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Dog Training in The Microwave Age

In these 'hurry up' modern times almost everyone wants the “microwave fix”, where results are instant and permanent. That may work for microwave meals but dogs are not like fast food, you can't expect them to be 'done' in under a minute. Short cuts do exist, you can throw a prong collar on the dog that pulls and problem fixed, no more pulling! Alrighty then! That worked, right? Probably not. Try taking off that prong collar and walking your dog. He may listen for a walk or three or five, but eventually he will notice that the pain/choking sensation upon pulling is gone and start pulling again. All that's happened is that the dog has learned to fear the pain that occurs when he pulls on that collar; remove that negative stimulus and he will return to pulling. That is not training, that is a microwave 'fix'.

Management tools and physical aversive training methods will work quickly on the short term, but nothing replaces actual training where you teach your dog what is expected of him! Management tools are usually meant to 'manage' an issue until training fixes or decreases the the problem (there are exceptions to most rules). Management tools and pain/fear-causing aversives should never be used as a replacement for solid training and solid training takes time. I won't rely on the microwave fix because I understand that there is a reason that dogs do the things they do: usually, we teach them to!

We send out signals to our dogs every time we interact with them, starting from the moment they are born. If a puppy jumps up and gets treats, scratches and attention, of course they will continue that behavior into adulthood; but what was cute from the 15 lb puppy is no longer cute from the 100 lb Malamute!

Many quick-fix aversive training methods are based on fear and pain. Let me repeat that, many quick-fix aversive training methods are based on fear and pain. They appear to work very quickly and very well. As with all 'quick and easy' fixes there is a drawback: your dog fears you. You may not think so, but review this: Does your dog frequently lick her lips, yawn, shake off, look at you with squinted eyes or turn her head? These are all calming and/or appeasement signals, telling you to chill, communicating to you that she means no harm and wants no trouble. Keep pushing a dog using aversion techniques and the dog has a higher likelihood of becoming aggressive.

A short discussion on using quick-fix aversion techniques to end a possibly dangerous, negative behavior such as resource guarding:

When a dog growls, she is telling you that she does not like what is happening; that is her communicating with you! Communication in and of itself is not a negative behavior, it is a sign of a dog with some issue and good communication skills. Aversive techniques such as hitting, hollering, shock collars and even taking the food away can cause the dog's behavior to escalate from communicating to acting and this is what you don't want!

Aversive methods will teach that dog not to growl, but have not addressed the motivation behind the growling behavior. For whatever reason, that dog fears the loss of that toy, food, place to sleep, etc. Aversive methods can cause learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is when the dog has learned that her normal methods of communication do not work. The degree of shut-down varies from dog to dog, but lets use our resource guarder for an example. Our resource guarder has stopped growling because she has learned that growling brings a smack and yelling and maybe even a shake to the scruff. Rather than risk these things, she is now quiet through her still existing resource guarding. She is still just as uncomfortable as before and tries to communicate her discomfort using body language that is ignored.

What is next for her? The “bite out of nowhere”. The bite out of nowhere does not exist. Signals were given that were missed, ignored or punished away and now the dog is left with only one method of communication. The bite. Even resource guarding can be corrected using positive methods. The process is slow and takes a serious commitment on the part of both the owner and trainer, but the results are healthier for the dog and safer for the humans involved.

I received a big chunk of my dog training education in the age of the dominance and aversion era of dog training. I have cringed at the use of many of the methods I was taught! The science of canine ethology (ethology= the study of non-human animal behavior) has advanced from nearly non-existent and flawed 25 years ago, to a largely accepted and respected pool of science-based studies, proving how dogs learn most effectively and with the least amount of damage. This information has allowed open-minded trainers to add new tools to their knowledge base and remove methods that harm the dog or the dog/human bond.

Microwave-fix tools and methods such as prong collars, shock collars, forced dominance rolls, chokers and other physical aversion techniques should not be the first line of correction in training. Or the second. Or third. These tools should not be used by inexperienced people at all and are quite likely unnecessary as well as damaging. I would much rather rely on a foundation of solid training than some outside force that may fail at a crucial moment or harm my dog.

In the end, starting a puppy off the right way is the most effective method to get a happy, well-adjusted, well-behaved adult dog with no 'fixing' needed!

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