Force-Free Dog Training.
At Holidays4Dogs we know a great deal about how to properly look after the dogs in our care. This is because we are not just a dog care business, we are passionate about dogs as well as high regard for the canine-human bond. We keep up-to-date with all things dog related, including all important welfare issues. We advocate force-free training and management approaches for all animals, but particularly when it comes to dogs in our care. Our carers are chosen very carefully; not just for their obvious love of dogs, but also for their experience and expertise in caring appropriately for them. Please read our article to find out more about force-free training and how it relates to the pet care industry.
Ethical dog training and care.
Thankfully, effective, science-based methods, now dominate the dog training world, but it has taken a good 20 or, 30 years, to get here. Force-free training principles focus on the mental wellbeing of the dog. Forcing, or using any aversive techniques, are always avoided and the intention is to never cause the dog to feel pain, or fear. This approach is in line with principles of animal welfare and promotes respect for the dog, as well as creating that all-important canine-human bond and opportunity for effective communication.
However, there is still much debate and controversy about force-free training, not least because many people believe this is an un-realistic expectation. There are still plenty of trainers who agree that aversive techniques have a place in dog training. Not too long ago, harsher methods of training dogs were common-place.
Leash corrections, or alpha rolls, where frequently touted as accepted methods of getting your pet to behave and featured in numerous television programmes both here, and abroad.
However, programmes such as these can only be viewed as entertainment and do not promote ethical ways of treating animals. Many would also argue that, due to the editing process, most cannot even lay claim to any realistic ‘successful’ outcome.
Sadly, these platforms advocating aversive dog training, haven’t completely gone away – but they are losing traction. The more time moves ahead, the more we can hopefully challenge those traditional, and simplistically held, dog training beliefs.
The origin of dog behaviour principles.
Thankfully, the tide has been turning in recent years and more and more people are now realising the virtues of positive ways to train dogs. The most popular way of understanding dog behaviour in the past, was through observation of captive wolves. This promoted the idea of canine dominance and pack theory; one which legitimized further, traditional dog training methods.
However, this theory was deeply flawed, not least because captive wolf behaviour is not the same as wild wolf behaviour. Conclusions about wolves in captivity very much influenced the assumed behaviour of domestic dogs. This was partly because it was believed dogs were directly descended from gray wolves.
However, advances in DNA studies, have helped experts to realise that dogs are not actually descended from the gray wolf species of today. Instead, they are certain that dogs descend from a now extinct strain of wolf. In addition, many experts suspect the domestication of dogs happened during several different historical periods and in different geographical locations.
In addition, this was to deny that captive wolf behaviour was not a true representation of natural behaviour. The structured hierarchy observed, in which the fittest animals ruled, was not indicative of the way in which wolves in the wild are actually much more cohesive.
The need for a ‘pack leader’ – namely, the dog’s owner – is still a common misconception. Never mind, that human’s are not wolves, anymore than dogs are.
How does this affect dog training methods now?
The dog training and behaviour community remain somewhat divided about these relatively new revelations. While many embrace scientific evidence, other ‘old school’ trainers refuse to let go of ‘traditional’ dog training methods and the ‘pack leader‘ philosophy.
Anyone can bully a dog into submission by force and it might be very easy to claim this as some king of dog training success. It might even work temporarily. But how much of a cost is this to the animal? How long will these ‘results’ last? And what side effects may come to the fore? There is nothing impressive about physically aversive approaches when it comes to building a bond with our dogs.
If dog trainers still believe that there is a correlation between captive wolf behaviour, dominance theory and domestic dogs, their methods are undoubtedly going to involve an element of force. This approach can cause dogs to be fearful which, in turn, can cause aggression. The dog may become confused, or shut down altogether, as a result of harsh training methods. This surely raises welfare and ethical issues, especially given that we now know there are far more humane, and scientifically backed ways, of getting our dogs to understand us?
There are many force-free training aids at the disposal of the discerning dog owner and trainer. While most people walk their pet dogs on a harness and lead, for example, there are still some owners using check chains. Worse still, there are people who use prong and shock collars – despite legislative moves to ban them. (Shock collars are banned in Wales).
Indeed, there is growing evidence to show that training a dog by harsh methods can impact negatively on the welfare of the dog. This can range from aggression to a breakdown in the learning process.
At the biggest dog show on earth celebrating man’s best friend, Cruft’s competitors have been criticised for holding leads too tight. This includes the use of check collars and slip leads.
In 2023, dogs are still being hauled around the show ring on very tight slip leads. It is surely time Crufts caught up with the general consensus that such harsh handling is detrimental to the health and welfare of dogs?
Is there room for punishment in dog training?
Yes. There is. You may be surprised to know that punishment doesn’t have to involve physical abuse in the usual sense i.e. leash corrections, pushing, or hitting a dog. In dog behaviour terms punishment refers to anything that is likely to decrease a behaviour in the future. However, there are two important sub-terms to this.
Positive punishment – (there’s actually nothing positive about it). This includes all those aversive methods, such lead corrections or, spraying the dog in the face with water or air. This may also involve the use of tools such as check chains, or prong collars. Positive punishment techniques have been associated with increased aggression in dogs.
Negative punishment. This refers to the removal of something the dog values. An example might be withholding a treat for the wrong behaviour, (but rewarding for the behaviour you want to see). Another may be not giving the dog attention while he is jumping up. (N.B; there are some nuances to this. Negative punishment might also involve inhumane methods. For example, a trainer may continuously shock a dog until it displays the behaviour required – at which point the punishment stops – i.e. the shock is removed)
By using positive reinforcement and humane forms of negative punishment together, it is possible to train dogs to carry out complex behaviours without the need for force, or intimidation.
We are beginning to understand so much more about dog behaviour. Forty years on from my own understanding of dog training and behaviour, things are thankfully very different. There is so much knowledge available which demonstrates kind and effective methods for training our dogs and enriching their lives. There should be no justification for any lesser regard for our loyal friends and their deserved welfare.
At Holidays4Dogs we abide by these principles because we believe treating our dogs kindly and fairly is the only way. We also believe this should become universally recognised throughout the pet care services industry. That includes trainers, dog walkers, sitters and home boarders.
As a result, we have teamed up with registered clinical animal behaviourist, Caroline Clark. We now offer accredited courses in pet education and training. The courses are ideal for anyone currently working in the pet care industry, people who wish to work with animals and also interested pet owners, who wish to find out more about dog behaviour. Courses are nationally accredited and approved by the CPD standards office. You can find out more and register here.
If you are looking for expert, but friendly family dog care for your beloved pet, please do get in touch. Follow the paw to find out more in our Holidays4Dogs article about meeting your dog’s carer…..