10th February 2020
Prong Collar - it's only a tool!!
Why do we use tools for anything?
We use tools for 3 reasons
1. To make it possible to accomplish something.
2. Make something easier to accomplish.
3. Reduce the time it takes to accomplish something.
I am talking about ANY tool, not just tools for training dogs.
Tools are just that, instruments to help accomplish one of the above three outcomes.
We all make use of them every day in all aspects of our lives. People use cars, trains, boats, bikes, planes to move us around. They use phones, computers, radio, newspapers, tv for communication and information gathering. They use cups, cartons, bags, boxes to carry or move stuff around. In fact we build, maintain, demolish everything with the use of tools.
Because they make things either possible, easier or faster.
We all use them, every day. Generally without attracting criticism or being labelled lazy.
You happen to be a dog trainer who employs tools which are perceived by ignorant, uneducated people to be something they are not.
Two tools which are greatly misunderstood by the general dog owning public are Prong Collars & E-Collars or 'shock' collars. Mainly due to sensationalist reporting and financially driven marketing campaigns by big businesses masquerading as charities,
I am going to examine both items individually and discuss what they are, what they do and why they have such a negative reputation.
- The Prong Collar
As the name implies is a collar with prongs which is worn around the neck of the dog with the prongs facing inwards.
It sounds and actually looks like some sort of medieval torture instrument.
It is this single point, its appearance that it generates so much hysteria. Irrational, emotional ignorance takes over from rational, evidence based examples and results of using this tool correctly.
To take this tool at face value is to do it a massive dis-service. Employing the right quality collar and using it in the way it should be used it becomes one of the most humane, kind and effective ways of communicating with your dog.
I would hope at this point you will be asking ask why that is?
In order to answer this question we have to consider alternative types of collar and leash set-ups most use to gain control / restraint of their dogs.
The classic is the Flat Buckle Collar (FBC), attached to a leash of some sort. Virtually every dog has one on, if not for control / restraint then for identification purposes. You would think that a flat buckle collar would be the most humane and kind choice for any dog? For a non-reactive dog who walks loosely at the owners side on leash you would be absolutely correct. However for a dog that pulls strongly on leash a whole set of problems arise. The location of the point of pressure from the FBC is concentrated directly on the trachea of the dogs neck. You will likely have seen dogs pulling their owners down the street whilst making wheezing or choking sounds. This can lead to medical issues in the neck area.
Another popular choice is the Slip Leash which is essentially a piece of rope or leather which is formed into a loop which goes around the dogs neck. It tightens and loosens dependant upon it being pulled and released either by the dog or by the owner hence the term 'slip'. Again if a dog walks loosely to heel there is no problem, if the dog pulls the issues and risks are similar to that of the FBC.
Next up is the Chest Harness, dependant upon the quality of the harness the risk of injury is massively reduced. And of course there is no direct pressure around the neck. The issue with harnesses is that they were designed for one specific purpose and that was for dogs to pull sledges. What they lack is the ability for the handler to have a meaningful 'conversation' with the dog. The way they are designed puts the connection point to the owner right where the dog is able to use all of its strength and power in pulling. The danger with harnesses is more to owners than the dog, especially with larger breeds. Of course it has to be said again if you have a non-reactive dog that walks loosely on leash at your side there is no problem.
Moving on to more specialised types of leash / collar set-ups we have the gentle leader and the halti. Whilst being designed slightly differently they achieve a similar goal by taking control of the dogs muzzle. Using these tools if a dog pulls forward its muzzle is automatically leveraged to the side so that the harder it pulls forward the more the force to the side. They can be very effective in causing a dog to restrain from pulling due to the amount of discomfort they induce. I have seen more dogs thrashing about attempting to remove these items from their faces than ANY other type of tool.
You can also buy harnesses which are designed so that the more the dog pulls forward the more they are forced sideways by the design and position of the connection point in the chest area. Certainly your dog would be more comfortable in one of these than the halti or gentle leader.
The problem is all of these specialised tools have been designed with one goal in common - restraint or management, they do not address the underlying problem of the dog wanting to pull.
The key to a good tool in dog training terms is its ability to communicate to the dog in a humane, fair and safe manner. This allows the dog to think and make decisions which are not forced upon it not by an inanimate object but by skilled conversation from a trainer using the appropriate tool for the situation.
All of the above are tools pure and simple, they can all be used for training by a skilled operator but each one will be appropriate to a given set of circumstances and each individual animal. There is no one size fits all!
So, given the above we come back to the Prong Collar.
Why use one?
When to use one?
How to use one?
There are a number of reasons why a good quality prong collar should be considered.
Firstly, the risk reduction of causing tracheal damage inherent in the FBC and slip leash. This is due to the dissipation of force around a greater area of the neck not concentrated on the trachea.
Secondly, clear communication with a prong collar is much easier and more informative to the dog due to the nature of its construction and the way that pressure is delivered evenly around the whole neck.
Thirdly, the feel of the collar mimics the teeth of either another dog or the mother dog around the neck thus communicating in the dogs own 'language'. You may have observed dogs placing their whole mouths around the neck of another dog during play or the mother carrying the dog as a puppy using the same method.
When should a prong collar be used? The short answer is when it is the right tool for the right dog in the right circumstance.
It is not and should not be a permanent use collar, it is a communication tool used in training. Teaching the dog that we, the handler, are relevant and aiding the dog to understand what is expected of them in the most humane way possible. This of course is strongly related to the skill and ethics of the individual handler.
How a prong collar should be used is something I will be addressing on video rather than in writing as the subtleties need to be explained with visuals.
When we talk about tools you will understand there are different tools suited for and designed for different tasks. You shouldn't knock a screw in with a hammer however if you had never been imformed or shown that a screwdriver is the appropriate tool for this task you may well attempt to do so. Education and understanding are the foundations for understanding which tool to use in which circumstance, the key is having a good trainer to educate and guide you.
I will discuss E-collars or 'shock' collars in part 2
1st February 2020
A new beginning....
So, we are out of Europe finally. We have cut the chords (well almost) and we are now free to follow our own path in the brave new world which awaits us.
Exciting isn't it? Realising that today is not quite the same as yesterday and that potentially many challenges lie ahead as we forge ahead alone into the unknown without mother Europe to guide us.
But in reality, not a whole lot has really changed. Europe is still there and will still be a major trading partner however what has opened up are avenues to trade with the rest of the world which are waiting to be creatively exploited to mutual benefit.
You may wonder why I am talking about Brexit on a dog Blog?
Think of Brexit day as being the day your trainer cuts you loose and says to you 'You can do it, you know enough to create a better future for you and your dog now just go and do it!'
It's scary, right?
You may have had your hand held for months, being able to turn to the trainer at any given moment for advice and now, all of a sudden, that's gone.....
What are you going to do? You're going to be scared, a little unsure perhaps, that's perfectly normal but you don't realise just how far you've come and what you have actually learnt in those past months.
Not until you actually go out and face those situations which scare you, on your own. And when they happen you find you can actually deal with them in a manner which has a positive outcome for both you and your dog - bingo! you've just made your first trade deal outside of the umbrella of Europe!
You realise you can survive in the big wide world on your own, you ARE good enough and whats more your dog knows it!!
I try every day to release another Great Briton into the wide world with enough skill and knowledge to make it on their own.
And as with Europe, the phone's are still working and we can always talk....
26th July 2019
The other side of the fence...
Balanced training as the name implies lets the dog know when it has accomplished something good or behaved in a socially acceptable manner and also, critically, it lets the dog know when it has not behaved in a socially acceptable way.
Dogs are predators and social opportunists. Left to their own devices they will get up to whatever they feel is their individual right. Dogs have no concept of right or wrong in the human sense, all they see is opportunity or the lack of opportunity to fulfill or express their desires. This is the reason they need to be taught by clear communication, in a manner they understand, as to what is and what is not acceptable behaviour.
Balance, the word implies equal amounts or 50/50, however when it comes down to dog training or behavioural modification it is more like 95/5 in favour of positve reinforcement with very little in the way of meaningful consequence or punishment and if handled correctly and fairly the consequence or punishment should be clear enough in its communication to (hopefully) negate the need to repeat.
There are sadly however trainers out there who call themselves balanced who, in my opinion are neither fair to the dog and who use far too much stick rather than carrot.
If a trainer has to use predominantly fear based protocols to get a dog to behave in a certain way, I personally would be looking elsewhere.
3rd July 2019
Dog training has got messy
I was just thinking about the messed up society we appear to have currently and its effect on 'man's best friend'.
The dog training world is a relatively small one and from my oservations on social media platforms it seems there is a power struggle going on between two factions.
Firstly we have the 'positive only / force free' school of training which promotes the idea that you should reward good behaviour and either ignore bad behaviour or distract the animal with a high value bribe or treat to obtain the desired behaviour from the dog.
On the other side of the fence we have the 'balanced' school of training which, as the name implies, believes in positive reward for good or acceptable behaviour and negative consequences for bad or unacceptable behaviour. I fall resolutely on this side of the debate.
Taking the 'positive only / force free' idea first.
Proponents of this school include The RSPCA, The Dogs Trust, Battersea, The Blue Cross and others. If one looks closely into these large businesses masquerading as charities you will find the overwhelming reason they promote this type of training / behaviour modification is financially driven. None of them actually publicly publish the numbers of dogs they kill year on year due to failing to rehabilitate some very easily dealt with behavioural issues. Instead they keep on promoting the flawed training methodolgy that you should never punish a dog, only reward it for good behaviour and ignore or distract from bad behaviour.
Sadly they refuse to admit that NOWHERE in nature or human society does 'positive only / force free' even exist never mind work.
I believe the reason that this disturbing school of training has gained momentum recently is down to psychologically damaged human beings.
Humans who have been victims of behaviours (real or perceived) by others over which they felt that they had no control or no way of escaping are projecting this helplessness onto their dogs. By 'protecting' their dogs (or 'furbabies') from anything 'bad' happening they are gaining a sense of control and power which was lacking in their own life experience. It is extremely sad that these people in their desire to protect their dogs are actually doing exactly the opposite. In reality this over-protection, over 'loving' causes issues and behaviours which if left uncorrected (and they can't be by positive only methods!) inevitably end badly for the dog.
Here is a link to a you tube video TED talk by a lady who was of this school of thinking but actually realised the damage she was doing - https://youtu.be/46ND3suK1y8
to be contnued.......
21st June 2019
Are you toxic to your dog?
This is an excellent post by Sean O'Shea from The Good Dog Training.
"Please don’t tell me how much you love your dog when the entirety of your relationship consists of coddling, babying, spoiling, allowing, and non-stop affection.
That stuff is for you, not them. Will they take it? Will they allow it? Will they ask for more of it? You bet. Just like kids will eat ice cream until they’re sick. They don’t know any better, but you do. You know a one dimensional relationship of indulgence doesn’t serve anyone, except the one indulging.
Ask yourself how many dogs, (or kids) you know who are thriving, stable, confident, balanced, polite, and self-reliant - who’ve only had one side of the relationship coin.
Love does the hard stuff. Love does the uncomfortable stuff. Love does the right stuff. If you really love your dog, and not just the way loving them makes you feel, be sure that all aspects of their needs are met, not just the ones you enjoy."