Bigger is not always better

Bigger is not always better

“The more tools you have in your tool box the better.  If you purposely exclude a particular tool and a problem pops up that requires that tool, you won’t be abel to fix the problem.  I’m not one of those cookie pushers that limits their toolbox to 1 tool, cookies!”

This is a quote from a commenter on a facebook post that was about a 9 week old puppy.  In the conversation, the poster was looking for a training school and one of the places locally required all dogs and puppies to wear choke chains and they NEVER used food and she was unsure.  In the conversation that followed, someone (it might have been me 🙂 ) posted that there was absolutely no reason to strap a choke chain or prong collar on to a 9 week old puppy and that learning should be fun.  Shortly after I posted that, someone wrote the above quote as a response and it got me thinking, I really don’t think bigger is necessarily better.

I do think it’s extremely important to know about as many tools as possible, how they are used, the limitations of the tool, and potential problems, BUT just because I know about a tool, does not mean I need to include it in my tool box.  I really do not believe that a bigger tool box is at all a better tool box.  I don’t need to go to a hardware store and get one of everything to have a tool for most occasions–there is a lot redundancy if I were to get one of everything.  I do need a wide variety of tools in my tool box so I can tackle a wide range of problems but I don’t need every single individual wrench size if I have a couple adjustable wrenches.  Back in the day when I was cutting lots of PVC piping for jumps and weave poles, I didn’t have the extra money to buy a good PVC cutter but it wasn’t a big deal because I had a hacksaw at home that did the job easily–I didn’t need the specialized tool when I had a multi-tasking tool at home.

It’s the same thing with dog training.  I want to know about as many of the tools out there as possible but that doesn’t mean I include all of them in my tool box.  I know how prong collars can be used to build drive with small pops that are not corrections, I know about using a sustained low-level shock to get fast responses using negative reinforcement, and I know the the science behind why both of these tools work and their potential pitfalls.  I don’t need them in my toolbox if I have other tools that can accomplish the same goals.  When the average person talks to me about using a prong collar, more than 90% of the time they want it because their dog pulls on the leash. Well, it just so happens I know more than a handful of ways to teach loose leash walking without a prong collar (*as we know dogs can learn to pull through any no-pull tool, so it’s about training not a tool).  The average person who talks to me about either using or wanting to use a shock collar wants off leash control and/or recall.  There are many tools, exercises, and skills that I use to achieve that without relying on a tool, that by its very nature, utilizes pain, discomfort, or annoyance.

Skilled and experienced trainers select tools that have some versatility, use each tool to its full potential and with some creativity push the tool beyond its normal capacity (aka think outside the box).  It’s pushing the versatility of the tools and being creative that makes the need for a warehouse-sized toolbox unnecessary.  I don’t want to have to carry a toolbox the size of homedepot with me everywhere I go to make sure I have a tool for every individual issue. I would much rather choose to stock my toolbox with tools that are the most flexible, most versatile, and the most open to modifications.  By choosing tools that meet that criteria and being willing to think outside the box, I can absolutely maximize my toolbox’s effectiveness without having to increase its size or add in tools that work on the premise of fear, pain, discomfort, annoyance, or intimidation.

It’s really not about the number of tools but the quality of tools in the dog trainer’s toolbox and their willingness and ability to be creative.


  1. Well said. Not all tools are good tools, which is the piece left out of the “but I want to use ALL the tools” philosophy.

  2. It’s not a single tool though. It’s a triad of rate of reinforcement, timing and criteria. To focus solely on the food is short sighted and (intentionally or not) misleading.

    Here’s a nice recent blog post on the subject.

    Why Positive Reinforcement Trainign Did Not Work For My Dog:

  3. great post – the idea of putting a choke collar on a 9 week old puppy makes me cringe. There are so many ways you can teach a dog to (or not to) do something that will leave them unafraid and completely comfortable.

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