Follow by Email

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mythunderstanding

I read an article the other day in which a dog trainer stated "I can't imagine any training situation in which I would employ a prong collar". I'm glad she said it that way. There was an addendum to the article that went on to ask "How hard a jerk on the collar is enough to have the desired effect of suppressing behavior without mentally or physically damaging the dog?" as though "jerking on the collar" is part and parcel of prong collar use and suppressing behavior is ever a desired goal. And even more disturbing to me "...if you punish in anger and your violence is reinforced, you are likely to get violent more, and more easily." HOLY CRAP. Do people really believe that this is what a prong collar is all about? And shouldn't a trainer have the education to know better? Having said that, if someone can't imagine a positive and practical use for this tool and has only been exposed to violence (!?) and misuse, then I agree: Don't include a prong collar in your box of training tools. You don't understand it well enough to use it humanely. But please, be self-aware enough to refer out any dog that doesn't fit within the limits of your training abilities.

It seems to be a very common thing these days: Using words like "cruel", "pain" and "never", and describing horrifyingly incorrect applications as "techniques for prong collar use" and then using this misinformation to perpetuate X, Y or Z training philosophy to the exclusion of all else. Look, if you don't like something, that's fine. If you think it's mean, to YOUR understanding, then that's your prerogative too. But if you are a teacher/trainer, then you have an obligation to educate yourself well enough to give factual information to your clients and NOT just perpetuate myths because they are convenient. Even if you have no interest in using a prong collar, you should at least make the effort to learn the truth about them instead of continuing to recycle the same misinformation. I like to tell horror stories as much as the next guy (okay, probably more than the next guy) but I don't try to pass them off as something they aren't.

So you train pets, and maybe do an AKC sport or two. The vast majority of dogs that you work with would never make it as a working dog because they don't have the temperament, and that's as it should be. Everybody's happy and you can go right on hating prong collars. But what do you do when a client has a tenacious, drivey working dog? You know what I mean, the confident kind that's powerful and strong and physically insensitive. How much do you think this dog gets walked, when, even after lots of training, there are still moments when this dog takes it's owner for a drag after a cat or squirrel? How happy do you think this dog is when he's permanently relegated (aka "managed") to doggie prison (the back yard), given to a shelter or killed because he's too much for his owner, all-positive training isn't cutting it and his owner is out of his or her depth? This is the side the issue that I've seen too often. Add to this the blame that gets aimed at the owner because their dog doesn't fit in "the box" and you probably are looking at a dog with a fairly limited life-span. As trainers, you have a responsibility to do better by the dogs in your care and the owners who come to you and pay you for your help. You have more responsibility for those lives than you do to adherence to a limited set of principles. Many of the best trainers I know don't like prong collars, but they can at least imagine a positive application and understand the need to be flexible when dealing with living and unique individuals.

Let me be clear here: This isn't my favorite tool. I agree that it's easy to abuse. What I object to is the perpetuation of misinformation by people who are in a position to know better and properly educate their students, and the perpeutuation of misinformation by people who don't have a clue simply because they lack the experience. As always I turn to Susan Clothier for common sense. She doesn't like prong collars either but understands (albeit reluctantly) they still have a place: Training With The Prong Collar 

Ms. Clothier doesn't just say "These are mean and you're a cruel S.O.B. if you use them". She has the wisdom and experience to share her opinion honestly but can add a real education based on an accurate understanding, not just incendiary and incorrect propaganda.

2 comments:

  1. My trainer introduced me to a prong collar for my Boston Terrorist. We tried everything else to get him to focus and this was the only thing that worked for him. When she brought it out she explained it first. I looked at it as being similar to a stud chain that I use on some...ahem...harder to handle horses that just need a little reminder that I am the boss. I've never once cranked on a horse I've been leading with a chain, but i have had to give them a little reminder that being a creep is not acceptable behavior. Same goes for the prong collar on our Boston. The fist time he started being a creep, I gently corrected him, and I've never had to ever use force to remind him that he needs to be paying attention to me and not the dog infront of him, the dogs doing agility across the room, the squirrel on the tree infront of us etc. If that makes any sense at all...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Exactly what you said...you've never had to use force. I'm not big on leash corrections, but am a horse person too and I've handled some difficult animals. Far better to have a tool that allows minimal pressure to be effective:-)

    ReplyDelete