My Response To Sheldon & Tristian: Debate About Ecollers

On Friday December 18th 2015 Duke Ferguson went on the air to discuss electric collars with a radio show host, Sheldon MacLeod and a trainer Sheldon hosts weekly, Tristan Flynn from Jollytails.

Tristan often speaks out against the use of electric collars (ecollars) and during this debate brought up position statements from leading Veterinary Behavior Associations.  These associations I have an enormous amount of respect for and there is no doubt that they have a place in the training community. One of the things that I truly love about behavioral scientist’s, is that from them you can learn the deepest most inter workings of behavior. Through their findings we can truly have conversations with dogs on a much deeper level because rather than learning words or phrases we can actually become fluent in doggie lingo.

For any trainer regardless of methods used, being fluent in dog is a necessity. With all of this said, Duke brings about a very important point…words on paper don’t amount to much. As the age old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

I am not going to waste your time here with anecdotal evidence and personal experiences, rather I am going to share with you a video of a Veterinary Behaviorist, who served on the board of The American Veterinary Association of Animal Behavior,  working a dog with dog aggression. I challenge you to watch this video and not think what she is doing is quite rough. No, there is not stimulation from an electric collar but there is no doubt this dog is being yanked and jerked around by his face and neck. Suddenly the claim made by Veterinary Behavior Associations that they do not support a group of devices because of the damages done to the dogs body and mental state seems a bit ridiculous, essentially, you can jerk your dog around with a leash as long as you are doing it with the “correct” devices.

Take a look:

In this very video she discusses how she is applying a lot of Gentle Leader pressure. She dances around this dilemma by referring to the pressure as Negative Reinforcement. Interestingly though, Negative Reinforcement means to remove (-negative) something unpleasant to increase (reinforce) behavior. She knows she is applying something unpleasant to the dog yet justifies it because it’s an “emergency situation”. This would be the very claim and justification made by anyone who uses e-collars, we are not so different after all.

To further make the statements made by Veterinary Behavior Associations less credible, this very Veterinary Behaviorist, the one in the video, has an article written about the use of Gentle Leaders. The title of the article is: Are Head Collars on Dogs Dangerous or Safe? It’s All About Technique.

You can read the full article here:

That’s an interesting title. Apparently there is a correct way of using a gentle leader and if someone were to use one improperly we may see damage done to the dog. Very similar to choke, prong and e-collars, but because the word gentle is in the title of the device it is easier to look away when a dog is being treated harshly.

I want to make clear right here that I do not disagree with Dr. Sophia Yin’s approach. I believe she did what she had to given the tool at her disposal, her stature, build and strength in comparison to the dog she was working with and in the end she got some amazing results. That does not change the fact that I do see someone being rough with a dog, someone who claimed to be a proponent of positive reinforcement and “force free” methods. Her entire career was based off of diffusing stress in dogs and pushing all positive methods.

If you have not read the article yet, perhaps you wanted to wait until you were through with my letter first, I want to share two quotes, both taken from the same article above.

“If this were a person, flailing on the end of a leash attached to an apparatus on his head, he’d surely have a neck injury. But anyone who has seen a dog that goes to town playing tug-o-war knows that a dog’s neck is built differently.

Because of this neck strength, few cases of injury due to head collars have been proven or medically documented (I actually haven’t seen any). Not to say injury could not happen. However, veterinary documented injuries caused or exacerbated by choke chain corrections and electronic collars are easy to find.”

Gentle leaders are fairly new in the training community, give veterinary documented cases some time, it will happen. In fact (okay I am going to waste your time with anecdotal evidence and personal experiences) my own veterinarian asked me about different devices, said she is seeing a high number of clients not liking prong collars, but doesn’t know why when she sees more injuries due to gentle leaders. It’s not unlike banning dog breeds. Ban pit bull type dogs and we will begin to see a rise in bites from other breeds, Tristan, you said that yourself on one of the shows with Sheldon. So it stands to reason,  that if you ban a specific training tool then we will see a rise in injuries due to other devices. Banning doesn’t work, education does.

I digress, here is the second quote taken from the very same article:

“Most likely if dogs are pulling on their head collar a lot or running to the end, they may need massage or chiropractic care just the way people who work or study at a desk all day need back adjustments periodically.” 

So we went from “few cases of injury due to head collars have been proven or medically documented (I actually haven’t seen any)”, to “they may need massage or chiropractic care”. And, she compared the use of a gentle leader to sitting all day. It is just a simple fact that human doctors are fed up with us sitting all day. Studies show that the damages done due to long periods of sitting are monumental and studies are showing… irreversible.

Hey don’t take my word on it, here are some resources that back my statement:

So when a Veterinary Behaviorist or Dog Trainer puts a gentle leader on a dog and then makes matters worse by yanking him around to “redirect” him they are likely causing irreversible damage to the dog’s neck. Just because we can not see the damage does not mean it is not there.

Tristan, I don’t know if you are truly ignorant to the damages done by these devices or if you just choose to ignore it, and I can’t decide which is worse. Either you are truly ignorant, perhaps, because you spend so much time bashing other people for their techniques and methods (which based off your erroneous comment made about dogs being shocked at random, you obviously don’t understand how ecollar training works, despite all you have read) you never give your methods or tools a single thought or you know perfectly well that there are risks involved and you simply choose not educate people on that matter. And, it seems your ignorance doesn’t stop at gentle leaders; front clip harness are also beginning to gain a bad rap amongst Veterinarians (remember I said give medically documented cases time, well here you go).

Here are some articles that call into question the safety of front clip harness:

Training aids are often a necessity to help the owner control and manage their dogs through the training process and can be invaluable tools used to give the owners a sense of instant success. As we all know, we are much more likely to see fall out if owners do not feel that they are gaining the right amount of progress in a decent time frame. This is why, I do not personally, disagree with any tool but I question the morals and ethics of a trainer who will not discuss pros and cons with owners or who hide truths about devices just because they want to maintain an image.

In reference to the “we don’t put ecollars on children” retort, we also do not put apparatuses (i.e gentle leaders) around their faces to control them and gain their attention. If we are going to continually hear that argument lets really take a close look at how we treat dogs versus our children because not only do we not put apparatuses around there faces we also do not feed them from bowls on the floor, crate them when we leave the house, spay or neuter them and we do not euthanize them if they bite someone. If you think  children don’t bite people, you have never had or been around children.

I can go on for another 1,000-3,000 words on how “all positive” trainers shoot themselves in the foot with their inconsistencies on their positions of the use of corrections, but realistically in the end, as trainers we have to run our practices the best way we know how. Education should never stop and mistakes will be made but ultimately we should begin to recognize a trained dog, regardless of methods used to meet the end (aside from honest to goodness abuse) is better than an untrained dog. When behavior is still the number one reason dogs die every single year in western countries, it’s time to quit bickering and just do your job and let others do theirs.



The Great Debate: Training Tools Part 2

There are few conversations that are as controversial as dog training tools and devices. Dog trainers go back and forth with this argument all of the time and this subject is arguably the best way to rile a group of trainers. The first thing we have to remember is that any device or tool that is physically applied to decrease behavior falls under the quadrant of positive punishment, there is no getting around that regardless of what some trainers would like you to believe. I am not implying that all corrections are treated equal but I am saying that what is traumatic for one dog, may not be traumatic for another and only the dog can decide that. When applying a correction be sure to pay attention to your dog’s response and how quickly they bounce back. Adjust your plan accordingly.

It is extremely important to note that before any correction is applied you should give your dog a command and give them the chance to comply, this of course means that you have first taught the command. If they do not comply, you must give your no reward marker “Eh-Eh”, “Uh-Oh” or “Whoops” immediately followed by your correction and the very moment your dog does do what you asked, you must heavily reward the correct choice.

Squirt Bottles: This seemingly benign training option can be great as an interrupter of unwanted behaviors. Be careful though because some dogs are so terrified of water that giving your dog a squirt could actually be traumatizing.  This is the worst thing I can do to my Doberman Pinscher, so I don’t ever squirt her.

Compressed Air: This is a small container that you can spray in your dog’s general direction, never directly at them, to interrupt poor behavior. Some even contain a calming pheromone to give this correction a little more umpf. There are pet specific brands that can be bought at your local pet store, no you cannot use keyboard spray!  In most cases I would consider this a step up from the squirt bottle but I have seen plenty of dogs not respond to it at all or be so traumatized the very site of the can sends them into a quivering mess. Once again, you will need to pay close attention to your dog’s reaction and adjust your training plan to fit their needs. For many families I have helped, cans of compressed air was a godsend, that helped to stop dogs from humping, licking, barking, chewing and so on.

Front Clip Harnesses: Designed to curb or even eliminate dogs from pulling on the leash the front clip harness is very easy for dogs to get used to wearing, in fact I have never seen a dog dislike one, but this is about where the benefits of this device ends. Front clip harnesses can prove to be useful in some dogs to curb leash pulling, however, there are several safety risks involved. Simply having the harness on, with no leash attached or pressure applied can do damage to dog’s biceps and supraspinatus tendons. The harness also works by applying pressure to the dog’s back, unlike traditional harnesses that apply pressure to the chest. Dog’s have a natural opposition reflex that causes them to push against what is pushing on them. This is why dogs will seemingly choke themselves when walking on flat collars. The pressure from the collar against the dog’s throat literally tells the dog to pull harder. Having the pressure from this harness on the back tells the dog to push back, this can cause some dogs to slow down, however, prolonged use of this device can cause some dogs to become dependant on feeling that pressure in order to walk nice, making weaning your dog off of the harness very difficult.

Head Halters: Head halters are devices made of two thin nylon strips that go around the dog’s muzzle and behind the ears. This is not a muzzle device; dog’s wearing a head halter have full use of their mouths, they can eat, play and pant normally. Head halters are designed to give owners more control of their dogs by being able to direct the dog’s head. There are many times I have seen this device be of a wonderful benefit to dogs and the families that have to live with them. I have seen Great Pyrenees walk beautifully in seconds, so much so, that small children were able to safely walk the dog. There is real wonder and “magic” in how great this device can be for some dogs. Other dogs do not have so much success. Many dogs will tear their faces open with their dew claws trying to get the device off, rub their faces on the ground and thrash wildly at the end of the leash. For most dogs there is a pretty major desensitization process that has to take place before they are comfortable wearing, let alone, working (training) with the device on. Head halters also rely on the dog’s opposition reflex, applying pressure to the back of the head causing many dogs to push back, essentially causing them to slow down. Like the front clip harnesses, if head halters are used in excess this can build a dependency to the pressure. There is also real risk for injury with the use of head halters. Dogs that thrash wildly at the end of the leash or dogs that have been given a harsh jerk from the leash while wearing the head halter (which should NEVER be done) can suffer neck injuries that can require chiropractic care.

Choke Chains: These are long chains with rings on either end. They are meant to be slipped over the dog’s head and remain loose until the trainer, owner or handler applies a correction by snapping or popping the collar with the leash. The only benefit of these collars is that the dog can’t build a dependency to pressure like front clip harnesses and head halters but that is where the benefits end. In order for the correction to be powerful enough to send any real message to the dog, it needs to be up high on the dog’s neck directly behind the ears, because the device is designed to slip over the dog’s head there is nothing keeping it where it needs to be.The collar tends to fall down to the base of the neck, where the neck is it’s strongest. Most dogs barely register a correction there. There is real risk in the dog getting an injury while wearing a choke chain. If the dog pulls excessively and the owner/handler is not skilled in giving a proper correction the dog could literally choke herself out or suffer from a collapsed trachea. NEVER leave this device on if you are not training or walking your dog. It can get caught on something and your dog could be strangled.

Prong Collar: This is a step up from choke chains. Prong collars are designed to be fitted snugly; if you can slip your prong collar over your dog’s head, it is not fitted properly. The snugness of the collar and the prongs help keep the device up high where it is meant to be. It can slip down slightly but if fitted properly, slippage will be minimal. Many dogs adjust quite easily to prong collars and their is real “magic” in how quickly and effectively these devices work, however, I caution you against allowing your dog to “self correct”. Self corrections are where the dog pulls against the device and because it gives a foreign sensation the dog will slow down. It won’t be long before your dog becomes desensitized to the sensation and will begin to pull like normal; their necks get “hard” to the collar. As with flat collars and choke chains if your dog is allowed to pull hard against this device or if they are wrenched hard by the leash with the collar on you can run the risk of causing a collapsed trachea. NEVER leave this collar on when not training or walking your dog, it can get caught on something and the dog can be strangled.

Electronic Remote Collars: This collar has the worst reputation of all of the training collars and even has a horrible and misleading nickname… “shock collar”. While yes back in the late 70’s and early 80’s these devices were horrible, giving dogs nasty shocks, and unpredictable, picking up transmissions from other devices leading to inconsistent corrections, the devices of today are actually quite safe and most certainly do not deliver an electrical shock to your dog, it does however, give a surface skin stimulation, meaning that your dog will feel a sensation on their skin. The higher end collars offer multiple settings ranging from a tone, vibration or stimulation and the stimulation can range from sensations humans can not even register to much higher. The higher settings are generally only used in extreme cases or in emergency situations, however in general training these settings are absolutely not necessary. Because a leash is never attached to this device, rather a flat collar in conjunction with this collar, the incidents of a dog becoming dependent on pressure of a collar to walk nice is greatly reduced. As with all tools there are risks when using electronic collars. The collar should NEVER be left on when not training or walking your dog. Remote collars, will cause open wounds to develop if left on more than eight hours at a time. If the collar is in the hands of someone unskilled in it’s use dogs may be given too frequent of corrections or too high of a correction that can cause dogs to go into learned helplessness. An act of literally doing nothing in order to avoid another correction. Dogs in learned helplessness will appear sad and will walk with a cautioned gate, with head and ears lowered. This is not proper training. Dogs should be happy to work and learn and should be encouraged to work through problems, not corrected into submission.

In no way am I telling owners to run out and buy a correctional device. In fact I believe the majority of training should happen without the use of any training tool to ensure communicative understanding and bonding between dog and owner, however, should you feel that you need a correctional device I would seek a trainer that can show you how to use one properly.

When considering correctional tools, we should recognize that damage is undoubtedly a possibility, regardless of what device you choose to use. Our goal should not be to hate, fear or ban any individual tool; we should be weighing the pros and cons of each tool, while considering the behavioral benefits of each tool. We should be a) pairing the correct tool with an individual dog, family and situation and b) working hard to get owners interested in training enough to not need the dependence of a tool at all. Tools can make great training aids and can even be necessary in the training process to ensure dogs do not rehearse unwanted behaviors but nothing can replace solid training.

Logical Argument:

There are two main arguments spouted by trainers that will not correct a dog for misbehaving. The first one is, ‘if marine animals can be trained for shows without the use of leash corrections or “force” than what makes us think we can’t train dogs the same way’?  For all of those people who use the training of marine animals as a reason to train dogs without any form of correction or “punishment”, I would like to give my readers a very real and serious message. Those animals are kept in tiny tanks (maybe not tiny to you but definitely tiny to that animal), they are depraved of social interaction from their pods and families, they are kept in very sterile environments with other members of their species but not their immediate families. This has, in many cases, proven to be detrimental to the safety of all animals involved, including the humans that work with them. Wolves that were studied in captivity, who lived in similar conditions had many altercations and it is proving to be the same with Orca as well. The animals are depraved of all meals unless working to help ensure compliance, which doesn’t always work and they are never given the chance to perform behaviors that are natural to them and would otherwise be very mentally stimulating (i.e hunting, migrating, mating and so on). This is such inhumane treatment it is hard to even think about. Any animal loving person in their right mind wouldn’t dare keep their dogs like this, so why compare the lives and training of marine animals to the lives and training of our dogs?

If the treatment of the animals is not enough to convince you that we should not be comparing marine animals to our dogs, let me give you more food for thought. Orca, dolphins and other marine animals do not live in our homes and neighborhoods. They do not share living space with us, our pets or our children. We don’t have to walk them, handle them or trust them with our kids, other pets visitors and so on. Our neighbors do not have to hear them, smell them or fear them. Mail carriers do not have to worry about one being loose and so on; I think you are getting the point. It is such a ludicrous comparison that I can’t believe it has stood up in the face of reason for so long.

We are in a world where we track down and kill a shark or bear that attacked a person, who, of their own volition, entered the natural habitat of that animal yet people coexisting with dogs can not choose what tools to utilize for training or containment (electric fences) for fear of being called abusive, even if all tools are utilized properly and in conjunction with proper training protocols. Ridiculous.

The second argument is, ‘you wouldn’t do that to your children’! This is usually spouted as a defensive argument against the use of prong or electronic collars. Well, we also don’t crate our children for long periods of the day, put apparatuses around their faces to control their heads, we do not feed them from bowls on the floor or euthanize them if they bite someone. The list can go on and on. While great parallels can be made between the raising of dogs and children there are some very significant differences and it is a plain and simple fact that people are simply not as forgiving of dogs’ mistakes as they would be of children’s, especially if that dog posed a risk to the safety of a child. Suddenly no one would care what training methods were put into place or even what happened to the dog so long as the child was safe. Am I saying it is right, not at all, but it is reality.

As with all of my blogs I put a strong emphasis of having cooperative relationships with our dogs. Absolutely we should be treating all of those charged in our care with the same loving respect that we would our children but every species has different rules all of their own and they should be treated and cared for in a species specific manner. As with our dogs, they need to roam with their pack, to hunt/work, and to have strong social interactions. That means we need to walk them, play with them, teach them to work for things that they want, hide toys or treats and encourage them to find them and in general be having strong, genuine interactions with our dogs. We need to make time for them and their needs. Correctional devices can make some of these things easier and more enjoyable for the human involved and when the human is enjoying themselves they are more likely to do more with their dogs.

The Great Debate: Training Tools Part 1

The Great Debate: Training Tools Part 1

I read an article this morning that really raised my hackles.

This is the link to it here: Choke, prong and shock collars: Why they don’t belong on our dogs:

I have had it up to here (raises hand to forehead). Right off the bat it is a completely one sided and an incomplete argument. Naturally we have all been seeing more and more of this. The training world has taken a turn toward more positive methods, which is so incredibly great; to have a cooperative working relationship with our dogs is unlike anything else, but the very people who despise the use of the tools listed in the title of that article are also the same people ignoring the damaging effects of the tools they do like (i.e gentle leaders, easy walk harness etc) and any and all evidence, research or studies done that proves it, is ignored or explained away.

So here I am, wanting to shed some light on a very controversial subject so that you are provided enough information to think critically and make an educated decision on your own.

First and foremost any tool used to stop or decrease a behavior fall under the training quadrant, Positive Punishment. The positive means: to add something (think math terms + plus sign) and punishment means: to decrease. That means if you are using ANY of the tools mentioned in the article above (e-collar, prong collar, choke chain, head halter, easy walk harness) you are applying positive punishment and like it or not, you are not using strict positive reinforcement or “force free” techniques.

I am going to take a break here and say, I am not saying that using a tool to decrease your dogs unwanted behavior is a bad thing, not at all, but I want it to be clear that they are all in the same category and are to some degree… force. At some point in the training of your dog you may need to use a tool so that you can limit your dogs ability to rehearse unwanted behaviors and that is perfectly okay, but you need to choose the tool that is best for you and your dog and not be concerned with someone else’s standard, but please, find a trainer that can help you choose the best tool for you, your dog and your situation and can help guide you in it’s use, so you can make as few mistakes as possible.

Okay, moving along. The author of the article mentions many damaging effects that can come from the use of choke chains, prong collars and electronic collars. Some behavioral, such as going into “learned helplessness” or making negative associations between the correction from the device to the stimuli in the environment (i.e people, dogs etc). These are very real possibilities that should be taken into account when considering the use of these devices, however, with the help of a skilled trainer the instances of confusion or learned helplessness would be very rare.

The other ill effects of using the devices are all medical and are all things that come from the improper use of the devices. These injuries absolutely would not happen if the devices are used correctly. Can we say the same about the last two devices mentioned in the article, harness and head halters? Let’s take a look.

Several times in the article above, the author quotes the late, great, Dr. Sophia Yin. Here is one in reference to head halters (Gentle Leaders, Halties etc.)

“If this were a person, flailing on the end of a leash attached to an apparatus on his head, he’d surely have a neck injury. But anyone who has seen a dog that goes to town playing tug-o-war knows that a dog’s neck is built differently.

Because of this neck strength, few cases of injury due to head collars have been proven or medically documented (I actually haven’t seen any). Not to say injury could not happen. However, veterinary documented injuries caused or exacerbated by choke chain corrections and electronic collars are easy to find.”

Anyone who is a proponent of the use of prong collars states the very same argument about neck strength that Sophia Yin states here in reference to head halters. The neck is so strong the dog can not actually cause harm to himself. The injuries she mentions, caused by prong, electronic and choke collars, are all because of someone who used it totally improperly or purposefully used it to abuse the animal. The injuries you can find on the internet caused by those tools are not done through proper use of the tools.

The article also has a list of things not to do when using a head halter. Don’t you think that if someone used one improperly then,  you would actually find that dogs do get injured? Naturally, but apparently even the correct use of head halters can indeed cause injury, see Dr. Sophia Yin also has this to say on the subject of head halters:

“Most likely if dogs are pulling on their head collar a lot or running to the end, they may need massage or chiropractic care just the way people who work or study at a desk all day need back adjustments periodically.” 

Both quotes are taken from the same article, you can read it here:, and are a bit contradictory.

Even the title of the article: Are Head Collars on Dogs Dangerous or Safe? It’s All About Technique, suggests that she, indeed,does feel that they could be dangerous, if it’s all about technique.

In addition I have spoken to many veterinarians that do not like the use of head halters because they are indeed seeing a higher instance of dogs getting whiplash from either thrashing wildly at the end of the leash or because an owner gave a leash correction while the dog had a head halter on. So just because Sophia Yin hasn’t seen medically documented cases, doesn’t mean other veterinarians haven’t. And, in reference to her statement about the need for chiropractic care, just the way people who work or study at a desk all day, human doctors are fed up with us sitting all day. The damage done to our bodies due to long periods of sitting is monumental and evidence is showing…irreversible.

Here are some links to back that statement:

With all that said then, if our dogs are having the same damage done to them from wearing head halters as we get from sitting, we could actually be doing an enormous amount of and possibly irreversible damage to our dogs’ bodies. Just because you can not see the damage does not mean that it is not there.

Here is where I am going to add my own two cents, have you ever seen a dog flail at the end of a head halter? I have and it is pretty unnerving, it can be hard to watch.

Take a look:

Yes, you can find hundreds of videos of people using a gentle leader correctly and dogs loving them but the same could be said for prong and electronic collars so I ask you…what’s the difference? If the dog featured in this video hates the gentle leader and it is obviously causing him stress, why not choose a different tool that the dog will respond to that may not cause this much stress? What really gets my goat though, is the people in the world that would choose to ignore this dogs’ stress and put him thru a desensitization process to help him adjust to the collar but then ignore that you can do the same for other devices. Taking a once previously disliked item and turning it into something the dog enjoys. Again, what’s the difference?

The author of the article is also in heavy favor of the easy walk or front clip harnesses. Going on to list a whole slew of benefits and ignoring the risks involved in using one. It upsets me because I don’t know whether or not she blatantly ignored facts or if she is truly ignorant to them and I can’t decide which is worse.

Just like the head halters trainers and veterinarians are beginning to call into question the safety of the front clip harnesses. don’t take my word on it.

Read it here:

As research comes out I am sure we will see and hear more about these injuries. What I find most interesting though is, simply having the harness on can cause damage to the dog, no leash needs to be on or pressure even needs to be applied for damage to be done, the same can not be said about prong, choke or electronic collars.

The author of the article quotes Dr. Sophia Yin one last time at the end of the article, after completely ignoring and never discussing a single con from using harnesses or head halters.

“So why do I avoid the choke chain? Besides the fact that my philosophy of training is to focus on rewarding the dog’s good behaviors and removing rewards for unwanted ones until the dog forms good habits, there are many medical and safety reasons too.”

After reading all of the evidence that shows head halters and front clip harnesses can actually be very dangerous in regards to medical and safety, don’t you think that last quote is a bit ridiculous and misleading? If we are going to parade the injuries and bodily damages done to dogs from using a group of devices, then we need to do the same for all.

Damage is undoubtedly a possibility, regardless of what device you choose to use. Our goal should not be to hate, fear or ban any individual tool; we should be weighing the pros and cons of each tool, while considering the behavioral benefits of each tool. We should be a) pairing the correct tool with an individual dog, family and situation and b) working hard to get owners interested in training enough to not need the dependence of a tool at all. Tools can make great training aids and can even be a necessary evil in the training process to ensure dogs do not rehearse unwanted behaviors but nothing can replace solid training.

On a final note, the learner, in this case the dogs, choose what is aversive and what is rewarding, we just need to learn to remove our emotion from the subject and listen to our dogs.

Sniffing And The Misinformative Image

The image below (go ahead scroll down and take a look at it) is one of many, that I see, that put out a very brief and horribly incomplete idea of what walking your dog “should” be like. First let me say, images like this are not talking to canine professionals, they are talking to the general public and I find it horribly irresponsible that who ever creates images like this put such little information in them. Second how you walk your dog needs to be based off only three things. 1) Are you enjoying the walk? 2) Is your dog safe? and 3) Is the public safe? But, you see this image does not talk about either of those items, it is only concerned with one aspect of canine functions…sniffing.

With the world up in arms about how living with our dogs should be about relationships and cooperation between dog and human, this image suggest otherwise, because it is only concerned with the canine component of the relationship.

I am going to break this image apart and expand on it so that we can better understand what walking our dogs is like and hopefully bring some much needed clarity to a very basic image.

Right off the bat it says: “Let Your Dog Sniff.” Suddenly it is suggested that if you don’t let your dog sniff, then you are a bad dog owner and not giving your dog everything they need. Is that really fair?  I was out walking my dogs this morning and did not allow them to sniff because we were on a time constraint. This morning walk was for exercise but we needed to get through it so we could get to work. Sniffing would have slowed us down. Is that wrong? Not at all and no one should make anyone feel like it is.

I can’t help thinking about how many people have read this and decided not to go for a morning walk with their dogs because they wouldn’t have time to allow them to sniff, or did go for a walk but became agitated at their dog for taking to long. Both scenarios lead to a strained relationship between dog and owner, which can lead to a whole slew of other problems.

“Dogs experiences the world through their noses. Sniffing is mentally stimulating.” This is a very true statement but much like we experience the world through our eyes, we don’t need to be right on top of something, staring at it to see it. When we walk we can visually take in the scenery and our dogs are capable of doing the same thing with their nose. They can smell things in the air and while it may not be as good as getting right on top of it, it does still provide them sensory stimulation.

“This is an easy way to release energy.” Massive amounts of misinformation. Dogs that are allowed to zig-zag and forge ahead, sniffing or otherwise, actually burn far less energy than dogs that are asked to walk in a structured manner. The mental work it takes for a dog to walk beside their owner and to concentrate on a task is very draining and much more exhausting than a dog being allowed to do whatever they want.

“Whose walk is it anyway?” This is just awful. As previously stated, the dog training world has taken a turn toward cooperative and relationship building methods, which is great but this question suggests otherwise. The walk should be for both parties to bond, get exercise, fresh air and in general enjoy each other and the outdoors. The creator of this image has just made clear that the owners needs were unimportant.

I am not saying that letting your dog sniff is bad or that you should never do it, not even close, but sniffing should not be the only thing considered. So, like mentioned earlier there are three things to consider when walking your dog, or when you have them in public period.

Are you, as the owner, enjoying yourself? In any relationship if you do anything simply because it is for the other party and you find nothing in it for yourself, this can breed resentment. Consider if someone quits smoking or goes on a diet and they do it for, let’s say their spouse, they may begin to feel like they have had to change who they are for someone else. Thoughts like ‘why couldn’t they just love me for who I am?’ begin to emerge and suddenly not only do you lose motivation to change you also begin to feel resentment for the other person. Psychologists say that resentment is the most damaging thing you can have in a relationship because it is very difficult to come back from. Once you resent someone it is almost impossible to not resent them.

If you are walking your dog just for them, and in addition to that they are unpleasantly dragging you down the street or anchoring you to a tree, how long will you continue to go for daily walks like that before you quit walking all together? Well, the answer is, you wont continue and dog trainers and behaviorists already know that. The very possibility for a walk to happen hinges on whether or not the owner gets enjoyment from walking. So for this image to even say “whose walk is it anyway” completely ignores that the owner also needs to be happy, otherwise they may begin to resent their dogs and begin to dislike them in other avenues as well. Have you ever heard someone say, ‘oh my dog is to stupid for that’, or, ‘my dog could never do that’? These are the people who have had a poor experience with their dogs, have some resentment and have concluded that their dogs are incapable of cooperation. These dogs are very likely not getting out of their immediate surroundings and are likely not getting any training. Because of resentment, their owners have given up on them.

Is the dog safe? Sniffing typically leads to forging or pulling forward. Not only does this make the owner uncomfortable it can actually lead dogs into dangerous situations. They could pull so hard that the leash gets pulled from the owners hand and suddenly the dog is loose or they can pull toward an unknown dog that could result in a fight. Which leads us into our last point.

Is the public safe?  If you have an aggressive dog, allowing them to direct the walk with their sniffing is horribly irresponsible. These dogs should be kept on task and given structured exercise. Even if you are not uncomfortable, when we call into question the safety of the dog and the public that is all that should matter.

Is this to say your dog can’t sniff at all? No, of course not, there is a time and place for everything but all three things mentioned above should be considered when walking your dog.

Fear: Can You Reinfoce It or Can’t You?

Over the fourth of July weekend my Facebook page was blown up with memes and posts about it being okay for you to pet, coo at and hold your scared dog during the fireworks. It is becoming a popular notion that you can not reinforce fear because it is an emotion and emotions can not be reinforced.

On one hand you still have traditional type dog trainers advising their clients to not touch, talk to or even look at their dogs while they are scared. Some have even gone so far as to say that we should be forcing our dogs into terrifying situations to “get them over it”.

On the other hand we have the more new aged dog trainers telling us that we absolutely can not reinforce emotions, including fear so go ahead and comfort your dog.

While NO,  I would absolutely not drag my dog out into the middle of a storm or a firework display in the name of teaching them to get over it but I am going to step in here and play a bit of devil’s advocate.

I believe you can, indeed, reinforce emotions because you see, emotions are not singular events that take place all by themselves, no, rather emotions are ALWAYS paired with behaviors and since behaviors can be reinforced one could conclude then, that emotions can be reinforced.

To further strengthen my case:

In Linda Case’s book Beware The Straw Man she mentions a study done where people in two different groups read a story. Both groups had to hold a pencil in their mouths while they read it. The first group held the pencil in their teeth forcing a smile and the second group held the pencil in their pressed lips forcing a frown.

The first group, with the forced smiles felt better or more positively about the story while the second group, with the forced frowns felt more negatively about the story, drawing the conclusion that your behavior can actually alter or impact your feelings or emotions. Change the behavior you change the emotion!

This reminds me of a communications class I took some years back where we discussed complaining. The more someone complains, the more likely they are to continue having complaints. Complaining can get further validated or reinforced if you will, if people around them offer forms of agreeance such as active listening, participation in the complaint or even something as subtle as nodding. Complaining is the behavior associated with different emotions such as, frustration, depression, agitation and so on; so while no the emotion itself is not being reinforced, the behavior associated with it is. This becomes a vicious cycle where the complainer relieves their stress from their emotional state by complaining but the complaining actually keeps them in that emotional state.

Reinforcement means to increase or to make stronger. Many behaviors are self reinforcing, meaning they don’t need external approval for the behavior to continue, so we don’t even have to physically do anything reinforcing, simply allowing a dog to continue being afraid is reinforcing enough.  The dog continues to practice being afraid. If we can get the dog to produce confident behaviors in the face of scary stimulus, we could then change their emotions about the stimulus.

Lets also not forget that fear does not only present in the form of trembling, hiding or drooling but can also present as aggression. In fact MOST aggression stems from a place of fear. Should we be stroking, petting and cooing our dogs when they are a full on barking, lunging, foaming at the mouth mess because the aggression is the behavior that presented during a moment of fear? NO! As trainers we would be removing the dog from that high level of intensity and working the dog back where they could once again handle the distraction and focus on us but we would not be petting, cooing or treating in the dog’s heightened state of agitation or frustration, so why in the world is it okay when the dog is trembling and hiding? It’s behaviors associated with emotion all the same.

Now don’t misunderstand I am not saying that we should be dragging our dogs out in the middle of it, right in the moment of it’s highest intensity and make our dogs “get over it”. Not at all, a proper desensitization process can be a slow one. I am not even saying hiding is a bad thing, especially when we are talking about an event that only happens once a year, but lets acknowledge that it is indeed being reinforced in one way or another. So until you change your dog’s mind about the scary stimulus, you are reinforcing (making stronger) the behaviors associated with fear, thus strengthening the fear.

Where Does The Balance Come In?

Hate is a very strong word. Love is another strong word. Have you ever felt indifferent about something? You don’t love it, you don’t hate, it just is what it is.

Well, in dog training there are two extremes that I just can’t stand to hear about. While I wouldn’t go as far to say I hate either concept these are things that make me cringe.

The first is when I read about or see a video that shows a dog seemingly well behaved. He or she is walking perfectly by the handler or coming when called off leash from an obnoxiously long distance away and the handler is bragging that they have only had the dog in their board n’ train program for two days. Obviously we all know how this was accomplished, with an electronic collar.

Now I am going to say here that I have no real issue with electronic collars. I recognize that some dogs in some situations may, indeed, need one. I recognize that some owners will need one because they lack patience or time to get the training done and the dog remaining in his/her home hinges on the dog getting trained in a timely fashion and I recognize them to be a great tool to clean up already established behaviors. However, if your goal for your dogs training is two days, well I would have to ask you, how dog friendly do you think that training is? And, just what exactly are you doing with a dog if you need them to be perfect in two days.

If you get hired on to a new job, even if you are in the exact same position, doing the exact same thing, you are given a 90 day grace period for you to get used to the new surroundings, the new schedule and so on. So, just why exactly is it, you need your dog trained and ready for the invitationals in less than a week?

Food for thought!

The other extreme, on the opposite end of the spectrum, is when I hear trainers tell people they will need to spend a year working on any single specific behavior. Ahhhh….who in the world is realistically taking that advice? No one, that’s who!

Everyday average dog owners already have a hard enough time trying to find time for the family dog. Between working a full time job (which for most, does not include bringing the dog with them) to helping kids with homework, to preparing meals and so on. This is not meant to get the owner off the hook, not even close. It is meant to add some perspective. Asking anyone to wait a lengthy amount of time for their dog to reliably respond to a single command is simply not owner friendly training.

Our dogs tend to suffer more when the training is not owner friendly. That’s when people become frustrated and eventually lash out at their dogs leading to far harsher punishment than was ever necessary.

In order for training to be fun and effective for both parties involved (dog and owner) I like to break training down into three categories:

1) What can you live with?

I could not care less that my dogs beg at the table. This is something that I can live with and choose to not waste time worrying about “fixing”. Essentially, it is not  a priority. Maybe some day if my dogs are perfect in every other aspect of their lives, and I have nothing left to teach them I will worry about this (*insert sarcasm).

2) What can’t you live with?

I absolutely can not live with my dog reacting aggressively toward other dogs when on leash. My Doberman had a serious issue with this many years ago when I first adopted her and it was something I could not stand. Not only was it really annoying, it also posed a serious threat to her safety and others. Which brings me to my last category.

3) Does it pose a risk to the safety of the dog or others?

If your dog is presenting with a behavior that poses a risk to themselves or others then you have no choice but to care. You don’t get say that your dog door dashing doesn’t bother you so you are going to put it on your “I can live with it list.” Door dashing is a seriously dangerous behavior and should not be allowed to continue.

I do strongly suggest breaking your training down like this. Make literal, physical lists of things that could potentially pose a safety risk, things that you personally can not live with, it is a pet peeve and if the behavior does not stop the dog is gone, and finally a list of things that, you know what, really aren’t so bad, they are things you can live with.

Once you have your list make a training plan that helps you to safely, constructively, yet in a timely fashion train the behaviors on your “can’t live with” and “safety risk” lists. Getting those pesky “can live with” items out of the way can help to prioritize your training and help you to move forward smoothly because you have resolved to ignoring those “can live with” items. You can always come back to them later.

As always I recommend seeking professional guidance and remember that everyone’s lists will look differently. What concerns one may not concern another, so don’t worry about trying to make your list based off what you think others would do and base it off of what you, your dog and your family needs.

Walking Your Dog: The Joys and the Struggles

Walking Your Dog: The Joys and the Struggles

I love walking my dogs, whether they are dragging me down the street or walking pleasantly beside me. While obviously one scenario is more pleasant than the other, I take great joy walking my dogs either way.

This is not always the case for everyone else though. One question I get asked the most is, “how do I get my dog to stop pulling on the leash?” For most people being dragged down the street is unpleasant or uncomfortable but for many others it can be down right dangerous.

Out of my four dogs, only one pulls on leash while out walking. He is my 12 year old lab mix who is roughly 55-60 pounds. Years upon years ago I gave up the struggle of trying to teach him how to walk well on leash. When I adopted him I was a novice trainer and only had a few tricks up my sleeve to get the job done right (I have a lot more now) and I enjoyed long walks (we are talking hours) and I simply was not going to sacrifice those walks in order to take the time to teach him proper leash skills. This was my problem not his and being that he is 55-60 pounds and I am 160 pounds, well, simply put, I have the strength to physically control him.

Many others can not say the same. In order to even get to a point that you can walk your dogs pleasantly, let alone to the point of enjoyment, one must invest the time, energy and sometimes money. Money is a pretty easy fix. On the shelves of just about every pet retail store you will find a slew of different products all designed to help you gain control over your dog while in public, such as being on a walk. From gentle leader head halters, to easy walk front clip harness to more traditional style collars such as prong collars and choke chains. All of these devices are lumped into one category: TRAINING AIDS.

I caps those last two words not to yell at you, but because I want to make clear that they are aids, meant to help you on your training journey, not complete it. Nothing can replace solid training and depending on a tool to do all of the work for you is just not going to cut it.

The first two items in your loose leash walking training, time and energy, are the parts most people struggle with. Out on my morning walk this morning I was on the parks trail a little behind another person out walking their dog (she is who inspired this blog). I watched her several times take her phone from her pocket, type and put it back. It must have been a dozen times. Obviously she was texting. Where does this leave the dog? Well on an easy walk harness, forging forward sniffing every blade of grass. Not a single ounce of attention was paid from the owner to the dog, or the dog to the owner. They were on the same trail, attached to the same leash but they were not together.

In my training classes I like to paint a mental picture for people so they can fully appreciate why this is kind of a sad scene for me. I like to say, “I can be sitting in the same room as my husband but he is more with his xbox than he is with me.”  Now everyone needs time to themselves and you don’t need to be paying attention to your spouse, or anyone else you have a relationship with, 24 hours a day. We all need time to just be us, but if I were to go to dinner with my husband and he was on his phone or game system all night and I was essentially at the dinner table by myself, well I would be a bit upset. Sometimes you just have to be in the moment with someone.

The one thing I can say to this girls credit, at no point did she get frustrated with the dog. Maybe she was like me and enjoyed walks with her dog regardless of how badly he pulls. He wasn’t pulling as badly as I have seen other dogs so perhaps, this was not so bad to her or maybe they have made leaps and bounds in their training and this was a fine stopping point for her. Either way, if it is something that does not bother you and does not pose a threat to the dog or the public then it really doesn’t matter so long as you and the dog are happy.

It only matters if the dog, public or owner are at risk for injury, illness, or psychological trauma. However, if you are like the millions of people looking to walk with a dog that does not pull and walks generally close to you I highly recommend seeking a trainer that can help you establish four things:

1)Positioning-In order to begin walking we need to teach our dogs where to walk, most commonly know as heel position, and how to get there, to find that spot on their own. I begin by luring my dog with a treat or toy to my left side and facing the same direction. Once there I will lure them back to come position (directly in front of me) and back to heel. I reward each time they get to my left and to my front. I repeat this several times in a 2-5 minute session. You can even use leash pressure to move your dog from one position to the other and, in fact I recommend in some sessions luring and in some sessions using leash pressure.

2) Leash Pressure-This helps us to override our dog’s natural opposition reflex, the reflex that actually tells them to pull harder on the leash.  A dog’s opposition reflex is the reason so many people complain that their dogs will pull even if they are chocking themselves. Leash pressure helps us to communicate to the dog that when the leash gets tight instead of pulling harder against it, to move in the direction the leash is pulling. This will help us to move our dogs back in to the correct walking position. Properly established leash pressure also allows us to communicate with our dogs through minute tugs rather than leash pops, essentially allowing for us to use fewer, if any, corrections in our training.

3)Lure Your Dog Along-Play games with your dog in the house, back yard and front yard where you lure your dog along with you. If in the house or in a fenced yard you can even lure them along without the leash, helping to establish that they need to walk with you even if they don’t have a leash on. Slowly, over time, fade out the lure.

4)Walk Nice Toward Things-Set up games where your dog has to walk with you toward things that they want (I recommend on leash). It can be their food bowl, a toy, a pile of treats, another dog etc. The list can go on and on. Whatever your dog wants, have them walk nicely beside you in order to get it. In the back of my facility there are some woods and a creek. My German Shepherd just loves to play in the creek. In order to do so we have to walk to that creek side by side. If ever she breaks from position I immediately turn around and head back the way I came, just for a couple of paces. Once she is next to me and I have her attention we head back toward the creek. If the item is something your dog really wants more than the world you may be turning around a lot. If it is something mildly stimulating to your dog you may have to only turn around a couple of times. Practice with both levels of stimulation so your dog learns, regardless of how excited they are, all good things come through you and in order to get things they want they first have to do things you want. All four items can take a long time to establish (we’re talking months) and training collars can expedite that process but all four items should be well established long before you take your dog on an actual walk, where you are going to expect them to understand what is expected of them. Simply put, it is unfair to expect your dog to know how to walk with you and to tune out the exciting world around them if you have not put in the leg work and time to teach them just what is expected of them when outdoors, in public and on a leash.