First of all, I apologize from the bottom of my heart if this topic is a
"groaner" ("oh, NO, I can't believe some stupid newbie is asking THAT
again, HERE we GO with this STOOPID thread ALL OVER AGAIN!!! Sigh...").
That said, here's my question....
I have had four dogs of my own I trained over a span of twenty-plus
years - and other people's dogs, and other species of mine and others,
that I've trained as well - but let's stick to dogs... Anyway, the dogs
I've trained have, for the most part, been trained with what apparently
is now viewed as "the bad old methods" of using a ***collar. For
example, to teach the dog to heel, you would give the command, and walk
along and, if - after gentler methods were tried, the dog strained ahead
or was inattentive, you would change directions abruptly, firmly
repeating the word "heel", and the dog would get yanked and surprised,
and figure out pretty quickly that he had better pay more attention to
you (you crazy unpredictable human being) than whatever else was so
interesting a minute ago.
At the moment, I have four relatively new dogs at once, of various ages,
and mostly to motivate myself to really get them obedience trained
*now*, and mostly because one of them is already the size of a percheron
horse, and three times as strong, I have signed up for a (very
expensive) six month course of obedience training that (of course,
mostly depending on how much work *I* put into it) is supposed to lead
to a pretty advanced level of trained dog by the end of it all.
This trainer espouses the "clicker" operant conditioning method of
I am trying to be a Good Dog myself, and I am all for training a dog
with positive reinforcement, etc.... I've had a lot of fun watching my
dogs catch on almost immediately when I do things like train them to
heel by praising them *only* when they drift into the position I want
them to walk in, and going silent in mid-syllable if they range out of
that specific position while we are walking. So it's not like I think
you have to club a dog to death if he doesn't obey your command to
"glosnick" the first time, when he obviously doesn't have a clue what
I am having some philosophic difficulty with this trainer's methods that
I am obediently trying to use with my dogs....
Before I even met this trainer, I talked with her on the phone, and
expressed my concern that it seemed to me that offering food as a
training reward would result in a dog whose motivation would be "I'll do
it IF you have food," and "I'll do it because YOU can please ME by
giving me food", not "I'll do it because I can please YOU and you're the
pack leader, and I understand the rules, and besides I love to please
you". It also was my observation that food-rewarded dogs tended to obey
more strongly if there was a food reward, and less emphatically - or
perhaps not at all - if there was no food reward.
I was concerned a dog trained this way would, in essence, base his
degree of obeying on whether you had food, whether he was hungry, and
whether the food was desirable enough to compete with whatever the dog
was already interested in at the time.
The trainer said that none of this was an issue, if you were properly
trained in how to "fade" the food rewards from the obedience process. I
was (and am) extremely dubious, but trying to keep an open mind.
This trainer's *own* dog, a three-year old which this trainer has had
since a pup, will not lie down and stay on command, but drifts away
within a few minutes, to be coaxed and cajoled back eventually, when the
trainer notices. Also, this dog jumps on EVERYBODY over and over, which
I associate with a *puppy* behaviour problem, not an *** three year
old dog (belonging to a trainer, no less).
This trainer, on the very first day, had all of us let loose our totally
uncontrolled and untrained puppies and dogs (we were in a very large
room, not outside, thank goodness), and then told us to say the word
"come", once, then scramble all over after our dogs (who were busy
chasing each other with wild delight) trying to shove a food treat under
their nose, and lure them back over to wherever we were when we said
"come"... then click the clicker, and give them the food.
I have a pretty good education in psychology, including operant
conditioning, and more experience in training animals than most people I
meet, and it's been my experience that you never give a command you
can't enforce, or you train the animal it can ignore you. And it's also
been pretty obvious to me that you don't start training an animal in an
area of maximum distraction.
I kept my jaw from dropping at how this trainer handled this first night
of training, but my dog was NOT interested in ANY kind of food treat
that I, or anybody else, could provide, because, of course, NOTHING was
as much fun as chasing some other puppy. For two hours, no less. I
actually lost two pounds when I stood on the scale the next day, so I
guess there was *some* benefit, but I don't think there was any for the
dog - at least, not in the area of obedience training.
Okay, I'll try to stop expressing my extreme dubiousness about the
trainer, and stick to the method...
Here's one of the questions I've had already (it being only the first
week), and I didn't get an answer that really convinced me from the
We were supposed to spend the week (and I did) training our dog to,
among other things, "come"... and the method was to say the word once,
then chase the dog down and wave the food under his nose and lure him
back over some distance away, and then click, and give him the food. If
the dog doesn't come, and/or isn't interested in the food, and can't be
lured... then... nothing. You just keep trying to get his attention with
the food he isn't interested in. It's your fault for not having
interesting enough food (or the right pitch of squeaky toy, or appealing
enough belly rubbing techniques, or whatever).
It seems to me that, even by starting in a minimum distraction
environment, with a colossally appealing food treat, and working your
way up through baby-steps of gradually increasing the distraction level,
and gradually decreasing the frequency of the food treat, whenever the
dog hears the word "come", he is still making a decision along the lines
of "am I that hungry? is it that tasty? or would I rather chase this
rabbit? Because if I don't go over there now, it's no big deal... I'll
get that treat later when I feel more like obeying." I am under the
illusion, or delusion, that the 'bad old methods' result in a thought
process more like, "Yes Ma'am! Right away Ma'am! Even though maybe I'd
rather not, Ma'am!".
I envision a situation where a choke-collar "do it and I praise you
exuberantly, or else I'll enforce it and you'll have to do it anyway"
dog, and a clicker-trained "I really like the food treats, and the
praise, but nothing happens if I don't obey" dog, each see a rabbit and
start to chase it. The rabbit sprints across the highway, and both dogs
follow it. A Mack truck is bearing down on both the dogs. The
choke-collar dog owner says, "Rover, COME!" and Rover says, "Damn! And
that rabbit was so interesting. Okay, here I come!", while the clicker
dog owner says, "Bingo, COME!" and Bingo says "Yeah, maybe, in a minute,
but I am TOTALLY distracted by this WAY cool rabbit and I know for a
fact that there is no food treat on this WORLD that is more interesting
to me right now than chasing this rabbit!"
It seems to me that at least one of the aims of dog training is so that
you can save the life of your dog ("don't eat that <poison>", "come away
from that <rattlesnake> right now", "don't move <further into
traffic>"), and therefore, obedience training should not be a Democracy.
If your dog only sees the rabbit, and you see the rabbit AND the Mack
Truck, and your dog sees pleasant consequences in obeying you, but
nothing compared to the pleasure of chasing the rabbit, and no negative
consequences of *not* obeying you, barring missing a small tidbit of
liver or something... well... it just doesn't seem the best way to
achieve the intended result.
When I asked this question of my trainer during Session Two yesterday,
she said that negatively correcting your dog (using a ***collar for a
1) caused your dog to fear you
2) caused the dog to label unrelated but coincidental things as "the bad
thing" you were correcting.
I said, politely, that this had not been my experience with my dogs,
that they certainly never feared me, and that I had not seen the
generalization she mentioned.
For those of you still reading this far, I will add that my dogs trained
that way loved me, obeyed enthusiastically, understood the principle
quickly, and it stuck. They were not afraid of me, nor did I seem to
inhibit some wide generalized area of generic behaviours related to
their concepts of walking, or walking on a leash, or exploring the
world, or whatever. That is, if I turned abruptly and said "heel", and
they got surprised and yanked, AND it happened to be a cloudy day, AND
there was a woman with a parasol, AND another dog happened to be
barking, my dogs would walk politely on a leash, but did not seem to
fear or avoid cloudy days, women with parasols, or other barking dogs.
But I digress.
She went on to say over and over that "it's been SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN"
that this method works.
I am not disputing that. I am questioning the *degree* of
*effectiveness* and the *circumstances* of the effectiveness.
She did say it takes longer (I can see this already).
And she said that "Dogs get into a routine - they are creatures of
routine. If they get into the routine of coming when you call, then they
will do it no matter what."
I did not wish to challenge her further, but I don't know a single one
of us who would follow a "routine" instead of something absolutely
fascinating, tempting, available, and apparently perfectly okay to
do.... "Here Rover, ...
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