The state of obedience in this country is at an all-time dangerous low. This is not melodrama or exaggeration; it is tragic fact. There are more attacks, maulings and deaths due to dogs than ever before.
Competitive obedience trials are 60+ years old. During most of that time, Novice dogs lined up to perform their Sits and Downs without muss, fuss or controversy. Open dogs waited patiently for their people to come back from out of sight. Obedience trials once the bastion of canine compliance are now too regularly concerned about dog fights and mayhem. How has this come to pass?
In the last 10-15 years, group Sits and Downs have become “Awful”, “Impractical”, “Dangerous” or “Foolish exercises”. How did the sport manage to get from Group exercises being a “no big deal” part of the sport to a constant whining tempest?
A culture, quite frankly a cult, has risen. This cult believes that a dog should never be corrected for bad behavior and that a dog should live in a world without framework, boundaries or consequences. Living in this type of environment makes a dog hyper, hysterical, aggressive and unable to function out in the world.
This is the Positive Only movement. The ONLY techniques that should be used or allowed are Positive and like zealots everywhere, the dedicated PO followers demonize anyone who does not follow their path. You are a “Neanderthal” or more bluntly an “Abuser” if you train any way other than their way. The rabid attacks on Ceasar Millan are a case in point. Whether you like or follow the man’s training theories or not, do they really deserve the ranting diatribes that are spewed? (Personally, like every other trainer/clinician/teacher I’ve listened to, he has things I like and things I don’t)
The PO movement delights in using loaded words. No correction can be anything but “Punishment”. Simply say the word No, and you are punishing the dog. Lift your finger and jingle a dog’s collar and you are punishing that dog. For some of them, if you step into their path of a dog to simply block an action you are negatively correcting and therefore, punishing the dog.
Right now, Positive Only holds sway in the training world. Most every book, magazine article and TV spot are firmly on the Positive Only side of Political Correctness. It’s quite doubtful that you could get an article published right now that came from a more balanced approach.
Any criticism of PO is met with the rationale that this method is used to train killer whales. This method is scientific.
Yes, this method is used to get huge, intelligent wild animals to do pretty amazing tricks. But what is the alternative for these animals? They can work for a fish…or stare at blank concrete walls for the rest of their lives. Not much of an option for an intelligent creature. I was watching a PBS show that went to a dolphin enclosure that was a fenced in lagoon. Yes, there was more room. Yes, the water probably “tasted” better, but it’s still an enclosure. It’s still essentially a sterile training room. Take those whales out into the Open Ocean and then prove how well PO works. When PO training hits the real world, the real ocean, it falls apart the same as it does when PO trained dogs venture out into the world.
The other issue that is overlooked about these wonderfully trained killer whales is that they are trained by PROFESSIONALS. These trainers are college graduates for the most part, given extensive training by experienced trainers and work with these animals every day for hours. This method is then marketed to accountants and hairdressers as, “You too can train just like the sea world trainers”…in all their spare time after work, home, family….
But the thing they EVER mention is how many deaths and injuries are caused to humans from these supposedly so well trained animals?
Science is our current god. There is no denying that it has given us wonders and an understanding of ourselves, our world and our universe unequaled by any other means. But at the heart of the scientific method is the principle that every experiment must be reproducible for it to be valid. This means that it must be able to work in the lab, the training room, and on the street. There was an article years ago in the science magazine, Discover, explaining that diseases that scientists could readily infect lab mice with, would not take root AT ALL in wild mice. The article was calling in to question how valid the lab results can be if you can’t get the same results with “real” mice. It’s not valid science if you can’t reproduce it.
The “go to” tool for the PO movement is the clicker. The clicker can be a valuable tool. Clicker training is a very precise technique where an operator makes a sound, generally using a small plastic device called a “clicker”. The sound is coupled in a creature’s mind with something positive, generally food. I’m using the word creature because the technique has been used on everything from fish to birds to people. The technique does require the operator to have an exquisite sense of timing, reflexes and a clear picture and plan on the steps to get where they need to go to shape the desired behavior.
There is also the bastardized version of clicker, “Follow the Cookie”. This version entails “luring” the dog’s attention and therefore his body into the desired position. Lift your hand holding a cookie up over the dog’s head. The head goes up, and the butt goes down. “You’ve got a Sit!” Drop the cookie hand to the floor. The dog’s head follows the cookie and generally lays down. “You’ve got a Down!”
The blatant problem with this is that dogs aren’t stupid. They very quickly learn to “follow the cookie”…and only the cookie. No cookie, no work. “Follow the Cookie” is just a sloppy, lazy attempt to stay positive without doing the real work of shaping required of clicker training.
I’ve use a clicker with a couple of dogs to teach them to retrieve a Dumbbell. I had tried a couple of different methods with the first dog, minus the Forced Retrieve, without good results. In a relatively short time she was picking it up correctly by the bar (which had been our problem) and delivering it to hand. The second dog went even quicker because I didn’t mess around with other methods and I did a better job of shaping.
I find the clicker itself to be a valuable tool for my teacher’s toolbox. I use it for targeted results. I use other techniques for other jobs. Like every other tool it’s not the tool that causes the problems it’s the person wielding it that makes the mess!
Go to Part 2