My approach to dog training like many things has evolved. Having come out of the horse world, force was a pretty normal part of my approach to “teaching” a dog to do something. The thing is as I educated myself on how dogs learned and I started working with dogs that were not my own it became clear to me that all the force methods we have available are grossly misused. One of my biggest peeves is seeing someone being pulled by a dog on a prong collar. They are being dragged down the street and will look at you right in the eye and say this is the only thing that works.
WAIT… WHAT!? From my perspective that is not working at all, it is just annoying the dog at best and destroying your relationship at worst.
Another response I get is that a trainer told them to do it. Ok, I get that one. I went down that road myself many years ago. I had a trainer show me the “magic” of a prong collar. My rowdy very large adolescent dog calmed right down. I know differently now. Knowing what I know now about canine body language I can tell you she was shut down, not calmed down I also understand that to many people, that is just fine, as long as the dog behaves. Well, it is not just fine with me.
The reason it isn’t fine is that now that I have taken the “road less traveled” ( I Am a HUGE Frost fan) I have received a gift I could not have dreamed of in the days of alpha rolling and prong sticks. I have made real connections with dogs. I now live for the moment when I am working with a young dog and it all clicks, they look at me, not through me, and wait for the next game or task we are to do together. In the old days they would wait for the next pinch or jerk!
It is actually kind of hard to describe, but I know others can see it too. I have had clients say to me that their dog looks at me in a different way, or “look how Fido loves you”. That connection does not come with violence or pain. It comes with love, compassion and yes, discipline. But to think that pain is the only way to discipline a dog is so sadly limiting. We are the ones with the big brains, we do not need to hurt our dogs to let them know how to live with us. We have reason and 15,000 years of dog domestication on our side, it is time we use it!
So, if I had to articulate a guiding principle to my approach to to dog training it is just that. Be smart, be creative and be kind. Not only will you find that it is a lot more fun this way. You will find as I did, that unlike the old school techniques, you can involve your kids in the training and care of the dog and not worry about anyone getting hurt. Have fun with your kids and dog, while teaching your dog manners, what’s not to love?