By Hilton Butler
In the dog training, it is often said the only thing two dog trainers will agree on is that a third trainer is doing it wrong. The training and interaction with other mammals are very personal experiences. It does not matter if you’re training a dog, a horse or even your child. When we deal with other living things in any capacity, no two scenarios will ever be the same. Animals have their own wants, needs, personalities and so on. Training is a compromise between what we want the animal to do—or not do in most cases—and what the animal wants to do or not do. No trainee will ever be perfect, and neither will any trainer. Trainers make mistakes; I have made many over the years. The question becomes did you learn from those mistakes? Are you better today because of them?
Animal training has undergone a major shift, and positive-only reinforcement training has been the buzzword for many years now. It is rare to find a trainer who promotes using corrections; they often use the somewhat confusing term “balanced trainer” to market their methods. Allow me to make this point loud and clear: all training should be as positive of an experience as possible. Both the trainer and the trainee should be bonded by this experience; fear should never be a driving force on either side. There is huge place for positive reinforcement, and every training scenario should come to a positive ending.
Corrections, not Punishment
Negative reinforcement often gets cast in a negative light. I have counseled many owners and clients who have faced disdainful looks and criticism for using a correction collar in public, even when it’s being used humanely. An incident at the beginning of my career highlights this issue best. Early on, I would send my clients to the local big-name pet stores to purchase whatever equipment they were going to need for training.
After picking up her young Lab from training, one client went to the store to purchase a prong collar. She was having trouble locating the collars and the store “trainer” approached and asked to help. She explained that her dog had just completed training and she needed a prong collar to further advance what he had learned. The trainer, horrified, stated, “Why would you want to hurt your dog that way? You should never punish your dog so inhumanly!”
Mortified and in tears, my client called my wife from the pet-store parking lot; I could hear my wife consoling the client and reassuring her the collar was not a medieval torture device. My wife then promptly grabbed her keys and headed out the door to have a conversation with the store’s trainer. In the store, my wife was greeted by the manager offering to help her find something. My wife asked, “Can you tell me where you keep the inhumane dog-training collars? The ones use to hurt and punish dogs, where are those at?”
The manager, dumbfounded, replied, “We don’t sell inhuman products, ma’am; I’m not sure what it is you’re looking for.”
“That response is what I was looking for,” she said; that was the day we began providing correction collars for our clients.
Though it was clear that young and inexperienced trainer didn’t understand correct, humane use of tools like a correction collar, she did say one thing correctly: you should never punish your dog. Punishment has no place in training, ever. Now allow me to explain.
Punishment is defined as the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offense; i.e. “crime demands just punishment.”
Look closely at the synonyms: Penalizing, punishing, retribution and damnation.
Does any of that sound like it belongs in a human/canine relationship based or trust and respect?
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Fall 2020 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.