I had a recent conversation with a colleague who asked my opinion regarding the Anatolian Shepherd Dog (or Kangal Dog and yes they are the same thing!) and if this would be an appropriate breed for them, their lifestyle etc. I asked them why they wanted the dog and the answer paraphrased as follows:
"I want a challenge and a hard dog that can teach me something as a trainer. I want a dog that can be my hiking companion that must be able to handle an out of control dog coming at us on a hiking trail without reacting/killing the other dog and a dog that I can use as a socialization dog, rehab work etc. "
The Anatolian Shepherd Dog is an ancient Turkish breed of livestock guardian dog and is by nature reserved and independent due to thousands of years of selective breeding for the dog's ability to think and make decisions independently of humans. These dogs are bred to cover large areas of land spanning hundreds of miles, following and protecting their stock. Sometimes these dogs would work alongside shepherds, other times they would be without any human contact for months at a time. These dogs had to be capable of perceiving a threat, addressing the threat while minimizing injury to themselves and preserving their life.
Contrary to internet claims made by uninformed people and trainers who have never even owned a LGD and unscrupulous dog breeders trying to make big bucks off of selling vicious guard and estate guarding dogs, well-bred livestock guardian dogs are not loaded guns and they are not hair trigger dogs. Their first line of defence is barking. They only use force when absolutely necessary and after being heavily provoked. Self preservation is important. It would neither serve the shepherd nor the dog to be fighting every chance it got, injuring and rendering itself useless for work. That being said, the dog will choose on it's own what is a threat and what is not and should not be put in situations where they may need to make that call unless they are working as LGD's.
This particular conversation mirrors conversations that I've had dozens of times with friends, clients and family over the years, where someone essentially wants a breed of dog knowing that they would to be going against the dog's nature in not providing an environment conducive to guarding/herding/scenting- you fill in the blank- and by putting the dog in unnatural situations where it would be in group social environments with strange dogs, people etc. In this case this person wanted this breed because a) they want the challenge and b) they want to do something that no one else has done (to prove it can be done?). But in other cases it's often that you just like the way a dog looks or want a big dog, scary dog, dog with long hair, short hair etc.
Now, I have confidence that this person could take a female ASD and socialize it from puppyhood and things would probably turn out fine. But just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. One should never put their own self interest ahead of the interest of the animal for no reason other than to prove a point. This is something that should be particularly important for all of us in the dog training profession. We need to hold ourselves to an even higher standard and we should know better than to make inappropriate decisions when it comes to selecting a breed of dog.
If an individual is honest enough to admit that their sole reason for wanting a dog is to inhibit that dog's own instinct and go against it's nature and genetics, they should be honest enough to admit to themselves that that may not be the best breed of choice.
My colleague's attitude is one of many that leads to the plethora of working dog breeds I see each year that were purchased because someone wanted them, but didn't actually want any of the characteristics that went along with the breed. They don't want to honor the breed, work with the breed, develop the breed. They want to change the breed. Force them to accept strangers petting them. Make them play with other dogs. Stop them from wanting them to herd everything. Stop them from following scent trails and taking off every time the dog is off-leash.
It is this attitude and self interest that is corrupting the working dog breeds today and undoing the noble work of breeders who developed and preserved our working dogs for hundreds and in many cases thousands of years. When we lose sight of the breed's original purpose and function and begin breeding versions of the breed that can function as couch potato pet dogs, it means the end of the breed as we know it.
Over the last 50 years we have seen the near destruction of some of the most precious breeds of dogs on earth because people wanted them for no reason other than they wanted them but didn't actually want any of the characteristics innate in the dog itself. German Shepherd Dogs, Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Dobermanns, Rottweiler, Mastiffs and countless more breeds have all fallen victim to the selective "un-breeding" of their once desired and sought after character traits. Pet dog owners want their dogs to be friendly, soft, easy to train, biddable, accepting of strangers, lovers of all dogs and animals. They want the breed that they want, not the breed that would best suit their lifestyle.
Rather than choosing the most appropriate breed, they will choose the dog that they want and then demand that it conforms to them. Genetics and instinct be damned. Hundreds or thousands of years of selective and purpose driven breeding for specific traits and characteristics be damned.
So what is the fallout of selling working dogs to live as pets?
Behavioral issues such as destruction of property, reactivity, aggression, as well as depression, and anxiety to name a few.
Breeders capitalizing on the pet dog market and dumbing down dogs by the millions, selling them at mass to the pet dog world, utterly extinguishing the hardness and mental character that enabled them to perform a task in the first place.
We are left with shells of what were once amazing working dogs. Dogs with drive and no brain, dogs with brain and no drive. Dogs with no stamina. Dogs that can't turn off. Dogs that can't handle pressure. Dogs that continually put you under pressure.
As adults, we should be capable of making choices that are right as opposed to childlike choices that are right-now. All prospective dog owners need to do some serious soul searching when it comes to selecting an appropriate breed for themselves. Asking hard questions and then selecting the breed of dog that is most appropriate for them NOT necessarily the breed of dog that they want.
Lastly, breeders have a responsibility. A responsibility to breed dogs true to their original working purpose even if that means making far less money because there are not enough suitable homes available for these dogs. (Thankfully there are amazing breeders out there still, dedicated to breeding true working dogs. They are hard to find but do your research!) Most importantly, breeders have a responsibility to place dogs in correct homes that will honor and work the dog and not simply any home that will pay the puppy price.
Our animal shelters are overrun with surrendered dogs. There are literally dog trainers on every corner, classes filled with out of control and unfulfilled dogs. It's not until we start putting the dog's needs above our own selfishness and desires that we will see any change in this trend.
Meagan is the founder and owner of Mayrich Kennels Inc. and is one of the leading dog trainers working in behavior modification, today. With over 12 years of professional experience in this area specifically, she has spent her entire lifetime and professional career working with aggressive dogs and dogs with severe behavioral issues. This work has led to the development of the widely successful programs offered at Mayrich Kennels Inc.
Chances are, if you have been in the dog world for any longer than thirty seconds, you have been inundated with the term operant conditioning, and have undoubtedly heard the term classical conditioning as well. But what exactly is operant and classical conditioning, and how do they apply to learning theory? Below you will find a brief summary of operant and classical conditioning, as well as some examples of how they apply to training techniques used today and used in our programs here at Mayrich Kennels Inc.
While I have been training dogs since I was, well, a tiny kid and have well over two decades of obedience training under my belt, I would consider myself relatively new to the dog sport world.
When I was young I remember building obstacle courses for my dogs. I had no clue that there was even a sport for this at the time, I just remember how fun it was teaching my dogs to jump over and go under things. I use to spend hours in the field with my BC mix rounding up cows, something I would have gotten in worlds of trouble for if I had ever been found out. I use to love playing hide and seek on my dogs, running and hiding while they waited and then waiting for them to sniff me out. These simple things brought so much joy into my life and my dog's. I still really enjoy doing this sort of thing with my dogs today, although now I have fancier equipment and a lot more knowledge on training.
I took my first real agility class a few years after coming to Ontario. I had a great instructor and the class was just really laid back, people were just there for the fun of it and fun it was. Our instructor could not carry on as we didn't have an indoor facility. (This is interestingly enough the reason that I decided to include an agility arena in the dog training/boarding facility I was building for myself. I didn't want any instructor to have to stop teaching simply because they didn't have a facility to teach in.) After my instructor couldn't carry on, I went to a different facility where the atmosphere was a lot more competitive.
To be honest with you, this type of attitude kind of turned me off to the whole "competitive-world" of dog sports. I saw people whipping their dogs into frenzies, only to correct them for making mistakes caused by the state of mind the handler created.
I've never really considered myself to be a competitive person and I don't know if I ever will be. I've always wanted others to win and succeed and to feel good, I've never personally felt the desire to win or to prove anything to anyone. Even when I was very young, I never felt I needed to win. I have kind of always just carried on, doing my own thing and making my own way. If I succeed great, if I fail I learn from error and carry on. I think this way of living and attitude has probably led to a lot of the success I've been fortunate enough to have in my career. For me, it's always been about the dog and about the training. Not about anything else.
I have often wondered why so many of my pet dog clients are adamantly against participating in dog sports and I can't help but wonder if it's because of the "competitive" aspect. Not everyone wants to compete in something and that competitive aspect may be the turn off for many "pet-dog" people.
But you don't have to compete in a sport in order to train in it. You don't have to be competitive to be really, really good at something and to reap the benefits that the sport has to offer.
Agility and dog sports are so much fun for dogs and for people. At the core of each dog sport, herding, agility, disc, scent, it really is about having fun with your dog and challenging each other to learn and grow.
I want to encourage everyone to consider participating or training in a sport with their dog. Research sports with your family, think about what you may like to do with your dog. There are so many sports out there that are fun for you and your dog. Many sports like herding and scent detection can help your dog overcome behavioral challenges. At Mayrich Kennels, we have developed many programs including a herding and agility program taught specifically from a behavior modification perspective that look a lot different than a competitive program.
There are people of all ages involved in dog sports and people with disabilities. Every challenge can be overcome and if you don't approach the sport with a mindset that you have to compete, you can relax and enjoy and just have fun with your dog!
I say this a lot, to my students, friends, children and now...well...to you! Ideas have consequences.
And few ideas have had consequences as devastating to dogs and their mental health as the positive only movement.
So what is positive only dog training? Well, first I should say that there are many different names used to refer to Positive only training, and in fact, the term that I prefer to use is the least accurate, Positive Only dog training or PO trainers. Some of the other names include Reinforcement-Based, Force Free, Aversive Free, and so on.
Virtually all PO trainers and schools will also refer to themselves as being the only trainers to use scientific methods and claim that science backs their training and methods. This statement is completely inaccurate as PO training utilizes limited science at best as it applies to dog training and behavior modification, specifically.
So why has a movement that practices limited science, struggles to achieve any lasting results as it pertains to behavior modification, and causes massive amounts of stress and frustration for dog owners and dogs so popular today? The answer is complicated, but I think a lot of it has to do with the vicious campaign mounted by PO trainers toward other dog trainers and dog owners who utilize correction.
In years of research, some of the most vicious, vile and vitriolic things I have ever heard have spouted from the mouths of PO trainers towards Balanced and Compulsion trainers. Why is it that people claiming to do no harm and who care so much for animals think nothing of viciously attacking their fellow man? Well, bullies often do that, don't they?
The fact is, your average brick and mortar PO dog trainer has very limited knowledge and experience when it comes to working with aggression and severe behavioral issues, and most of them will tell you that success rates for aggression will be 50% or lower. (Don't believe me? Just ask them! In my research of PO trainers, contacting them for help, attending their classes, etc. I have found that if one thing, they are very honest about their inability to achieve results in behavior modification.
Most of them are more than happy to tell you to lower your expectations, and ALL of the PO trainers I contacted in my research were proud to tell me all about their own dog's reactivity, aggression, and behavioral issues that are still ongoing.) Their results are minimal, so all that's left in many cases is to attack others who are more successful and shame dog owners into thinking that by correcting their dog, they're abusing their dog.
Unfortunately, this works in a lot of cases as humans are concerned about their images and certainly don't want to think of themselves as being abusive.
But who suffers as a result of this?
The PO trainer doesn't suffer. They will happily take your money for months and months years and years on end, delivering no or minimal results, blaming you for just not trying hard enough. In fact, this is the perfect training system from a business perspective- clients for life with absolutely zero accountability for the PO Trainer.
But you suffer. You suffer through the embarrassment of having your dog pull and lunge and bark and scream at every dog they pass and more importantly, your dog suffers. Happy, healthy and sound dogs are calm and relaxed. They don't care about goings on in the environment; they are comfortable in their skin and just happy to "be." They don't scan rooms frantically and jump up and bark anytime they see something new. Anxiety is a sickness that leads to many behavioral issues including reactivity, aggression and more and it is almost always caused or perpetuated by PO training and the Positive Reinforcement only paradigm.
Most behavioral problems can be quickly eliminated by following a sound, balanced training protocol and using an aversive such as saying "no," or administering an appropriate leash and collar correction. Some of the most pervasive training tools that we have available today would include the pinch/prong collar or the electronic training collar. These are tools widely used by balanced, and reward based balanced dog trainers such as yours truly, that save countless k9 lives each year with tremendous success.
Unfortunately, there is a huge majority in the PO world that flat out refuse to use any aversive under any circumstance. Many PO trainers hold to the mantra of "Death Before Discomfort." If you say it quick, it doesn't have much effect. But take a minute and think about what that means.
That means that there are a HUGE group of people and professionals out there that will put a dog to death through euthanasia before they will use an aversive training tool.
That is just sick.
Sick and disgusting.
There are actually professional dog trainers out there who will recommend that you euthanize your dog before exhausting every single other option available such as aversive training tools that have been proven over and over and over again to work and to work quickly.
Why is this?
Why is it that we are giving people any recognition when they are advocating death over correction? Why is it that many humane societies and rescue groups will only recommend PO training techniques that are the causal agent for surrendering dogs into animal shelters in the first place?
There is something rotten at work here when we are killing dogs that could easily be saved and rehabilitated by a reward based balanced training system that utilizes all of the science we have available today.
There is something wrong when we have a PO dog training school on every corner, yet we have animal shelters stacked to the roof with dogs who have severe behavioral issues and lack any obedience skill, many of whom are doomed to die as a result.
Now, I love dogs, and I love dog training! I've spent the last 20 years working primarily with behavioral issues, creating some of the most comprehensive behavioral modification programs in Canada, today.
In my early life, I have trained dogs using compulsion. I have personally raised two dogs from puppyhood to adulthood using PO training only as an experiment, and for almost a decade, I have practiced reward based balanced dog training. I now utilizing all science and apply techniques on a per dog basis and have been very successful in doing so. That said, I have seen dogs trained under pure compulsion and purely positive techniques, and I can tell you that while both are extreme, I have never seen a dog die as a result of compulsion training, even when trained very, very harshly. They learn quickly; they listen, and as a result, they have homes and families and get to go on walks and get to accompany their families on outings and are loved.
How many hundreds of thousands of dogs have been murdered as a result of Positive Only dog training and the death before discomfort mantra?
Shock. Abuse. Pain. Hurt. Cruel. Burns. Fear.
Chances are if you've researched the electronic training collar, or even if you haven't, these are some words that may come to mind.
Whether you believe in the use of e-collars or not, this article is designed to lay out the facts regarding the electronic training collar and to put to bed the false information that is continuously propagated regarding this device.
First things first, the term "shock-collar" used to reference or describe the electronic training collar is a total misnomer. Besides drumming up a plethora of negative feelings in one's mind, using this term to define the tool does nothing to demonstrate the functionality or true abilities of it.
The electronic training collar does not shock or zap or burn your dog. They do not malfunction and shock, zap or burn your dog. They do not randomly go off and shock, zap or burn your dog. This does not happen and is complete propaganda.
I have been using the electronic training collar to train dogs for the last fifteen years and even in this short amount of time, the evolution that has occurred with this device is nothing short of astounding. Originally, the electronic training collar was designed only as a tool to correct or inhibit unwanted and undesirable behaviors. The collars packed a punch to say the least and were certainly uncomfortable for dogs, by intention, as they were meant to stop behaviors that were harmful, mentally unhealthy and potentially deadly.
Nowadays, e-collars have come leaps and bounds from their 70's ancestors and virtually all quality brands, E-Collar Technologies and Dogtra to name a few have over 100 levels of stimulation and most importantly give the trainer the ability to use incredibly low levels of stimulation. Low-Level e-collar training which was once unheard of is now ubiquitous among credentialed and experienced balanced dog trainers world-wide.
By utilizing low-level e-collar training in partnership with my training programs, we have rehabilitated literally hundreds of aggressive, fearful, reactive and anxious dogs. Without this tool, achieving these type of results and establishing 99.99% reliable obedience in any situation is virtually impossible. The e-collar enables us to achieve results quickly, gently, humanely and without causing stress or harming the relationship you share with your dog. Using low-level e-collar training in conjunction with positive reinforcement is an unsurpassed method for achieving behavioral modification when compared to any other method, period.
At this point, especially depending on the amount of propaganda you've been subject too, you may be wondering:
"If e-collars are so great why are there so many bad things being said about them, like, they will burn my dog?"
Well, this is part-in-parcel to the positive-only training movement that has done an incredible job in spreading false information, propaganda and lies regarding e-collars. The fact is, an e-collar cannot burn a dog. This is absolutely, 100% impossible due to the technology used in e-collars which is essentially a static pulse and a muscle stimulator similar to a Tense unit that humans use on themselves. It is possible for a dog to develop a hot spot or a pressure sore due to collars being left on for prolonged amounts of time, but this is hardly the fault of the e-collar and is instead the result of owner negligence.
"Ok, so it can't burn my dog but won't it cause my dog to be afraid of me?"
Absolutely not! On the contrary, an e-collar can wholly transform the relationship that you have with your dog by helping to eliminate problem behaviors and solidify desirable behaviors and obedience cues. Through low-level e-collar use we can eliminate anxiety which enables dog owners to finally be able to enjoy their true dog at their best and not the mentally unstable dog that they had before.
"If the e-collar won't cause my dog to be afraid of me, will it cause my dog to become afraid of other things?"
No, well that is not unless you're actually trying to create a superstitious association to something which we will discuss a bit later in this article. Low-level e-collar training actually empowers your dog, teaches them how to turn off stimulation and builds confidence through the development of reliable obedience. It will not cause your dog to become afraid of other people, animals or situations unless you have grossly misused the training tool.
A lot has been discussed regarding low-level e-collar training and it's benefits, but it's also important to mention that an e-collar also has the ability to cause discomfort to a dog when using higher levels. When following our training protocols, the need to use high levels on an e-collar are rare, there are times when this has it's benefits and can save the life of your dog. Depending on the dog and the behavioral issue, it can sometimes be beneficial to use high levels to create a superstitious association towards certain objects or towards certain behaviors.
We have saved the lives of countless dogs by doing this and have saved the lives of other animals as well by utilizing an e-collar in this way. It's important to note that even when using the e-collar to inhibit behaviors, it does not cause your dog to become fearful or afraid unless, again, there is gross misuse of the tool.
In our training programs at Mayrich Kennels, our go-to training tool for many dogs is the electronic training collar using low-level stimulation. Whether your dog is aggressive, fearful, anxious, reactive or simply needs a bit better reliability on their obedience, an e-collar can transform your and your dog's life for the better. We recommend that anyone wishing to establish off-leash reliable obedience filter through the misinformation regarding e-collars and seriously consider low-level e-collar training as it will prove invaluable and is potentially life saving for your dog.
**This video shows the consequences that e-collar training can have on your dog. Fearful, supressed, shut down dogs? You can decide for yourself!
We've all heard it, "You have to socialize your dog!!" If your dog has aggression towards other dogs, people or animals the answer as to why is a simple one; (YOU!) didn't socialize your dog properly.
Shame on you!
Well, the simple fact is that this socialization myth has been permeating the dog training world for decades and has resulted in countless dogs being injured, surrendered or lead to the development of severe behavioral and aggression issues. Most dog owners believe that their dogs are social creatures, the long lost ancestor to the wolf who desperately needs to run with dogs, visit dog parks and have countless people pet and treat them.
Well, here's the deal...your dog is not a wolf.
I hate to repeat myself but I need to say it again, your dog is not a wolf. Even if your dog evolved from wolves and shares 99% of their DNA with wolves, (there is a link to an interesting article on the subject at the end of this article), your dog is still not a wolf!
Your dog is the product of hundreds and in many cases, thousands of years of careful and painstaking selective breeding for very specific traits and behaviors. This is something that is so often overlooked and underappreciated by dog owners and dog trainers alike. Our modern dogs are not wolves and for that matter they're not "dogs" in the sense that they are all the same and can be handled the same. Dogs are far more special and unique then that.
Your dog's breed and lineage absolutely matter and this is something that should be honored and respected, not something that we should simply brush off. I admire the dedication of breeders who developed livestock guardian dogs over the last 6000 plus years and who have created the most effective way ever developed for humanely controlling predators and managing to keep livestock safe; ensuring food, milk and trade for our human ancestors.
I admire the shepherds who developed one of the most remarkable dog breeds on earth today, the working Border Collie who is an absolute marvel and who's abilities, talent and biddability are arguably unmatched by any other creature on earth.
I admire the hunters who developed hound dogs, whose sense of smell are so refined and so fine tuned that they can detect a tiny drop of scent from up to miles away.
These selective, purpose driven, breeding programs have changed our world and changed mankind and we are not honoring dogs nor are we honoring the hard work of these breeders by simply tossing all dogs into a bucket and expecting them to all be alike or worse, dumbing down and softening these breeds so that they can be turned into pets.
Many dog breeds have been selectively bred to NOT want to be social with random dogs and strangers. In fact, it is far more natural for a dog to be reserved than it is for a dog to want to go and play with every other dog they see and receive treats and pats from complete strangers. Since virtually all dog breeds were created with some sort of working purpose, it stands to reason that a dog that would ignore outside stimulus and focus on the task at hand would be a much more desirable dog, thus these dogs would be bred and others would not.
If a shepherd had a herding dog that would flee it's sheep to play with the first dog it saw, this would be a completely useless dog to perform any sort of job that mattered. If a Dobermann, Rottweiler, or Mastiff would leave post to cuddle up to the first stranger that it saw, or happily allow them to rob your homestead, this would not be a very desirable dog and would certainly be eliminated from the gene pool.
With all of this vast knowledge available at our finger tips, why is it that we are not honoring our dogs and we are continuously putting them into environments that make them uncomfortable, nervous and are totally unnatural for them? Why are forcing dogs with hundreds, and in many cases thousands of years of purposeful selective breeding behind them, to accept and want to be pet by random strangers?, or have multiple random dogs approach them in a completely unacceptable way?
I think the answer is simply because we humans think this is what we should be doing; dog parks, large playgroups, pass the puppy exercises and so on. Now, many dogs and breeds are totally friendly and enjoy people and enjoy playing with dogs and that's great and there is nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when we have a nervous dog, or a dog that would prefer to be left alone and instead of honoring the dog, we force them into compromising positions over and over and over again by demanding that they accept strangers petting them, demanding they play with other dogs, and bringing them into scary environments. It's this sort of action that results in severe behavioral issues down the road such as reactivity and even aggression in some cases as our dogs are forced to defend themselves (since we won't).
Proper socialization means that we honor our dog and we honor their breed and character. Your dog, regardless of breed and temperament must be able to exist in public but your dog doesn't have to have their trust in you compromised by you allowing and forcing the invasion of their space. Proper socialization means exposing your dog to people, dogs and situations where nothing bad ever happens to them and as a result their confidence is built up and their trust in you reinforced.
Proper socialization can help your dog overcome aggression issues, reactivity issues, as well as fear and confidence issues- improper socialization is too often the causal agent of the problem behaviors listed above.
Make sure to practice proper socialization, if your not sure how please contact Mayrich Kennels Inc. as we have some of the only trainers and programs available in Canada that teach proper socialization. Remember to honor your dog, because breed really does matter!
Sometimes, when we holdfast to rigid ideology or to an idea that we believe in whole-heartedly, we lose the ability to think critically and to analyze situations fairly and without bias. This problem is exacerbated considerably when we add an emotional element to the paradigm. And while it's been increasingly popular for well over a decade now, the last 5-6 years I have seen a significant rise in pet dogs falling out the back door of Positive Reinforcement training schools and coming to us with severe behavioral and emotional issues.
The increasing trend and similarities in the mental instability of all these dogs caused me to launch my own investigation in an attempt to find some sort of answer as to why these dogs were so unstable even after spending years in PO training. Keep in mind that this has not been a small sample of dogs, we're talking close to 100 dogs displaying almost identical behavioral patterns coming out of PO schools over the years.
These behaviors included:
1. A complete inability to walk on a loose leash
2. Inability to sit calmly for more than 30 seconds
3. An OCD like obsession with jumping on their owners as a coping mechanism for dealing with...(life?...new environment?...leaf blowing?...weird noise?...person approaching?...stressful situation?...seeing their own shadow?...well, you get the point.)
4. Reactivity to virtually everything including whining, barking, lunging
5. Inability to relax, always on and always alert.
So these examples are the common denominators that were present in every dog coming to me from PO schools and of course each dog had their own unique behavioral issues on top of these issues.
I had a few major questions that I needed answers for:
1. If Positive Reinforcement Training is scientifically proven to work, why are so many of the dogs I am seeing completely out of control?
2. If Positive Reinforcement Training is the only training that does not abuse dogs, why are the dogs that I'm seeing so mentally unstable, fearful and constantly anxious?
3. Can Positive Reinforcement Training prove effective at rehabilitating severe behavioral issues in dogs?
In order to find these answers I set out attending PO training classes, calling trainers (from across Canada) and reaching out to them for help with "my own" behavioral and aggression issues. ( I also did this with more compulsion based "balanced dog trainers", the contrast was incredible, but that's for another blog)...ok, back on track! The results of my research were pretty astonishing to say the least and the conclusions that I took away left me feeling terrified for the future of dog training in general. It also left me with far more questions than when I had originally set out in the first place. Mainly, how is it that a training paradigm that lacks any sort of substantive result as it relates to behavior modification, managed to become so popular?
The answer to that is a pretty simple one. I think most dog owners today really, really love their dogs. It's no secret that most couples are choosing dog ownership over starting families, thus dogs truly are becoming our children. We spend billions on them, care for them and love them deeply (as we should!). No sane person wants to be labelled a dog abuser. No dog owner wants to physically correct their dog when they are told that doing so may completely destroy the relationship they have with their best friend.
We justifiably have horrible feelings towards the word "abuse" and often think of abuse as an act and/or action of physically or verbally adding something unpleasant to another person, or in this case towards a dog. In the eyes of a PR trainer, abuse would include any type of verbal or physical correction including but not limited to;
-leash and collar correction
-saying "NO!" to your dog
-utilizing an electronic training collar
-using a noise corrector
-physical correction using your body ie. putting your knee up to stop a dog from jumping, pushing a dog off of you if they have jumped on you etc.
Before going further it's important to note that Positive Reinforcement plays a hugely important role in all aspects of dog training and has countless benefits. I personally use Positive Reinforcement more than anything else in my training programs. It's also wonderful for individual dog owners to train their dogs using PR and there is no issues with people using this method with mentally sound dogs. The issue comes when professional dog trainers, agencies and associations rigidly enforce that you only use PR as everything else is abusive, even when it's a) clearly not working, or, b) clearly exacerbating the behavioral issues.
One has to ask themselves, "Is abuse deeper that simply physically correcting a dog? Could I actually be abusing my dog by not correcting him?" The answer to this question is absolutely, unequivocally, YES! The fact is, by not correcting a dog you are abusing that dog. Plain and simple, end of story...abuse.
Ideas have consequences and the idea that we cannot correct a dog who is engaging in socially harmful and self harmful behaviors, and instead must ignore these behaviors is not without devastating consequences for our dogs mental health and well-being. A dog that is reacting out, biting, aggressing, or living in continuous anxiety and arousal must be corrected and then given alternate behaviors. Not doing so forces a dog into a lifetime of a)self abuse, the dog is abusing themselves by being constantly aroused and anxious b) owner abuse, the owner is continually abusing the dog by not addressing the behavioral issues and allowing the mental instability to manifest.
The consequences of not correcting a dog are swift and severe. We have overwhelmed animal shelters, (most of which holdfast to PR training because of it's political correctness at the dog's expense). We have dogs that cannot go for walks in the light of day because of their unaddressed anxiety and reactivity. We have dogs living in utter solitude because they cannot function as well mannered members of their households. We have dogs that never get to socialize properly because they have severe and unaddressed issues with other dogs. In addition to dogs, we also have humans being abused by PR dog trainers who are often some of the meanest and nastiest people I have ever encountered when it comes to talking to and teaching human beings. We have people who are desperate for help and who are investing hard earned money and time and getting nowhere.
Though Positive Reinforcement training sounds nice, it has devastating consequences and it inflicts abuse on all of the behaviorally challenged dogs that it subjugates.
Through my research I did not see one dog overcome or even come remotely close to overcoming any behavioral challenges in PR schools. I saw dog owners continually being blamed for their dog's lack of progress because the owner "must not be trying hard enough". I saw countless owners break down in tears because of their dog's behavior and lack of progress. I saw dog trainers tell owners that they must "lower the expectations that they have for their dogs." I saw dogs continuously being reinforced for engaging in socially and self harmful behaviors. I saw countless dogs labelled as "untrainable." I saw countless dog owners being asked to leave class early due to their dog's unruly behavior, yes, classes that they paid for. I saw a consistent spouting off of scientific terms and language with absolutely no common sense or practical knowledge and experience to back any of it up. I saw professional PR dog trainer after professional PR dog trainer who's own dogs were out of control, reactive and human aggressive. I spoke to a trainer with "my own" behavior modification issue who told me that his rate of success was only 50%. Price for a one hour consultation with this "expert"? $700.00.
Ideas have consequences.
Unfortunately, whenever your dealing with an issue that involves emotion it's almost impossible to break through to the other side. I do hope that at some point we can start questioning things, even when they sound good and sound right. If you're not making any progress and your dog is an emotional train wreck, you need to come to the realization that due to you unwillingness to bend you are causing and perpetuating the abuse and suffering of your dog.
"What are your training methods?"
This is probably the number one question that I get asked by my new clients and this is by far the hardest question for me to contextualize. In fact, I really don't have an answer for this question at all even after over a decade of professional training.
I suppose the reason for my indecisiveness on answering this question is that I absolutely refuse to limit myself to one particular method of training dogs. Each and every client/dog team are distinctly unique. What may work for one family and situation may not work for the next. One method applied to one dog may throw another into a tailspin.
It's for this reason that we practice a reward based balanced approach to training dogs and this has been very successful for me personally, Mayrich Kennels and the dogs that we have been fortunate enough to help over the years.
By not limiting myself to a particular method, I can constantly evolve and forever keep an open mind with each dog I am working with. I think too often dog training becomes about the "trainer" and that trainer's particular method or rigid ideology, the dog and more importantly the dog's best interest gets lost on all the hype.
When we stop looking at dogs as the individuals they are, and start grouping them into one big melting pot, we lose out on the beauty and the intricacy of the animal itself. Dogs are far more precious and deserve more from us than to be relegated to some "scientific" box. As if there is a magic formula that will work for every...single...dog and every...single...situation if you only try hard enough.
The beauty of science is that it is forever changing and constantly evolving. We have not even begun to scratch the surface in finding out the true intelligence of dogs, their emotional capacities or abilities to learn and to overcome behavioral challenges. By choosing to utilize all of the science available to us, and not practicing limited science we are able to provide the dogs with the highest standards in dog training available today. Our methods are so successful because we won't be limited to a particular tool, or lack of tool or particular ideology. The dog will always come first in our training programs.