Training tools – whether it be food, harnesses, check chains, leashes, rewards using toys, marker words, e-collars, prongs collars etc
Do not fix issues.
All they do is leverage what’s already naturally there for the dog, that’s it.
Example, certain collars used in certain ways tap into and alter the opposition reflex dogs already naturally have – basically if I push on you, you will instinctually lean into the force to keep your balance, that’s why dogs pull, they are leaning into the force certain tools with certain techniques applied can bring awareness to the dog and shift that naturally reflex.
I have seen many people of the years searching for the perfect walking tool so that things just “fall together” and walking their dog becomes easier.
What really matters though is not the tool or the method but what is happen underneath the surface of those two things when combined.
Why do I focus so much on connection, communication and trust? Because that’s what we are trying to create in everything we do with a dog.
Dogs are social animals, when their social bonds are threatened, are they don’t feel closely bonded to those around them they go into a form of survival mode.
I know many of you reading this will be able to relate to not ever feeling really connected with your dog, like it’s a bit of a hit and miss no matter what you two do together, you feel like you don’t really know each other all that well.
It sounds a little corny and a little out there, but more and more of you are telling me this is really how you feel under all the annoyances and frustrations of your dog, at the bottom of it what really bothers you is that you feel your dogs unhappiness, almost despite how much you love him that he may feel somewhat lonely.
We as social beings aren’t that different. When we feel disconnected from our loved ones like our spouses, we get irritated with them, lash out over silly things that don’t matter, it’s us reaching out for a response, for reassurance that they do give a shit about us, and they will work at changing it.
But that isn’t the actual issues, it’s the lack of connection that cause our reaction in the first place, some just simply such down and turn away from interactions and attempts towards them of affection.
It’s because when we aren’t closely bonded with other social beings, our instincts kick in, we are unsafe, vulnerable, our brains know there is safety in numbers.
This happens to ALL social beings including dogs.
When we look at it like that it makes it easier to see why our dog stops listening to us in situations he feels threatened, why he struggles to be able to follow our guidance in those moments even when he wants to.
Why he gets so over excited and throws himself at people and dogs, and why balanced happy dogs don’t.
They have what they need they don’t need to seek it out elsewhere every opportunity that they have got.
There is not one tool, even all of them combined that you could throw at a dog to bring that kind of connection communication and trust.
I have a couple of stories in regards to e-collars that demonstrates this perfectly.
Now don’t read my wrong I LOVE e-collars, and I’ll add a disclaimer because we train with owners all across Australia – check your state laws in regards to there usage-
But despite the laws even in states where they are banned trainers are still teaching with them and owners are buying them with or without guidance.
Here’s the problem I have with it though.
I believe they should only ever be used to leverage an understanding that is already very clear, used at a low level and with the aim to bring forth understanding which creates a situation where they aren’t actually needed to be used. Same way we go about the use of food, we never want to have to rely on a tool to have our dogs be willing to follow us – if we do need that, then the communication and the connection has clearly not been well structured.
I have clients who have learned how to use them, they don’t touch the remote ever any more, they don’t need to, it was just a use of extending what the dog already knew. Like an invisible leash , a tap on the shoulder, hey you’re getting caught up in something, I’m still here, we are still here together, moving together. The dogs have always been happy to follow along with it.
The dog is safe, the owners are happy but most importantly with or without the tools they have learned to use over the time working with us, the have a strong bond with one another.
I have two stories however that unfortunately I wish I didn’t have as examples of how it can and does go wrong when the core purpose of the use isn’t to create greater communication, connection and trust.
Now slow your roll if you’re pulling up your judgey pants, these owners were in a desperate place and they believed and trusted the trainers they worked with that this would be what was best for their dog, frankly I don’t blame, one owners dog was causing thousands of dollars of damage to their house, the other the dog had killed livestock.
If I was in that position I would want those problems fixed and fixed immediately, I wouldn’t for a second be thinking about our relationship at all.
Thing is both these dogs were highly anxious dogs, the one who had killed livestock had also bitten people and struggled on walks, basically he struggled to self-regulate his emotions.
The first story is of the owner with the dog causing damages, to put it simply the Dog Trainer they hired wacked on the e-collar within the first session and demonstrated what he wanted them to do.
Close all the blinds and hide inside to make the dog believe he was home alone, when ever he cried, howled, barked, they were instructed to press the button, if that didn’t work to dial it up.
Lets break down what the dog is feeling for a moment shall we?
Anxiety comes from a couple of places one I mentioned before is not having a close social network it can leave more sensitive dogs feel quite vulnerable the other is lack of control within there environment.
The training they were instructed to do, did not help build into the social network, and it gave the dog even less control over his environment and his emotions.
The dog shut down.
The owners rang me in tears about what they had done to their dog, they had put trust in someone and rightly so their trust was broken, they felt like monsters.
It wasn’t the e-collar that did the damage though. It was what it didn’t give the dog and what it took away from the dog that caused the damage.
The dog that killed the livestock?
They had one previous session with the trainer where they went over a couple of basic things loose leash walking – great, and a couple of obedience things.
The second session, e-collar on, dog was taken straight to the sheep, every time the dog was touching the sheep the trainer pressed the button and was doing it at a level higher than normal.
The dog was more adrenalized than other dogs he had done this with.
Now taking into consideration that being around the sheep would have triggered the dogs prey drive, being handled by someone other than his owners whom in which he wasn’t close with and then being zapped by a collar..
I don’t know about you guys but when we think about the brain and how it dumps hormones into our body, I would say there is a huge chance the dog wasn’t able to learn in that moment to all over a sudden self-regulate his emotions.
That would be like me taking you bungee jumping, you really want to do it, but your brain just dumped a chemical concoction in your brain your full of adrenaline, I tell you if you don’t relax right now I’m going to zap you.
Or if I popped you in front of a clown – I have an irrational fear of them , I don’t know why or if I will ever deal with that problem but I can’t help it my brain and body without me even trying just instantly feels unsafe, if someone told me to meditate with a clown around. Fuck. That. I suck at it without the clown of doom and death around.
I wouldn’t trust you nor listen to you, I have no god dam reason to, I’m not going to fight with my body just for you.
Damage wasn’t done to that dog either, but was the problem solved? Nope
The dog is still anxious, still can’t be around sheep, still there is a disconnect between the owners and the dogs.
Right in that disconnect in all those moments your dog stops listening, seems to stop caring whether you exist or not in a certain scenario, where he pushes into your space, misreads you, disregards how he is making you feel.
That right there, if you fix that, is where the magic is at.
In both scenarios, that’s what the trainers missed, that’s what they didn’t train for, didn’t work at repairing first.
The dogs aren’t damaged goods, both those scenarios are fixable, but when you really on a tool to be the soul answer, the solution to your problems, well that’s when you are going to end up shit creek without a paddle.
E-collars are great, training with food is great, training with toys is great, but when the structure you use isn’t going deep enough to build the foundation of communication and connection all those things become is a band-aid, a crutch a management tool.
Communication, connection and trust. If they are not at the core of the things you are doing with your dog your training is always going to be an uphill struggle.