Notes From An All Positive Conference

I just returned from a Dog Trainer’s Conference. I won’t name names, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to figure it out, if you really want to know. I must tell you that I had some pretty significant concerns and I want to share them with you. There are some things you as a pet owner, seeking a trainer should understand.

Within the organization there is a sub-group typically called “All Positive” or “Purely Positive”. As I listened to what was being said, as well as what was not being said, there was a pretty clear message: never correct a dog and avoid aggressive dogs.

I went to this conference specially to learn how to work an aggressive dog using all-positive methods and clicks and treats. Seriously, I wanted to figure this out. In forums online where I have expressed questions about being stuck, I was railed upon and told either a) I was moving too fast, b) the dog didn’t understand or c) I was stupid (well, they didn’t quite say that but sure inferred it )

There was a distinct absence of session related to aggression and reactivity. I found this most curious, since this seems to be one of the primary calls I get daily. I started listening a bit more carefully and asking a few very careful questions.

Some of these folks typically run from aggression & reactivity and in some cases don’t experience it at all. Many of these folks are breeders, service dog trainers, competition trainers or show-dog trainers. The select their puppies very carefully and then put them in to training programs with the end in mind. When they do encounter aggression, they would often rather euthanize a dog than to try a method that even approximates a correction or +P / Positive Punishment.

That’s right – some of them will counsel you to get rid of your dog or even to put your dog down before they would ever consider a prong collar or an ecollar. Some of them won’t even consider a martingale! And some, won’t even consider any sort of verbal “no”, or touch at all.

I even had one trainer tell me it would be such a waste of time to spend on an aggressive dog since there are so many others that could be trained during that time, and shelters are full of non-aggressive dogs. You must be kidding me – right? Well at least she got the shelter part right. But what if it’s your dog showing signs of aggression? You’re scared, heartbroken, and typically overwhelmed by what to do next.    Are you ready to put him down before you would consider trying training method that is a bit more correction-based that treat-based? Remember, I attribute my own Great Dane’s life to an ecollar.

Do I use prongs and ecollars on every dog I train? Absolutely not. Not even almost. In fact, I don’t even use it on Vinnie anymore. We’re past that now. In the year and ½ since I opened my own business, only 4 dogs have gone to ecollar and that was at their owner’s request.

This whole thing makes me sad. I look back at a number of dogs I have known over the 13+ years I have been doing rescue and I think how many of them would not be here if we hadn’t used some form of correction when treats and other rewards were failing. Vinnie would not be here today if some of these trainers had been his evaluator.

So, as I sat there truly troubled, and really trying to understand the founder made some interesting points in his lecture and closing remarks.

  • A dog is not trained unless and until s/he can perform the requested skill at distance, without food, without a training tool, and under distraction. (That’s always been my goal for training dogs)
  • You cannot train a dog with only positive methods. There must be a consequence (punishment). Consequences should not be those that inflict pain and fear. (I agree – and know for fact that used properly or certain dogs with certain temperaments, prong collars and even ecollars meet this criteria)
  • How can trainers call themselves “All Positive” when in fact they speak with hate, anger, hostility and overall negativity to anyone who has an opinion different than their own? It is hypocrisy to claim to be all positive and yet not be able to educate and communicate with their human peers and clients. (My favorite remark)

Now mind you – he is probably never going to support an ecollar on any dog. And of course we agree that no dog should be hit, intimidated, screamed at, or otherwise harmed. But he is saying something very important and controversial in his own organization. All-Positive doesn’t always work and may have been taken too far towards treats and clicks only.   He’s open to the fact that a type of correction may be needed. (Gasp!)

While there are many common solutions and scientific studies supporting behavior – each dog is unique. Training is not black and white. For every average there is an extreme. No method is 100% for every dog, handler, or scenario. We must figure out what is going to work for the dog and the owner.

A good trainer is open-minded and well versed in all methods and can apply the best of all things to solve the problem with your dog.

Certainly we need to exhaust all options before we start talking euthanasia, IMHO.

So with that in mind – Happy Gotcha Day Vinnie 10/30/2010

The K9 Coach

http://www.thek9-coach.com

980-339-8064