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Which method of dog training is the best one?

I have received a number of emails recently regarding the question as to which training method is the right one to use. One email was asking about agility training for competitions as they had recently visited the Fun Day held at Benitachell. I will deal with this sort of training in the next few weeks. It is certainly a lot of fun for everyone including the dogs and all doggy training should be fun.

Another email asked do I really exist and if I simply copied the articles from books. I can say with all honesty that other than reference material like the processionary caterpillars all the information in these articles comes from many years of experience, training, working, and competing with our dogs using non-enforcement methods. They continued to say they do not agree with my sort of training because they actually trained with the police as if this was some sort of certificate of excellence.

I hear many similar statements from owners who say they have trained with either serving or ex Police, Royal Air Force, Army and in some cases Security Dog handlers. Because they are or were professionals, it should therefore follow that their style of enforcement method of training must be correct.

The alternative is encouragement painless methods. These include all sorts of mixed training, using clickers, food, or other reward methods that most tell you they are the newest and best method of training currently available. The problem is how to make an informed choice and which method is best and suits them.

Basically, there are only two choices. Either the commonly used enforcement method that relies on using pain to stop a dog doing something that it should not and the pain will stop as a reward when it does it right.

Sometimes owners whilst training wish to use titbits as a reward for doing things correctly but often many instructors frown on such indulgences.

The alternative is encouragement pain free training that uses rewards like titbits, toys like balls; squeaky toys, clickers and keeping fun as their main basis that encourage a dog to work well.

For those owners that wish to train the preference is usually to train their dogs themselves in both sociability and general obedience. We then have people who have a problem dog and need help or people who are simply interested in training for fun. Next, we have people who are actually interested in competing with their dogs in any of the different types of competitions that are available.

We find many owners joining such classes will get them out and meet like-minded people who also enjoy working with their dogs. It is a chance to meet, have a natter, as well as form new friendships that exceed the confines of the training ground. Sometimes people become so interested they become instructors themselves or help to support their local dog Shelters.

One question often asked is what they should do if an instructor insists their dog should wear a choke chain or even spiked collars in order to teach their dog. Even though the owners may not wish to use any choker instructors have still gone over to take the dog from the owner’s hands because the dog was not reacting fast enough and then jerked the lead that hard the dog has yelped in pain but it certainly did react faster afterwards. Is that proof that it is a better method?

I do receive many emails telling me of these instances and seeing their dog receive such handling they have then refused to go back. The problem is in doing this they find themselves without any training classes at all.

There is no real trace of who actually invented the choker but it is assumed that possibly a farmer needed to hold onto his dog and wrapped chain round its neck. Today many farmers use Baler Band. It holds up fences and fixes combine harvesters so it is quite useful material especially for holding onto a dog.

When they found difficult dogs then reacted better with chain round their necks so their use became a common practice. After a while, the method transferred by word and mouth, more people started using slipping chains to help train their dogs. Now we can purchase all sorts of chokers of one sort or another but they still work the same way it is just that some are less painful than the others are depending on how hard you jerk them.

Therefore, the million-dollar question is which method is the best method to use. Each dog and handler is different. Each owner may or may not be interested in learning how to train a dog. All many owners want is to learn a method guaranteed to work quickly. It is often believed because enforcement training works and has been around a long time, is used by professionals then it must seem to be the only way to train and this is why this type of class is most common.

One of the reasons for the chokers success is it sounds logical in the need to master your dog. To use harsh control and yes, dogs will obey. If you are harsh, enough then you will indeed have a dog that will do nothing until told to do so because it actually fears to do anything else or it will be in trouble. Such dogs look sad and effectively their spirit is broken.

I look at dogs the same way Monty Roberts looked at horses and the way they were “Broken In.” He could not believe that such harsh methods are the only way. Even in the film, the Horse Whisperer staring Robert Redford this was all technically wrong for painless methods as used by Monty but the film was not based on him as so many people think.

Looking at the film, yes it would seem correct but sadly, so many people who use methods like Monty criticised the film to no avail; but that is Hollywood.

I too trained as an enforcement dog trainer. I too like Monty saw the same harsh methods used not just by training clubs but by the Police, the Army, the Air force, and Security firms and where over zealous and cruel practices were eventually reported in the daily papers on how some professional instructors were inflicting severe pain to professional dogs in order to make them conform.

Many professionals saw civilian Competitors as amateurs yet rarely do we see the services represented in Working Trials and certainly, they had little chance of winning. Only when the more enlightened professional dog handlers wanted to compete at such a high level they found that dogs taught with the enforcement methods lacked the enthusiasm in comparison to those dogs taught with encouragement and reward training with an understanding of how and why a dog will willingly work for us. It is here in Working Trials where there is the proof of which method of training works.

It was only when a number of Police handlers wanted to raise their standards of control and at the same time loose some of the aggression seen in working police dogs that there was more interest taken in Working Trials. Forces like Dundee, Nottingham, Manchester, Northampton, Durham, and North Yorkshire all took an active interest in being involved with Working Trails. As an added bonus, these forces also found successes in their own National Police Dog Championships.

As to which method of training you use is for you, your ability, and your conscience to decide. All I can say is that we did not train with the Police; some enlightened Police trained with us and because we were all working together we all improved and found dogs would work better and faster if we treat it all as a game with lots of praise. Any use of chastisement only came from our lack of knowledge of why we were failing and because of our lack of patience. If we needed any proof, we all learned that such lack of patience was detrimental to a dogs training. They must win and be happy all the time to succeed and that was the edge needed to win.

I hope more and more people will chose encouragement and painless ways of training, seeking out those trainers prepared to train that way. For those still believing dogs, learn to conform only by enforcement training by inducing pain I say why not try the alternative and see which is better. If you do, you will have one very grateful and happy dog.

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