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Hard or gentle canine training, behavioural updates and the diary of an adopted shelter dog V

An often-asked question is which is the best and easiest way to train or why do I say one thing and trainers say something else. If I describe a hard training example, it maybe easier to answer most of these questions looking at it from such an extreme.

You may recall I wrote last week about the Hard Brigade type of training and by coincidence I watched a television program all about a European dog handler teaching the American Police and Prison warders his methods of attack dog training and control. All of those interviewed appeared very impressed at the level of control he was able to achieve by his technique.

The programme showed handlers using very strong thin cord as a choker or noose with a slider devise that keeps it up round the neck and just below the ears in order to create the maximum amount of pain with the minimum of effort from the handler. They also had a similar noose round the dog's waist and I was surprised they did not have another one somewhere else.

Handlers made their dogs continually stop and start eating on command by using pain from the cord to reinforce their control. Handlers even wrestled their muzzled dogs to the ground to show the dog the handler is always physically stronger. I would like to see them do this without the muzzle.

The exercise not shown was the teaching of the down in one easy movement that would leave a lasting impression on the dog. The handler lifts his foot up near the neck of the dog and the cord passed under the stirrup of the handlers boot. Both hands hold the lead tight and the dog is given the command "down" with the handler slamming his foot to the floor dragging the dog into the down. After that, the handler only needs to raise his foot and the dog will hit the deck like a stone.

The training-criminals wore full body suits looking like Michelin Man with the sole aim being to encourage and teach dogs to bite anywhere on the human body. Whilst a dog had hold of a criminal, the handler proved the level of aggression and spirit of the dog by lifting it up by its tail. Sticks used by the criminals encouraged the dog's aggression and handlers used the leads to hit their dogs in order to enforce their control. The handlers trained their dogs using the dog's fear of pain and this programme proved it works.

In the American prisons, warders trained their dogs so that when inmates created trouble in the cells warder's would send in a dog trained to savagely bite them anywhere on their body. I expect it does work to quell such a disturbance but is this not taking us back to the dark ages.

Maybe these Americans have never seen the level dogs are capable of achieving without using pain as a training aid so think the aggressive and barbaric methods portrayed in this programme are the best. It could also be of course they have seen a better standard but they prefer this type of dog aggression and enjoy controlling prisoners by inflicting pain as a legalised form of assault.

I does seem incredulous that the American Judicial System are so mindful to not use the term prisons but rather to call them houses of correction. So careful to call prisoners as inmates or residents and yet happily allow police officers and prison warders to use such barbaric attack dogs in order to enforce and control the law.

This is a long way from those UK Police handlers who spend so long teaching their dogs to restrict their bite the lower right arm and only to use sufficient power in order to detain. There is pride that the modern police dogs can still carry out their duties as well as be a family pet and not to show aggression to law biding citizens. There were a few that were hard police handlers that liked to have hard dogs but most are gone now as such acts are against a criminal's rights. I do not wish to be soft but nor would I wish to use a dog to enforce the law is such an aggressive manner.

My cousin worked as a warder in Full Sutton High Security Prison near York. Regularly the warders would attempt to anticipate the sort of events inmates might try like hostage situations or barricading themselves in their cells. The warders would then take it in turns to be an inmate and try to defeat the other warders. The aim was to stop such events as soon as possible with the minimal amount of force. They would never resort to using a dog in order to quell similar problems as portrayed in this programme.

I agree all handlers should be able to take anything off their dog but not by resorting to inflicting pain. There is no need to show a dog your physical prowess in order to inforce your right to be its leader. It may seem macho but it is unnecessary. A wolf does not go round the pack fighting all the dogs to prove his right to being the leader.

You may recall the dog that goes on a walk about. This dog has the sort of charisma that other dogs recognise and so they do not offer any resistance nor do they try to challenge him. When I met this dog using my normal approach, it happily showed me submission. I did not threaten it I just used the correct body language and soothing sounds. For such a dog as this to show to me his submission, is a salute of respecting my right to be his leader. This is not something unique to me. A Police dog handler who also had that type of presents taught me how I can simulate the same posture.

Often the excuse for using such hard forms of training is because it is a hard world or in order to get dog and handler on the street up and working as soon as possible, cost effectiveness along with lack of time as the important criteria. Kinder methods of training are considered soft and yet I received a compliment from a Scottish Police dog handler for the way my dog Tip brought him down when he ran as a criminal in a competition yet Tip would never bite an arm that did not have a sleeve on it. To Tip it was all a good game with no aggression.

Many modern dog-training classes still use hard methods of pain training because it works and it is easy. Fortunately, many dog owners can see this and are looking for an equally effective alternative. The question owners are asking is there such an alternative and there is but it does require owners to understand how a dog thinks and why it reacts in certain ways. Because this sounds difficult, it is sometimes seems easier to use the old bash and crash methods of training as they do work and so long as you do not mind inflicting pain on your dog.

Why is wrong giving a dog a titbit for sitting on command? If done correctly it can be taught very quickly even on the first attempt which can be quicker than the aggressive method. What is wrong with clickers to tell the dog it will receive a reward if it carries out the next command correctly? Why is it wrong to teach sit, stand, and down with a packet of ginger nuts? Is it not better to see dogs and handlers enjoy each other's company with their training rather than watching dogs waiting fearfully for the next yank of the lead or handlers seeing training as simply a necessary chore.

As I said last week the RSPCA still accepts the use of choke chains providing handlers do not inflict pain. To me this sounds a bit like issuing rifles to the army then saying they are not suppose to use them. Certainly, the most important criterion is that we should all train our dogs and why I used in the title the choice between hard and gentle to refer only to the use or not to use pain. As to which is easier and quicker, then for only the basic training, pain wins but as to which owners would prefer is an individual choice.

Behavioural updates

I visited the little barking dog again and the owners feel there are now some further signs of improvement. The dog is letting the owner go out of the garden where before it would bark incessantly. Little by little, it should work with the Aboistop. I have reminded them it is important not to use the collar as a threat but to keep it topped up and to switch it off by simply placing sticky tape over the mike so the dog does not associate the collar with the gas. Mind you, the barking dog next door could do with some compressed air treatment, as it is a pain.

Discussing training methods, the owner taught his dog sit and down using ginger nuts as a reward with great success. The only problem was when the owner told his dog to go down so did Winston. He loves ginger nuts as well.

I have had a few emails about dogs barking this week and one not from the owner but a neighbour who with others had complained. The owners of the offending dogs have had them fitted with electric collars and one has gone quiet but the other now just howls. It maybe that howling does not fire the collar so I suggested that an alternative could be a remote collar but I will have to wait and see on this one.

I had a message on Yahoo the other day that the two dogs that chased prams and bikes have given this up though the owner thinks it might only be just too hot for them to bother. I feel certain that even in this heat they could muster enough energy if they wanted to. This retraining programme was all the owners' idea after correctly analysing the problem, so congratulations. It does show us that we are all capable of correcting our dogs if we can only understand the problem and can get the communications correct. This is Socialisation training really working rather than following our normal reaction of protectionism for our dogs.

Diary of an adopted shelter dog

I am still concentrating on the Winston's recall so on our walks, whenever a car is approaching I call him to come back to me and to stand still whilst the car goes by. I am finding more occasions when Winston thinks he can take a little longer at returning. When this happens I really have to sound happy in order to encourage him to me. Once the car has passed then I play with him so he associates his return to me will always be for pleasure. If he does think he can sniff at something instead of coming back, I can always use ginger nuts, as they will work a treat. I try not to use the compressed air for recalls but I know I have this in reserve if I need it but in fairness, you do not so I try not to use.

I am also keeping Winston guessing where we are going and when. On our walks, he now waits at road junctions to see which way I will go. Sometimes I use my arms to redirect him up the road I will go and when I do that, I never change my mind so he can always trust my redirection signals implicitly.

If Winston wants to go for a walk and goes towards the car, I walk out the gate. If he goes towards the gate, I take him to the Arenal in the car. I am continuing to establish that our little pack goes where I want it to go, not where Winston wants it to go. This also stops him rushing out in anticipation, as he has no idea where he is going to go. Twice now, I have gone out the gate and not come back in again. I have simply closed the gate and left him with the run of the house and garden. On my return, he is thankfully for me fast asleep in the house.

By following this method of keeping Winston guessing, he will give up trying to anticipate me but wait and watch for where I go and learn to simply follow.

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