I have been wanting to write this for a while but due to me not wanting to risk the criticism I have stopped myself. There are very strong opinions on this subject.
I have previously written about making sure people do their research before working with a trainer or behaviourist to make sure they are accredited and use force free methods, but I have always made my posts quite ‘polite’.
However, I keep seeing so many balanced trainers posting videos on Facebook or Instagram that I have to speak up. I want to make sure as many people as possible know that there are other options when training dogs (or any animal) that don’t cause fear or pain.
So let’s clarify what a balanced trainer is. They will usually say they are based in science as they use all the quadrants of learning. That means they will use reinforcements and rewards as well as punishment and fear equally, hence the ‘balanced’ term. Their argument is that science shows that an animal can learn by using these methods and therefore get the wanted results so why would they not use them. However, when I read these arguments about the best methods to use to train a dog, the subject that is missing from balanced trainers is ethics and welfare of the animal.
Does punishment work – in short – yes! If you threaten me with violence or a knife, I will most likely comply, and I’ll do what you want me to do. However, do I trust you now? Do I want to be near you? No! Am I doing the behaviour due to fear – yes. The prediction of pain – the sound of the buss from an electric shock collar, or metal jangle of the prong collar – I would do my best to avoid the pain. So over time can you see that although the behaviour might be learnt (why risk causing pain) I would live in a world of fear and intimidation. I would shut down and wouldn’t feel that I had choices and therefore just wouldn’t engage. The risk of making a mistake would be too great, so I would simply stop. This might look like a very well-trained dog – to me all I see is a broken spirit; the light has gone from their eyes.
Or the other possibility is that I would learn to fight back. To not accept that I had to comply and would react, show aggression by growling or biting. That would most likely result in that person having to use more intensive punishment to get the same result. I would be branded as stubborn, or wilful, or not knowing my place in the pack. Perhaps I am a certain breed, and I need a firmer hand (this isn’t true by the way). The ‘explosion’ of a dog that has just had enough, and the bite that comes out of nowhere. The behaviour is suppressed, not resolved, and it’s likely to rear its head at some point.
Dogs are sentient beings which means they have emotions. They can experience stress, anxiety and fear. This can impact their physical and mental health. If humans are the more intelligent species, it is up to us to make sure we use that brain power for the better. We must treat animals with respect and understanding. Punishment, fear and intimidation should not be in any trainer’s toolbox. The consequences of using such methods should be highlighted. The ‘fallout’ is rarely talked about.
Yes, we do need to train our dogs to listen and respond to us for their safety and to have manners to live in our human world. However, there are proven force free reward-based methods that achieve these goals and doesn’t cause any negative fallout. We keep our loving relationship with our dogs, and they can trust and rely on us. We work together to achieve the goal behaviour.
Ethics and welfare of the animal when thinking about methods used to train are a must.
I know most of you on my page will already agree with me, but I can honestly say most of you will have family or friends that aren’t aware and it’s up to us to help educate people. Can I therefore encourage you talk, to have conversations about focusing on having a relationship with your dog that is of trust and respect and not fear and negative consequences. Let’s do our part to change what is considered normal or even needed in training. Let’s be the change!