a cultural effect.
    I watched a Dogs 101 episode that featured Welsh sheep herders and their Border Collies. Incredibly well trained, happy dogs. Toward the end of the episode the interviewer asked the owner/trainer if he used aversive methods in his training methods and the trainer seemed totally shocked that the question even came up. I wondered,was it a ludicrous question in his culture?
    Have any studies been done on the training methods historically used by other cultures? It would be interesting to know if cultures that never used any fear or pain based methods had a much lower incidence in aggression and problem behaviors in general.

    I love your articles, best blog on the internet!
    Beautiful Pictures! Spring is exploding here on Vancouver island too!

  11. Nic1 says

    Thanks so much for sharing this Trisha. Perhaps send this study to the CEO of Nat Geo Wild?? Another nail in the coffin for the dominance trainers. Part of the mentality of the positive punishers is that it appears to be some sort of weakness to be kind, loving and NICE to your dog. There are elements of machismo in this type of dog training that I think needs to be outed for exactly what it is. Bullying. Science and emotional intelligence are the primary tools of the truly enlightened beahviourists and dog trainers.

    Currently gorging on the asparagus crop here too! Wrapped in proscuito, drizzled in Yorkshire rape seed oil and roasted in the oven. Add a free range poached egg….just devine.

    Beautiful photos depicting that Spring has arrived in all it’s glory. Enjoy…

  12. Eileen says

    Thank you for living another “Groundhog Day” moment. It may seem like you are doing the same thing over and over but I appreciate it more than you can know. I work as a receptionist for a “Pet Resort” that offers dog training. They call it balanced but of course it is force based with a few treats thrown in now and then. It is my hope to leave there as soon as I can find another job, but in the meantime I try to get any little bit of information I can to whomever will listen. Of course the culture there isn’t going to accept being hit over the head with benevolent dog training, but every time I can subtly get an idea out there, I feel like maybe, someday, some way it might make a difference.

    So, blogs like this keep my spirits up, arm me with more information and give me adages to have at the ready when a teachable moment presents itself. So thank you, thank you.

  13. Susanne says

    I do so wish veterinarians would all get the memo on all of this. Whenever I get a new client referral with a dog exhibiting any form of aggression I always recommend a trip to the dogs vet for a complete physical exam to rule out a physical cause for the aggression. At least half the time when the owners schedule a consultation with me and we visit about the results of the vet visit the veterinarian has told the owner something like “your dog is perfectly healthy, she/he is just dominate” or the always popular “she is just trying to dominate you, she is not sick, just dominate”

    It is very difficult to start a behavior modification plan this way, I have to try to educate the owner that what the veterinarian told them (and he/she has way more letters behind their name than I do) is not accurate if they ask why we are not “fixing” the dogs dominance problem with our behavior modification plan.

    Very vexing.

  14. Marjorie says

    In response to Mary K.

    “Actually, I’m wondering. If you see something like that what would be an appropriate response? I’m not one to give people unsolicited advice but still I see that puppy’s distressed reaction and I can’t get it out of my mind.”

    I can relate, as I see this all too often. I always try and resond by first commenting on what a lovely dog they have, then I say “oh, you seem to be having trouble with… or I see your dog also does… then I offer a positive solution and get a conversation going about training and suggest positive based teachers/ trainers and classes. I do try and educate every chance I get. For first time dog owners I let them know that there is la big learning curve and provide as many resources as possible. I find most people really love their dogs and just don’t realize how they are harming their dogs. Sadly, there are always those who are addicted to drama and tend to revel in their dogs bad behaviour. I find these people ususally tend to use aversive methods and they are the hardest to convince.

  15. Beth with the Corgis says

    It occurs to me now that the reason my dogs see “no” as meaning “stop doing that” instead of a scold is because I immediately follow up with praise once they stop what they are doing. To them, it’s just another command.

    I also noticed that when we are out with our dogs, I praise way more often than most other people I see. I’ve been in quite a few training classes and I praise way more often than most of the people in the class, too. Something as simple as saying a name and getting a look as a response usually illicits a “goood girl (or boy)” from me.

    I also want to say again that when I grabbed a dog by his scruff, I was not “scruffing” him in the old “scruff and shake” sense. My dogs have lots of loose scruff skin and they are used to being handled in that way. I regularly give doggie massages to the backs of their necks, and since they don’t wear collars I sometimes will use the scruff if I need to quickly grab a dog who is about to run off somewhere. Plus their collars disappear in their hair even if they are wearing them. Since my dogs are on voice cues it is rare I need to physically restrain them, but sometimes there is an emergency.

    I taught “heel” using all verbal cues; Jack was actually taught off-leash first. Any “leash corrections” they get, they give to themselves if they pull or something. If a dog is getting ahead I give a verbal, not a leash pop.

  16. Rose C says

    Just some of the incidents I had witnessed:

    An owner giving his adult GSD a really harsh leash jerk, holding the leash short and tight, forcing the dog to sit next to him. I have seen many leash jerks here and there but what I witnessed at that time was really disturbing.

    Another incident was in a dog park, a woman with her GSD that she held on a short and tight leash. Next thing I heard was a woman asking someone, “Are you okay? Are you hurt?” As it turned out, her GSD started interacting with a tall poodle and the woman was thrown off balance. The woman left the park immediately and in the parking lot, I saw her and the GSD at the back door of her SUV. The dog’s front legs were up on the SUV’s back floor while the hind legs were still on the ground. I saw her using her knee quite a few times (and not gently at all) against the dog’s side, prompting the dog to jump. Seconds later, the dog’s tail was in between its legs, appears frozen and just wouldn’t move. I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to help because I do not know the dog and the dog doesn’t know me and it may not react well if I intervene. I had asked the woman if she needed help but she dismissed me as she said no. It lasted for some time before she grabbed the dog around its waist and helped the dog onto the SUV. I found what I witnessed quite disturbing as well. In my mind, she probably knew the dog ‘will not’ hurt her but what she didn’t realize was that, well, it just might!

    Another incident I’d like to share — One day, as we approached the dog park gate, a man was making an excited boxer sit next to him before entering. He indicated to me, ‘We just need some help here’ so me and my dogs entered another gate instead. Inside the park, we met them again. He appeared to be a trainer working with this excitable Boxer. The woman trailing along was the dog’s owner and she had another pittie/boxer mix who was quite playful and was playing with my dogs. At some point, when we were very close to the leashed excitable Boxer, the dog got even more excited, pulling on the leash, wanting to approach my dogs. I asked the trainer if he wants us out of their way but he said, “No, this is actually good. We are training.” The trainer was holding the dog on a short and tight leash, was giving it the leash jerks, making it sit still next to him, and I heard him tell the owner that the dog is ‘just very high energy’ (when I heard that, I kinda got the idea where he took his training technique after). Anyway, it’s so happen that I just recently watched Trisha’s Dog-Dog Agression DVD and have learned that we need to know and not go beyond a dog’s threshold. I told him that me and my dogs should probably just keep going (our close proximity obviously wan’t really helping the Boxer). As we walked away, I felt so much sadness in me to see that people, like the Boxer’s owner, unknowingly come to the wrong person to help their dog. I got home that day and scribbled on a piece of paper the contact info of a trainer that I know who works with agressive dogs and uses positive reinforcement methods (though I didnt’ think the Boxer was aggressive per se). I bring the paper with me to that dog park all the time, hoping to come across the woman, and will respectfully make a suggestion to try this other trainer who can either help her dog or recommend one who is within the area. One thing was evident, what her Boxer’s trainer was doing wasn’t helping her dog at all.

    Daniel, I am with you on that. I also grew up from a place where these correction methods (leash corrections, saying NO!, scruff grabbing, muzzle slapping, rubbing their nose on their doo-doo) are ‘natural’. I didn’t see anything wrong with it too while I was growing up (darn, I even watched the Nat Geo show episode by episode on DVD when I first got my dog trying to get pointers on how to train her — I didn’t see anything wrong with that at that time either until we started attending puppy class and heard the term ‘positive reinforcement’ again and again that made me look further what really entails ‘positive reinforment’ training). Now that I know better, I look back to those childhood years and realize that the reason why we kept doing the same old method again and again on the same dog for the same issue was because none of them really worked to change the dog’s behavior.

    Sara Pickett, I agree with you. We have to keep plugging ‘the right way’. I believe education is the key. Many people, like the Boxer owner in the story I mentioned, have the sincerest intentions in helping her dog . . . except that she didn’t know better. Since I learned the difference between the ‘old’ method and the new ‘evidence-based’ method, I took myself accountable to inform and make suggestions to people, even in the smallest, most subtle ways.

  17. LisaW says

    Violence begets violence. It’s true with many children who grow up in abusive households, it’s true in war, so why wouldn’t it be true when talking about animals? I will admit that some techniques I used on my dog 15 plus years ago were harsh and misplaced. I actually didn’t know any better and wasn’t thoughtful enough to connect the same principles (assuming I knew what those principles were) that govern how I would want to be treated of course apply to my animals. It’s odd – even though I was in the 20th century and not a conformist by any stretch, some of the ancient “everything below human is a sub-class” must have still been in my conscious or sub-conscious.

    We were at a veterinary specialist this morning and the good advice from my vet behaviorist really paid off. We brought a mat and lots of shredded chicken and got to practice waits and find its and looks while we waited for 45 minutes to be seen (urg). It was still nerve-wracking but less so than the dogs I saw in the waiting room with choke collars and prong collars and a head halter being yanked. But did I know how to do this or that it even existed not so long ago? No. Do I fully understand positive reinforcement and positive punishment and desensitization and counter conditioning and, and? No. But I’m trying really hard.

    I’m wondering if maybe some of the people in the study and on the street are intimidated by some of the terminology and the context in which positive training gets put. I’m not a dullard and comprehend many complex things but this world of terms really does make my head spin sometimes.

    It may be easier to get what an alpha-roll is than be able to understand and teach an incompatible behavior or operant conditioning. If the goal is to have happier dogs (and therefore people) and one way to reach that goal is positive training and a kind approach, maybe it needs to get broken down into smaller, bit-size pieces.

  18. em says

    I admit to very conflicted feelings on this issue. On the one hand, I HATE seeing the type of ham-fisted “training” advocated in old-style obedience clubs, by certain trainers, and in the old school members of the general public. I also HATE seeing some of the new e-collar “training” which involves giving a dog a CONSTANT low-level shock from the time a command is given until it is complied with. That seems to me like torture. Frightening, confusing, or at worst, fighting with our dogs is the absolute WORST way to get what we want from them, and harsh aversive methods often result in trauma, loss of trust, or at worst, serious tragedies for pets and their owners.

    On the other hand, though, I think that the line between a mild positive punishment, like a body block or hollering at an inattentive dog from across the field, and a more serious aversive can be a very fuzzy one, and that fuzziness can be made more so by differences in individual dogs’ confidence, tolerance, alpha-wanna-be tendencies, and past associations. It’s hard to say ALWAYS about any technique, good or bad. What makes it even harder is that if I’m perfectly, brutally honest, though I generally shy away from using them myself, I HAVE seen aversive techniques work. Given the prevalence of harsh, punishment-based, dominance-based training, we can only stand a chance of changing training culture if we are honest and dispassionate about the strengths and shortcomings of each approach. So to play devil’s advocate, it occurred to me immediately that the dogs in the study were all cases where training had FAILED. It offers very good evidence that aversive methods fail much more spectacularly and destructively than positive ones, but it doesn’t tell us how frequently aversive methods are used with success.

    Between dogs, aversives like snarling, barking, snapping, staring, and biting are an important part of their social repetoire. Though I have seen it only extremely rarely, my confident, high status dog has successfully (in the sense that the move was executed without incident or repercussions and achieved the desired change in behavior) alpha-rolled problematic dogs on two occasions. (He has never made an unsuccessful attempt, he’s two for two). I would never dream of trying it myself, ever, nor would I recommend that any human try it, but the fact is that it does exist in dog social life, and on at least some rare occasions, it works. Seeing dogs in action I can totally understand why so many people feel that an approach that mimics dogs’ “natural” behavior is likely to be a sensible and effective one, but I also see that most people simply are not strong, fast, or skilled enough at reading their dogs to have a prayer of success with this approach. They are likely to make damaging and dangerious mistakes.

    Of the punishments that I have used with my dogs- and though punishment is not a part of our daily lives, I have to admit that I have used punishments- most are on the very mild side (brief sharp eye contact, body blocking, frowning, a harsh tone of voice at a normal volume), but a few are less so. I’ve never used anything harsher than a slightly sharp tone with Sandy, but Otis has been scruff-grabbed and frog-marched out of a room on three occasions. (Jumping, mouthing hard, snatching food off the counter).

    In each case it was a harsher response than I would have offered a smaller dog, but the simple logistical fact is that Otis was 125lbs, on his way to 150- too big to be safely managed by ignoring the behavior or with physical strength, and one the realities of his life is that he is living in a zero-tolerance world where humans are concerned. Nipping, even in play, jumping on people, pulling on the leash (I used a head collar which I KNEW that he hated, but was the safest and most effective tool to help him learn), grabbing things that do not belong to him when he can reach any table, counter, or human hand with all four feet on the floor are all behaviors that have the potential to result in the serious diminishment of his life through confinement, isolation, or even in the worst case scenario, death.

    I preceded these incidents with weeks of reward-based training, but in each case, ONE experience of punishment ended the unwanted behavior for good. So even though it is my preferred method, I feel like I’d be a terrible hypocrite if I stood up and said, ‘only positive, reward-based training is effective in getting the behaviors we want and eliminating those we don’t’. Or claimed that I couldn’t understand the appeal of punishment-based training.

    Even worse, in many people’s eyes, I’ve used an e-collar. Successfully. Evidently without traumatizing my dog. I’ve described my experience on the forum before but the short version is that a) it was a life-or-death situation, b) I used it in an extremely limited and controlled way, only in response to a non-aggressive behavior (deer chasing) that I wanted to completely eliminate, and could not safely address in any other way. Again, there is no way to consider that, except as punishment-based training, and again, it eliminated a dangerous behavior which, in turn, has improved the quality of my dog’s life. I wish that there had been a less aversive option that offered even a shred of hope for success, but there wasn’t, and I have never regretted my decision for a moment. I’m glad the e-collar was available to me, but I cringe when I see how some people abuse the same tool.

    I guess the whole discussion reminds me of is a conversation I had in college with my roommate’s boyfriend. The TV was on and an ad from an anti-drug campaign came on.

    Him: I HATE that ad.
    Me: Huh?
    Him: That ad claims that drugs don’t work. That isn’t true, and it’s only going to make kids more likely to use them.
    Me: (He was an engineer and a little literal-minded), I actually think they’re trying to say…
    Him: Oh, I know what they are trying to say, and if they mean that drugs are dangerous, damaging to your health, destructive to your social relationships and not a long-term solution to your problems, they should say that. But not that drugs don’t work. They DO work, they will make you feel good, which is why so many people use and get addicted to them. People know this. If you base your argument on a statement that people know to be false, you end up looking like a liar or a fool, and people will just dismiss anything else you say because you’ve destroyed your credibility.
    Me: I guess I can see that.

    I think I think of punishment-based training in largely the same way as drugs- it’s dangerous, potentially damaging and destructive, and usually not the best solution to a problem. But I can see why people are attracted to it. When it works, it’s fast, it’s easy, and in the right circumstances, it CAN be an effective choice. Unfortunately, just like drugs, it can be very easy to abuse and become dependent upon.

  19. Nic1 says

    Dr Sophia Yin’s philosophy is that she is prepared to use any training method/tool if it can save a dog’s life. In her experience though, 99% of behaviour problems can be successfully addressed using positive reinforcement and negative punishment. Trisha, I wonder if you would be willing to share your experience on this? Is it ever justified to use a spray collar or an e collar?

    I think if it was a case of returning my dog to a shelter for a behaviour problem that couldn’t be improved with R+ and P-, then it would be time to weigh up the pros and cons of using P+. As I understand it, it is better for your relationship with the dog if you are not the person who is associated with administering the punishment. I really don’t think I could ever deliberately hurt my dog. It makes me feel upset even just thinking about shocking her or startling her. But then if her life was in the balance would I feel differently?

    I have had an experience, similar to Beth, where I became frustrated with my dog. On first adopting her she had a myriad of issues, or so it seemed at the time. One of which was her propensity to lunge at motorcycles as they drove past her. She lunged at one on one occasion, almost pulling my arm out of my socket. Without thinking, I quickly crouched down to her level, pointed at her and got right in her face and yelled ‘NO!!’ in a harsh and quite menacing tone (think The Exorcist). Her little face flinched, her eyes closed tight and she looked truly afraid. My heart was heavy walking home and I gave her lots of tummy rubs and ear strokes later on that day as I felt dreadful. But she has never lunged at a motorcycle again.

    You bet punishment works. But when you know better, you should do better in my opinion. But hey, we’re all human and if the vast majority of our interactions are positive with our dogs, they have that strong history for them, to fall back on when we inevitably make mistakes.

  20. Kat says

    Don’t, slap, hit, slap, your, slap, sister, slap. That’s the example used in parenting classes all the time. What’s the kid going to learn about hitting if you hit them while telling them not to hit. Of course they will learn to hit. It always seemed to me that dogs are much like children in many respects and this is one of them. Teach them with violence and they learn violence.

    Like so many others I grew up in a time when dogs were punished for severe transgressions. Stealing food off the table was likely punished by several swats with a rolled up newspaper, chasing the chickens meant being slapped with a pair of empty gloves, etc. But this happened very rarely, and it was seen as punishing a specific crime and the crime was not probably never repeated. I can’t remember any adversives being used in training any of my childhood dogs I only remember seeing punishment used if the dog committed a ‘crime.’ If one of our childhood dogs barked we went out to see what the dog was barking about. If the dog was digging in a flowerbed they were scolded and shown where they could dig. We taught them not to pull on leash by not letting them pull. I guess we did use mild adversives in training but nothing like some of the horrible things I see today where a dog is leash popped for everything, or the horrible woman that had a different kind of bark collar on her dog every week, or the man that wanted to take his training to the next level so he bought a shock collar for his dog, or the dreadful man who sat on his butt in the dog park and zapped his dog for everything he didn’t like.

    I use very few adversives with my dogs. I gently bump them out of the way if they ignore my cue to “beep” (meaning move out of the way). I stop dead and let them crash against their collar if they aren’t listening to “whoa.” I did use some leash tightening to explain to Ranger that chickens, no matter how fascinating, were to be left alone. I honestly, can’t think of any others.

    It often seems to me that the dogs of my childhood were a happier better mannered bunch than most of the dogs I see today. I wonder how much of that is the rosy glow of childhood memories and how much is the fact that when I was growing up dogs were allowed to be dogs where as our dogs today are often denied the right to just be dogs.

    And finally, a word on veterinarians. I too wish vets were trained in positive reinforcement rather than so many of them being wedded to the outdated dominance crap. There is one vet at the practice we go to that I will not let examine my animals anymore. When I took my fearful Finna in for her initial visit I didn’t know the newly added vet that was next up in the rotation. I explained that Finna was a fearful dog and that she did much better if she knew what was coming and asked the vet if she could tell Finna what she was about to do. Instead of listening to me she took the leash and started poking and prodding and fear aggressive Finna snapped at her at which point the vet delivered a very strong leash correction. I objected and pointed out that this was a scared dog saying I don’t know what you’re doing leave me alone. The vet responded that Finna needed to learn her place and to not snap. As we were discussing Finna’s health before leaving Finna put her paws over my knee and was mouthing my hand, both behaviors I recognized as attempts to calm herself in the frightening environment. Finna, thank God, has excellent bite inhibition so under the circumstances I was willing to permit it (on subsequent visits I’ve brought along something she can chew on). The vet gave me a lecture about how I shouldn’t let the dog do that since it was allowing her to be dominant. We don’t see that vet anymore. The others in the practice are all respectful of Finna’s needs and listen to what I tell them about how best to handle her. I honestly don’t know why the one is still on staff.

    Contrast the dominance vet to the specialist Ranger saw earlier this week for an eye exam. The specialist greeted Ranger and gave him a treat. He showed Ranger the weird gadget he was going to use and gave him a treat. He looked in Ranger’s eyes with the gadget and gave him a treat. By now Ranger was ready to trust him to do anything no matter how strange. Two more machines and more treats and Ranger had a clean bill of health on his eyes. Even the dark spot on his eye that the regular vet had labeled a probable melanoma had been down graded to a dark spot that might someday become a melanoma.

    Granted Ranger is a much better patient than Finna under any circumstances but the contrast in styles was dramatic. One left a fearful patient even more frightened and the other left an already confident patient very happy to have been there.

  21. Frances says

    I have used aversives – every now and then the dogs wind me up to the point that I scold, and there was one occasion when Poppy played her favourite game at the time (Nip Mum’s bum unexpectedly and see her jump three feet in the air) and I turned around and ROARED at her. But these are in the context of a generally reward based, mutually communicative relationship. I am human – I occasionally (!) do things that confuse or irritate my dogs; my dogs are canine – they occasionally do things that confuse or irritate me. I occasionally get irritated with my human family and friends, too… and then I apologise, just as I do to my dogs, and as they do to me.

    What really worries me, apart from the obvious effects of routinely using aversives rather than other training methods on the dog and its relationship with the owner, is what it does to the human on the other end of the leash. I have worked in places where perfectly pleasant people learned to become bullies because that was the management style of the Big Boss; seen how little unkindnesses can develop into low scale routine nastiness and even outright cruelty. I believe the unthinking use of force – might is right – is bad for us as individuals and as a species, and should be challenged whenever possible.

  22. Nic1 says

    @em – interesting to see that you have used an e collar successfully to stop your dogs chasing wildlife.

    Since reading ‘Pukka’s Promise’, my thoughts on the use of the e collar have since been challenged significantly. Ted Kerasote lends a persuasive argument as to why he has used this device on his beloved dog. I’ve no doubt that Pukka is one of the luckiest pet dogs on the planet by the way but I definitely have the leaning perspective that e collars are simply cruel and a cowardly way to train your pet dog in general. Positive reinforcement and negative punishment are kind, fair and effective and importantly help create trust and a loving bond between you and your dog, as we are all fortunately aware.

    However, if there is a significant risk to an animal’s life – be it dog, wildlife, livestock, human – and your dog has a high prey drive, chasing and catching that prey is the ultimate reinforcement that will give him that neurochemical joy. No ‘treats’ or distractions could ever possibly trump his primal hard wiring. If you live in an environment where you are surrounded by wildlife and choose to have dogs, what do you therefore do?

    The practical alternative for most of us who don’t live on the outskirts of wilderness, but who occasionally venture into it, is to use the leash and that is my tool of choice in such an environment. Ted also lends an interesting argument on the importance of autonomy and residual stress and the use of the leash to restrict your dog’s choices…..

    In modern life, safety is everything when it comes to dogs and the environment – we live in an increasingly litigious world. We simply can not allow our dogs to make choices that result in consequences that detrimentally effect the lives of our pet dogs or other animals. If I were to let my high prey drive dog off her leash around sheep and deer, the consequences of a training session going wrong could result in tragedy and prosecution in a worse case scenario. Is it worth inflicting pain on my dog, by using an e collar, to allow her to stay off leash around livestock and wildlife? Is inflicting pain in the short term worth more in the long term – her autonomy and potentially less chronic stress at being restrained? It’s a fascinating intellectual discussion but I think I’ll be keeping the flexi leash and leaving the e collar in the shop. My gut simply feels wrong about this tool, but my head definitely sees the logic because it does work.

  23. em says

    @Nic1 There is no doubt that I AGONIZED about the decision to use an e-collar. I saw it as my absolute last choice. In retrospect, I can see the logical cost/benefit argument and say, based purely on my own experience, that the e-collar was so effective and seemingly had such an imperceptible effect on the rest of his behavior that it was a logical choice, even a kind one because the trade off for a brief episode of discomfort (involving less pain than slamming into the end of a leash, but a significantly freakier sensation) was years of joyful freedom. Given the choice, I feel confident that this is what Otis would have chosen for himself.

    But I’d be lying if I said that this kind of rational, dispassionate argument was the reason I decided to use the collar. I can pinpoint the moment when I made my decision. We were in an urban park and off-leash area. It was mostly fenced, but not totally. It was not a place anyone would expect to find deer. Otis found one, and took off. He chased this doe for 45 minutes, driving her to within an arm’s length of me twice in that time but spending the vast majority of that 45 minutes out of sight before I finally managed to call him back. During that time, I worried that he might be lost, naturally. I worried that he might be hurt, or trapped, or have killed the deer. All of these things are horrible, of course, but by far the worst thought that crossed my mind as I searched and called and panicked was, ‘He’s going to chase that deer into the road and kill someone.” THAT’s the moment when my brain made the mental equivalent of that screeching brake noise, and I knew. Whatever I needed to do, that could NOT be allowed to happen. I needed to make absolutely sure that this situation never occurred again.

    My choices were these:

    Never let Otis off the leash again, but continue to walk him. I considered this, but ultimately rejected it, not because of how valuable and important I felt off-leash walking to be, in the end, but because Otis is so strong. He could pull the leash out of my hands, drag me, or break his collar (or his neck or my arm) far too easily. I didn’t feel satisfied that walking Otis at all, even leashed, could be done safely unless his deer obesession were addressed. We’d spend the rest of our lives praying that something didn’t go wrong.

    Never walk Otis again. He could spend the rest of his life behind a high fence. This was the safest, but in my view the cruelest option.

    Try the e-collar. I was reluctant, but I felt like I had to do everything in my power to stop his behavior, not just to manage it, if I ever wanted to walk him again. Now that I’ve done it, I’m glad, in a weird way, that Otis was too powerful to “manage” with physical restraint. I’m glad that I made the choice that I did, and feel that his life was tremendously enriched by it. But I completely understand the gut feeling of abhorrence at the idea of it. I felt that too. If Sandy, not Otis, had had that problem, I’d have simply chosen to keep her leashed, but now in hindsight, having had the experience I did, I wouldn’t make that same decision.

  24. Trisha says

    Thanks for so many thoughtful comments already. They emphasize what to me is an important difference between using aversives as a primary training method and using aversives on occasion. I am 100% opposed to using aversives as a matter of course: leash jerks, snappy quick kicks with the heel, yelling, alpha roll overs etc. That said, I am not opposed to the occasional use of a strong correction in certain circumstances. I agree with Sophia Yin that the use of an e collar is justified if that’s what it takes to save a dog’s life. I have used one on the dogs of a few clients, and was glad that option was available. I realize that some people will be greatly distressed to hear that, but it simply makes no sense not to use a method that can save a dog’s life. One of the dogs I used it on had begun killing a neighbor’s chickens. These weren’t any old barnyard chickens, these were sweet, dear old hens named Mabel and Martha, and the three remaining chickens were loved and adored by their owners. We used the collar on the dog (a black lab) with excellent results.

    Like several of you who have written, I have also used a strong correction on my current dog, Willie. To say that Willie has impulse control problems is to elicit a spit take from me: He is ridiculously impulsive, and we have worked on this issue ever since he was a puppy. He can get so excited that he literally runs into walls, bashes into trees and bruises himself trying to run out the door before it is actually open. That’s why I taught him “Get Back” at the door, and a gazillion other cues to keep him from running pell mell into anything and everything in front of him. All of these issues have been handled by using positive reinforcement to teach him to chill out… with one exception. When he was an adolescent he began running into me from behind. He’d come screaming down a steep hill at 20 miles an hour and bash into my legs. Also called “clipping,” this action is a great way to severely injure a person, that’s why it is illegal in football. If you’re hit hard enough you can end up landing on your head, which is not recommended by the AMA, last time I looked. I’ve had 3 clients who had severe injuries from being bashed into by their dogs, so I’m well aware of the danger. Twice Willie ran into me from behind and I said something like “Hey!” That had little effect, because he did it again soon after, and this time hard enough to knock me down. And this time, I reacted like many of my older dogs would have: I turned toward Willie and growl/yelled with absolute fury in my voice (and heart): “Don’t you EVER do that again!” I didn’t touch him, but I was truly furious, and he knew it. He never did it again. That might not have been enough for some dogs, but in part because he almost never gets a correction like that, and in part because he is sound sensitive and socially responsive, it worked.

    So yes, I think it is perfectly reasonable to on occasion correct a dog with an aversive, just as we get corrected by getting burned for putting our hand in fire, or get a ticket for speeding. The key is to use them as little as possible, understanding that some dogs will never, ever need you to even raise your voice. Make sense?

  25. Beth with the Corgis says

    em, I do think punishment can have a place if it’s careful and appropriate. In the case of Jack’s biting during play, I spent months (no exaggeration here) teaching bite inhibition using all the positive methods. I am not lying when I say I don’t think I ever raised my voice to him in his first 8 months of life. Everything was happy, happy, happy. And for general training, I absolutely believe that’s the best approach.

    But when a dog does something that is just never to be permitted, or a dog is just being routinely careless? I’m much more ambivalent. I do know that Jack is ultra careful with his teeth after that one outburst from me. He is now 6 and despite the fact that I use various rope tugs at high speed as agility rewards (where he is literally grabbing them on the fly) his teeth have contacted my skin exactly once, and the time he did it (about a year or so ago) he instantly disengaged the second he felt my skin. But he did not drop out of the activity, grovel, look alarmed, or anything else that made me think he was having a FEAR-based response. And the instant I said “Ok, GO!” he was right back in the game.

    The reason I think my reaction to Jack (and your experience of frog-marching Otis) worked is complicated. One, I think we have both built largely positive relationships with our dogs. Two, I think our physical interventions are very rare. Three, I think they are done in response to violations of DOG rules, not human rules; rowdy jumping, rough biting, stealing food are all things that the dogs themselves have rules about between each other, so violating the rule is something that makes inherent sense to them. And four (this is the hardest) is timing.

    I do believe that one well-timed and appropriately brief harsh response can have a quicker impact than months of conditioning for specific behaviors at specific times.

    But I am reluctant advising anyone to intentionally use these methods because my experience is most people don’t have really good timing. My husband, who loves my dogs dearly and does stuff with them regularly, is a classic example of someone who is always either too late or too unclear in his responses. By the time he praises the dog, the dog has done five other things in between the act he intended to praise and the one he did. Or the dog has already started to break the behavior. Or he makes them wait too long in a high-energy situation for the reward.

    And badly timed corrections can be disastrous. Corrections of any kind for dogs who are inclined to fight back (be it out of fear, anger, status, etc) can be disastrous.

    On the other hand, I’ve seen some “positive-only” trainers say things that are flat-out untrue. I recently read a blog by a trainer who was responding to the methods of a tv dog-trainer. And she said that dogs are never aggressive out of dominance; it’s always out of fear. Honestly, that is just plain not true.

    I also have seen people be abusive with “positive” training. Some performance dog people basically create Stockholm Syndrome in their dogs (at least if you are to believe what they recommend). Setting up your environment so the dog is constantly confined in an area with no entertainment except when they are working with you, so that you are the exclusive source of all pleasant things (food, play, mental stimulation, toys) at all times and the dog is NEVER allowed to “self-reward”, is NOT positive-based training, even if you never so much as say the word “no.”

  26. Trisha says

    Daniel: Interesting question about different cultures and different methods. That is absolutely a question for another blog…. I’ll do some research on it. I do remember being struck when in Scotland at the Int’l Sheep Dog Trials (this was 25 years ago, not the recent trip) at how quiet and kind the handlers were. One dog messed up horribly, lost the blue ribbon because he took the wrong flank, and his handler just stroked his ears and said “Oh my, we all make mistakes, don’t we?”

  27. Tamara says

    I am trying to stop reacting negatively to some behavior I don’t like from my dog but sometimes it is just a reaction that I can’t stop. For instance, two mornings ago Baby Dog at the end of his retractable leash turned to follow a woman walking the other way. He started walking fast after her and growling. She had a big purse slung over her shoulder that he may have been frightened of. The woman quickened her step away from him and of course I screamed no and popped the leash to retract it toward me. AAARRRGGGHH!

  28. Nic1 says

    Perfect sense Trisha. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. It’s not shocking at all (dreadful pun) actually because it does make perfect sense to exhaust all options and tools when a dog’s life is in the balance.I think if I had to resort to an e collar, I would make sure I consulted an experienced professional whom I felt I could trust.

  29. Kendra says

    I also was interested in Ted Kerasote’s use of the shock collar to train Pukka not to chase wildlife. My Border Collie Bo has the same problem – though he has other off leash issues as well – and I definitely considered this as an option after reading it.

    I’m just not convinced it would work on him like it did on Pukka. Ted says he only had to use very low levels of the shock to deter Pukka – levels that he had tested on himself that felt “like a mosquito bite” I believe. But Pukka is a lab, and Bo is a Border Collie, who gets in such a “focus zone” that I think it would take a very high shock for him to even recognize something other than the prey he has locked onto (the border collie eye). And since he has other issues that prevent him from being reliable off leash right now, there’s really no point focusing on that problem until I can resolve the easier ones first.

    That being said, I did take him to a Rattlesnake avoidance clinic this January where they used high levels of shock to condition the dogs that Rattlesnakes = very bad. After seeing him run right for the snake – he was almost on top of it – I would have made the same decision to use this method every single time. Especially after the Waldo Canyon Fire, rattlesnakes have become common in the areas where we go for walks, and I would be devastated if he was fatally bitten.

    I do try and use positive methods with Bo though. I remember in his basic obedience class there was a “walking nicely on the leash” class, where every time your dog moved past your thigh you had to give him a leash correction and then coo “what happened? were you not paying attention?” We didn’t do well in that class at all – I really didn’t have the heart to jerk him around on a choke chain because he moved past my thigh. I remember reading one of Victoria Stillwell’s books, where she says something like “why should the dog have to stay behind/right next to me when dogs are so much faster?” I definitely think there’s a difference between walking nicely on the leash and not being allowed to move away from the owner’s side. If I wanted him right next to me, I could always ask for a heel!

  30. Rose C says

    I guess it depends on the dog and the context in which we use an aversive correction. I think one point to remember in general is the amount of pressure that we apply on a dog. Some dogs may be sensitive to very slight corrections and some are so rambunctious that we might need to make ourselves more firm with our correction to catch their attention and get our point across. I also think that another point to remember is if one aversive method didn’t work (whether used as method of choice or out of frustration), it probably is a good idea to choose and seek a different method that will bring the results that we are looking for. The aversive method that didn’t work for the current problem behavior may come in handy for any possible future problem issues. But if the dog has been so accustomed to ignoring the aversive method and we still keep using it, chances are it will never respond to it when used in any other context. I’m not saying that we should plan to use the method, but some unexpected situations in the future might occur that may call for it. This is just my opinion, no basis whatsoever. I’ve just learned that with dogs, nothing can be generalized. What works today may not work (or may need to be modified) in the future. What is true today may not be true of the dog in the future. The way they respond to their environment and to us could change constantly.

    Also wanted to mention, when we started using this so called ‘positive reinforcement’ method and have seen positive results for many behavioral issues, we end up feeling bad (or guilty) especially if the aversive correction was given out of our sudden burst of frustration — which I think is good because that means we are aware that there must be a better way of dealing with the current problem so then we start looking and trying out other ‘more benevolent’ methods. I think the most beneficial thing about using ‘positive reinforcement’ is that not only it is effective in many situations with most dogs but it also creates strength in our bond and work relationship with our dog (or any dog that we are working with) and I think this is what makes our dogs (or a dog) respond to us the best.

  31. Monique says

    Thanks for posting this study. It needs to get out! Using confrontational techniques leads to confrontations. How does one survive a confrontation? Through aggression. So glad these ladies have been doing some science to back up what we have all experienced in training and in life in general.

    I get so tired of hearing trainers say they “never use punishment.” If behaviors are decreasing in intensity, duration or frequency punishment is occurring (or extinction but that takes time). If they use P- they are using punishment. If they body block, they are using P+. P+ does not have to mean pain, suffering, violence or damaging a relationship with a dog.

    I think it is hard because most of us work with JQP Dog Owner. Those of us who have some experience discussing the judicious use of P+ make judgement calls when doing so. JQP does not have sufficient background to make these judgement calls so I think it is entirely reasonable to suggest R+ should be the primary training method used with all learners.

    Thank you for being bold enough to state that the use of a specific modality like shock is not completely black and white, there may be limited last-resort instances (predatory behavior, snake avoidance, etc) where a seasoned professional can save lives by using it. However, using electric shock every time a dog leaves his mat in the living room and continuing to shock him until he returns to that bed is wholly inappropriate and *risks* lives. (Yes, this is on YouTube posted by someone who trains for a living)

  32. Monique says

    Sorry, I clicked prematurely.

    I have definitely met the odd dog for whom a single, furious, noisy, touch-free P+ moment solved a problem like your clipping with Willie. One of my own dogs received a P+ moment like that from me when she was about to attack a small puppy suddenly and without a history of that type of behavior. She received a collar-grab-and-roar when I caught her in mid-air headed toward the pup. It was rapid, ended in about 2 seconds, completely ceased the behavior and I never interacted with her like that again. She is now 14.5 years old.

    I’ve been doing this for about 17 years now. I have not yet met the dog I thought shock was the best answer for but I don’t rule it out.

    However, I do entirely rule out the possibility of ever meeting the dog that would benefit from being flipped, rolled, maliciously struck, screamed at regularly, swift kicked, jerked around on the leash all day, live life in a prong collar, etc. Those are the methods we are all talking about, they are being used every day, they are being recommended on television but they don’t help these families sort out the problems they are experiencing.

  33. Marcia in NorCal says

    I think there is a very big difference between the use of aversives in TRAINING as opposed to an aversive (correction, punishment, whatever it is in that situation) to eliminate a behavior. It makes makes me queasy to see or even read about dogs that are abused when they have not been taught what they are supposed to do. Teach the dog how to stop, don’t punish for continuing to walk. Teach the dog to sit, don’t punish for continuing to stand. Teach the dog to come, don’t punish for continuing to sniff. But punish indeed for dangerous behavior such as Willie’s clipping from behind or Otis’ chasing off after deer.

    One thing that I observe is that a moderate number of people are less inclined these days to talk about dominance. But instead of “my dog is trying to dominate me” it’s become “my dog is stubborn: she knows what I want her to do and just doesn’t want to do it.” Which is perhaps a small improvement, but often leads to a “battle of wills” which too often leads to the same old aversive techniques, and our challenge becomes to persuade that it’s worth the time and energy to give the dog a reason to “want” to do the behavior.

  34. LisaW says

    Ted Kerasote used a shock collar on his first dog, Merle, to keep him from altercations with a dog they would encounter on their way into town. I haven’t read Pukka’s Promise, and probably won’t, but just for the record, not the first time he used a shock collar.

    Recently, my dog has been experiencing a sporadic and intense reaction to either some type of pain or the anticipation of pain (too long to go into here). Even with a renown specialist, we can’t pin-point what’s going on. But witnessing her reactions and sadness, I can’t help thinking if I was shy and anxious and got randomly shocked but never know when or how intense, I’d go mad or completely stop moving.

    The thinking “I want you to run free, so I am going to shock you so you can” is not something I can get behind. To me it’s a moral/ethical question that I can answer pretty quickly.

  35. Beth with the Corgis says

    ….and for the opposite end of the spectrum, do a little google search for “toe hitch dog training.”

    Yikes! I never even knew such a thing existed. I grew up with hunting dogs, some of which were field trialed (and yes big-running field dogs like pointers) are often trained with e-collars, and I never even heard of such a thing until I stumbled across it this evening when looking up how a forced retrieve is trained.

    All the retrievers I ever knew retrieved stuff because they loved to, not because someone rigged them up to a torture device……

  36. Bri says

    After reading this, I am so, so glad we switched early to mostly R+ methods to train my dog Lucky. He had some reactivity issues but he’s never bitten. I can see though, that if pushed in the wrong ways he might, as he has quite a strong personality with a lot of eye contact and nudging; shoving too when he was younger. He makes his opinion known, haha, about what I do and definitely about strangers! Thank god I never felt I had to smack my dog in the name of training and see how he felt about that. He likes to jump up and down and grab the leash in play when we start our walks, even at 11 years old, (we had to train him out of tugging on it and chewing through it when he was a puppy) and I am so happy I never had to see him do it in anger! And believe you me, this dog has manners now and is a highly trained, well-loved companion who was able to travel safely with us on vacation! I am just glad his story didn’t end anywhere near in a bite and the needle because I wouldn’t trade my fiery vibrant dog for any other.

  37. Nic1 says

    RoseC – just got the results back this morning. I’ll post them under the Wisdom Panel topic.

  38. Nic1 says

    @em – I think that you have definitely shared an example of when it is justified to use the e collar. It is definitely an effective tool in the right circumstances and as a last resort. When training, how did you condition the dog to the collar? Does the dog associate you and the collar with the pain or punishment at all?

  39. Beth with the Corgis says

    I would argue that reasonable punishments are ok not only when the dog’s life is in danger, but when there are few other ways to mange the dog.

    Let’s take the case of a pointer, who already hunts at a distance (meaning check cords are not possible). Say you have a great dog who loves nothing in the world more than to hunt. She’s already a big runner, but she starts routinely running well out of sight. Since hunting IS her biggest reward, calling her back for food won’t help. She’s learned to ignore the whistle when out working but will listen to it 100% of the time when on a cord or in a smaller, confined area. Repeated work at closer distances does not fix the problem. You are now faced with a hunting dog who runs off on you and hunts on her own.

    Your choices seem to boil down to a) don’t hunt the dog (and therefore remove her biggest source of joy in life) or b) run her on an e-collar and buzz her when she runs off.

    Personally, even removing the human element, I find it hard to argue that it’s better for the DOG to either let it run off or simply not hunt it. A hunting dog’s love of the woods is profound. For dogs who are bred to hunt close, running off is not usually a problem, but for dogs who are more independent and hunt at a distance, it sometimes is.

    So using the correction on the dog who has already failed using positive methods can benefit the dog as well as the handler.

    Routinely using collars, ear-pinches, and toe-hitches (yikes again!) on EVERY dog as a way of TRAINING a behavior to possibly prevent a problem down the road that will likely never crop up is a whole different kettle of fish.

    When I read of forced retrieves, my first thought was “Why not just breed dogs who have a high desire to present gifts to their humans?” The lab we had when I was a teen was forever bringing us his stuff. Bringing stuff back to 10 yards out and leaving it is certainly a problem, but it seems that the answer is better breeding, not more punishment. If the dogs who have a tendency to not come back continue to win because they’ve been force trained, then they look great in the field and continue to be bred from and perpetuate the problem.

  40. Donald McCaig says

    Dear Doggers,

    Trisha wrote: “I do remember being struck when in Scotland at the Int’l Sheep Dog Trials (this was 25 years ago, not the recent trip) at how quiet and kind the handlers were. One dog messed up horribly, lost the blue ribbon because he took the wrong flank, and his handler just stroked his ears and said “Oh my, we all make mistakes, don’t we?”

    Sheepdoggers are quiet and kind because stupid doesn’t work.

    Whether a sheepdogger is kind or hard, there’s no point offering a correction after a dog comes off the trial field and – since such a wildly mistimed correction would certainly baffle the dog and perhaps damage your carefully nurtured working relationship – you’d need to be stupid to do it.

    That said: while training a sheepdog, well timed corrections – usually vocal, sometimes body language, rarely physical are tools of choice. The trainer’s “positive” tools are the dog’s desire to express its genetics.

    As master sheepdog trainer Jack Knox likes to say: “Allow the right; correct the wrong.”

    Donald McCaig

    Donald McCaig

  41. em says


    I can’t be absolutely sure, but I don’t think Otis ever realized that I was operating the collar, or even that the collar was responsible. We started by having him wear it around the house occasionally. We then proceeded to train him to recall when he heard the “warning” tone (it makes a beeping noise) in fenced areas. He already had a strong recall, so this was pretty easy, we just beeped, called, and ‘jackpotted’ the tone. We did not punish him for not responding to the beep, just taught him that the beep means, ‘come to me’. The first and only time we used the shock was when he started after a deer. This was the riskiest part of training, but we carefully chose our walking site, waaaay out in an open field, in an very isolated area very far away from roads, but where we were reasonably certain of encountering deer.

    We called and beeped first, which he unsurprisingly did not respond to, since he was so focused on the deer. In fact, he did not respond to the shock at first either, at all. (He was really, truly in a VERY extreme adrenaline-fueled state when chasing deer). After about one minute, however, when we had pressed the shock button for the third time, he hitched up a little and flicked his ears back at us (he was not yet quite out of sight). We beeped and called at him to stop, with that frantic edge in our voices, and I think he put it together. He stopped still, turned and came running back, we gushed praise and relief. He did not ever react as though he had been frightened or hurt, (no yelping, tail tucking, cringing or flinching beyond an ear flick) but again, he was in a VERY extremely aroused state. I have no doubt that zapping him while he was just standing around would have hurt and scared him very badly and that he likely WOULD have guessed the source of his ‘problem’ if he had been less distracted, much the same way that he was perfectly willing to crash straight through thornbushes without flinching when chasing deer, but won’t set foot in twiggy brush withough looking martyred under ordinary circumstances.

    After that, when he saw and started after deer, the beep and STOP cue was all he needed. We reinforced the beep-recall without anything at stake every so often, and he never seemed to be anything but cheerful about it. He never seemed to associate either me or the collar with the zap– I think partly because he was so tunnel-vision obesessed with deer, he was barely aware of ANYTHING else when the deer were present. I think it also worked because the collar generally was associated with daily pleasantness- walks and play and high value rewards for recall, with the one and only ‘bad’ experience associated with deer. I can’t say exactly what went on in his head, but I THINK, based on his reaction, that Otis figured that the deer, or chasing the deer was somehow magically responsible for the shock, and that the beep/calling to stop was us trying to warn him about the danger. ‘Don’t, you’ll get shocked!’, rather than “Don’t or I’LL shock you.” if that makes sense.

    I have absolutely no doubt that worked as it did because we had laid a solid foundation of training (based largely on positive reinforcement), and because we had established a mutually respectful, kind and gentle relationship and achieved a high level of trust as a result of that. When a freaky, unpleasant thing happened and broke his focus on the deer, Otis’ impulse was to look to us for direction, and training meant that he knew what we were trying to tell him when he did. Trust also meant that in the next instance, he believed me when I warned him not to run, and further believed that if he stayed with me, he’d be safe. –

    I can’t say enough, though, much as I appreciate the opportunity that the e-collar gave us, I do not and never would condone it as an everyday training tool.

  42. says

    I work at a pet store and I had the worst encounter the other day. I was almost in tears by the end of the encounter. A woman walked in with a rambunctious 4 month old Dalmatian puppy, I had seen her in the store before in our puppy class. She came in and demanded I show her where our pinch or shock collars were. I informed her that we don’t carry anything like that and asked why he needed one. She told me he was stubborn and wouldn’t stop pulling on the leash. I asked if she was still in puppy class and she told me “No! I dropped out because your trainer is useless! All she did was feed him treats!” She was very upset about it. I tried to offer gentle leaders, easy walks, wiggles and wags, anything humane… but she wasn’t convinced, nor happy. I finally said that a pinch collar would probably be the best thing and sent her to Petco, but only because I didn’t want her to buy him a shock collar. I didn’t know how else to handle the situation… I feel terrible for this little guy, I wish I would have offered to take him if she decided he was to stubborn for her.

  43. Nic1 says

    @em – thanks so much for sharing your experience. I feel that I have learned a lot. My concern was that the dog may associate the owner and the collar with the pain. With Otis, as he was so aroused and adrenalised his pain threshold was probably way up there anyway. It just shows that it really is a tool that when used in the correct context and with a solid history of trust and positive reinforcement, it can enhance the quality of life of the dog. Hugs to Otis.

    @Dezi. – it is always disappointing when a dog gets an inappropriate behavioural label tagged on him, such as stubborn. Leash pulling and stubbornness are mutually exclusive of course. It amazes me that people continue to believe that a dog’s behaviour is a reflection of his wanting to please or annoy you! Hopefully you have planted a seed of awareness. Let’s hope it gets an opportunity to grow. You tried your best!

  44. Kat says

    The best, most effective, consistent trainer I know is my dog Ranger. {wry grin} It’s too bad he only trains other dogs how to behave toward him and not how to behave in human society. Still, in the six years I’ve been observing him train the other dogs he interacts with I’ve had many aha moments; moments where I finally understood what some things really meant.

    Out for a walk one day with a friend and her young Cattle Dog we allowed the dogs some off leash time. They were having a great time playing herding games up and down the trail except for one thing, the Cattle Dog wanted to bark in Ranger’s face to turn him (typical Cattle Dog). Ranger didn’t want to have his new pal barking at his face. Negative punishment in action, every time the CD barked Ranger stopped playing with him. Within half an hour the Cattle Dog was not barking at Ranger except occasionally and when he did he’d stop himself.

    Only twice have I ever seen Ranger use what would be considered positive punishment. The first time was when a Great Dane was determined to pin Ranger against a fence and mount him. Ranger’s polite rebuffs, shake offs, walk aways, etc. were having no effect and I couldn’t move fast enough to always body block the Dane. After exhausting the other options Ranger did a full on threat display, hackles up, eyes hard, weight forward, body stiff, and a growl that unmistakably said, try it again and you will be torn into tiny pieces. The Dane tucked tail and ran back to his people, Ranger shook himself vigorously and went about his business. After that the Dane always treated Ranger with wary respect walking away whenever Ranger approached.

    The second time was an American Bulldog puppy about eight months old. The Bulldog, intact, kept trying to mount Ranger and Ranger kept shaking him off, moving away, etc. After what seemed like 20 mild responses Ranger whirled around and gave one very deep woof in the Bulldog’s face. It looked like a parent shouting “I said, NO.” The Bulldog stopped trying to mount Ranger and they played together happily. They became pals and would look for each other at the dog park.

    In both cases Ranger exhausted all other options before using positive punishment. Heading out on a speculative limb here, but in both cases it was ‘fair.’ The other dogs were given multiple opportunities to learn through less aversive means but didn’t. In both instances it was one brief use of positive punishment. And in both cases it worked. When we train consistently with the use of positive reinforcement and negative punishment I wonder if when we’ve repeatedly tried to stop the puppy nipping or the clipping behavior or whatever using those methods and eventually snap and resort to positive punishment either deliberately after thinking through our options or in the heat of the moment our dogs don’t see this as ‘fair.’ Dogs do have some concept of fairness; I can’t give just one of my dogs treats, they both expect to receive treats although they don’t necessarily care if one is getting cheese and one is getting kibble; they’re more interested in that they both got something.

    It’s the dogs that must feel like pain is visited upon them almost at random that I feel for. If you’ve given the dog a good foundation for understanding what you do and do not like in their behavior I suspect that the brief single episode of positive punishment is ‘fair’ in the dog’s mind and drives home the message that your are very serious that the behavior is not to be repeated. Where if you put a shock collar on the dog and zap them every time they bark, unless you’re tired, or you didn’t bring the remote with you or you aren’t paying attention or… That dog has no basis for understanding why pain comes at random. The same goes for leash jerks and all the rest of the subjugate-your-dog trainer’s arsenal.

  45. Mary K. says

    So many of the behaviors we are trying to train out of ours dogs are very normal behaviors for canines but are simply undesirable to us humans and the environment in which we have invited them to live. I don’t get how an association of dominance is made when a dog does something like jump up on us. The dog is perhaps being rude from a human perspective but dominant? Just like a young child has to learn the language we “speak” so do dogs. If a dog hasn’t been taught that some of its natural behaviors are ones that we don’t like, why would it ever have an incentive to stop doing something that to the dog is intrinsically rewarding. Chasing, chewing, mouthing, jumping, barking, mounting-all normal canine behaviors albeit at times annoying ones to us. I believe it is our job to give our dogs positive incentives to stop the things that we simply can not tolerate or the things that can cause us or our dogs harm.

    Training, like most everything else in life, can not always be approached from a one size fits all perspective. It seems to me that one of the qualities that makes a great trainer is their ability to problem solve and think outside the box. But having said that, it never makes sense to me to use dominance based training. When I watch the body language of dogs who are being subjected to that type of training, it tells me everything I need to know. The dogs look like a combination of confused and fearful and I don’t see how that can build up a relationship between owner and dog of mutual respect and trust.

    I think there is a huge difference between using a verbal correction (especially if it is followed with a positive thing like praise or treats for ceasing the unwanted behavior) and other types of mild adversives, and the types of training techniques a dominance trainer might use like fear and intimidation(stare downs) and physical force(alpha roles and leash pops). These techniques might give immediate or quicker results than the more time consuming and complex positive reinforcement techniques do, but I think they damage the owner/dog relationship. I wish more people understood that training their dogs isn’t a one time thing or even being enrolled in a six week obedience class. Good training lasts the lifetime of the dog and is constantly being reinforced and revised depending on your current circumstances and sometimes there is no easy fix to a problem behavior only management of it.

  46. says

    Like others I have used a shock collar to train my dogs to call off of deer after 1) one of my dogs was hit by a car and killed when chasing a deer and 2) I found my girl behind a 4′ fence she had jumped chasing a deer. However, I will not advise others to do the same thing since I cannot be sure they will be as careful with it as I was.

    I will yell at my dogs if they are intentionally ignoring me, like when my Little Red Dog is rolling in gross stuff or snacking on long dead animal parts. He won’t stop until I get within say five feet of him. He knows I will not do anything more than yell, except when I put him on leash and he loses his freedom. I can almost hear grumbling when he moves away. I think in these scenarios they see me much like a Mom who who they aren’t afraid of but eventually obey.

    My training philosophy is to use the least aversive technique I can, always to consider if my technique is fair, consider any possible repercussions and only use P+ techniques for training for dog sports. I hate the idea of ear pinches (forced fetch), toe hitches, prong collars, etc. for use in obedience, field work and other sports–People it is supposed to be fun!

    As to fall out from aversive techniques, my Selli (a Golden) has a litter-mate who is a lovely dog–sweet, cuddly, biddable who has advanced titles in obedience, agility and tracking. An obedience trainer tried an ear pinch force fetch on him (he had been only p+ trained until then) and he turned around and bit the trainer. I certainly can’t blame the dog!

  47. Jennifer says

    Thank you for some quality reference material! It is a pet peeve of mine when someone tells me they’re training their dog through “dominance.” Good grief. This whole notion is one of the worst things to have been inflicted on the public – I don’t know why it persists. When I worked in animal control and I was feeling cynical, I used to say, “Most dogs are wonderful not because of people but *in spite* of them.” Hopefully we will eventually spread the word and as you said so beautifully, Trisha, “…as many of us have observed for years, using force and confrontation as a primary method of dog training often backfires and creates some of the very problems it is trying to solve.” (As a mental health therapist, I posit that the same is true in our person-to-person relationships, as well. :-)

  48. Woofsong says

    I recently read Dr Ha’s article on shelter dogs not being appropriate as therapy dogs.
    I thought it was interesting and brought up some concerns. Have you read it? What do you think of it? My therapy dog group is having a heated discussion about the article.

  49. Kat says

    Woofsong, I too would be very interested in a link to the article. I have two shelter mutts, one is a top notch therapy dog and the other will never be therapy dog material. And yes, in so far as I can tell since both were surrenders, the therapy dog was raised from puppyhood in a positive environment with lots of love and the other was raised with wildly inconsistent human interactions by animal hoarders.

  50. Beth with the Corgis says

    Kat, my own thinking is it’s not so much where you got the dog, as what his/her early socialization was (with a few notable exceptions, most dogs with little appropriate early human contact will not be stable enough to be therapy dogs, though they might make great pets). Your explanation goes along with my thinking. I’m curious what the doctor says….

  51. WOOFSONG says

    “Using Shelter Dogs in Therapy Situations Not a Good Idea” by James Craig Ha. I found it on his blog.

  52. Beth with the Corgis says

    Woofsong, Dr. Ha seems to be using a different meaning for “therapy dog” than what is the industry standard. He seems to be speaking more of service dogs: he talks of “mission-critical’ situations, and dogs used in courtrooms, with the mentally ill, guiding the blind, etc.

    If indeed he is speaking of those types of dogs, I have to agree. Those dogs need to be totally bomb-proof. Dogs are raised for those sorts of situations in very specific ways.

    I’ve done therapy work in nursing homes, and any well-trained non-reactive steady dog would probably be ok. But I have twice had serious problems when working with developmentally challenged adults and won’t put my dogs in that position again. One second things are fine and the next a 200 pound man has his hands around your dog’s neck and is lifting him off the ground by his head…. this with a dog who does not like being restrained, not to mention the serious physical risk involved. Thankfully everything turned out ok, but in those sorts of high-risk situations, it is absolutely critical that the dog be bombproof. I shudder to think what would have happened if my dog had started writhing or, heaven forbid, biting. There was lots and LOTS of whale-eye from my dog in both situations as he frantically sought to make eye contact with me, but that was about it.

    Not only do the specific situations listed by Dr. Ha pose immediate risks of anything goes wrong, but the bad experience can also unravel years of training and conditioning and can permanently alter the dog’s perception of certain people or situations. Every effort needs to be made to ensure good outcomes, and to do that you need to start with dogs that you know as much about as possible, and whose early socialization was as carefully controlled as possible.

    At least that’s my impression.

  53. Kat says

    Thanks Woofsong (great name by the way). I had a look at it. First impressions, he uses the term therapy dog to refer to what others would call a service dog. So he’s using Therapy Dog differently than the definition I’m trained to use. His definition of mission critical is pretty amorphous. Of course purpose bred and raised dogs are going to have a higher incidence of suitable candidates for service dog work. Take a kid whose parents are gifted athletes and train them from early childhood to be a tennis star and chances are pretty good the kid will be very good at tennis–maybe even great. That won’t always be the case but often enough that the Chinese do it all the time for their Olympic team. Does that mean a shelter dog can never be successful as a service dog? I’d say it depends on the service to be performed and on the dog.

  54. em says


    Thank you for providing the info for the article. I was initially indignant at the premise that shelter dogs might be considered “inappropriate” for anything. It seemed a recklessly broad generalization to make. What makes a dog a “shelter dog”, anyways? Purebred Otis spent a grand total of nine days in a shelter. Is he a shelter dog? By that definition any dog who has ever been boarded in a kennel might be considered a shelter dog. On the other hand, his early training and socialization with people was sorely lacking, so maybe he IS properly considered a shelter dog. Sandy was raised in a home and evidently socialized very well as a pup, but she is a mixed breed who spent at least a week in a shelter when her owner surrendered her for chronic escapism. Is she a ‘shelter dog’? In both their cases, I am guessing at the type of socialization that they recieved based on the result- their observed behavior at the time of adoption coupled with some other circumstantial clues- completely and totally unscientifically, I might add.

    I was somewhat mollified to note that Ha seems to be talking specifically about dogs in very demanding service roles like seeing eye and presumably police/search and rescue, etc. I would have referred to such a dog as a “service dog” rather than a dog in a “therapy situation” because the latter invokes ‘therapy dogs’, who are by and large primarily pets, and typically partnered with their handlers in much less sensitive and stressful situations.

    I can easily concede to the assertion that dogs in highly demanding roles should be raised from puppyhood in a controlled training situation, and that therefore adult dogs, however appropriate their base temperament might be, are not really desired. I am also willing to concede that pups from an unknown background may be too much of a mystery to want to invest the time and energy into rearing and training for service if there is a good possibility that they will turn out too small/big/prey driven/sensitive/independent etc. So it seems I don’t really have a problem with Ha’s basic premise- it is probably best to select service dog candidates from a specifically bred pool of puppies and raise them in a controlled training/socialization program.

    Still, I found the tone of the article rather rankling, if I do say so. There seems to be a strong suggestion that “shelter dogs” (and again, what does that even MEAN?) are somehow less stable, less reliable, less trustworthy than purebred puppies. (I don’t know this is an intentional message, since I think Ha only really intends to compare the dogs specifically bred for service work against random shelter dogs, and is not offering an opinion on the relative merits of the general population of purebred dogs, but his language is careless enough that it does seem fairly strongly implied). It did make me stop and ask myself, though, supposing we arrive at a definition that makes a dog a “shelter dog”, is this a life sentence?

    When and in what circumstances does it become appropriate to stop thinking of a dog in that context? After years in a family home? When any and all behavior problems have been resolved? If and only if the dog never exhibits signs of temperamental instability or behavioral problems? That seems like an unfairly high standard, but I’ve got two redeemed “shelter dogs” in my house right now that could meet it. Otis doesn’t have the work drive, but Sandy could pass the temperament and aptitude testing for a service dog with no problem at all. It would not offend me in the slightest to be told that having missed the crucial training phases and special puppy socialization experiences, she is not now a good candidate. That’s completely understandable. But I would bristle a bit at the implication that having once been a “shelter dog” she is inherently and forever less “suitable” or trustworthy than a dog who was not.

    Especially since I know it to be total nonsense. I know a metric TON of purebreds from quite good breeders and mixed breeds who never set paw in a shelter who are not half as even-tempered, reliable, sociable, and trustworthy as either one of my shelter dogs. Of course, not all shelter dogs are the same as mine, but that’s just my point- given the huge number of dogs in shelters, the huge variation in their individual characteristics, and the huge variation in the circumstances that landed them there, a term like “shelter dogs” is no more meaningful than “apartment people”, or “auction cows”.

  55. Nic1 says

    WOOFSONG – thanks for sharing such an interesting and controversial blog thread. I read this with great interest. Some very sensible and sound concerns raised but a little too black and white in some of his assumptions IMO. One size doesn’t fit all with shelter dogs. (Probably polite for us to share comments and opinions on the actual blog rather than Trisha’s blog).

  56. says

    At Tricia, Cat, Beth and M,
    thanks for all your comments regarding appropriate times for more aversive methods of correcting your dog. To me, I’ve never understood either extreme of training, especially aversive methods to teach a new behavior. Why would you correct your dog if it doesn’t understand what you want it to do? I always think of the situation where my father would yell at me for not understanding a math problem. It was never explained in a way I understood and he would simply become frustrated and yell at me because I didn’t get it. I’d shut down after that and so do our dogs. It’s why I love clicker training. I want to teach the dog the behavior, not beat it into him. However, I do believe in an appropriate leash correction, done correctly. I know I have never hurt my dog and like others have said, I hardly have to give a leash correction, but they are valid in certain situations, especially given the nature of Seamus’s and my working relationship. If my dog wants to chase a blown leaf while we’re in the middle of an intersection, you bet I’m going to give him a leash correction. I don’t feel bad about it at all because 1, he’s not being hurt at all. It’s a quick pull and release on the collar. His head doesn’t even move, and 2, he needs to concentrate on keeping me safe, especially in that situation. To me, it’s the verbal equivilent of “excuse me, you know better than that.” and he does. It makes sense to me that we would occasionally correct our dogs. We correct our children and dogs correct other dogs, not often, but they do and I think it’s appropriate, especially in dangerous situations.

  57. Rose C says

    By the time I am posting this comment, I see you guys have read Dr. Ha’s blog that Woofsong had suggested. I will be reading that next. But for now, I’d like to go back to Daniel’s and Trisha’s comment on culture and how it may relate to how we treat dogs and the differences in the methods that are considered ‘acceptable’ or at the very least, ‘not abusive’.

    This morning, I was playing with my dogs on the floor as I let them out of their crates. Ludy is calm as always, wagging her tail and letting me pet her all over as she laid on her side while Dani is being silly and already getting excited, pawing Ludy and nudging Ludy’s belly with her nose which Ludy hates. I was making Dani stop and somehow, Daniel’s post on the methods he saw where he grew up such as leash corrections, saying NO!, scruff shakes — and to which I added scruff grabbing and muzzle slapping — made me realize that if I was at a time and at the place where I grew up as a child, I would have easily slapped Dani’s muzzle as a ‘correction’ to make her stop what she was doing and not feel that it was aversive or abusive. But I didn’t, because I now feel that muzzle slapping is ‘mean’.

    What brought the change in my perspective? It’s what I am now accustomed to for the past 20 years (or 17 years to the time when I got my first dog). The most aversive that I have done to my dog are occasional bursts of “Grraaarrrr!” while pointing a finger to my dog, a scruff grab that I have done twice for which I instantaneously felt guilty about (it should not have happened a second time but it did), and when they were puppies and out of my frustration, I had held with pressure their muzzle circled by my forefinger and thumb to make them quiet as they whined in the crate all night long. One aversive method that I used which I picked up from the Nat Geo show was rolling my first dog (then was a fragile 3-month old, 9-lb puppy) on her back as I held her on my forearm and wait till she moves her stare away from me. My then puppy didn’t even look at me but her eyes went alternately towards all corners, upper left-right/lower left-right. It was quite comical to watch, I let her go and burst out laughing.

    I think culture is a big factor in how we see and treat dogs, and consequently, it affects what methods we use to correct them. Where I grew up, there were no such thing as ‘animal rights’. There are no people standing up and fighting for these rights. No one got fined or prosecuted for hitting an animal. No one got accused of animal abuse for tying an ‘aggressive’ or a ‘biting’ dog all day long in the backyard. The thing about culture is that it is developed and becomes embedded in us. In the country where I grew up in, we didn’t study dogs and dog behavior and people have pretty much maintained the way they have always treated dogs. I know of some countries where they openly eat dogs and have heard of one where they sell live puppies in the wet market (I guess people who buy can either eat or raise them, whichever they want to do with them???). I cringed at the thought, but I bet the people from those countries aren’t.

  58. says

    I read this post and commented earlier in the thread. Just came back today and read the additional comments. I must say that I find it very interesting and thought-provoking re the use of the shock collar as a “last resort” in training a life-saving behavior. I am a positive reinforcement, force-free trainer but after reading this, I have to stop saying that I would NEVER recommend the use of a shock collar. I never claimed they didn’t work – just that they worked for the wrong reason and could damage the human-dog relationship. I can see now that in some (very rare) cases it is a tool to use when all else fails and the dog’s life is endangered. Thank you all for the great discussion.

  59. says

    Thank you for this post, and all the comments. They always make me think “what would I do in that situation”?
    Personally, I use lots of treats and praise when training…and I consider everything training! That being said, I do correct my dogs on occasion.

    I do have friends who train with e-collars and prongs, in addition to well-timed treats and praise. I can’t see myself ever using a collar like that, but their dogs are happy, healthy, and to be honest, are better behaved and allowed more freedoms than mine are.

    Especially when it comes to equipment, I think both its effectiveness and humane-ness (not sure of another word for that) depends on whether people see it as a tool to help them teach good behaviour, or as a quick-fix solution to bad behaviour.

  60. em says

    @Nic1, You are right, of course.

    I meant to make a much more general comment and was a little aghast when I reread what I had written- that will teach me to post after midnight after a long, frustrating night of grading! Lesson learned. My apologies to everyone.

  61. Nic1 says

    @em – you make some great points! Have you commented on the actual yetblog? I’m going to head over there as I think it’s a bit too black and white – there are literally millions of shelter dogs. You can’t convince me that ALL these dogs are unsuitable as therapy dogs. Also, what about the dogs emotional well being? Is it suitable to place ANY dog, regardless of temperament, with a person who is mentally unstable? Is it justified to breed dogs for this reason alone?

  62. Donald McCaig says

    Dear Doggers,

    How we train our dogs depends on where we are in the world, who we are, what we want, how we see our dogs, what we can afford in time and money and . . . .

    I live on a remote mountain sheep farm but often travel with my dogs to sheepdog trials. My dream dog can work range sheep at 800 yards with or without my commands, walk down New York’s 5th Avenue at lunchtime, roll over on his back for TSA body searches, be invisible in fine hotels, cheap motels, and be at ease in auditoriums, libraries and schools. I am rarely without a dog.

    With these goals, I am open to training methods which, properly applied, help the dog find its distinctive beauty and grace.

    Abuse is often defined narrowly as “actions which cause a dog pain”. For my purposes, abuse is “actions which confuse the dog or reduce his potential” . Beating a dog in a fit of temper can certainly do that but so can kind hearted ignorance. Thus, the novice sheepdog handler whose ignorance of dogs and stock baffle the dog or makes it uncertain is abusing the dog. This abuse is usually reversible (though sometimes not) and, since novices must learn somehow, may be inevitable. I certainly confused my first sheepdog and we were lucky to sort things out in the end.

    In my view, the highly skilled trainer who uses a properly timed, measured, effective physical correction is not abusing the dog whereas the novice who offers ill-timed, banal, too effusive, inappropriate praise may well be abusing it.

    If the result of your training/bonding/shared life is a happy dog that can go anywhere with you, you haven’t abused it. If the result is a confused dog with “issues” that you can’t take around other dogs/children/noisy streets/forests/beaches/airplanes/cars/motels, it doesn’t really matter how many rewards you’ve given it or how “kind” you are.

    Donald McCaig

  63. Nic1 says

    @Donald – ‘abuse is actions that confuse the dog or reduce his potential.’

    The true definition of abuse is to ‘bad effect’ or ‘improper use’.

    When it comes to dog training, it has to be approached with sound ethical and moral principles, regardless of the outcome you are trying to acheive. Given your definition, is it therefore OK to use positive punishment on a dog to train it for agility or for obediance in the show ring, provided the punishment was administered by a skilled trainer with excellent timing?

    Surely given the behavioural understanding we have about our canine companions/colleagues (based on scientific research) it is better for their physical and emotional health to be as kind as possible in our approach to training. Being ‘kind’, as I understand the context, is humanely teaching, setting appropriate boundaries and understanding that there are simply some environments that are unsuitable for some dogs, no matter how you try to train them otherwise. i.e. understanding the dog as an individual and then setting him up to succeed.

    Perhaps you are confusing the action of kindness with a lack of canine behavioural understanding – these are two entirely different issues, the latter being a direct product of appropriate education.

    There is absolutely no human weakness involved in being kind when it is combined with humane, effective and fair dog training – positive punishment does have a part to play in dog training, with some excellent examples on this thread, but only when other avenues have been well and truly exhausted IMO.

    If you are reducing a ‘dog’s potential’ are you really abusing it? Again, this is contextual as there are literally millions of working dogs in loving pet homes who will never have the opportunity to herd sheep, kill rats or retreive pheasants. Abused? Perhaps denied the outlet for which they were originally intended but abuse implies suffering and with appropriate alternative outlets, working dogs can and do live fulfilled lives as pets.

  64. Beth with the Corgis says

    Donald McCaig, you are correct that we can cause lots of stress to our dogs even if we are being “kind.” Indeed, the same can be said of human/human interactions as well.

    Nic1, remember the blogger is speaking about what we would call service dogs, not therapy dogs. His language is a bit confusing, to be honest.

    It takes a long time and thousands of dollars to train a service dog. I believe about half of dogs who are purpose-bred and specially trained/raised are unable to complete the program due to any number of issues, from behavior problems to allergies.

    I think sometimes antrhopormophizing kicks in: does it matter to the dogs one bit if someone feels that shelter dogs are not a wise choice for high-stress service dog situations? I doubt they get offended.

    Shelter dogs are the dog of choice for at least one avalanch rescue program; they look for dogs that are so high-energy and enthusiastic that they flunk out of pet homes. On the other hand, I’d be frankly shocked if a dogs for the blind group decided to start with a shelter dog; they always start with puppies.

  65. JJ says

    Donald McCaig: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It definitely made me think.

    My final reaction to your post is mostly: It sounds to me like you think that the ends justify the means. “If the result of your training/bonding/shared life is…” I see that as: If it “works”, it is OK. I can’t go along with that.

    Neither would I ever define abuse as simply as confusing a dog. I’m not the best trainer in the world. I try to be clear, but I can see that sometimes I am confusing my dog. That happens. He is not harmed by this natural process of communication between any two individuals (even of the same species), *because* I am using methods where he knows that if he doesn’t understand me, then nothing bad will happen. That’s a key point.

    I don’t have a dog who can do everything you describe, but he is certainly happy, has better “manners”/”obedience” than most dogs I know, and has not experienced training methods that would lead to real abused by me.

    Where we might overlap some in our opinions is that I probably would define an abusive relationship as one where the dog is *constantly* being confused by a human. Where the dog can never learn anything because the messages are almost never clear. But that state of affairs is far less likely to happen with science-based training than the dominance/”balanced” – based training. And the dog is far more likely to end up that happy dog you talked about when the human takes the time to learn and apply science-based training (which also happens to be the kind way to train).

    That’s my 2 cents.

  66. Trisha says

    So many interesting threads here: Regarding “confusion as abuse” issue, I think there is a lot of importance here, although I would argue that the value lies in the nuance inherent in such a complicated issue. After 25 years or so of seeing thousands of client’s dogs, I can tell you that I have seen no small number of dogs who lived in a constant state of confusion. I saw their lives as being miserable, and it broke my heart to watch them leave the office. I took heart with hopes that the clients left the office understanding more about how to communicate with their dogs, and that the confusion would decrease. Like Donald, I have also seen young sheepdogs in training whose owners were so inexperienced as to make the lessons no less than torturous. (And like Donald, I cringe at some of the mistakes I made in years past. I hereby cringe in anticipation of the mistakes I am no doubt going to make in the future…). Thus, I think JJ’s comment about whether the confusion is rare or continuous is an important point. Surely moments of confusion happen to all dogs, and to us owners, for that matter, when we are learning something new.

    As importantly, an owner’s response to a dog’s confusion is key, and this, I would argue, is the primary difference between a good trainer and a not-so-good one. We’ve all seen them in every field, whether pet dogs, sheep dogs or working service dogs: a dog gets a strong and aversive correction when it clearly has no idea what it is supposed to be doing. Ouch, it is painful to see because we all can easily imagine what it feels like to be corrected for not being able to do something one simply is incapable of.

    However, (and I expect blow back here), I have also seen a few clicker-trained dogs who seemed absolutely desperate to figure out what their owners wanted them to do. While their owners considered what they were doing ‘all positive” and enjoyed what they perceived as their dog’s enthusiasm, I saw dogs who were stressed and frantic trying to figure out what was expected. “Frantic” and “desperate” are not internal states that any of us would consider to be positive, and yet one can create them using all “positive” methods if one isn’t careful. And so, I go back to believing that we need to be thoughtful about over simplifying what we mean by good training; that it is essential to be as benevolent and positive as possible, which doesn’t always mean being “100% positive,” that corrections can be used on occasion without harming a dog, but need to be used sparingly and carefully, and that, most importantly, every dog needs us to be its coach and teacher, which means understanding the dog as an individual, and understanding the principles of learning in general.

  67. Beth with the Corgis says

    Trisha, I consider myself (though someone else might see it differently) as an owner who uses mostly positive methods but does use corrections (usually verbal, though I backed Jack up 15 feet out of my kitchen a few weeks ago for clawing at the cupboards to try to reach the countertop….). So I have seen how my dog responds to both correction and praise.

    I can say, in all honesty, that the most franticly frustrated I have ever seen him in a training session was when I tried to clicker-train him to do a turn on the forehand with his front paws on an elevated block.

    It is safe to say he was absolutely miserable. He is a crazy smart dog who is super-motivated (too motivated) by food and generally loves to please, though he is not opposed to giving thoughtful disobedience to decisions of mine he finds stupid.

    I have mostly only used the clicker to reinforce things that he is highly motivated to ignore (recall off of dead things in the woods, for instance). The turn on the forehand was my first attempt at using clicker training in the classic “shaping” method.

    And it is safe to say it caused a large amount of distress. He was so motivated to hear the click, and could not seem to understand what action brought about the click. He was frustration-whining and growing increasingly frantic. My timing is very good with the clicker, but the method was heartbreakingly inappropriate for him. He is a sharp dog and the clicker heightens the sharpness. I could practically hear him screaming “WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME!” He is a dog who needs to be encouraged to relax and not try so hard, not one who needs to have his responses quickened.

    I have never used it for shaping training since. It is not appropriate for him. I agree completely that some other trainers might have seen his response as “enthusiasm”. I saw it as despair.

  68. Trisha says

    RE the “Therapy Dogs from Shelters” blog by James Ha. Thank you Wolfsong for bringing the issue up. Commenters are absolutely correct that Ha seems to confound “therapy dogs” with “assistance dogs,” an important oversight if discussing such an important and controversial issue. I do understand his point that if one is looking for exceptionally stable dogs and a high probability that a dog will pass a high set of standards (both physical and beh’l) then breeding specific lines and creating a standard format for puppy raising has tremendous value. I can tell you that I have worked with a number of CCI dogs and most of them are as bomb-proof as you can imagine. Some of them are so passive that I actually worried about one pup I met: At 5 months the dog was happy to curl up under a chair and sleep any time, and seemed remarkably unresponsive to the world around it. Certainly it is true that genetics plays a significant role in docility, so of course one is going to increase the odds for success by breeding for those traits. On the other hand, I have also met and worked with a number of “Hearing Aid Dogs,” all of whom were selected as adults from shelters, and who were perfect for their assigned roles as “ears” for their owners. And some dogs absolutely brilliant as “therapy dogs,” who provide some kind of emotional support and stability for their owners have also been found in shelters or from rescue groups.

    Thus, I would not argue myself that “therapy or assistance” dogs should never come from shelters. As a matter of fact, I declined to “blurb” an otherwise truly good book by a noted author because it stated that “all dogs in shelters are damaged,” implying that every dog in a shelter was so traumatized by the experience it would be damaged for life, and thus less desirable as a pet. [By the way, I am working on a post about Psychiatric Service Dogs… give me a few more weeks to do due diligence.]

    I’d love to write more, but I’ve got to get ready to speak at the Association for Behavior Analysis International in Minneapolis. Keep up the great conversation!

  69. Kat says

    Ranger, a registered therapy dog with Therapy Dog International, is about as bomb proof as they come. I adopted him from the shelter. I can confidently walk him into a gym full of running and screaming children and expect him to behave. He will walk by a construction site full of loud equipment without so much as a glance. A dementia patient thumping him in an effort to pet him causes no more reaction than him shifting to a position where the thumping is less uncomfortable, from head to shoulders in other words. He’s learned some skills to help me, much like a service or assistance dog helps their partner. He will stand so I can use him to brace myself when I need help getting off the floor. He will help me balance when we’re out hiking and I need to cross rocks in a stream or when I’m traversing a steep muddy hill. If I needed a full time mobility assistance dog I wouldn’t hesitate to have him as my service dog so I have a really hard time with Dr. Ha’s blanket assertion that a Therapy/Service dog can never come from a shelter. That said, I do understand the concern that dogs being trained as Service dogs, especially guide dogs, need to have every card stacked in their favor and that includes being purpose bred and training from day one. Service dogs have to cope with an incredible amount of complexity and some out right crazy people. I’m thinking of the Guide dog that was sprayed in the eyes with bleach recently by a woman suffering from mental illness. The dog was doing nothing except guiding his partner through the grocery store and was attacked. To cope with things like that a dog needs an exceptional temperament and training. And I’ll freely grant that the majority of dogs, much less the majority of dogs found in shelters, are not going to be suitable candidates for service work.

    It’s the all or nothing nature of Dr. Ha’s assertions that I find troubling. One of the most successful K9 Officers in our area was found at a shelter. He’d been seized in a drug raid, turned over to the local shelter and was nearing the end of his period of time before being put down when a police trainer pulled him as a potential police dog. He completed the training in good order and became a top notch drug dog. He was incredibly sweet, very dedicated to his job, and had a great temperament. He visited my classroom several times and the kids loved him. He’s retired now. I might mention that he’s also a pit bull/lab cross. It may be convenient to present things as if it’s all black or white and there’s no shades of gray in between but it isn’t reality.

    I’m also not convinced that all Service dog jobs are equally demanding or to use his term mission critical. A Guide Dog is constantly responsible for his partner in a way that, it seems to me, a diabetes alert dog is not. The latter has, to my mind at least, more freedom to simply be a well-behaved dog, not that the job is less crucial but the need to be on duty is less demanding for the alert dog than the guide dog. The alert dog can sniff the grass, check his person, look at the scenery, check his person etc., where the Guide dog has to maintain constant attention to his job and not be distracted by anything else.

  70. Nic1 says

    There is definitely a place for the clicker but it certainly isn’t for when trying to free-shape my dog to do some trick she has no interest in (putting her toys away – clearly, it’s so much more fun to get them out of the box silly!). She growl/whined at me out of what I interpreted to be clear frustration on her behalf. Instead, I use the clicker as a tool for BAT and for rewarding good decisions. Negative reinforcement essentially, where I feel that not using my voice is much more effective. I also use it when practicing relaxation – essentially Karen Overall’s relaxation protocol to mark relaxed behaviour. Again, I try not to use my voice so much when relaxing – she’s sound sensitive.

    I do agree that there is a danger that ‘positive reinforcement’ can get confused by a cohort of people who interpret this as ‘no punishment, as if one must never, ever stress or punish a dog when training. That just isn’t realistic of course and a certain a mount of stress and punishment is necessary for a dog to learn. Like a lot of things in life, it ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it and that’s what gets results. I want a loving, trusting bond with my dog so I’m going to use the least aversive methods the majority of the time. So when there are occasions when you do need a strong aversive, it’s actually way more effective.

    I also don’t care much for human beings who yell, demand and like to get physical to set boundaries so it’s just a major turn off for me to witness that behaviour in human beings per se. Sometimes, the dogs are the most dignified in that particular relationship….

  71. Donald McCaig says

    Dear Doggers,

    I thank JJ and Trisha for their useful distinction between rare and continuous confusion. What seems to happens with sheepdogs is fairly early onthey realize our shared activity is a training/life process. They sign on (with some reservations) to deliberate training and expectations. Thus, a timid dog who pees all over herself at the mildest reproach can take a bellow in the training field without reacting and dogs whose life make sense brush off the occasional stupid, illtimed, correction. Training – as my friend Vicki Hearne liked to observe – is conversation. Jack Knox likes to speak of “asking” the dog rather than “commanding” it.

    It probably takes a grossly illtimed over the top correction to scar a dog but I’ve seen it happen. (That’s one of the profound dangers of shock collars in inexperienced hands). Many more dogs are confused/abused by humans who for whatever reasons of their own constantly misread and mistrain the dog. These people can operate in any training system.

    None of us is immune to human self deception, inattentiveness and learning disorders. Some make careers. Pity their dogs.

    We all train within the moral constraints of our broadly shared western Christian culture as well as those constraints of the doggy subculture to which one belongs. Nobody trains dogs amorally. I am coming to suspect that since dogs are moral animals, moral disputes among those who work intensely with them are inevitable. Bill Koehler, the anathema of many “positive” trainers centered his training on the dog’s moral understanding and the trainer’s moral responsibility to the dog.


  72. HFR says

    What no one ever seems to address is the moral issue of aversive training. Purely results-oriented training (or teaching) is a dangerous road to go down. One could argue that children turned out to be obedient and successful back in the days when corporal punishment was common and when kids were told to only speak when spoken to. But is it moral to treat a child that way? I think most people would agree it would be cruel to raise children the way they were raised decades ago (obviously some would say we need to go back to those days, but I’m talking majority opinion here). Bottom line is, no matter the results, it is WRONG to physically or emotionally harm another living thing, especially one that is so dependent on us for care. It wouldn’t matter if you could prove to me that it worked, some things are just wrong for a compassionate, civilized society to condone.

  73. Beth with the Corgis says

    I believe the main issue with the blog post on support dogs is the language. Indeed, regarding shelter dogs, he says “many can act as less-mission-critical Emotional Support Animals, or may be wonderful when placed into very narrow specific, controlled situations.”

    I believe he has specific scenarios in mind (his reference to “mission-critical” indicates this), but the over-broad language leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

  74. Beth with the Corgis says

    HFR, I’ve heard similar arguments used against using a riding crop on a horse (I’m not talking about beating the horse, but using it as an aid), or a blunt spur.

    The thing is, though, animals are NOT people. I agree we should not “hurt” them, but how do we define that? If you’ve watched horses in the field, they fairly routinely kick or bite each other (mares will nip their own foals). If you watch dogs with each other, they muzzle-punch, hip-check, and all sorts of things.

    Causing long-term or extreme pain or suffering is undoubtedly immoral. But is giving a horse one sharp thwack with the crop somehow crueler than nagging at him for an hour (or worse, letting a thousand-pound animal call the shots?)

    Is one zap with an e-collar cruel if it means that the dog can continue to do something it loves but would otherwise be prevented from doing because it fails to recall when out in a field?

    I don’t think these issues are so black-and-white. We can’t ask the dogs, so we have to go by their reactions and do a fair amount of educated guessing.

  75. triangle says

    I will never forget working at Petsmart many, many years ago. I was know by my coworkers for being involved in animal welfare issues. One day I was passing by the training area where a puppy class was taking place, and the trainer snidely called out that she was using choke chains and that must bother me to see. Why she felt like doing that in front of her class I really can’t say, but I mildly responded I didn’t think it was the best method.

    The trainer replied that if you’d ever tried to control a 100+ rottie you would be thankful for a choke chain. Thing was…this was a puppy class. Isn’t the goal to train them now so they aren’t so out of control you have to leash correct them later? Why are you starting babies out like that? It just really struck me has having no idea of even the most basic goal of training, which is to have a reliable, safe animal in the end…without harming them along the way.

  76. LisaW says

    @ HFR: I actually did address the moral/ethical side of shocking a dog at least for me (scroll up).

    Donald McCaig: Vicki Hearne was one of the first authors about dogs and animals I read, and I love how she wove training, history, philosophy, and poetry into her narrative. I was challenged by her references and outlook. Hearne’s and Koehler’s methods might be somewhat too adversive at times, but they do belong in the conversation. Thanks for putting them there.

  77. Donald McCaig says

    Mr/Ms HFR writes, ” What no one ever seems to address is the moral issue of aversive training. Purely results-oriented training (or teaching) is a dangerous road to go down”

    I’m on the road w/o my research materials but the earliest phamplet I’ve seen criticizing ” aversive” training was published in by a Rhode Island animal welfare group in the late 19th century. Other trainers, including the most influential, advocated for the use of the dog whip, but ringed about with caveats.

    This is not a brand new issue. What constitutes immoral use of force and when “aversives” are justified has engaged intelligent trainers for generations.

    Donald McCaig

  78. Nic1 says

    It seems very simple what constitutes immoral use of force and when the use of aversives are justified to my mind.

    Immoral use of force constitutes using aversives before exhausting force/pain free training techniques beforehand. One also has to consider what the cost benefit of what you are trying to teach the dog is to the dog’s life. Again, as previously mentioned, the veterinarian Dr Sophia Yin has a philosophy that embraces the use of all training tools and techniques if it means it can save the dog’s life. But she begins with positive reinforcement and negative punishment. In her extensive experience, R+ and P- resolves 99% of her behavioural referrals. Why would you ever jump in first with aversives to teach your dog obedience?

  79. Donald McCaig says

    Dear Doggers,

    I wish these issues were simple and we would agree. Arguing that one should continue using a method which – under particular circumstances with a particular dog – is proving ineffectual (however effective those methods may be under other circumstances/other dogs) is unconvincing.

    If as I have argued, producing avoidable confusion is a form of dog abuse – here, clinging to an ineffective method is abuse. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

    Nobody I know argues for punishment. Whatever one’s moral position, the simple fact is: punishment never works. Nobody whose training reputation depends on their dog’s success employs it.

    I know sane, happy pet dogs who’ve been trained entirely by treats and clickers. I know sane, happy dogs (mine included) who’ve never had a treat or a toy nor heard a clicker.

    Dogs are more profound and more interesting than our philosophies.

    Donald McCaig

  80. Beth with the Corgis says

    Nic1, targets, in my opinion, are helpful in very limited circumstances; they can be helpful in teaching a dog to move out towards something that isn’t innately motivating (agility training, for instance). They can teach dogs things like to go to a place. Targeting your hand is a way to focus the dog back on you when it is distracted, or give him a simple task to succeed in if he is distracted and mildly stressed. In all honesty, though my dogs know targeting, I’ve found I don’t use it at all in normal household obedience.

    I did, however, (on my own and without having read up on clicker training, marker words, or any of that) come up with a system when Jack was a puppy where I would use “good’ in a calmer, slightly upbeat voice to mean “you are on the right track” and a much more enthusiastic “Good boy, goooood boyyyy” with a bit of a praise party when he nailed it. We found this very successful.

    I also use “no” to mean “that isn’t what I want, try again.” “Whoopsee” can be better because some people naturally get stern when they say “no” and “whoopssee’ is just fun and hard to say in a negative way that might turn off a sensitive dog.

    I am surprised there is not more talk of negative markers in clicker-type training. They are essential for Jack, who as I mentioned tends to get overly enthusiastic, which leads to frustration.

    Marker-word training or clicker-training is a lot like a game of hot and cold. Remember that? Now, imagine playing the game with no “cold” or “warm” and only “hot.” How long would it take you to find what you were looking for? How frustrated would you get at the total lack of feedback on whether you were getting warmer or going in the totally wrong direction?

    Yet that is what a large number of clicker trainers do. I think the “warm” and “cold” words speed up the process and give you a happier dog.

  81. Nic1 says

    There are different types of punishment Donald – and I think most Dog trainers and behaviourists would agree that punishment does work in principle. The blog thread discusses the evidence related to confrontational techniques eliciting aggression in dogs, not that the aversives don’t achieve the end result, as I understand it anyway.

    I think it is important to acknowledge that punishment DOES work but that when there are non aversive training techniques based on the principles of animal learning (operant and classical conditioning) that are kinder and more effective, then morally, it’s a no brainer what route to choose IMO. Whatever tools you use (clicker, targeting etc.) is up to you. It’s also up to you to figure out what methods suit you and the dog and are the least frustrating. What overly aversive training and positive punishment often does is damage your relationship, breaking down trust and in the extreme instilling a learned helplessness in the animal, not to mention the title of the blog thread.

  82. Kat says

    When my friend told me she’d bought a shock collar to teach her dog a solid recall, I cringed. I described the positive reinforcement method I was using to teach my dog a recall but she was insistent that she didn’t have months to spend teaching her dog to come. My dog has a fenced yard, hers has five unfenced acres. I spent months building a solid recall she spent a long weekend. After a few days of the dog wearing the collar and being called and guided back on a long line to instill the concept of returning when called she armed herself with great treats and the remote to the collar. Letting the dog off leash to do what she liked my friend waited a few minutes and called the dog. When the dog returned she got a jackpot praise party. Repeat. When instead of returning the dog looked the other way she was shocked. It didn’t take many repetitions for the dog to master the dicotomy, return when called and good things happen, don’t return when called and it hurts. The solid recall that built means her dog isn’t tied when they are outdoors but is free to wander around and be a dog.

    I can’t imagine doing that to my dogs but I can acknowledge the trade off of a few episodes of pain in exchange for a lifetime of greater freedom. Would I recommend this technique no but I also can’t really argue that her dog was abused or permanently damaged. I suspect that if her dog were capable of the sophisticated judgements needed to weigh the options the dog would probably have chosen to take the shocks in exchange for the greater freedom.

    I think there are more shades of gray in training that we might want to admit. For myself, 1) I hate to cause pain for any reason, 2) I’m not convinced my timing would be sufficiently precise to administer the positive punishment at the right time, 3) I’m willing to spend longer using a slower method, and 4) I can’t be certain what amount of pain my dogs would trade for what freedoms so I don’t use aversive methods. But for my friend, she was willing to cause her dog pain for a greater good, she was confident of her ability to use the tool of shock well, she didn’t want to spend months, and she was convinced that her dog would be willing to trade a certain amount of pain for a lot more freedom. In the end we both have happy, well adjusted dogs with good solid recalls.

    It kind of reminds me of the myriad different parenting strategies that get shoved at parents of infants and toddlers. We practiced what the literature called attachment parenting because that’s what felt right to me. Others I knew let their children cry it out. Today you can’t really tell which kids were raised which way. Somehow the vast majority of kids survive their parents’ efforts and turn out pretty OK. There are a lot of ways to arrive at the same results.

    And, please, don’t ever think that I’m arguing that the ends justifies the means or that I advocate aversive/dominance/confrontational training. The people that have a shock collar on their dog shocking them anytime they don’t like what the dog did make me ill. The idea that our dogs are out to dominate us and rule the world is ludicrous. But I will argue that there are shades of gray much as we’d prefer there were not.

  83. Donald McCaig says

    Dear Doggers,
    Ms/Mr Nic1 writes (in part):” I think it is important to acknowledge that punishment DOES work but that when there are non aversive training techniques based on the principles of animal learning (operant and classical conditioning) that are kinder and more effective, then morally, it’s a no brainer what route to choose IMO.”

    We are speaking different dialects. In mine “Punishment” means: Dog does wrong, you whup it. And no, that may satisfy the trainer’s anger but NEVER works. “Correction” means the instant a dog starts to act badly and before he is fully committed you say “Don’t do that” by whatever means that breaks the dog’s focus. That often (though not always) works and repeated as necessary teaches the dog that “Hey I ought not do this because it annoys the Boss and life is more elegant when I do something else.”

    While behaviorists and ethologists have studied and written about dog learning, in my dog (sheepdog) culture and other working dog cultures the anecdotal knowledge of successful trainers is taken far more seriously than the theories predominant in popular schools of pet dog training. If sheepdog trainers go outside sheepdog culture for info, they are more likely to go to horse trainers than Skinner or Lorenz.

    I won’t argue against theories of “operant and classical” conditioning. Certainly they work in the lab, the dolphin tank and the Skinner box. But they are in no sense “proven” and their relevance in the larger world our dogs inhabit is unclear. Certainly one can train dogs to very high standards without knowing or employing them.

    I hear all the time from traditional trainers who (flipside of the cited study) explain in painful detail how pet dog owners have come to them because “Non-aversive” trainers have failed to cure (or enhanced) their dog’s aggressions to other dogs and people. I am told the “cookie-pushers” can’t deal with problem dogs and cannot train any dog to a high standard. I don’t think these stories prove a damn thing about dog training methods, though it suggests that those who go to behaviorists are likely to denigrate the traditional trainer who failed with their dog and vice-versa.

    Dogs are easy to train to the low standards most pet owners expect and it doesn’t much matter which method a SKILLED trainer uses. Pet owners are more difficult to train and if you don’t train them, you will have failed to train their pet. If the pet owner is more likely to attend to the trainer who assures them their method is “scientific” and “kinder”, that’s fine with me.

    Donald McCaig

  84. Nic1 says

    The above is an interesting website about animal communication and training using the x-cellent concept. There are a few videos on you tube with demonstrations. It’s like the hot and cold game but using your voice to encourage the dog that he is on the right track. If you can get the right and technique I am sure this is a fun and pretty natural way to shape.

    Beth – I have also taught hand targeting/target stick to Lily but haven’t found much use on a day to day level. I am not really into trick training to be honest. I have worked on solid obedience, relaxation and counter conditioning in order to address behavioural issues and to help her make better choices when out and about. I prefer to play more as opposed to teach tricks like opening doors, clearing away toys etc, search and scent work seems to engage her much more healthily in that her arousal levels are under control and she gets into a state of ‘flow’. The clicker is useful on occasions but free shaping seems to frustrate her when using clicker so perhaps that is why I haven’t engaged more with trick training?

  85. Nic1 says

    @Kat – thanks for sharing your story. It’s an interesting choice to teach recall using a shock collar. I suppose it depends on the individual dog, owner and the environment. Recall is something that I love teaching using positive reinforcement. To see my dog running back to me, squinty eyed and all waggy and wiggly never fails to lift my heart because I have worked hard to ensure that coming back to me when called is aways a good thing for her. I suppose if that didn’t work, then I would have had to think of a different approach. Management or a more aversive method? One thing i know for sure is that my allure over deer or rabbits can fly out of the window when the prey drive kicks in. But currently, where I live and choose to exercise my dog I am happy to manage that and inhibit her freedom a little. If we lived in the countryside and exercised purely in the rural environment with heavy prey as distractions then I would definitely have to step up the recall off prey and the methods of training would have to be reviewed – cheese and squeaky balls wouldn’t cut it off leash. I certainly would not rule out a shock collar, given the example that you have shared and others too. It makes sense to review the cost benefit of using a device like this in the short term, to enhance the life and freedom of the dog in the long term. I just wouldn’t choose to begin training recall with a tool such as this.

  86. Nic1 says

    @Donald – your interpretation of punishment would be my definition of abuse frankly. ‘Correction’ is also a term I rarely use in dog training because, ‘correcting’ is beyond it’s cognitive ability. It implies, the dog knows better.

    I prefer

  87. Nic1 says

    I prefer to stick to the principles of operant and classical conditioning because they don’t just work in the lab, they work in real life too.

    The modern dog trainer and behaviourist is more inclined to look to the world of science to understand the principles of animal learning, as opposed to the anecdotal tales of dog trainers whom I have no doubt have got loads of experience, but perhaps have not studied formally. It’s why I read Trisha’s books and blogs. Bags of experience, hard science and Trisha manages to find the balance between the two when sharing her knowledge. The term ‘cookie pushers’ is a little derogatory to my mind too. Food is a primary reinforcer and powerful motivator for most dogs. Dogs won’t come to you when called or sit on command because they think their owner is a superstar. Dogs don’t possess an inherent ability to please their owner as far as I understand. When we talk about training dogs, it involves mostly educating pet owners and i think that teaching novice pet owners to throw out the food bowl and use their food ration to motivate their dog is a very good start IMO. When it comes to more complex behavioural problems such as reactivity and aggression then ‘cookie pushing’ as you refer to it, isn’t going to address the root cause. However, there is plenty of evidence to support the effectiveness of DS and CC using food and toys to help tearfully reactive or aggressive dogs. Negative reinforcement techniques, such as BAT, have been instrumental in allowing my poorly socialised adopted to dog to learn to make more appropriate decisions around dogs. However, the level of success of the dog’s rehabilitation will be a direct correlation with the amount of effort and commitment an owner is prepared to invest in both learning and applying it. Most pet dogs don’t need to be trained to a high standard as far as I understand – safety issues such as coming when called, a solid leave it etc. Mostly, training pet dogs is teaching them to it into this complex human society of which a lot of dog’s breeding and natural behavioural tendencies hasn’t prepared them very well for anyway.

    I wonder if you would be prepared to share what training and teaching methods you and your sheepdog colleagues apply because it is interesting to note that you seem to have your own school of thought perhaps?

  88. Beth with the Corgis says

    Donald McCaig, you raise some very interesting points and I have some thoughts on some of what you say. I am no expert; I’m just a pet owner with some modest background in learning theory.

    I found this most interesting: “If sheepdog trainers go outside sheepdog culture for info, they are more likely to go to horse trainers than Skinner or Lorenz.”

    I see some positives and also some issues with that. Horse trainers come from a long culture of shared knowledge, clinics, etc that make many of them quite knowledgeable about animal behavior. Both horses and dogs have a long history of being selectively bred to work with humans. Both are social animals who actively communicate with people. However, as someone once wisely pointed out to me, there is one important difference: horses are a prey animal, and as such find the release of pressure tremendously rewarding. Their very survival depended, in evolutionary terms, on finding quick means of avoiding pressure which minimized energy output. Have a horse who tries to get above the bit, you simply raise your hands up and up until the horse can’t go any further, and assuming he’s otherwise sane and sound he’ll drop his head. You release the pressure, and presto! you’ve taught the horse to respond to your hand aids.

    Dogs, on the other hand, are by evolution a predator whose survival requires him to move into pressure. We have bred dogs away from that to some degree, but by no means completely. There are very few dogs who will move away from pressure as consistently as a horse will, and the release of that pressure is not as extremely rewarding to a dog as it is to a horse. Despite training wisdom that indicates otherwise, if you have a dog who is a puller and you simply stop moving and don’t release the slack, some dogs will learn to relax the pressure, but just as many will stay firmly at the farthest reach of the leash, staring intently at the object of interest. If the dog has a lot of drive (as does one of mine) you might very well stand there all day waiting for the dog to decide to move back towards you to release the pressure.

    And so enters the cookie. Train the dog that relaxing the pressure gets him a reward, and you speed up the process. For the horse, releasing the pressure IS the reward and you don’t need anything else.

    All dogs have a level of pressure that they will work to avoid, but for some of them that pressure is so high that most pet owners are unwilling or unable to execute it effectively, and even then you risk ruining your dog’s enthusiasm.

    Which brings another point. Traditionally, working dog trainers worked with high-drive dogs who were purpose-bred to do a certain work. I have never trained a sheep dog, but I did grow up in a house where pointers were field-trialed. The pointers love of being in the field is so strong that the work IS the reward. Stop her from working and that punishment is enough to work. Let her return to work, and there is your reward. It IS operant conditioning, even if it’s not called that. A sheep dog really wants to get to the sheep because dozens of generations of breeding have selected for that. Any dog who did not want to work was culled from the founding populations by one means or another. The dog behaves in a way that does not help, and if you can successfully prevent him from working by using an aversive, and then show him that when he complies he gets to work again, that is the reward. It is operant conditioning: negative punishment— removing the desired item— followed by positive reinforcement in the guise of working the sheep.

    But when you try to train, say, agility or competitive obedience, there is no really strong built-in reward in the work itself (excepting the handful of dogs who are so motivated to please that their owners quiet “good dog” is enough for them). Use a strong aversive and you risk having the dog decide the game is just not worth playing. And so in come the “cookie-pushers” (though tug toys are used as often). There is a need to transfer value to the game if the dog is to compete at any real level. The value is not inherent in the weave poles. The value lies in the tug game that follows successful completion of the task. The same is not true of the sheep dog, who finds in-bred reward in the sheep themselves.

    As for aggression, I would argue that in the relatively rare case of the true dominant-agressive dog, the one who learns that by being pushy and using his teeth he can keep these pesky little humans in line, one strong correction where he learns he is not the Big I Am will possibly work much better than any number of behavior modifications.

    However, many dogs who are aggressive are actually fearful, or have low frustration tolerance, and for these dogs, giving them the strong one-time punishment may backfire. Combine that with the fact that most pet-owners are not skilled enough in their timing to deliver an appropriate correction, and many others won’t be nearly strong enough in the execution of the correction, and you can have a recipe for trouble.

    When I gave Jack a strong verbal correction (with the implied threat of physical harm, though I had no intent of delivering that) for biting me while playing, it worked well because he was not being fearful or guarding or anything else. He was just being a snot of a young dog who didn’t really care what happened with his teeth, he only cared about having fun. The very strong correction gave him good reason to care about where his teeth were. If he were a shy or fearful dog to begin with, the same correction would possibly have set back our training by months, or worse.

    Interesting conversation.

  89. Nic1 says

    There isn’t any mystical ‘energy’ or special powers required when it comes to animal training. It’s about knowledge, experience and appropriate application. A lot of dog owners clearly love their pets, but really don’t love having to train them. Most likely, because they have never been taught how to, clearly and effectively. Like anything in life, some people will be better at it and more drawn to training than others. I think really exceptional animal trainers are actually a bit like artists in that they possess a drive, intuition and an ability to creatively find solutions using the tools available to tease out the best in the animals. Karen Pryor, Emily Larlham, Chirag Patel are incredibly inspirational to my mind. But they are training junkies! However, anyone can learn to train their dog like they can using positive reinforcement and negative punishment. Behavioural modification is where it gets a bit sticky because this requires an understanding of canine behaviour and cognition which a lot of pet owners don’t seem to be that interested in academically. What a really good dog trainer does is really teach the humans. And hopefully inspires them to teach as kindly and effectively as possible in order to establish trust and understanding. Kindly doesn’t mean never to use an aversive, but the execution of pain and positive punishment should never be undertaken lightly. We certainly don’t want to be encouraging inexperienced people to administer it.

    I realise I have posted an awful lot on this thread! But I realise that i feel quite strongly about the inappropriate use of aversives in dog training because there really is a better way.

  90. Donald McCaig says

    Dear Doggers,

    Ms. Beth wonders why sheepdog trainers are more likely to go to horse trainers than pet dog trainers for insights. While the learning curve for sheepdog novices is long (the scots say it takes 10 years to become an open handler) the learning curve for exhorsemen is much shorter – perhaps half.

    I asked my friend Vicki Hearne, who’d trained horses and dogs for movies why that might be.

    Vicki laughed, “That’s easy. If you’re stupid with horses, they’ll kill you. You can be stupid with dogs for years.”

    While horses are prey animals exquisitely sensitive to body language and dogs are predators sensitive to body language and voice, to do difficult work with either requires the ability to “see” them and “hear” what they’re saying. This can be learned and the disposition to listen to one species prepares you for another.

    Sure, there’s a difference in kind between training a sheepdog/bird dog and training a family pet. The sheepdog’s genetics agree with what we’re trying to do – the pet dog’s don’t. There is no gene for “heel” , “front and finish” much less, “Don’t leave the teeter-totter until it’s all the way down.” Some dog breeds are eager to please, to fit into their human pack’s world and are easier to train than – for instance – terriers who are bred to kill a big-toothed animal in his dark underground burrow. There are a number of training methods to encourage behaviors pet owners want and discourage those they don’t. Given a skilled practitioner, they all work and while I think some methods are riskier and some slower and less durable, the skilled trainer will get results and the inept trainer will abuse dogs irrespective of method. Most pet dog trainers use a balance of treat/toy/praise and corrections. Some add ecollars although those are somewhat less fashionable than they were.

    As a rule, sheepdogs aren’t trained to be mannerly pets though almost all are. An extreme example that comes to mind was a few years ago at Riverside busy, noisy airport with my Luke and June. The TSA agent whose job it was to inspect the luggage and search my dogs was behind a waist high wall of other luggage, perhaps twenty feet from where I could legally stand. I could see but couldn’t come near. The dogs came to the agent in their crates and he was to open each crate, let the dog out, lie it down and roll it over to make sure it wasn’t wearing an explosive belt. My dogs are never handled (including the vet) unless I’m at their side and never rolled on their backs So, as Luke emerged, I called, “Luke. Lie down!” As the TSA held him I said, “Lie down” and “Stay” and “Steady” as he was rolled over, inspected and returned to his crate. Ditto for June. And both onto the plane.

    They’d not been trained for anything remotely like this and it was contrary to their sense of what was proper and who they were but both had a broader world experience than most dogs and they trusted me. So they put up with it.

    Sheepdogs become mannerly because they’re trained intensively for a complex, genetically satisfying work and, incidently, learn to satisfy our non-sheepwork expectations.

    I’ve sometimes thought I might bring my dogs – who can and do go with me (usually off leash) – to a CGC test. Alas, they’d fail. Dogs I can whistle steer, stop or recall at half a mile don’t sit on command or stand for inspection.

    Donald McCaig

  91. Beth with the Corgis says

    D McCaig, one thing I find interesting is your refrain to listen to/see the dog and know what works. And there is so much truth to that.

    If you can, for instance, notice your dog is about to run off/roll in the muck/ get inappropriate with another dog the instant BEFORE he has firmly decided to take action, it is so easy (relatively speaking) to interrupt the action and redirect the dog. Once the dog has committed, it can be harder because the dog is no longer diffuse in his focus; he has become intent on the one thing he’s doing and may no longer “hear” you.

    Thanks to something I read in one of Trisha’s books, I no longer call my dogs to come when they are about to go wade through the muck or run out to eat something dead in the bushes. I now say their name and a firm, clear “No” the second I see their attention start to focus. I then do the recall after I’ve caused them to pause. Funny thing about this method is I now have dogs that greet that “no” with a turn and a smile, because they know the recall is coming next.

    Harder though to stop my high-prey dog when something runs in front of her because my reflexes are not fast enough to notice what is about to happen before it does.

    If people would learn to notice their dogs’ pauses and stillnesses, it would go a long way towards improving obedience and avoiding altercations. Short of a small animal running directly underfoot, the dog nearly always goes perfectly still for a split-second before he changes activities. Learn to spot the stillness and you can learn to interrupt actions before they start. Do this with a young enough dog who hasn’t developed bad habits and you can prevent the habits from forming.

    I also agree that in general, dogs who do things they find satisfying each day tend to be mannerly, even if they aren’t trained in manners, because they are content and tired and not inclined to go looking for trouble. The modern pet (mine included) live a very confined life with few natural outlets and so it takes more work to keep them well-behaved. That of course raises a host of ethical issues that are very difficult to broach.

  92. Beth with the Corgis says

    The Internet age is a wonderful thing. What once required a trip to the library is now a few keystrokes away. Donald McCaig, this conversation has piqued my interest in what you have to say, and while it was probably not your intent, you’ve made me want to read your books. Your interesting observations, as well as my love of the work Border Collies do, will send me off to library or book shop to pick up a few of your titles.

  93. Donald McCaig says

    Dear Doggers,
    Ms. Beth writes (in part): “Thanks to something I read in one of Trisha’s books, I no longer call my dogs to come when they are about to go wade through the muck or run out to eat something dead in the bushes. I now say their name and a firm, clear “No” the second I see their attention start to focus.”

    I wonder if that isn’t something Trisha learned working her sheepdogs because that’s where I learned it. When sheepdoggers start a young dog in a small ring, we often work silently until we wish to start teaching the “down”. Most (though not all) sheepdogs are genetically willing to drop/stop but there’s no point asking them to do so while the dog is flying around the sheep – his mind is elsewhere. You wait until he’s balanced, paused directly opposite you across the sheep, deciding what to do next, and give the command “Down” firmly.

    Sheepdog says “Huh?”

    You offer a mild threat (step toward him, raise both arms, loom) repeating the command deliberately and very, very often he will “submit” and go off his feet. If that fails and he flies around the sheep you give the command for the direction he’s chosen and repeat the “down” when he’s on balance again.

    Using the same principle, I teach very young puppies to come. Break their focus on that bug with a handclap, odd cry or their name, and when their attention turns to me, I squat down in the happiest, most puppy-inviting fashion and summon them. Schmooze when they come. Our pups will come when called – most of the time – by 8 weeks.

    A more complex recent example.. I have an experienced trial dog who came to me ruined by too much pressure and expectations and because she interests me I’ve spent two years rehabilitating her. Since Fly feels confidence inbye (close to me) she is a whiz at shedding and penning but when she is driving at distance (400 yards from my feet, say), there comes a moment when she locks up and WILL NOT take my next whistled or voice flank (Go left, Go right) command. Instead, she panics and rewrites my command to “Run to the sheeps’ head and fetch them – we can work it out when they’re at Donald’s feet”. Not crazy or stupid but so many points lost I retire.

    Yes we can and have practiced closer but atop the real difficulty of trial tasks is the emotional difficulty of TRIAL. Fly thinks trials are more important than I do.

    So I’m alert for her lockup, quivering and still. Then I break her focus by calling her name “Fly!” Even sweetly “Oh, Fly-fly!” and if that doesn’t work I’ll give her a recall “That’ll do Fly!”

    The instant her focus is broken, her mindless anxiety vanishes and when she unfreezes or even looks back at me I can resume normal quiet commands. It’s as if the focus/freeze never happened.

    Donald McCaig

  94. Nic1 says

    Laceyh wrote – ‘I was saddened to read in “Mr. and Mrs. Dog” the author’s clear belief in old punishment techniques. I would not recommend that anyone else buy it as I did. The parts about Border Collies and herding trials were interesting, but the approval of Kohler (sp?) and the dismissal of Pat Miller and others was unpleasant.’

    Is this your book D McCaig that Laceyh refers to?

  95. LisaW says

    @Beth: If you do go in search of Mr. McCaig’s books, may I recommend Eminent Dogs and Dangerous Men and also Nop’s Trials. I haven’t read his newer titles, but those two were great reads.

    I’d also recommend, Vicki Hearne’s Bandit and Adam’s Task.

    In case you wanted an unsolicited opinion :-)

  96. Donald McCaig says

    Dear Mr/Ms Nic1,

    Mr & Mrs Dog is my latest book. Ms. Lacey has a right to her opinion. Koehler is spelled with an “e” and is spelled thusly throughout.

    Donald McCaig

  97. Nic1 says

    @Donald – while you obviously have a wealth of experience training, living and working with sheepdogs, some of your comments on here seem to be in conflict with Laceyh’s comment? You have stated that you don’t believe punishment works, yet according to this reader’s opinion, you advocate ‘old punishment techniques’ in this book. Is this true? If so, It is concerning that this blog thread presents evidence that confrontational techniques elicit aggression in dogs and as I understand it, ‘old punishment techniques’include hurting or inflicting pain on dogs when teaching or training. Please enlighten me if I am completely wrong about this and also aplogies for commenting about your book without having read it myself!

    I just think it’s a really important point to clarify.

  98. Beth with the Corgis says

    Nic1, I believe Donald McCaig answered part of your question above. You are referring to “punishment” in the operant conditioning sense, whereas he is referring to it in the punitive sense (something we do as payback for a perceived crime). What you call “punishment” he calls “correction.” I’m not speaking for him, simply referring to his post above where he said: “We are speaking different dialects. In mine “Punishment” means: Dog does wrong, you whup it. And no, that may satisfy the trainer’s anger but NEVER works. “Correction” means the instant a dog starts to act badly and before he is fully committed you say “Don’t do that” by whatever means that breaks the dog’s focus.”

  99. Donald McCaig says

    Dear Mr/Mrs Nic1,

    No apologies necessary but you’ll forgive me for not repeating the careful, detailed observations I made in Mr & Mrs Dog. In short form: punishment never works, corrections often but not always do and the trainer’s gifts and experience are more important to the dog than trainer theories.

    If you wish to know a little more:

    Donald McCaig

  100. Nic1 says

    ‘And the trainer’s gifts and experience are more important than trainer theories’ Hmmm…….consistency in what we teach people in order to train dogs is actually the most important thing in my opinion. Your own personal experience and what you consider ‘gifts’ will vary from person to person. Science teaches what we know about the world. I wouldn’t consult a medical Doctor if I have a problem simply because he considered himself gifted and experienced – but lacked scientific understanding behind the practice. It’s why people like Cesar Milan gets a gig in the dig training world as he has an apparent gift and special talent with dogs. He has no formal education though.

    Part of the problem in the dog training and behavioural world is a lack of code of ethics and inconsistent dog training theories. I know it confused the hell out of me when I first started as I had no idea who to turn to or who to believe. The APDT lays a good foundation IMO. But then I am in interested in pet dogs and not working dogs. Perhaps they are different worlds.

  101. HFR says

    Took me a while to get back to this, sorry. Just wanted to say that when I said “What no one ever seems to address is the moral issue…” I was wrongly exaggerating to make a point. Obviously, it’s addressed, but not often enough in my eyes. I guess so many people use the “Well, it works” answer and it’s hard to respond to that with “Well, maybe it works, but it’s wrong” in an every day interaction with someone who has just used an electric collar or a smack on the nose with their dog. And clearly it’s not a black and white issue. If what was morally right and morally wrong was easy to figure out, what a wonderful world it would be. I just wanted to assert that something being morally wrong is a very good reason to not do something and I would propose that it trumps all other reasons. No matter the outcome. There are many rationalizations for doing the wrong thing, but just one for doing the right thing. It’s right. What a wonderful discussion and I’ve learned so much from reading all these well thought out posts. Thanks!

  102. Nic1 says

    @Beth – it is confusing because I look at punishment within the framework of animal learning principles, not in an anthropomorphic sense, which I think that explanation is. I did explain earlier that ther are many forms of punishment (positive punishment, negative punishment) and that it is important to understand the very precise application of this when applying these within the framework of operant conditioning, that punishment does work. Abuse, punitive penalties etc. don’t work because a dog doesn’t learn what we are trying to teach it if we kick it, slap it around the muzzle or yank it’s lead constantly. The association with that is more claasical in that WE become the association with pain. Think prong collar and a sharp lead yank when a dog is reactive to approaching strange dogs – the behaviour inevitably gets worse or the dog shuts down. . The difference in ‘dialect’ is that it makes life confusing for people when they are trying to understand about dog training, particularly when they are novices and they may experience behavioural issues with their pets. It’s why i would like to see the dog training and behavioural world a little better regulated and built on acoee of ethics on the principles of animal learning behaviour. Kat mentioned that dog training is actually a very grey area, and in some regards and i agree that it is. Because there are occasions when we do have to use positive punishment, such as the decisison tomuse an e collar or other strong aversive if a life is in the balance. But surely, it’s more effective for dog’s and people to build a foundation of best practice and a code of ethics for professionals to follow and for pet owners to better understand?

  103. Nic1 says

    * built on a code of ethics* not acoee.

    * decision to use an e collar* not to muse

    iPad auto correct is not a helpful tool!

  104. Beth with the Corgis says

    Just remember that behavioral sciences are “soft” sciences, not hard ones. There is no agreed-upon “right” answer the way there is in, say, the field of mathematics. The terms of operant conditioning are specific to that; the word “punishment” has a lot of meanings in the English language aside from its specific meanings in operant conditioning, and all those meanings are equally correct.

    Relationships are going to involve a certain amount of ambiguity. Learning theory is not the same as, say, physical laws: the behavioral sciences are as much art as science.

    The “correction” can be seen as positive punishment, yes. But when you interrupt a dog from doing what it really wants to do (when the work IS the reward) you can also view it as negative punishment— removing a desired item until the wanted behavior is expressed. Because the dog’s drive to work is so high, sometimes relatively harsher methods are required to interrupt the behavior and bring about the desired consequence (lack of access to the reward, which in the case of a working dog is the work itself).

  105. Nic1 says

    It doesn’t really matter whether you view the science as soft or hard. Perhaps the general application is soft but behaviour has measurable consequences on an organism in terms of observable body language, physiologica effects of hormones and neurochemistry – the effect of longterm stress caused by physical abuse or punishment (whichever way you want to describe it) for example can result in increased cortisol levels in a dog. These can be measured analytically and compared to control dogs cortisol levels who are not experiencing the same thing. A direct correlation in data is possible to hypothesise that stress and raised cortisol levels can contribut to ill health in dogs. A crude example but I hope you see my point.

    The various meanings in the English language whe it comes to degining punishment may well be correct, but my point is that when it comes to dogs, learning theory and putting training and behaviour into a context which people can reference, it is important to be consistent in terminology and define it as such. A lot of professions have a code of ethics and guidelines of best practice and there is no reason why this can’t be applied to canine behaviour and training.

    One ‘dog psychologist’ for example, defines kicking a dog as a ‘touch’. or ‘snapping the brain out of it’. I define that as abuse. Somebody else may define it as positive punishment. It ‘s all a but wishy washy for my liking.

  106. JJ says

    Nic1: Thanks for hanging in there on this conversation. You make the most sense to me and I appreciate you standing up for a type of relationship with animals that I define as science-based and morally based.

    In general: I have only had time to skim the latest answers in this discussion. I don’t know if this has been covered or not, but the idea that horses should be trained any differently than dogs is one of the saddest things about humans treatment of horses in history (and sadly still predominantly today). However, there are an increasing large number of horse trainers who are using “clicker training” (as a convenient way to say it) to train their horses. They are getting fabulous results and actually have happy horses.

    The beauty of using kind, science-based approaches to changing the behavior of any animal (human or otherwise) is that not only do you get results, but it works on any animal with a brain stem AND you can sleep with yourself at night.

  107. Nic1 says

    @JJ – thanks for your support. Your last paragraph sums up the morality of the whole situation beautifully to my mind.

  108. Beth with the Corgis says

    JJ, just out of curiosity, have you done much riding? I rode for years, and jumped a fair amount, and my mind is trying to imagine how you teach a horse to, say, lengthen stride for a line of fences, or come back to you to find a safe take-off spot, or bend through a corner, or seek the bit, or anything else using a clicker. I’ve looked it up and it seems to mostly be used for trick training. Basically when you ride you use your seat, legs, and to a much lesser extent your hands to guide the horse to lengthen, shorten, change gaits, change directions and so on because he naturally moves away from your leg and softens into your hand. Those are physical responses by the horse to physical actions by the rider and are not the sort of cued responses we use with dogs. The canter depart is, perhaps, a cued response but most other things are natural responses to the aids. Legs and seat control impulsion, the hand either allows or contains the impulsion. Push with your seat and tighten your legs into an allowing hand and the horse extends; do the same into a more closed hand and the horse collects stride or stops (or backs up). The horse naturally moves away from a leg aid and we reward that by releasing the aid. Over time, we refine his response so he reacts to more and more subtle aids, so that a fully trained horse will react to a simple tightening of the calf muscle, a deepening of the seat, a tiny flex of the wrist.

    You don’t get this with a clicker:

    Matine, sadly, died in a paddock accident soon after she was retired.

    You couldn’t do this with a clicker either:

    All of that is the horse’s natural response to the aids, which are subtly adjusted to give feedback to the horse in a beautiful looping partnership. It’s not taught the way you teach a dog to high five. It’s more like a great dance team, with each partner feeding off of and responding to the movements of the other. And judging by how happily many horses shove their faces into the bridle, I’m convinced a lot of them enjoy it as much as their riders. Horses, as social animals, have very direct ways of saying they are unhappy. It’s easy enough to read if they are relaxed or not.

    I can see clicker training perhaps being helpful for handling, but then again the thought of a 1000 pounds on the hoof mugging me for treats is fairly scary.

  109. Donald McCaig says

    Dear Doggers,

    I am a sheepdog trainer and after 30 years know a little about it. I am not a pet dog trainer and though claims that some pet dog training methods are more ‘scientific” than others, I don’t see the proof either in the studies or efficacy nor am I convinced that certain methods are “kinder” than others. The loudest advocates of the different training schools reminds this outsider of Inquisitors.

    This would all be a tempest in a teapot except for the outliers in each tradition. I’ve no doubt a few fools still advocate “alpha rolls”, nor that some certified behaviorists are completely ineffectual. Some sheepdog trainers are brutes too – not many, because it doesn’t work, but a few.

    Fools and True Believers will always be with us, but, unfortunately in the clamor real owners and real dogs are terribly confused.

    I have one piece of advice for choosing a trainer: Look at the trainer’s dogs. If you like how the dogs behave and like how he/she is with them, sign on. If you are uneasy or the trainer is more comfortable with words than dogs, pocket your money and run.

    Which is, I think, not bad advice – but, sometimes it isn’t helpful.

    Last Tuesday, Fly (my sheepdog) and I were doing a talk. Afterwards people come up to get their books signed and sometimes to ask questions. I’ve got answers for FAQ’s but

  110. Donald McCaig says

    (Sorry. On the road w/ipad) – Continued
    but not all. When this women came up, I thought she had some DREAD skin disease, her forearms were so perforated. Turned out she owned a 3 month old Golden/poodle cross that bit her – a lot. And she – like many others – was a kindly woman who didn’t feel she had the right to tell her dog anything. Now this is a non-problem if, the first time the puppy does this, you explain that this is unacceptable behavior. But at three months, with an owner who is confused about dog/owner status, this is a Big Problem that is only going to get worse until the dog nails somebody so hard it gets put down. Tears and guilt. I didn’t know a single trainer in this community and could only advise her to look at this website and read Trisha’s helpful books. I woke up thinking about that poor woman and her doomed dog today.

    Donald McCaig

  111. Beth with the Corgis says

    So last night I was brushing the dogs. Both were loose. I brushed Jack first, then Maddie. Jack thought I was taking entirely too long and was ready for a treat, and he kept yapping at me and groaning and whining and making himself a general nuisance.

    I tried “enough” (a command he knows) which was not terribly effective. I tried touching the top of his muzzle which did not upset him but also did nothing.

    Finally I stood up and walked two steps firmly into his space, at which point he sat politely and attentively just looking at me.

    I finished up, stood up to walk away, he started to make a noise, and I again took two steps into his space. He returned to his polite and attentive sit, remained there while I threw out the hair and whatnot, waited for me to use body language to invite him along, then quietly trotted next to me and sat and waited politely for his treat.

    (Interesting side note; the cat calmly walked into a spare crate and sat waiting for HER treat; she has long ago figured out that when I do something like nails or grooming with the dogs they get a treat when they are done, and if she walks into a crate I find it so charming I give her a treat to. She has effectively trained her human to do what she wants; from her point of view, she cues me to give treats by stepping into the crate…)

    Back to Jack: this was definitely positive punishment, it was mildly confrontational (my move into his space was not the cheerful part-step that Trisha shows in her video, but two firm steps forward that caused him to back up). It worked, but what was interesting to me was that he was a much happier dog AFTER the correction than when he was yapping and moaning at me before it.

    Next time I am going to try giving him clear direction to sit/stay away from the action while I brush Madison and see if that accomplishes the same end (cheerful, quiet dog waiting for my next command). It occurs to me that the lack of structure on what I expect him to do while I’m brushing Madison may have led to his pushy behavior.

    Donald McCaig, I hope that woman gets the help she needs to teach her puppy some age-appropriate good manners.

  112. Rose C says

    This has been a very interesting discussion though I admit I haven’t read each and every post, and the included links, as intently as I have wanted to.

    I feel that with training, it’s never a one size fits all. There are many factors to consider when using a training method and this would include the dog’s breed, temperament, drives, behavioral predispositions, motivations, how it responds to the person training it, and how it responds to the method/s used. I agree that punishment is different from correction, the same way that abuse is different from both. I DON’T think there is a fine line between a carefully and ethically thought and planned out use of ‘aversive’ technique and abuse. As a matter of fact, I think there is a clear distinction between the two. I also understand that training methods used generally for pet dogs are not always nor are often the same as methods generally used for training working dogs. For me to watch from afar and define the methods used for training working dogs as ‘aversive-abusive’ without knowledge of the ‘culture’ or the ‘world’ of working dogs would be pointless and without basis. Having said that, I do not condone training methods that have been mentioned such as ear pinches, toe-hitching, and the likes which, and this is not just in my opinion, are downright abuse — no ands, ifs, or buts about it.

    I agree that behavioral sciences are ‘soft’ sciences and that they are art as much as they are science. There are many factors that affect the results and as well as many ways of intepreting these results.

  113. JJ says

    Beth with the Corgis: “clicker training” sometimes is used to mean actually using a clicker or other marker. Other times, it is just shorthand to mean positive reinforcement/force-free/behavioral etc. training. I.E.: The type of training you would learn by following say Trisha’s training books whether a clicker is actually used or not. I was referring the latter use of the term clicker training in regards to my horse comments.

    I’ve been to one of the Karen Pryor clicker conferences where they had sessions on using “clicker training” for horses. I’ve also read Karen’s books. (If you haven’t already, you might consider reading “Don’t Shoot The Dog” and “Reaching The Animal Mind” and “Lads Before the Wind”. The latter is primarily about dolphins, but she has a section on horses too.) It seems pretty clear to me that the methods work just great for all horse training needs, not just little tricks.

    I don’t know anything about the methods you described, but on the surface, they don’t sound horrible. I wouldn’t be one to know the specifics of the methods you describe. I just understand that most traditional horse training has been pretty awful for the horses. Along the levels of teaching a dog to sit by pushing on his back end – or much worse. That is what I was referring to in regards to old horse training methods. What you described sounds fairly force-free unless you are using spurs and whips, etc. ??? I don’t know…

    As for using these methods to train a horse when take off in a jump and how to lengthen stride, etc: It’s my understanding that improving athletic performance of exactly such tasks is one of the tasks in which clicker training (in the sense of actual marker) excels. Again, I would refer you to Karen’s books.

    I don’t understand the method you wrote about, but it seems possible that the body movements you mention work as markers of desired behavior – ie, clicker training. A marker does not have to be auditory. It can be a physical movement on the part of the teacher. There was a great class at the Karen Pryor Clicker conference I went to on using luring to train animals. Kay Lawrence made the argument that good luring includes good timing of releasing the treat/lure. If done correctly, it is the release of the reward that is the marker for the dog. This is an example of how a marker does not have to be auditory.

    But don’t ask me for details on how one would use these methods to train a horse to jump correctly. While I get the theory and understand that it has worked great for others, I haven’t done much athletic training on my own dog. It is not something we care about in my household.

    As for a horse mugging you for treats: That made me smile as that happened to me recently. I was volunteering at farm sanctuary for abused farm animals. At the end of the work period, we got to feed the free-roaming animals treats. There was one horse who was obviously quite familiar with volunteers handing out treats. That horse was quite forward with trying to get those the carrots and apples I was carrying around. (Along with a bold lama. Etc.) Quite the experience. I still smile thinking about it.

  114. Nic1 says

    Some of the most ineffectual dog trainers I have met have had the longest experience and no formal qualifications. Their background was in working Gundogs. And as Rose C mentioned, ear pinches were the norm for teaching retrieves. One mentioned that he also bit his dog on the ear to ‘correct’ him for his ‘dominant’ behaviour. It disgusts me really – it is abuse plain and simple.

    The most effective dog trainer I have worked with is highly qualified in canine behaviour, is a certified member of the APDT and APBC and also has a Masters in Human Psychology, but she only has about ten years experience. Her major strength is understanding how to teach adult human beings the techniques required. She keeps up to date with CPD and behaves like a true professional providing written feedback on sessions and understands the importance and effectiveness of using positive reinforcement.

    There are some lousy dog trainers out there who claim to be effective and set themselves up as professionals partly because anyone can set themselves up to do it – it s an unregulated activity. And because you have been doing something for 20 years is no guarantee that you are good at it or effective. Donald makes a good point about observing a trainers dog’s behaviour before signing up. But Donald, the reason people are confused is because there is a lack of consistency out there! One trainer will tell you one things, another will sell you another. That is why it is important to understand the importance of science, no matter how soft you think behavioural science may be or the fact you see no proof in the studies. We need empiricism, not opinions.

    You need both education and experience to be an effective dog trainer and to understand behaviour. I wouldn’t give a dog trainer the time of day if they

  115. Nic1 says

    Sorry iPad error!

    had no formal qualifications or was not registered with a certified body because all it says to me is that they are not willing to learn and keep up to date with their learning.

  116. Beth with the Corgis says

    JJ, the reason I asked if you’d had much experience riding is because it’s entirely different from what most people who have never ridden imagine. The horse “talks” to you back through the rains and his back as much as you “talk” to him with your aids. A good rider responds to the horse’s cues as much as the horse responds to the rider.

    Most traditional horse training (not old-school “breaking” which has, as far as I can tell, always been controversial) involves NEGATIVE reinforcement: you apply mild aversion to the horse until he complies and then you release the pressure when he does what you want. There are abusive riders who jerk, excessively whip, spur, etc, but that is not “classical” horsemanship.

    If the horse does not respond to the pressure of a leg aid, then you reinforce it by a smack on the backside with a crop (an English crop is a stiff piece of cord with a short leather swatter on the end; it’s not a “whip”‘ with a long lash), or a dig with a spur. The English spur is short and rounded/blunt and not sharp. It gives a “dig” rather than a sting.

    You don’t use the crop or spur to beat or punish the horse, but to reinforce the leg aid.

    The thing is, a horse who does not listen can seriously hurt or kill a rider in a hurry.

    I was reading more on the “clicker” training after I posted and indeed most who incorporate it STILL use the negative reinforcement as the PRIMARY signal, but then follow with the clicker-type marking when the desired reaction is reached to “double up” on the reward (end of pressure, addition of click).

    I’ve read very mixed reviews on it. I’ve been out of the game for too long to know anyone personally who has used it. One of the issues is some horses seem to stop abruptly for their treat when they hear a click. This can be dangerous and apparently you need to be fairly skilled to understand how to do it correctly without this happening.

  117. Donald McCaig says


    Dear Doggers,

    I thank Ms. Nic1. Her persistent defense and a “blinkers-on” downpour between St Louis and Kansas City helped me mull-over and modify my views of contemporary behaviorism.

    I don’t wish to rehash an argument I make in  detail in “Mr & Mrs Dog”  If you’re interested you can find it there. In brief:  Classical Behaviorism and behaviorism as reorganized by BF Skinner and adapted by Karen Pryor and others has always aspired to be a science to be but its atomist/nurturistic roots were so narrow and flawed that it failed at the basic task that qualifies a “science”.  It could not predict behavior and its training methods were unimpressive outside the laboratory.

    That still seems true to me and certainly Philosophers of Science and physicists shrug off most Behaviorisms claims.

    That said:  it is worth noting that the two most important papers “the wire monkey” and “The Misbehavior of Organisms” discrediting core behaviorist assumptions were written by behaviorists.

    Who does research in animal cognition?   it’s a curious group – a German counting the number of words his Border Collie can distinguish, zoo keepers, wolf park managers, ethologists and – yes – behaviorists.  

    While Bill Koehler produced the most thorough step-by-step training guide I know and Koehlerites cite Bill’s (rudimentary) animal ethics theories, his work is a condensation and regularization of his dog training experience.  It is not science.  Indeed, to my knowledge, no traditional trainers are doing scientific research. University research is done by ethologists and behaviorists. 

    So, in this sense, Behaviorism behaves a lot like a science and does produce useful scientific studies.  In this sense, which may be less vigorous than she wishes, Ms. Nic1 is certainly correct.

    Some  (not all) of these studies are more apologetics than science

    There is an affinity between contemporary behaviorism and sentimental, evangelical versions of the Animal Rights movement.  While, like behaviorism, the core propositions of Mr. Singer, et al, are dubious, that movement has done some good for animal welfare with some perverse consequences (see PETA’s shelter kill).  

    This topic is already probably too broad for discussion here, so I will content myself with noting this  sentimental connection without examining it further.

    I do believe this marriage of convenience explains why some contemporary behaviorist studies are good science while others read like the Vatican doing physics.

  118. Rose C says

    I agree that one should see first how a trainer works with a dog before signing up for dog training. I believe that training, education, experience, and attitude are important aspects that can make one a good dog trainer. However, because the field is not as regulated as the other professions, one can become a dog trainer even without going through what it really takes to understand dogs and how to work with dogs. I’m sure we all agree that simply having passed a certification does not make them a good trainer either — and then, of course, there are the ‘self-proclaimed’ dog experts/trainers as well. Having knowledge in human psychology is a big advantage because I’ve heard them say that if you are a trainer, you are working with the owner as much as you are working with the dog.

    As much as I have seen the effects and rewards of positive reinforcement training, believe it or not, it is not the only ‘accepted’ method of training out there. Like Mr. McCaig said, there are no actual proof laid out that one method is ‘kinder’ (or even more ‘effective’?) than another. Maybe one method will say they have ‘scientific’ proofs while another will say they have proof in their results. Or one method will claim they have scientific proofs though not really enough to disprove the other. I wouldn’t even expect or imagine having ‘consistency’ in dog training methods, Nic1, because like you said, it is not a regulated profession. You mentioned empiricism, I could imagine the ‘dominant-based’ trainers can also give you as many experience-based evidence that their methods work as much as the ‘positive reinforcement-based’ trainers can.

    It’s all a matter of how you see things, or how you want to see things. Think of it this way, it’s like a buffet or a smorgasbord. On a larger scale, I’d say like ‘Taste of Chicago’, an event held every year in a big open venue where different restaurants can sign up and have the chance to have a stand and offer their specialties. (This year it will run July 10-14 and I wonder if Trisha’s seminar in Chicago was puposely scheduled on July 11??? :) ).
    Kidding aside, all the different training methods are out there, up for grabs so to speak, each one probably believing that theirs is more effective over many others. To an unknowing person or a novice dog owner, it can really get confusing which one to choose and so this is where we come in. For us who have seen the effects and benefits of positive reinforcement methods, speak up! Don’t be bold and vocal only in blog discussions such as here. We’re all in the same page here. The ones who need to hear it are the uninformed people out there. Whenever you encounter someone who seemed lost and confused about the different training methods or who seem to be struggling with a method they are using, make a suggestion. Suggest a good trainer that you know that they can come to. Like what Mr. McCaig had done, suggest that they check out Patricia McConnell’s books/website (and to which the novice dog owner would probably say, “Patricia who???” Just write it down for them or tell them to google it :) ) . Inform them of other dog trainer authors that you know of who advocate positive reinforcement methods. I keep saying, “Educate, educate, educate” because if we don’t, look at who and to what are people turning to. I’m telling you, we may not have a TV show, a radio show, nor a popular blogsite (or maybe not yet :) ) but we can really affect the people immediately around us. If not to completely make them a ‘believer’, at least, to pique their interest into learning more about understanding dogs, canine body language, positive reinforcement methods, and all things that could best benefit their dogs. And if they blatantly and repeatedly shut you and your suggestions off, as cold as this may sound, just think you are not the one who is going to live with the ‘problem’ dog. You can only do so much and can only help as far as the other person will let you.

  119. Rose C says

    Ooopps, I forgot my point on the smorgasbord analogy. Many different types of food are brought out for us to choose from. Some food (or training methods, training tools, or training equipments) we are familiar with and some we aren’t. Some type of food we actively seek out and some we don’t care about. Some we know can harm us (allergies) so we avoid them and some we’re not familiar with but are willing to try for the first time. Some we try for the first time until we realize what it was and then we vow never to put anything in mouth unless we know for sure. And for some, we don’t realize that it would not agree with us and so we find this out the harder way. It’s good to be informed. The options will always be available out there. Choose what you think is the most beneficial and tell others about it. The same way, warn them about the ones you know can hurt them and their dogs.

  120. Nic1 says

    @Donald – personally, I am interested in animal welfare, not animal rights. I have no time for extremism in any form. Polarisation creates problems, it doesn’t solve anything. With regards to dogs, I am interested in a behavioural approach to dog training. To my mind as a pet owner, this makes the most sense to me. Therefore the science of behaviour is the reason I am interested and concerned about some types of training methods per se. Teaching obedience in a dog can certainly help to modify a dog’s behaviour, provided it is done effectively and providing you understand the science that underpins the behaviour in the first place and what outcome you are trying to achieve. Educating myself in understanding the fundamentals of operant and classical conditioning and behavioural modification is the reason my dog is alive today and fairly well adjusted – and not euthanised. Because if I had continued to follow the advice of a local and experienced dog trainer who was recommended to me by my veterinarian on first adopting her, I am pretty sure that euthanasia would have been the outcome….

    Empiricism is related to scientific research, data and not just anecdotal accounts as I understand although it is useful to acknowledge both when figuring out training and canine behavioural ethics for yourself. It has been said that the only thing two dog trainers can agree on is that the third dog trainer isn’t doing it correctly! It’s confusing and bewildering for some people when starting out. At least the APDT are trying to get some consistency for people to follow.

    Reading my posts on here, I recognise that I have come across as extremely preachy. I must apologise. Because there is nothing worse than someone getting on their high horse and preaching to fellow people who are all on the same page and are experienced in their own right too.

    Not that this is an excuse (!) but I have been suffering with a herniated disc in my neck for the last two weeks and am on a fantastic cocktail of painkillers, including some opiates. The side effects I have found on this medication is that I have on occasions felt like I am in a dream like state (everything feels fluffy) and I think this has affected my behaviour – zero anxiety, off to all la land etc. and perhaps the edit button in my brain has also been disengaged too. Everything feels a little surreal at times! It’s actually quite amusing in some ways but I think I have probably had a good rant on here when ordinarily I may have been a bit more reserved and polite with my views, made use of the edit button and perhaps been a little less attached to my opinions. Note to self. Avoid blogs when Tramadol and Diazepam are on the menu.

    Peace out and no offence intended.

  121. Mary K. says

    I wonder if we replaced the subject of the adversive training techniques from dogs to children. After all, at one time it was widely excepted that children should be “seen and not heard” and corporal punishment in the classroom was thought to be acceptable. I am certainly not trying to draw a direct comparison between dogs and children and I am not anthropomorphizing. But thank goodness, we as humans evolved enough to understand that punitive measures were not an instant fix to a child’s misbehavior and or misunderstanding of an adult’s expectations. Not to mention the psychological damage it inflicted on the child.

    When I watch a dog who has been poked, prodded, rolled, stared at, yanked (one only need watch Nat Geo Wild to see these practices) because the dog is supposedly trying to “dominant” it’s clueless owner, I am beyond perplexed. In as much as there may be “cookie pushers” out there who are “ruining” their dogs because they can not give the dog clear, consistent guidelines on how to behave, there are an unmatched number of dog owners borrowing techniques from a program that doesn’t always have the cameras rolling. I guess if I had to interact with one of these so called “ruined” dogs, I would much rather take my chances with the perhaps unruly “cookie pusher” trained dog who still sees humans as a source of something good, rather than the possible ticking time bomb of a dog who has been shown that humans can sometimes be unpredictable sources of pain and confusion.

  122. LisaW says

    Re: “Hard Science” or “science-based”; most scientists and mathematicians view their work — and their fields in general — more akin to philosophy or logic. Nothing hard (as in definite, rigid) about it, which is why it’s so compelling. Who knew about string theory or fractals?

    I think animal science and ethology and behavior are very similar. We don’t have a lot of data, yet, and we don’t know what we don’t know. That’s why one size doesn’t fit all and why it’s so amazing when the sheep dog trainer of 30 years meets the clicker trainer. Way cool (to use an unscientific term).

  123. Rose C says

    Not preachy at all, just passionate about what you believe in. I’m learning so much from this discussion. As I hear different people’s views and input on the subject, it makes me rethink and re-examine my own views of things. The more we know, the better choices we can make.

  124. Nic1 says

    @JJ – I have just watched the documentary about Buck Brannaman, the ‘horse whisperer’ as he is referred to. Definitely worth watching as he demonstrates an incredible empathy and gentleness which he attributes to his very sad and abusive childhood. Fascinating to see such strength through adversity and to see him travelling the length and breadth of the USA to teach people a greater understanding of gentler and empathic animal handling.

  125. Mary K. says

    @Nic1-I saw the documentary about Buck a few years ago. I too was struck by his gentle demeanor and mannerisms with the horses he handles.

  126. JJ says

    Nic1: I haven’t seen that documentary, but I appreciate you telling me about it. Sounds like quite the dichotomy between the person known as the “horse whisperer” and the person who calls himself the “dog whisperer”.

    The whole horse scene makes me quite sad. But I take some comfort that things might get better in the future. It will just take longer than for dogs I think.

  127. Nic1 says

    JJ – the horse scene also saddens me and the film was quite educational in explaining some of the barbaric techniques that were/are used to literally ‘break’ the horses spirit. You may be encouraged to see how Buck deplores this and strives to educates people to ‘think horse’. It actually gave me hope to see that so much of his time is taken up with his behaviour clinics that this must surely indicate that many more people in the horse world are beginning to understand that morally, we have an obligation to teach animals with kindness, empathy and compassion, (regardless of the species). You may already be aware that his life story inspired the book by Nicholas Evans and the film directed by Robert Redford.

    I have no idea what the ‘Dog Whisperer’ is up to these days, but I get a strong impression that he is persona non grata in the UK. He was absolutely grilled on a British TV show by Alan Titchmarsh about his ‘training’ methods. Alan criticised him strongly aout using physical violence. Before the show was screened, many people called into complain ( the most complaints the show had ever reeived) that he was actually being given airtime. Shortly afterwards his UK tour wascancelled as I understand.

  128. Nic1 says

    Just one more thing then I have definitely said enough on here!

    With regard to viewing behavioural science as a soft science as opposed to a hard science such as the physical sciences, that is not the problem as I see it. The problem as i see it is is that dog training and behavioural science is unregulated and misunderstood because some people who claim to be professionals in this area perhaps don’t understand the principles of animal learning theory, the residual effects on the animals biology of behaviour if you get it wrong and the long term consequences of this on dogs, people and their future in society.

    Like any hypothesis, if you have a controlled or randomised experiment and have gathered enough statistical data to then formulate some conclusion then this is always open to interpretation because it depends how you decide to interpret the data, bias, etc. The beauty of scientific research, whether soft or hard is that good scientists are are always continually striving to learn and improve on their subject and to use technology and current methods to further understand the fundamentals of the universe -whether that be animal behaviour or quantum mechanics- and we do that by challenging people who refuse to look at things in a different way appropriately; by continually asking questions and most importantly always referencing the moral and ethical framework within which we work. It’s idealist but it sets standards of effective, humane practice and competence and that is where dog behaviour and training belong IMO.

  129. Beth with the Corgis says

    JJ and Nic1, I believe you are being overly broad when you say the “horse scene” saddens you. The majority of English riding disciplines have long used what is now called “natural horsemanship” (such as demonstrated by the “horse whisperer” types).

    Most horses raised to be ridden in the English tradition are gentled gradually from a young age, not “broken.” The thing known as horse-breaking was something done in the American West where horses ran free-range until maturity and then large numbers were broken in quickly using rough methods.

    In the English tradition, most foals are handled from the time they are born (within seconds of being born, in fact). They learn to lead, halter, have the feeling of a person draped over their back, etc while they are young.

    The first few times under tack may or may not result in some bucking, but the whole process is pretty mellow.

    There are some horror stories out there (soring of Walking horses, rolkur in dressage). But none of the methods used by the various horse whisperers are new. The round pen work they favor is not something traditionally used in English riding, though longe-line work (also circular) is. Most “horse whispering” relies on negative reinforcement (the application of pressure, with release as the reward) which is a stable of classical horsemanship.

    From :

    “The natural horsemanship movement has been criticized from a number of angles. The first criticism is that claims of natural horsemanship being something new and different are wholly unfounded, that similar methods have been around for a very long time.[18] Some practitioners, particularly in classical dressage and other English riding disciplines, consider much of the movement to simply be the application of humane methods of classical horsemanship that have been practiced for centuries.”

    I would caution you that watching a film on a man who is critical of other methods, and then just assuming that the methods he is critical of are the norm out there, is not really giving you a very broad view. I grew up spending tons of time in English training barns and there was very little out there that could be considered abusive. Sure there are some people who are abusive, but then again some people abuse their kids and we don’t condemn the entire idea of parenting just because some people are bad at it.

    Nic1, I don’t know how much experience you have with horses, but JJ admits he has little. I’m not sure how you can condemn an industry you seem to know little about. Many millions of horse lovers out there would take offense at the notion that before this guy came along, they were all clueless as to humane methods of horsemanship.

    If the natural horsemanship movement impacts the cowboy culture of breaking horses, that would be a wonderful thing. But don’t paint the entire horse-loving world with the same broad brush. It’s really unfair to a group who mostly loves their animals like life itself. Many horse people go to great lengths to keep their horses happy, healthy, and sound. The dog world, in fact, is just catching up to the types of things that have been around in the horse world for a very long time.

  130. Beth with the Corgis says

    Nic1, one more thing: you mention clinics.

    Clinics are a long-standing tradition in the horse world. There are TONS of people out there who give clinics. Top riders, veterinarians, trainers. People have massage therapists for their horses, chiropractors. You name it.

    Linda Tellington-Jones started T-touch with horses (now also used on dogs).

    Horse people have a long tradition of being eager to apply new things to their arsenal, whether it be to get closer to their horses, help problem horses, or get a competitive edge.

    I was involved in horses most actively about 25 to 30 years ago, and a lot of what I saw in horses then is just moving into dogs more recently. So I found it interesting that JJ feels things will take longer to get better for horses than for dogs.

    Horses in decent barns get to spend much of their day living as they would in nature— at liberty, on pasture, in herds of other horses, getting to just hang out and be horses. They get to eat when they want, socialize when they want, roll when they want, defecate when they want, nap when they want. I tend to see it the other way around: most horse owners go to much greater lengths than dog owners to make sure their horses are fulfilled as HORSES before asking them to behave as we want them to.

  131. Nic1 says

    Beth- I am not condemning the horse industry, just expressing the sadness at some of what I have witnessed, just as i have qlso expressed sadness at some of what i have witnessed in the dog world. We have a racehorse in the family as part of a syndicate – my aunt and uncle have kept horses all their lives. I used to ride as youngster but haven’t ridden as an adult. I grew out of horses I felt. I am certainly no expert, but i am no expert in dogs either. I just share my opinions on the blog like a lit of other people. Just like any other aspect of animal training and welfare, there will always be some people more willing to educate and spread the word about the more humane methods of training and working. I simply found the documentary interesting and wanted to share that with JJ. But thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  132. Beth with the Corgis says

    Nic1, I was simply responding to your wording, where you said “the horse scene also saddens me.” It seemed a little broad, since there is not just one “horse scene” and much of what you are talking about has been practiced for thousands of years and isn’t new at all.

  133. Beth with the Corgis says

    Here, this is an example of a classically trained horse’s first time under saddle. Notice the total lack of “spirit-breaking” (because a performance horse NEEDS to have its spirit to succeed).

    The part where the rider lays across the horse’s back has probably been done quite a few times before, and they would have progressed to that from just leaning on the horse.

    The ear-rubbing and face-rubbing by the ground handler is soothing to the horse.

    The tight circles early on are done to keep the horse from rearing or bucking; a horse moving in tight circles can’t balance enough to get air-borne, safer for both horse and rider and since panic feeds further panic, it creates a safer feeling for the horse to avoid the bronco-bucking.

    They then move out to the longe line, something that this horse has obviously done before. The long longe-whip is not used to hit the horse but to cue it; they tend to move forward away from the long snake-like thing moving in their direction as a natural response.

    During the first two minutes the horse is tense and twitching a bit. By minute three she is totally relaxed and moving beautifully.

    And that, in a nut-shell, is the time-honoroed technique for “breaking” a horse to saddle in the English riding world. Hardly cause for sadness, unless of course one believes animals should not be “owned” by us at all.

  134. JJ says

    Beth with the Corgis: It’s interesting you would have that reaction to my words. My reaction to your explanation of how you trained horses to jump made me feel ill and more sad. I’ve been upset about it ever since. I wasn’t going to say anything, but since you brought it up, I decided to respond. The thing is, you have actually confirmed my opinion about the “horse scene”.

    Yes, I am being very general. What I wrote was meant as a little closing comment to NiC1, not an analysis. As I said, I know that some horse people are starting to turn things around and of course, there are always lucky individual animals in any culture and time period.

    I fully acknowledge that it’s possible that I don’t have an accurate understanding of how horses are trained in many places. It’s also possible that you and I simply disagree on what is an appropriate way to treat a horse. What you see as positive, perhaps I see the same thing as negative. I’m not trying to convince you of anything. I suggest we should just agree to disagree on this.

  135. JJ says

    Nic1: That’s fascinating info about the UK. I wonder if the success of Victoria Stillwell’s TV show, It’s Me Or the Dog (I think), has had a significant impact on UK attitudes towards dogs. After reading your paragraph, I got depressed about how very far America is behind. I appreciate you sharing that story, though. I was cheering inside. Go UK!

  136. Beth with the Corgis says

    JJ, I have realized since I was quite young that there are many people out there who would simply not have us do sports with animals at all. I believe you would find that most horses enjoy their work, if you spent some time with them. You are right that we will have to agree to disagree. I find that some people who espouse using operant conditioning are, in fact, only comfortable with one aspect of it: positive reinforcement. I won’t ever agree with that approach, since that is not even how we treat each other, even in the best relationships. It is not how animals treat each other either. I can’t think of any situation in the natural world where positive reinforcement is the only way an animal learns.

    However, I do believe that if someone said to you on a forum “The way you treat animals makes me ill and sad, but please don’t worry about it, we’ll just agree to disagree” that you would have some reaction.

  137. Nic1 says

    JJ – unfortunately he still has his fans of course! But thanks to the great show you mention by Victoria Stilwell, people are starting to see for themselves that there are better and much more humane ways to teach, communicate and live with our pet dogs based on positive reinforcement and behavioural understanding. Sarah Whitehead, a prominent positive reinforcement trainer and respected canine behaviourist here in the UK also got some airtime on the most popular breakfast radio show here in the UK recently. She used the opportunity to further clarify why a lot of the ‘Dog Whisperer’s training methods aren’t to be encouraged!

    It’s on YouTube if you wish t view it JJ – search for Alan Titchmarsh and Cesar Millan interview and you should get to view it if you wish.

    Beth – ‘the horse scene saddens me’ I guess the wording is very generalised and could be taken into any context you wish depending on how you individually feel about horses and your own personal experience, training and behavioural knowledge. If what I mentioned has been practiced for thousands of years and isn’t new at all ( I assume you are referring to Buck’s specific methods?) then why was the documentary made within a context of a rather negative attitude to the way that some humans choose to handle horses and how the effect of abuse on Buck’s life actually helped him develop and amazing empathy I wonder? That was my interpretation of the documentary really. Emotional and physical abuse can never be justified on humans or animals.

    The way my own aunt and uncle treat their horses sometimes saddens me! They also have a rather ‘old school training’ attitude to their Border Collie too. That also saddens me, because I have a little more knowledge than them. I don’t judge them for it though as it’s ‘s only because they have chosen not to have a lifelong attitude to learning about this aspect of caring for their animals. But that is the way of the world – I’d rather simoly express my honesty at feeling sad about something that could be improved for the better as opposed to suppress it. I guess I felt that on here, some people may understand that.

  138. Beth with the Corgis says

    I might add that the pressure applied with an English stick is about the same as a guy uses in sports when he smacks another guy on the butt as a form of congratulations. You don’t beat the horse with it. Having been smacked with a horse’s fly-swishing tail, I can tell you that the pressure of the crop is about the same as the swing of a tail, and horse’s willingly stand nose-to-tail to switch flies.

    I haven’t ridden in years, but I used a stick more often to knock off flies than I did as an aid.

    This is a typical English spur. I hardly ever wore one, but you use it to nudge the horse’s side, not gouge him. Sitting as you do with legs shoulder-width apart, you hardly have much force even if you want to .

    Poke yourself in the ribs with a closed pen through all your layers of clothes. And there you have it.

  139. Beth with the Corgis says

    Nic1, my experience is that when the Pat Parellis of the world go to English barns, most people (even those who like him and find some of his techniques useful) don’t find his work revolutionary; in Western barns it’s a different story.

    In the English riding tradition, young horses are handled from birth and brought along gradually (as I mentioned) over years, while for some reason (probably due to space, numbers, and time) in the Western tradition horses are minimally handled til they are mature and then “broken” in the rodeo manner you have probably seen on tv. I don’t approve of the latter method at all, by the way, and am not arguing in its favor.

    The link I posted above is a very typical example of a young horse being trained to carry a rider. They start with learning to be ground handled as babies, alongside their dam. They are gradually (as they mature physically) introduced to a girth and a saddle and a headpiece, before bits and reins are added.

    They get used to people leaning over them and gradually putting more weight on them from the side (the experience of something on their back is alarming, since they are a prey animal; if you value your own safety and the horse’s sanity, you get them used to this gradually).

    They learn to lunge on a long-line and go up and down through the gaits based on voice commands.

    By the time they are finally ridden, they have been handled for many, many hours over years; usually horses are 3 or so before they are ridden at all (racehorses are another matter….)

    I have seen several horses started under saddle, and I assure you the video I linked to is typical in the English riding world.

    I rode dozens of horses over years and had the great joy of working off lessons at an English show/lesson barn. All of the horses led with a plain buckle halter with a lead clipped below. All went in a plain snaffle. Every lesson was filled with the constant reminder to “pet him up, he did good.” Patting, stroking, and talking to the horse were taught along with all the other skills. You learned how they liked to be scratched and groomed, how to hand walk and graze, and so on. Unlike the dog world, most everyone in the horse world learns from someone else who learned from someone else and so on; you don’t just get a horse and do your own thing. If you think about it, though, stopping constantly to give a horse food treats while being ridden is just not practical and has some serious safety implications for horse and rider, and the type of training used for dogs is not practical under saddle (though it can be implemented for some types of handling, like getting on a trailer).

    I have very little experience with Western barns. What little I have has made me think many of them are more, um, “rough and ready” and seem to spend less time learning about horses, but again my experience is so limited I can’t really speak much about it.

    But throughout Europe, Canada, and the areas east of the Mississippi, the huge majority of riding horses are brought up in the English tradition. You don’t break them, you train them. And the items that have the worst image to non horse-people (the crop and spur) are aids, not tools to hurt the horse. Slap your thigh with the end of your dog leash and that is comparable to how hard a horse would be hit with a riding crop. It’s in increase in pressure to a horse who ignores leg aids, not a punishment. As I mentioned, horses are prey animals and therefore move away from pressure.

    Stand next to a person. Press them gently in the ribs (this should be someone you know well, of course!). Watch what they do (most people will curve the ribcage away from the pressure). That is what the leg aid at the girth does; it causes a bend. A leg aid behind the girth moves the hindquarters. Two legs together cause the horse to increase impulsion. And so on. A leg aid on a responsive, trained horse is simply a tightening of the calf muscle. On a quieter horse (quiet horses tend to be a little lazy) that might be a nudge or gentle kick. Some will use a spur (but only when you have a leg that is independent from your seat) and again, if you read my comment above, the English spur is short and blunt and you will get the same effect on yourself by nudging yourself in the rib with a magic marker.

    When horses were primarily transportation and everyone had one, there was likely a lot more abuse. If you ever read Black Beauty, you know it was written as a protest against poor treatment. But if you do read it and go back and look at how Beauty was gentled, you will see that even then it was a slow gradual process with lots of positive reinforcement, and that book was written almost 150 years ago. The home where he starts and the one where he ends were horse people who were kind and gentle.

    There IS abuse out there. Of course there is. Wherever there are people, there will be abuse. But that is not the norm (at least not in English barns) and there is nothing I look back on and say “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I did that!” in the way I look back at some of what was commonly done to dogs when I was growing up.

    Here’s another link of starting a horse under saddle, which is similar to the video I linked to above:

  140. Nic1 says

    In National Hunt racing why are Jockeys penalised for excessive use of the riding crop Beth if it doesn’t hurt or there is no concern about potential abuse?

    I actually think a lot race horses love what they do. In fact, if they really do not want to participate in a race they will stand there ground and refuse to budge!

    With regard to positive reinforcement, I agree with you n a lot of ways but I think that when discussing these principles on a forum such as this, then the intellectual discussion takes over. There is academia and then there is reality. The difficulty is finding the balance between the two and applying simple training priniples. I know that Victoria Stilwell is really pushing positive reinforcement as being THE way to teach and train your pet dogs. But when you empathise, it’s easy to understand where she is coming from and why she is pushing for it in a big way. She is trying to reach the masses of pet owners who watch TV perhaps as a primary source of information and may never have picked up a training book or attended a training class and i believe she is striving to be the antithesis of CM and what he has communicated. Almost like a damage limitation exercise! She refutes physical punishment but she does teach ‘corrections’ or negative reinforcement and enforces the importance of boundaries. The vast majority of pet owners are possibly not interested in the principles of learning behaviour so what is really important to communicate is that physically hitting, yelling, screaming, leash jerks, scruff shakes, alpha rolls etc. is abuse. Plain and simple. You shouldn’t ever do this because morally it’s simply unacceptable and behaviourally it teaches the dog nothing except to reinforce his fear of you. Getting the positive reinforcement message out there will hopefully help address the balance that has been tilted negatively by the Nat Geo Wild shows. Surely, that’s not a bad thing? But for people like us who get down to the nitty gritty of animal learning principles then it becomes a more academic discussion I feel. But I think that it’s important to reinforce positive reinforcement with the general public to help instill the effectiveness of it. Because it does work.

  141. Beth with the Corgis says

    The use of a crop on a race horse is much different than the use of a crop on a riding horse (if done as intended). For one, the jockey is in a high-adrenaline event and we don’t do a very good job of controlling ourselves when adrenaline is high; things get excessive. Secondly, the jock continues to hit the horse in rhythm with the stride, something a performance horse rider should not be doing (again, I’m talking typical technique, not abuse situations). And thirdly (this one is important) the jockey switches the crop around and uses it overhand, in an arc, generating much more force. In classical horsemanship, you keep the stick pointing down and flick your wrist inward to use the crop.

    For reference sake, this is the type of crop I’m talking about (a dressage whip is longer and used to flick the horse while the hands remain in place on the reins).

    IF you hold that in your hand the way you would hold a magic wand or a sword, and then swing your shoulder back and bring it down, you can do so with enough force to actually cut the horse. This is NOT how you use a crop on a sports horse (and if you do people will turn in disgust, leave your barn, or in extreme cases wrestle the whip off you and hit you with it instead to see just how you like it— I’ve actually heard of this happening, though it may be an urban legend).

    If you don’t mind bearing with me for an explanation, when you ride English you hold your hands straight in front of you, as if you were going to shake hands with someone. You lightly close your fingers. The reins come up between your pinky and ring finger, loop behind your closed fingers, then come out again above your index finger, with your thumb on top.

    You hold the crop handle in the inside hand (meaning the inside of the direction you are turning) with the reins, so that the crop angles down along your own leg.

    It looks like this (the first one shows a dressage whip being used, the second a shorter English hunt-style crop):

    To use it, you take both reins in one hand, don’t reposition the crop in your palm, move your arm back a few inches, and flick your wrist inward to swat the horse. It’s an extension of your leg, moving back farther than you can move your leg and maintain balance (some use it on the shoulder without releasing the rein at all, but I was taught to only use it BEHIND the leg).

    Since you are not switching the crop from pointing down to pointing up, you are not arcing and swinging with force. You are flicking and swatting. It’s about equivalent to swatting them on the hindquarter with an open palm, but it gives you a longer reach.

    So yes, you CAN hurt a horse with a crop, and there are people who do. Then again, you can hurt him with the broom you use to sweep the aisle. But used correctly, at most it’s a light sting. And most of the time, if you carry one you don’t have to use it. Just flicking it is enough to get the horse’s attention. If that doesn’t work, usually you just tap them, quite literally. I have seen people whale on a horse with a crop and it’s met with almost universal disgust.

    To the original question of why the horse whisperer types are seen as so “revolutionary”: because they come out of the cowboy culture, where things are done much differently.

    I do believe in using mostly positive reinforcement, with some negative reinforcement and non-abusive positive punishment (body blocks, verbal corrections) when training dogs.

    But horses are a whole different critter, with different drives and motivators. They are closer to the sheep than the sheep dog in behavior. After all, you don’t herd sheep by giving them snacks; you herd them by putting pressure on them and releasing the pressure when they move they way you want them to move. And that’s what a rider does with a horse, more or less.

  142. JJ says

    Nic1: I found it! Thanks!! (It was great. Good interview. I love how Alan was respectful and let Millan have his say, but Alan didn’t allow Millan to squirrel out of the issues. Well done.)

  143. Nic1 says

    JJ: you’re welcome. Alan is a dog lover himself and I agree it was a good interview. I liked the way Cesar justified the physical violence as a ‘touch’ and Alan disagreed and used the analogy of a Boxer punching someone. Fascinating that you would defend that sort of behaviour in that way really.

    To be fair to CM, he certainly communicated to me the importance of regular, structured exercise in an effective way. Also, the importance of a calm demeanour of the human handler. He was also responsible for me reading round the issues of pet dog training and led me to Trisha, Jean Donaldson, Ian Dunbar, Sophia Yin and many more experienced, humane, professional and educated behaviourists. I thank him for that!

    It is also fascinating how some human beings can be seduced by people who are charismatic, charming and attractive even when their knowledge, experience and application gives you an uncomfortable ‘gut’ feeling. He’s an entertainer not an educator IMO. Great for TV. Tragic for pet dogs.

  144. Rose C says

    Funny that you said those things about CM, Nic1, because I feel the same way about him. I was about to say similar things but was trying to put my words together without sounding like I am defending him and/or his methods or without sounding like I should be in his website instead of Trisha’s.

    I feel the same way in such that if I would take three things positive about him (and we should take at least one positive thing out of everything), it would be that I learned about the importance of regular exercise for our dogs, that long walks with our dogs create and strengthen our bond, and that a calm demeanour is important when we are around dogs. I also feel that because his show was what I first turned to to learn about dog training and because his method didn’t work for my dog, it led me to look around further and learned about other methods as well. Of course Amazon product reviews led me to authors like Trisha and to many other books on the canine mind, behavior, body language, communication, evolution, etc. For all these reasons, I too am grateful to CM. Plus I think I cannot absolutely dislike a person who truly loves/likes dogs, even if some may act based on lack of knowledge, some based on old school and obsolete methods, or some based on misinformation . . . Only when a person is intentionally cruel to dogs would I have nothing but bad things to say about him or her.

    I also feel the same way that CM is more like an entertainer than an educator. People typically get hyped up and will often ‘buy’ into anything that has to do with dogs. Plus his show portrays a quick fix to many problem behaviors. Who could possibly not want ‘quick fixes’ (to anything, for that matter)? Only problem is, there are no quick fixes when it comes to training out unwanted behaviors, definitely not for results that last. On a side note, I had watched CM’s show seasons 1 through 3 in DVD in 2009. I wasn’t just watching it for entertainment but to genuinely get information. Many of the things about dog behavior that he mentioned during the episodes are very similar to the things that I later read and watched in books and DVDs of a well-known dog professional. With CM claiming he works dogs out of intuition, it was very unlikely that he would know those facts simply from ‘intuition’. I’m sure the show’s team must have done research for the show and probably read and watched the same books/DVDs that I did. Also, the dog he referred to as an “absolutely perfect dog whom he cannot find one fault in whatsoever”, I saw the dog exhibit resource guarding at the end of an episode segment (obviously was overlooked and was left uncut when the video was edited because I saw the same segment used as a video clip in two other of his instructional DVDs and the resource guarding behavior part had been cut off). I am not judging the dog nor am I trying to sensationalize things but what I’m saying is that certain facts are left out, and things are edited, because the show has to continue to sell as entertainment.
    So again I encourage everyone, for us who understand and know of more beneficial ways to train dogs, let’s speak up and educate people because if we don’t, look at who and to what are people turning to and gain information from. I know, because I did the same — and I had nothing but the best intentions of learning how to ‘properly’ train my dog.

    One last thing I wanted to mention is that I like giving ‘old school’ and ‘obsolete’ methods the benefit of the doubt. I’d like to think that the person/s who developed them didn’t know then what we know now about dogs. Thanks to their ‘flawed’, ‘ineffective’, or ‘inadequate’ methods (though I’m sure it all didn’t seem as such decades ago), trainers are able to develop better methods today. No past knowledge is useless if something good, or better, comes out of it.

  145. JJ says

    Nic1: re: “To be fair to CM…”
    That’s the thing. Most people have some good/valid points. Personally, I’ve never said that CM has *everything* wrong. The problem is, there is just enough “baby in his bathwater” that too many people (unlike yourself) can’t distinguish the baby from the swimming pool sized bathwater.

    My story: Before I actually got my dog, I was given two documents to read by a dog-lover friend of mine. One document was from CM and the other from Trisha. From there, I went on to read a book by each of them and even got a hold of a video by CM. I agree that there are some good points to CM’s teachings. However, even at the extremely naive and inexperienced level that I was at at that point, I had a bad feeling about CM. I’m so grateful that my friend gave me Trisha’s work at the same time I got the CM paper. Both me and my dog have benefited greatly. I think it’s cool how you went from CM to Trisha, etc. I’ve heard of that happening to other people as well.

    re: “He’s an entertainer not an educator IMO. Great for TV. Tragic for pet dogs.”
    Exactly!!! Though I do believe his heart is in the right place. I don’t think he is an evil person. My take on it is that CM has a huge/giant/humungous blind spot about his own weaknesses as well as quite muddy thinking. The sad result is that he is a menace, but I don’t think that is from lack of caring on his part. In other words, I don’t think it is all about the money. I could be wrong. My opinion may just be my default mode of trying to think the best of people.

  146. Beth with the Corgis says

    I think that CM has done more than anyone to stress the importance of daily, structured exercise for dogs. I also think that his focus on creating structure for dogs is very important, as is his insistence that little dogs are still DOGS who need exercise and the chance to explore the world with their noses just as much as big dogs.

    He also does a good job of emphasizing how much a confident, well-socialized dog can do to help a neurotic, poorly socialized one.

    His methods for getting people to act confident around their dogs by channeling another part of their life, where they are already calm leaders, into their dog handling is also hugely valuable.

    Another good point is his use of a sharp sound as an interruptor of behavior. His ideas about claiming personal space are sound as well.

    Many discussions focus on his controversial man-handling of dogs, and valid points are made in those discussions. But all the good points are often ignored in those conversations.

    A good resource that contains a lot of CM’s strengths while avoiding the pitfalls is Dr. Nicholas Dodman’s “The Well-Adjusted Dog.”

  147. Nic1 says

    Beth- thanks so much for taking the time to explain and share your knowledge. Fascinating.

  148. Nic1 says

    JJ- your default mode of thinking the best of people is such a virtue. Most people aren’t evil or have deliberately malevolent intentions. I do think that CM really loves dogs but his interpretation of discipline and the application of flooding, positive punishment in unnecessary and inappropriate, given the progress in canine behavioural understanding in the last 20 years.

    Interestingly, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that triadic personalities are more likely to rise to very senior positions in business – they tend to be CEOs, major celebrities etc. Of course not all ‘successful’ high status people display these personality traits (Machiavellian, psychopathic, narcissistic) but there was sufficient evidence that got Oliver James (British Psychologist) to write quite an interesting book about it. I think you made an interesting observation related to the human ego – that includes the blind spot and weakness in thinking perhaps with CM. But then, he still likes to apply the old ‘dominance’ theory to his dogs too as I understand? Status and hierarchy are more appropriately applied to primates than dogs, but without being rude, I think our ‘celebrity’ culture seems to encourage these personalities sometimes. A type or alpha personalities won’t all be triadic, but a lot are! That’s where our ‘gut’ feelings come into play……

  149. Nicola Hodson says

    I have a blue merle working dog who is the most obedient, loving, confident dog, who is my first dog. I’m not trained to train them but learned from watching the farm dogs in a pack relate to each other. The mother very early on nips their nose and makes them submit by lying down and it is this that I used to discipline my dog. He has learned how to work sheep and be a homely family dog with a beautiful nature, good manners and respect for my home so I cannot understand why people are so against this way because it works. Everyone comments on how well behaved and well mannered he is and as a result been asked to raise two puppies in the same way!

  150. Nic1 says


    It’s nice that you have a well mannered dog. However, most qualified canine behaviourists and trainers who have an understanding of the application of animal learning principles based on biology would not recommend the techniques you describe.The alternative is to focus more on teaching and setting animals up for success and not using punitive techniques to ‘correct’, discipline or punish them when they do something we don’t like.

    I wonder if you have read any of Trisha’s books or other blog posts? I would highly recommend them. The ‘Puppy Primer’ is great.

    Dogs don’t make another dog lay down to ‘submit’ as they don’t understand what that means. What is thought to be happening is that the dog that when the dog lays and rolls it’s belly, it is offering that gesture in appeasement to the other dog. It feels very vulnerable. In canine language ‘Don’t hurt me!’ So as a human, making your dog lay down in that way would not be something that is naturally understood between two different species and is also pretty intimidating and frightening.

    Your current dog may very well be confident enough to be able to cope with this sort of handling. Not all dogs will though, and as the study shows, it can aggravate aggression.

    ‘Don’t Shoot the Dog’ by Karen Pryor is a great introduction into animal learning behaviour – all animals, including human beings.

    Although the above link is about ‘behaviour problems’, there is a nice section on animal learning principles which you may find useful.

    Anyway, I’m no expert but I would very much hope that you take the time to read around the issues.

  151. Mirja says

    Dear Trisha,

    I just consulted this wonderful web page again after a longer time and found this article that made me really think. I am the handler of a reactive Border Collie, he started showing fear aggressions towards some people in puberty. With books and literature by you and other like-minded experts, I started using counter conditioning and positive reinforcement, making encounters with strangers pleasurable for my boy, which worked really well.

    However, 2-3 times a year, he reacts, and that quite badly. Last time was on Monday, which is why I visited this page today. The dog saw a woman walking towards us, and lifted his tail. I did what I always do, asked him in a calm way to walk by my side, rewarding him briefly for looking at the lady. This time, however, we could not just pass by. As the woman had almost reached us, he lunged towards her, barking and snarling really aggressively. The woman, of course, was shocked, and I no less. I said sorry to the lady a hundred times, and as I turned to my dog (his reactions usually last only 2-3 seconds), he had “guilt” written all over his face. As I was so shaken, I grabbed him by the scruff and stared at him really intensively, not knowing what else I should do to let him know that this behavior was a real “no go”.

    What I am asking myself now is, what would the proper reaction from me have looked like in this situation? Was my reaction making everything worse?

    I am unsure about how to react in these situations, as they are (thank God!) quite rare. I like to tell myself that the dog has learnt an alternative behavior (come to me, look at person calmly etc.), but sometimes this does not seem enough.

    I would be very thankful for any thoughts on this, as I still have not found any behavior experts to ask in person in this part of Germany.

    All the best,

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