Carol Price – Collie Psychology: A Review

In part, uneducated, disproven, unkind, and in places downright nonsense.  Let me elaborate:

Collie Psychology

I was quite excited when I first learned about ‘Collie Psychology’.  I have one of Carol Price’s earlier books ‘Understanding the Border Collie’, and while it’s of an age that means it has a lot of old-school talk that we now know is no longer relevant, it still contains some good information for those who are able to see past the pseudo-science.

I was hoping that her new book would be bang-up-to-date, with lots of great information on progressive reinforcement training; perhaps some discussion on why outdated training methods and tools worked, but also the issues they cause; reasons why she has “moved with the times” in her training ethos and tools of choice; and suggestions for resources to help others who are interested in learning and expanding their knowledge, alongside lots of great collie information.

Sadly, I’ve only made it a quarter of the way through the book and I’m giving it up as a bad job.  While the section on finding a good breeder is a true gold-star piece of writing that should be held up for everyone with even a passing interest in dogs to absorb, the rest of the book is filled – mostly – with the same out-dated clap-trap.

She makes aggression in puppies sound like an everyday event (growling is during play, for instance, but actual aggression is not); there’s also a fair amount of anthropomorphic fluff about puppies and dogs “disrespecting” their humans, when an understanding of learning theory would show that is not at all the case.

The section on training has a diatribe on why, how, and when to use a “correction command”, when – again – a little bit of education would show the writer there’s no need for such hostility, especially towards a young puppy.  There’s very little discussion on setting the puppy (or dog) up in the home so that he or she is unable to make mistakes, but lots of talk about what to “correct”, and how.

When she gets to actually teaching the puppy/dog and adding cues (which she insists on calling “commands”, for some unknown reason) to behaviours, she suggests people use a gesture and word cue a the same time; this is known as “overshadowing”, and when behaviours are trained with overshadowed cues it means the dog either does not listen at all to the verbal cue, or takes much longer than necessary to learn it.  She also completely fails to mention using a marker during training, meaning that – once again – the training will not progress as quickly as it could.

Not once in this section does she suggest than an owner might want to find a reputable training class to take their puppy or dog to, although she has no issues with pointing out that owners, especially those who are novice either to the breed or to dogs in general, are bound to make mistakes(!) – something a competent training instructor would not only be working to eliminate in every dog/handler team, but they could also provide personal guidance on what to do (or not do!) to help both human and canine understand, and complete, the exercise.

However, the things that really finished this book off for me were the following: –
1) her suggestion on “sticking out your leg” (AKA tripping the dog up) when he or she pulls on the lead;
2) the misinformation she gives to readers on the topic of learned helplessness;
3) her assertion that playing tug with your dog causes aggression.

After reading these nuggets of “information” – one of which does not line up with my ethos on interacting with others (human or otherwise), another which is factually incorrect (though it makes for a good sob story); and the remaining one being a just downright silly – it has relegated this book to the bottom of my reading pile, behind such authors as Toni Shelbourne, Denise Fenzi & Deborah Jones, Pamela Dennison, and my personal favourites, Karen Pryor and Jean Donaldson – all people who are much more easily accessible with up-to-date research and information that appeals to dog owners of every kind, be they “just” pet owners, invested dog enthusiasts, or canine professionals.

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Disclaimer: I have not been asked, nor paid to write this review; the opinions contained herein are entirely my own, and are based upon both my experience and my education, both of which are ever-expanding.

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Where We’re Going Wrong…

So, I’ve had some time to think this weekend, and I think I know where we’re going wrong when talking about dog packs and/or dominance:

Theory:

a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena: Einstein’s theory of relativity. Synonyms: principle, law, doctrine.
Hypothesis:

A tentative explanation for an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem that can be tested by further investigation.
So you see – when talking about the now dis-proven dominance/pack dog training ideas, we shouldn’t be calling them theories, because they’re not; they’re hypotheses.
Learning theory, on the other hand, is a theory.

 

Are You Bribing Your Dog?

There seems to be a fallacy in the world of dog training, and indeed even outside of the world of dog training, and dogs in general.

I’ve had knowing looks on the street, overheard strangers commenting at the beach or lake, had comments directed towards me in person and online, even my mother has (once again!) chided me for my seemingly “poor choices”.

If you train your dog with treats, you’re bribing her.

Bribing – Craige Moore

There I said it.

Anyone who’s anyone knows that all dogs love and respect all humans, and will do as we say because it makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside when they make us happy by doing as they’re told; so it follows that anyone who’s anyone also knows that dogs don’t need treats, or any form of reward, for working for humans. And if you choose to use treats, you’re bribing your dog to do whatever it is you want him to do, because he wont do it out of “love and respect”, or for the joy it brings him in knowing you’re happy with him, he’ll only do it for the food in your hand.

Clearly, all the people making such comments are amazing, wonderful even. They may have spent their whole life working, but they have never once taken a penny – or anything else – in recompense; or if they have they’ve given it all away again.

They have no need of reward or recognition from their employer (or customers, if they’re self-employed), they do the work because they like the fuzzy warm feeling it gives them to help others, and that’s all the payment they need.

Oh, wait…

That’s not true.

While some people can, and do, volunteer their time; the majority of people in gainful employment need to take home a pay cheque every month (heck, even people who are not in gainful employment still have to find a way to get the money they need!).

I don’t know about you, but if my employer decided to stop paying for my time I’d certainly be looking for another job – let’s face it, for humans, money is a very powerful secondary reinforcer.

Money gives us roofs over our heads, various methods of travel, the ability to buy food, books, clothes, music, tickets to the cinema, theatre, or concerts, and even the ability to have and appropriately care for our animals.

Animals see no value in money (aside from the ones who may see value in eating it). They tend not to have pockets to keep it in, or places to keep a lot of it safe, and they don’t have bills to pay, so money as a form of payment is as meaningless to them as hotdog slices as a form of payment is to you and I.

But just because they don’t see value in money doesn’t mean they don’t see value in being “paid”.

Especially when training new behaviours, your dog (or human, horse, goat, lamb, cow, chicken…or any animal) needs paid. They need to feel value in their work (learning), and this value comes from rewards – not only food and toys, but also other things they enjoy doing – digging, barking, running around, sniffing…whatever floats their boat.

These rewards do a number of things: * firstly they help the animal to learn that the rewarded behaviour is worth repeating;
* it adds “money to the bank” for the behaviour, meaning that at some future time when you need to ask for the behaviour and only have dry, biscuit treats (or, worse, nothing at all) your dog is more likely to do as you ask, and not mind too much that you didn’t have some liver or a favourite tug toy handy (however, after this type of situation it would be worth “refreshing” the behaviour in your dog’s mind – and increasing your “bank balance” – by training the behaviour with one or more of your dog’s desired rewards, especially if you made a large withdrawal – such as recalling your dog away from unexpected livestock or wild animals;
* additionally, training using the rewards your dog wants (rather than the ones you think he should want) also has the added bonus of teaching your dog that you’re worth listening to;
* and it’s great for building a strong relationship with your dog.

Looking at that list, I wonder why we aren’t all training with rewards. For me, it all comes back to working: I want my dog to want to be with me, and to not only want to interact with me; but to enjoy interacting with me – whether we’re playing tug, or whether I’m training a drop on recall.

It pains me to see a dog who wants to be nowhere near his human, after all, dogs are social creatures and should have the strongest bond with their ‘family’; but to think that some people actively dislike despise “treat training”, well…I don’t want to think about what they do to their dog in the name of training

Crating – A Life Skill

Crating is one of those things that divides people.  Some people say it’s wrong, some people say it’s necessary; some people call them cages, and use them only for house-training their puppy, some people call them crates, kennels, or dens, and use them throughout their dog’s life.

I saw a comment from someone recently who refused to use a crate for their dog because he’d been a stray in Romania, and then was in rescue kennels for about 12 months.  I wonder what they think of me, having crate trained Inka even though he spent up to eight months of his life in a shed full of other dogs?

I love crates, I really, really do.  They’re amazingly useful tools (we have five, in a house with two dogs!); and the thing is, regardless of what anyone thinks, or wants to believe, being crated really is a life-skill for dogs.  Whether we’re crating them at home, or other locations (class, trials, and so on); or if they’re spending the day at the vets having surgery or x-rays; or if they’re in kennels while you’re on holiday, or they’ve been picked up as a lost dog; or in even, in some cases, if your dog has a serious accident or injury and needs to be on crate rest for a number of weeks; and the simplest of all – in the car, being comfortable in a crate is important (I know many dogs travel wearing a doggy seatbelt, but the majority travel in the boot, which is basically a giant, moving crate).

A lot of people say that they don’t like crating their dog because their dog doesn’t like it – but given how necessary it is, even if it’s only on the occasional time when your dog’s away from home, then surely you should work on your dog thinking his or her crate is a super-fun, super-awesome place to be.  Lets face it, for many dogs being away from home is stressful enough – why would you want to make it worse by not acquainting your dog with a crate beforehand?

When I thought I might need to send Inka to the vets to have x-rays last year, I was worried how he would be.  He had a crate at home, but wasn’t ecstatic about it, and lets face it – he was going to be in a strange place, that would smell pretty funky too, and getting poked and prodded to boot!

But, thanks to Susan Garrett and Crate Games, I have a dog who loves his crate.  He sleeps in it, relaxes in it, runs at top speed when I ask him to go to it, I really don’t know what I’d do without his “crate love”, he thinks it’s one of the best ever places to be!

Here’s a clip of him & I having a run-through of his Crate Games in the back garden earlier this week.

Of course, there’s more than Crate Games to help you get your dog comfortable in their crate, but I like that Susan finds the dog’s joy so important, and works to make each exercise fun – that’s what I wanted for Inka, not a resigned “oh, OK then”, but a happiness and a sureness in what he was doing, and enjoyment in the activity.

And I can safely say that Inka was fab when he was at the vets for x-rays last year, and he was just as fab when he had his operation earlier this year too.

Over to you, readers: what do you think of crating dogs?  If you do crate your dogs, what’s your preferred method of crate training?

Sheep

‘Name That Sheep’ – Alan Cleaver

Well, this has certainly been an interesting week!  I found out through a friend that a local rescue organisation had hired an electric shock collar trainer for a dog that was chasing sheep.  I posted on my Facebook page that: “Currently I’m feeling shocked and saddened that a local rescue organisation has hired an electric shock collar trainer to “cure” a dog of his sheep chasing.

I feel very sad for the dog, but also lucky that I will never have to resort to such dangerous and barbaric practises – in fact I currently have just the same problem with Starr, she would love to chase sheep if given the opportunity, so she’s not getting it!  Or at least not until I can take her up to my friend’s farm and start teaching her to play with sheep appropriately.”

‘Loweswater Sheep’ – mPascalj

And I mean every word of it. Starr has about 10% of the recall she needs to be off-lead, and about 1% of the recall I’d like her to have before I “let her loose”; and I’d never ever let her off lead anywhere near sheep that she was not working.  Why would I?  If a farmer thinks that a dog is worrying his sheep, he can shoot it dead on the spot, and to many farmers a dog being off lead near his sheep is more than plenty reason to shoot it…

This then brought to mind that a little while ago I was chided in the comments section of another blog.  The post was about dog training and the apparent lies therein.  The reproach came as I’d said I never had and never will use anything except a flat collar & static (i.e. fixed) harness on any of my dogs, and I have no need of telling them “no” (as in “don’t do that”).

I was told I had “so much to learn”, including “the four ways to deal with a behaviour” and “what to do with a confirmed sheep worrier”.  I did have to wonder where the common sense was – if one has a confirmed sheep worrier why would you take it anywhere near sheep?  That’s just asking for trouble, and certainly not something I would ever advise to any future potential client I may have, unless they were under the tutelage of the person who owned the sheep, and they were either a) teaching the dog to herd the sheep; or b) teaching the dog enough that he could leave the sheep entirely alone on one cue.  Note also that both of these would take more than one short lesson!

It was then that I was curtly told that I “know nothing”, and should “go out and learn” as well as “shut up” because my “lack of knowledge won’t impress anyone”.  Hmmm, yes – clearly I lack knowledge because I’m not going to take a dog who may worry livestock near the livestock, nor will I let said dog (or any dog, for that matter) off lead unless they’re working the livestock, and I certainly would never electrocute my dog for showing an interest in livestock!  Oh, how much I must have left to learn to get these sensible ideas out of my head!

‘Sheep’ mPascalj’

I then had someone else telling me that I “don’t live in the real world”, and “would rather keep a dog on lead than give any form of ‘no’ command”.  According to this second commenter, I’m not alone in living in cloud cuckoo land, as I’m an “example of many UK trainers”.  This coming from someone who allowed her dog to kill a sheep (meaning it was off lead and/or under no control around them), and then used an electric shock collar, rather than walk her dog somewhere beside sheep-covered moors.  Of course, she’s otherwise a totally positive trainer, and had “exhausted every other positive option”.

I’m sorry, but I really fail to see what is so bizarre about being responsible enough to keep your dog on lead around sheep that don’t belong to you and/that your dog isn’t actively working; not to mention keeping your dog who you know is, or is likely to be, overtly interested in sheep away from them.  It really isn’t that difficult – I did it for over twelve months while living up the road from a farm; not to mention having done it with my previous two dogs!

It’s common sense – if you don’t want to see your dog shot by a farmer, you need to make sure he or she can see you have control over your dog around livestock and that means using a lead – something that is visible and obvious; not just hoping that you have enough verbal control over your dog that you can call your dog away in the split second before the farmer reaches for their gun…

‘Sheep’ – mPascalj

 

Aggression

People think they know what an aggressive dog looks like.  He’s big, totally or mostly black, he pulls and lunges on the lead, he barks, snarls, and growls.

But, wait – what’s a big dog?  Most people say Labradors, or Border Collies are big dogs, but in reality they’re medium-sized dogs.  To me, an example of a big dog would be a Mastiff, Rhodesian Ridgeback, or a Great Dane.

As for the “aggressive” behaviours I listed – I’ve heard or read all of them used as an example of how a bystander or neighbour “knew” that a dog was aggressive – yes, even pulling on the lead.  Let’s look at the behaviours individually, from a more sensible perspective: –

* pulls on the lead.  A dog who pulls on the lead is basically a dog that hasn’t been trained to walk nicely on a loose leash, or perhaps is being walked in an environment that is much too distracting and stimulating for that dog’s level of training.  Alternatively, the dog may have been trained using leash pops or jerks, or perhaps a “training” collar i.e. a choke, prong, or shock collar – all of these are things will make most dogs not want to be near to the person they associate with the pain i.e. their owner.

* lunges, barks, snarls, and/or growls.  I was going to separate these out, but then thought that would be a waste of space.  When in the ‘outside world’ (i.e. not in the home) any dog that is performing any one or combination of these behaviours is doing all he or she knows to get something they find scary to leave them alone.

Often, people find it offensive when a dog is barking at them, others find it funny; what many people don’t realise is that continuing to look at a dog who is barking at them is completely counter-productive.  Even worse are the people who stay at the distance which the dog clearly finds problematic; worse still are those who attempt to approach, talk to, and/or touch or pet the dog who very clearly finds the close proximity of that person an issue.

Many people have been bitten by dogs, occasionally people are attacked, or sometimes even killed by dogs.  Yes, aggression and bits are so often emotion-filled topics, but people who make statements about a dog or dogs without any thought or understanding put into them are very dangerous…

When a dog bite is reported, people will often say that the dog “bit without warning”, or that it “wasn’t a mean dog”, or that the owners “didn’t think he was vicious”.  However, all dogs are perfectly capable of biting another being, and moreover it’s usually the case that the dog did give plenty of notice about how he felt in the situation that resulted in a bite, but these communications were – knowingly or unknowingly – not heeded.

Worse still, perhaps these communications were “punished out” of the dog.  A dog who’s told off, shouted at, hit, kicked, or smacked for growling will learn not to growl; but the absence of the growl doesn’t mean she feels any differently about that situation – she’s simply learnt that growling causes a human to do something to her that is antagonistic, possibly hurts her, and definitely scares her further.

Big or small, young or old, pedigree or mongrel, all dogs have not only the potential to bite, but also the ability.  Of course, the likelihood of a dog biting will vary throughout time – just like people, some dogs will tolerate endless irritations with grace and aplomb, and others will be less tolerant; of course, sometimes how tolerant a dog can be may be reduced due to anxiety, illness, pain, fear, tiredness, and so on.

Often, play biting and mouthing is mistaken for a puppy or dog biting.  Although it is often mistaken for biting, puppies – like human babies – like to explore the world using their mouth.  Yes, puppies have sharp, needle-like teeth, but mouthing and exploring the world is not biting.  Those teeth are sharp to make up for the weakness of their jaws; because the teeth are sharp they hurt when the puppy bites another in play.  The “bitten” puppy will yelp in protest and stop playing with the puppy that “bit” them.  This teaches the puppy that using that amount of force is unacceptable and ends the fun.  Thus the puppy learns to moderate their jaw pressure, meaning that when he grows up and has forty-two carpetknife-like teeth in her mouth, he knows the difference between holding and biting down, and he also knows not to bite down on a playmate.

As for what a bite is, Dr Ian Dunbar has a “bite level scale“, which gives an idea of how “bad” an inflicted bite was.  This is really good, and should be used in every bite incident, rather than simply euthanising (and demonising) the dog, and as often is the case the breed(s) of the now deceased dog.  Additionally, what I believe is needed alongside objective bite assessment, is objective assessment of not only the living situation of the dog(s) involved in a bite, but also the situation surrounding a bite.
All dogs will, at some time in their lives, bark – basenjis perhaps being the exception; and unless taught otherwise all dogs will pull on the lead. Using those as markers of an aggressive dog immediately condemns the majority of dogs as being “aggressive”.  If people who are not dog owners are going to label dogs – as aggressive, or as anything else – based on normal, natural canine behaviours, where does that leave the dogs and their owners?

Often, I’ve had a difficult enough time with other dog owners, for instance I if I’m walking Inka on leash, and there’s an off-leash dog in the vicinity I will call to the owners and them to put the dog on leash so as to stop it rushing Inka and worrying him.  I’ve not yet met an owner who didn’t do as I asked, but it’s fair to say that the majority first asked “Why, is yours a bad ‘un?”; even when I replied to say that Inka doesn’t like being rushed at, least of all when he was on leash, I could tell many thought it was a way of skirting the question.

It’s sad that many people see aggressive dogs, or dogs who bite as inherently “bad”, it’s also sad that many think that dogs who are displaying aggressive behaviours are being mean, or spiteful or have something “wrong” with them, but rather than looking to medicate any pain the dog may be in, or desensitise and counter-condition the dog to the scary thing, they have it eutanised.

Once again, normal dogs are failed for their human’s lack of understanding.

The Alan Titchmarsh Show and Cesar Milan

I must admit, when I first heard that Cesar was going to be on The Alan Titchmarsh Show, I was quite worried.  The show is aired from 3pm, a time when many people are at work, so the shows’ main audience is likely to be people who are retired and parents who work part-time – two groups of people that really shouldn’t be using the techniques Cesar advocates with their dogs.

I caught the show on ITV+1, and must say I was pleasantly surprised.  Alan and his team had clearly listened to those of us who had contacted him with our concerns, watched some of the videos that were posted on the shows’ Facebook page and emailed to them, and rightly questioned Cesar on his dubious methods.

After the interview, the number of “likes” on the Facebok page doubled, and the wall was flooded by people thanking Alan for such a wonderful interview – three days later this is still going strong, and a page has been set up calling Alan a “legend“.

Finally, the UK public have had some exposure, no matter how small, to the fact that Cesar may not be all he makes out to be.  Not only that, stories have been run not only by the UK media, but also in South Africa, Canada, the Netherlands, and America to name but a few.

Of course, alongside all the praise, thanks, and positive feelings, there are those who claim Alan jumped on Cesar unnecessarily, that he listened to the lies told to him by the “minority”, that Cesar doesn’t harm dogs, and that he saves the dogs positive trainers refuse to work with, among others.

Sadly, it seems a minority of people have been taken in – often very deeply – by Cesar’s celebrity, his PR machine, his lies, and by his (and often their own) lack of knowledge, not to mention the “glamour” of the thought they practically have a wild animal in their home who they must constantly physically outwit, lest the animal take over.  What his fans and followers have shown both to myself and others, is their lack of regard for other sentient beings.

It’s so sad to see the number of people saying that it’s acceptable to beat, kick, pinch, poke, choke, prod, punch and shock dogs in the name of “training”.  In the UK, we’re supposed to be an enlightened nation of animal lovers, and yet in the past few days I’ve seen people admitting to beating their dogs; saying that they’d use an electric shock to contain their dog (when a leash or a fence not only *would* do a much better job, but is also *proven* to do a much better job than an electric fence); and worse.

It is not, and should not, be a dogs’ fault that his or her family cannot or do not know how to correctly use and apply the methods behind positive reinforcement training – and just like fixing a car or a combi boiler, those people who are unable to do it should seek help from a qualified professional.  Sadly, people like Cesar Milan make it seem like anyone can “fix” dogs, and there are no qualifications (or even real knowledge!) needed.

People watch this man’s entertainment programme, and think that doing so qualifies them to charge other people for their services of “dog psychology”.  These people also lie, and say there are no qualifications to be gained – or worse, gain qualifications based on rescinded science claiming they are “the best” or “only” qualifications, and others are worth nothing.

I for one am sure that a number of universities and colleges who offer qualifications based on current science with regards to behaviour would disagree, as would the many qualified dog trainers and dog behaviourists (which, by the way is the real term, not “dog psychologist”) that we have not only in the UK but the world over.

It also worries me that many of Cesars followers also have children, and that these children are being raised in environments where violence against others seem to be the norm.  After all, whether it’s a dog or a human you’re hurting – it’s still another being, one who’s feelings, thoughts, and emotions you’re affecting.

Additionally, as I’m sure you’re aware, studies have shown that violence to animals often leads to violence against people; and where violence is, seemingly at least, normal in some households with dogs and children I can’t help but wonder if we are inadvertently raising a culture of children who will grow up and go on to abuse or otherwise harm their spouses, friends, and/or children and think nothing of it, let alone the acts that could be committed against total strangers.

Cesar has had his time in the spotlight, and I believe it is high time he is outed for what he really is – an unqualified charlatan practising outdated and dangerous methods.

I understand that many will find this difficult, cognitive dissonance is not be a nice feeling; and sadly I’m quite sure there would be people clamouring to take his place in the spotlight (not to mention the money!), but this time we need someone with some real and relevant qualifications, who understands the science behind what they’re doing, and can make training and interacting with dogs safe for everyone.

It may not be as “flashy”, or as “macho” as a tanned foreigner with an intriguing history, taming “unruly” dogs with physical force – but none of that is important.  The well-being of dogs the world over, on the other hand, that is immensely important.

Did you watch Alans’ show (or the clip on YouTube)? What do you think, is it right that Cesar was called out and his methods publicly questioned, or should Alan have “played nice” and gone along a less direct path when interviewing Cesar?

What Can “A Clockwork Orange” Teach Us About Animal Training?

I’ve managed to somehow avoid watching ‘A Clockwork Orange’ until probably a lot later than some would argue I should.  However, I’m quite glad of that, as it means I’ve been able to really understand the deeper aspects of the film; and I can use a clip to add another thread to explain why aversive and punitive training methods should not be used – whether we are training the family dog, a marine mammal, or a friend.

First, if you haven’t seen the film, or you’d like a reminder, you’ll need to watch this clip, as this is the specific part of the film I’m going to discuss.

What the clip doesn’t explain, is that Alex has a love of classical music – specifically Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  Beethoven’s Ninth is played as the soundtrack to a film which Alex watches while undergoing aversion therapy, using the fictional “Ludovico Technique“.  This involves the use of a specula (which holds open the patients’ eyes), to enable (or force) the patient to watch violent images for long periods of time, while under the effect of a nausea-inducing drug. The aim of the therapy is to make the patient experience severe nausea when experiencing or even thinking about violence, thus attempting to solve societal crime (almost like antabuse).

However, towards the end of the movie – when the therapy is complete and has been classed a success, Alex is locked in one room of a house, while classical music is played loudly throughout the building.  He attempts suicide by jumping from the second floor window, because of the memory of the music, and the feelings of sickness it induces in him.

So, what does this have to do with training dogs, or any other animal, you ask.

Well, for starters it is yet another piece of evidence on the effects of using something aversive to attempt to stop a behaviour, but more than that it shows a great part of the truth that is often hidden from public view by trainers who use aversive training methods.

Using aversive training has negative consequences.

Yes, you may stop your dog from pulling by putting a choke chain on him, and giving a “correction” (or, more correctly, cutting off his air supply); but what is also going to happen is that the dog learns to associate the ‘correction’ with whatever is in the environment at that time – other dogs, kids, men with baseball caps on, pregnant women – the possibilities are endless.

Pair the collar correction with the same environment a few times, and you have a dog who is starting to become worried about seeing certain things, as they often elicit pain.  Very quickly, you can go from having an outgoing, gregarious dog who wants to greet the world (which causes the dog to pull on the lead to get everywhere), to a dog that is fearfully aggressive, trying to keep everything and everyone away from him so that he will not feel pain.

Give the dog a collar correction in varying environments and he can discriminate that it is the nothing more than presence of his owner that causes pain at random intervals. How insidious.

I actually witnessed this happening for myself  a few years ago. I was walking a dog around the local harbour.  Early on in the walk, we were moving towards an older gentleman and his dog. My dog – Spirit – was well trained, and happy to listen to my cues, so I asked him to walk on & ignore the other dog, as the other dog was staring, which is quite a rude canine behaviour.  Spirit did as I asked, looked away from the dog, and kept on walking.  The other dog, however, kept staring and received a harsh tug on the lead from his owner.
Spirit & I continued on our walk, and on the other side of the harbour ran into this man and his dog again.  When they were about twenty-five feet away from us, the other dog began to growl, and continued to growl until they were about ten feet behind us.  At the time I didn’t really know why, but since starting to learn more about canine behaviour, body language, and learning theory – I now realise that this man’s dog was well on his way towards associating the sight of all dogs with the pain & discomfort of his collar being pulled into his trachea.

Learning theory, by the way, applies to all mammals, which is why it’s better to ask your son or daughter to tidy their room, and then reward them, than to threaten them to do it; or why it’s better to thank your partner for doing the chores, than to nag them to do them.  And it’s why positive reinforcement training works just as well with dogs and cats, as it does with dolphins and killer whales.

Just because it works for all mammals, however, doesn’t mean that all humans know how to use it properly, and to good effect, which is why people often complain that their dog only does something if they “have a treat in their hand”, or that their dog only complies with their request “sometimes”. A good trainer, or training book, can help to ensure this doesn’t happen. A good trainer that uses only positive, science-based training methods can help you to have a happy, well socialised dog without fear of pain and physical punishment when it sees certain stimuli.

Do Dogs Pull in Harnesses?

A lot of people seem to think that dogs pull in harnesses, and dogs who pull on a flat collar will just pull even more on a harnesses.  I say it all depends on the harness, the method of training, the relationship between dog and owner, and the environment they’re in, at a minimum.  Let’s break it down and look at each of these individually: –

Harness

There are literally hundreds of harnesses in pet shops, on the internet, and in specialist stores.  The type of harness your dog wears will affect whether he pulls more, less, or at all.

If you buy a sledding harness, your dog will pull, because sledding harnesses are designed to encourage sled dogs to pull.  If you buy a walking harness, your dog will neither be encouraged to or discouraged from pulling.  If you buy a “no-pull” harness, you run the risk that your dog will pull more than normal; this is down to something known as “oppositional reflex”, which basically means, that if your dog is walking ahead of you, and you add tension, or pull back on the lead,the dog will pull forward with more determination.

Note the difference between the sledding harness on the left (designed to aid the dog in pulling), and the regular harness on the right (designed for walking).

The difference in design is obvious, and although there are different style of walking harness available, none of them are designed similarly to the sledding harness, and so none of them will make the dog pull more than without using one.

Training Methods

The type of training undertaken with a dog, will determine whether it pulls or not.  Choke chains, for instance, which have often been used in the past to try to teach dogs to walk without pulling, actually can promote pulling via oppositional reflex, as can ‘leash corrections’, and just plain old yanking the dog backwards so it is in the correct ‘heel’ position.  It’s quite easy to see that if trained with these methods, any dog will not want to be anywhere close to anyone who causes it so much pain; and there are also the psychological issues caused by such methods of training; any pain caused when a dog is looking at something will be attributed to that thing – dogs don’t have the mental capacity to look at one thing, and think of another; and so if they receive a ‘collar correction’ when looking at, say a small child, they will soon start to correlate small children with pain, and will then start trying to keep small children away from themselves, in the hope of avoiding pain.  This is when you will see fear-based aggression: lunging, barking, snarling, and so on; first it will be at close quarters, but when the dog learns that they still feel pain when children are 20 feet away, as well as 10 feet away, they will become hyper-vigilant, and eventually wont be able to be in the same vicinity as a child, for fear of the pain they cause.  They may also realise they only feel pain in the presence of a certain person (i.e. the owner) and become defensive around that person too.

So, what are the alternatives?  There are many, non-aversive, non-painful, ways to teach a dog to walk without pulling, none of them will cause a dog to not want to be around you, or will they have any negative side-effects (also known as “fall-out”), such as with the example with the child above.  So, how do we train a dog to love walking at our sides?

The simplest way is to kit the dog out in something that will not harm it – a harness, along with a double ended lead attached to the harness at one end and a flat collar at the other and take your dog for a walk.  When your dog pulls, stop walking.  When the dog relaxes the tension on the lead, carry on; stopping the next time your dog pulls.

If, in the past, pulling has been reinforced by going places, the pulling will continue, and may have even have gotten worse (i.e. the dog pulls with more force).  However, what we ar teaching your dog now is that pulling results in stopping, and not pulling results in forward motion.  If you have a determined puller, you can also turn around and walk back a few steps, then turn back around and carry on walking.  This should make it easier for your dog, as you are covering old ground, and then coming to new ground, rather than just expecting your dog to be able to stop pulling and stay calm with something potentially  enticing at nose or eye level.

Another thing you can do, is to make it extremely fantastic to be at your side – treats, toys, praise, they all happen when your dog is in ‘heel’ position, when your dog isn’t, they get nothing.  You can slowly start adding in steps when your dog is happy to be at your side – first one or two, then another couple, then some more; remember to frequently reward your dog for being in the correct position.  It is far better to reward too much at the start of training, and be able to thin out your reinforcement schedule; than to not reward enough, and always need to have treats or toys to reward your dog with.

With both of these methods, it is best to start out in less distracting places, before gradually adding in distractions (such as indoors, or in your back garden), and then gradually change locations and increase the level of distraction, so that your dog learns to walk on a loose lead, and isn’t overwhelmed by what’s going on around him or her.

Environment

Talking of less distracting places, any dog is more likely to pull in distracting environments than one with very little going on – and what one dog will find distracting will likely very to the next.  At the moment, Inka pulls when he sees another dog, and he also pulls when there’s a “good smell”, he will sometimes pull when he’s excited as well.  We’re working through these, and gradually he’s walking more & more on a loose lead, but it does take time, and patience – and remembering (or realising, as it changes) what sort of environment will be too much for him to cope with.

Alongside all of this, we’re also working on his proper “heel” training, but so far we’re sticking around the house and back garden as anything else is too much for him to cope with while heeling.  If you set a dog up to ‘fail’ (in this case, pull on lead) then that is what that dog will learn.

Canine-human relationship

This is really quite important to all aspects of training – if your dog doesn’t want to be around you, he will make it known, and – I believe – no more so than when on lead.  He (or she) is more likely to pull, and not only to pull forward, but also I’ve noticed that dogs who don’t want to be “tethered” to their owners will often pull to the side at the same time i.e. in a total attempt to “get away”.

Product Review – Thundershirt

Soon after Inka came to live with us, I decided to get him a Thundershirt.  As a non-working sheepdog, he was really nervous, which at a guess was probably due to inadequate socialisation in the early weeks & months of his life, or to put it bluntly – living on a farm, and then living in a shed.

He frequently vomited in the car, not to mention all the drooling; he’d leave the car looking like I’d used it to bathe him, whether we drove 2 minutes down the road to the vets office, or fifteen minutes to training classes (the sick was kind of like and ‘added bonus’ for longer journeys only); he was nervous of people – especially men; he was very sound- and sight-sensitive, and would jump at the slightest visual or auditory hint of wind or heavy rain.  A Thundershirt seemed like it would complement the behavioural modification programme I was putting in place for him, and at worst it would do no harm (and it’s backed by a 45 day refund period).

Sizing it was a little difficult, though that was because of Inka, not the Thundershirt.  When he came home in July at about 9 months old, he weighed at the low-end of 19Kg (the breed standard for a Huntaway has an upper weight of 29Kg!!), we eventually decided on the large Thundershirt, and when it arrived it would wrap just small enough, though now he’s gaining weight & growing, it fits better each time he needs it (he now weighs ~21Kg and has grown about an inch or so).

Inka wore his Thundershirt almost constantly at first, he was always more settled in it than out of it; and he especially wore it any time the car was involved, or the weather wasn’t so great, or we were having visitors, and even for his first few lessons at our local training centre.  With his Thundershirt, alongside a behavioural modification program, Inka has improved immensely in the six months since he came home; and now he only wears his Thundershirt when the weather is particularly bad.

We were especially thankful for his Thundershirt over the Christmas break, as on two separate occasions we had localised, short thunderstorms, both of them in the early hours of the morning.  The first storm was just a single clap of thunder, the second was a bit longer and had hailstones, a couple of lightening bolts, and several thunder claps.  Both times, the three of us woke up, both times I got out of bed, said “lets go get your Thundershirt on” to Inka, both times he followed me into the front room, and sat waiting on the rug, had his Thundershirt put on, and we all went straight back to bed and fell asleep without any problems.  I’ve never regretted getting Inka his Thundershirt, as it’s helped in every situation he’s worn it in, but after the two mini-storms we had recently, I think I like it even more – if that’s possible!

When I first got involved in dogs, I must admit I wished I had a “real” problem dog to try this strange Thundershirt thing on, and now that I’ve used it with Inka I wouldn’t hesitate to use it with any other dog, or recommend it to anyone who was considering trying one for their dog.

Inka in his ThundershirtI was neither asked nor compensated in any way by anyone for writing this review; I wrote it simply to share my experience with the Thundershirt in the hopes of helping other dog owners make an informed decision about whether it may help their dog(s).