You Don't Have To…

“I was told that a choke chain was the only way to control such a big dog.”

“That’s surprising, the rescue said that we should get a choke chain because that’s what any training class would use.”

“My trainer said that was the only way to deal with my dog’s disobedience [from someone who leash popped their dog so hard their front paws were dangling and they yelped]”

“I didn’t want to use a prong collar on my dog and never felt comfortable giving corrections but my trainer suggested it.”

I hear things like this all the time. There are so many things we (as humans) do because we think we have to and it’s no different in the world of dog training. The above quotes are just a sampling of things I’ve heard in the last month. I would venture that most people who use these tools/methods do so because they don’t know other options exist and those tools/methods were what their parents used, what an experienced friend told them, or what a trainer instructed them to do. Most people don’t WANT to hurt their dog with these tools or methods… they really just don’t know that there are other options available.

This idea of doing things because you “have to” certainly extends to people who work with trainers. I recently watched a training clip that I hadn’t seen for some time of a ‘trainer’ getting frustrated and smacking a dog in the face and repeatedly leash popping the dog so hard it’s front feet were dangling off the ground for a full second or two. Although I was obviously upset that the trainer would treat an animal in such a manner, I was probably more shocked and saddened by the response, or lack there of, by this group of dog owners. Students don’t have to standby and watch a “trainer” abuse their dog, but I was shocked to see that some certainly do.

After the dog yelped out in pain and tried to flee, nary a soul batted an eye at the treatment. Not one person looked disgusted, fearful, or upset as this man smacked this dog in the face and lifted it off the ground by its collar. I’m positive that if questioned, each and everyone would say they are an animal lover and that they think animal abusers are awful. Yet, at the same time they didn’t even think twice about a trainer doing such things and there is a good chance they would have gone home to do similar things based on his instruction. There seems to be quite the disconnect.

I wish I could tell people, “You don’t have to…” It seems that every single time that I provide people with alternatives (a front hook harness instead of the prong collar, tools to build focus instead of a leash to punish inattentiveness, or techniques to shape desired behavior instead of a choke chain to punish ‘incorrect’ responses) that the handlers embrace the ideas (often after initial skepticism). All they needed was another option that was effective for them to let go of the tools/methods that they “had to” use. Give them something else and they were happy to change their minds about “have to.”

I also wish I could tell people to follow their guts. If they are uncomfortable doing something a trainer suggests, that they “do not have to.” A student of mine had previously taken classes that utilized a prong collar and she was so disheartened each and every time she was instructed to correct her dog. She hated going to class and her dog was not too fond of it either (the trainer actually had the nerve to correct her dog because she didn’t issue a harsh enough correction. So, 30 seconds after the dog broke a stay the trainer snatches the leash out of the handler’s grasp and delivers 2 harsh leash corrections on a dog who was just sitting there). Yet she continued to go and continued to give corrections because she felt she ‘had to.’ After the first lesson with me, she was almost in tears because I showed her another way to work with her dog and she was so grateful.

Sure, some people are still going to choose to use tools/methods that I do not use or encourage even if they know of alternatives. I just hope people learn that they don’t have to use those tools/methods–that there are other options available to them.

  1. Great post! This type of training was one of my biggest fears in my original search for a dog training class. Since I hadn’t ever owned a dog before, I wasn’t sure I would be able to recognise the types of training that was hurting my dog, or feel confident enough in my opinion to react to it. Luckily, I didn’t find that issue, as all the trainers I’ve had have focused on positive reinforcement and clicker training 🙂

  2. This was an awesome post Tena. I’m going to share it on facebook….

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