Dog training is big business and lucrative.
Recently I watched an exasperated woman screaming at her cowering misbehaved dog and violently pulling its head back whenever it got more than a foot in front of her, almost lifting the large dog off the ground. After half a dozen such actions I decided to admonish her, (not always a good plan), but she turned her frustration and anger on me saying she was only doing what her dog behaviourist had advised her to do, and suggested I should have a word with him. I replied that I would be glad to do so, but I was sure he had not told her to be so violent. My wife gave her the parting comment that the days of Barbara Woodhouse were long over, but are they?
For those too young to remember Barbara Woodhouse, she was a highly celebrated and regarded dog trainer across the world in the 1970’s and 1980’s with TV programmes, books and documentaries about what many looked upon as domineering, heavy handed and cruel methods.
Controversy over Jeff Gellman
History often repeats itself and recently there has been controversy about American dog trainer Jeff Gellman who allegedly hits dogs with a rolled up towel and uses prong collars and remote control shock collars, which are in common use in North America and are readily available on the internet in the U.K. He has become a YouTube celebrity and owners queue up willing to pay large sums for a session with him. Dog training is big business and very lucrative but as always totally unregulated.
But his methods highlight the great division that still exists after decades of research and debate regarding the best and most humane way of training a dog to fit in with our modern lifestyles. Every self-proclaimed dog behaviourist and trainer has their own ideas or copy the method of the day. But then everybody likes to think they are a dog expert.
The argument over negative and positive reinforcement.
The main division between the “experts” is whether “aversive” or “negative reinforcement” training i.e. using a bit of brute force like Mr Gellman and Barbara Woodhouse is cruel and counter productive and causes stress compared with “positive reinforcement” where dogs are bribed with treats and praised to toe the line.
A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour indicated that 65% of dogs trained with “aversive” or “negative reinforcement” methods i.e. using punishment showed signs of stress such as mouth licking, shaking and whining compared with only 8% of those trained by “positive” or reward and praise methods. Whether this is scientifically sound or not, common sense dictates that hitting, yanking and electrocuting dogs is probably not the most humane course of action.
Too Many Experts
The new science of animal behaviour means we now live in a world of dog behaviourists, clinical animal behaviourists, psychiatrists, counsellors and a variety of trainers with diplomas and degrees just to make dogs compliant and contented with our modern lifestyles. But still we argue, debate and write scientific papers but still cannot come up with a consensus.
Realistically the sheer act of training a dog to make it comply with our will and our selfish demands is an act of dominance whatever method used. For many owners, like the exasperated lady, any method that solves the problem is OK with them, cruel or not.
But ironically it is us who have inflicted our mental health and behavioural problems onto them through our lack of understanding of their needs. They have to be under our control at all times and because of our hectic lives we have no option but to leave them home alone, fail to walk them as we should and generally do not give them the attention they desire. We have confused them to the point where they do not understand their role in our lives.
I do wonder if we read too much into dog training. I have always been willing to put up with the odd foibles a dog of mine might have and find ways of circumventing any problems that might arise because of them, rather than destroying their will and individual character, but this method doesn’t have all the answers either. Perhaps we should give more thought to acquiring a dog in the first place if we are unable to cater for all their needs and desires rather than always trying to transform them to our requirements.