Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Is it ever necessary to use pain or fear in training?

One of the things that I love about blogging is its interactive nature. My last post spawned a great conversation about training methods, the “right” way to train, and the role of punishment in dog training. The thread really made me think about my training philosophy, so much so that I felt the discussion deserved its own post.

Let me start by saying that I think it's impossible to use 100% positive reinforcement. Personally, I probably use approximately 85% positive reinforcement, 10% negative punishment, and 5% positive punishment. (If you're not familiar with these terms, this link does a nice job of discussing them.) This makes me a decidedly lopsided trainer, and while I do use primarily clicks and treats, I'm not afraid to use the occasional “correction.” My “corrections” trend pretty light because of who Maisy is- sensitive and anxious- but also because I believe that it is possible to train without using pain or fear.

Does this mean it's wrong if someone trains differently than me? No, of course not. If a given training method is getting the desired results, if it's fair and consistent, and if it's improving your relationship with your dog, then who am I to say that it's wrong? However, I stand by my statement: I believe you can train a dog without using pain or fear.

This does not mean that I think training should be one-size-fits-all. Frankly, I think that's impossible. Every person, dog and situation is different, and as such, needs a different approach. Further, because the dog defines what's reinforcing and what's punishing, it's impossible to make blanket statements about whether or not a technique is acceptable. For example, some dogs find being sprayed in the face with water incredibly aversive. Maisy happens to love it. If I were to try to stop her from doing something by using a squirt bottle, it probably wouldn't be very effective.

The cool thing about positive training is that there are many different ways to teach the same behavior. If I want my dog to go lie on a mat, I can shape her to do that by clicking small movements in the right direction, I can lure her to do it by tossing a cookie on the mat, or I can capture it by waiting for her to go to the mat herself. More than that, though, I can also manipulate the environment to make it more likely that she'll go to the mat by placing it in the hallway and wait for her to walk down it, or putting it in her favorite napping spot, or putting it in her crate... the possibilities are limited only by your own creativity.

I definitely believe that teaching new behaviors can be done with almost completely positive reinforcement. However, stopping an already existing and unwanted behavior is much more difficult. Personally, I call this type of training “behavior modification” but perhaps that's splitting hairs. Regardless, my approach is to try positive methods first, and if those fail, use punishment in a thoughtful, fair, and consistent manner. The punishment used should be the least invasive and minimally aversive option possible.

I think we can find pain and fear-free punishments that will stop a behavior, however, I will concede that there are situations where we might not have the time to figure out how to do that. Life-and-death situations like a dog trying to eat something poisonous or running towards a busy highway are no time to futz with a clicker. You do what you have to do in that moment, even if it hurts or scares your dog. Of course, I don't think that's training so much as damage control, and once your dog is safe, you teach a stronger "leave it" or a better recall to prevent the situation from occurring again. It should go without saying that I would do that training without pain or fear.

This leads to the question of whether it's ever necessary to use pain or fear in training. Philosophically, I'd say no, but I will grudgingly admit that there are times where using pain or fear in training is the lesser of two evils. For example, if a dog is going to lose his home because he's barking too much while his owner is gone, a bark/shock collar is probably the better option. Do I like this? Of course not. In fact, it makes me really uncomfortable to say it, because I believe there's always a “positive” solution. Unfortunately, people don't always have the time, money or knowledge to find it.

All of which is to say that while I think some training methods are better than others, I recognize that those other methods that not only work but that they might make sense in a given situation. I may not like those methods, I may think they're unnecessary, but I'm trying hard to avoid judging people who use them. I haven't walked in their shoes, and I don't know what they're up against. I will speak out against abuse when I see it, but the rest of the time, I will offer support or suggestions when appropriate. This only makes sense. After all, my goal is to be as positive with people as I am with my dog. By my own calculations, that requires offering them positive reinforcement 85% of the time!

So, let me take this opportunity to positively reinforce everyone who comments on my blog. I appreciate you all, even those of you who disagree with me. Perhaps especially those of you who disagree with me, because it forces me to examine what I've said. Sometimes it strengthens my convictions, and sometimes it causes me rethink my position. Either way, I learn and grow as person and a trainer, and for that, I am grateful.


Sam said...

Oh, this is a question I ponder far too much. I've got caught in many-a-debate with people over this..

I pretty much train the same way as you, and I very much appreciate that you outright say that you use some positive punishment in your training (I think that there are some reward-based trainers that just can't come to grips with it and say that they don't use any P+ or even P- when they actually do). My training is mostly positive reinforcement and negative punishment, with a little of the others thrown in. I use no-reward markers a fair bit. My corrections are never, ever physical. Positive punishment is always verbal (usually a quick, not loud, "hey!" for Marge getting in to the dishwasher.. it stop the ongoing behavior, but is usually followed by butt rubs and me telling Marge what a silly doofus she is.. so it's just as much a predictor of reinforcement as it is a punisher!!).

In terms of using fear and pain in training.. I, personally, do not use either. I have a fearful dog who is afraid of humans, sounds, etc., why the heck would I introduce such highly aversive things to my training techniques?

I do, however, think that there might be some situations in which using harsher aversives might be necessary. Police dog/Schutzhund training is the first one that always comes to my mind. Herding, too, seems to be very negative reinforcement based. Things like rattlesnake aversion are often taught most quickly using some sort of aversive (though I would argue that it falls under the umbrella of classical conditioning just as much as operant conditioning in that situation). Over all, if the trainer knows how classical conditioning and operant conditioning interact and still trains with traditional methods, then there is not much I can say about their use of aversives. I tend to not like to preach a "100% positive" message for that reason.

My mentor, a clinical Behavioral Psychologist, is very big on not training (children, animals, etc) with the use of positive punishment because of all of the repercussions that arise, especially when it is not used correctly. In fact, the only time he advocates the use of punishment is in situations kind of like the one you mentioned.. he told me a story about screaming at the top of his lungs at a young family member (nephew? cousin? not sure) who tried to walk out in to the street. The "correction" was strong, loud, quick. It stopped behavior instantly and never had to be used again.

All that said, when I'm teaching dogs in class, I'm all about the clicker, food rewards, motivational games, etc. Some students are very receptive to learning about the various ways that they can get their dog to offer behaviors. Aversives are best left for the hands of the very, very experienced. I cringe when my dog club starts handing out the prong collars to new and naive students.

Katie, Maizey and Magnus said...

I have so many thoughts on this I was still gathering them to comment on your last post.LOL

Let me just start by saying thank you for the balanced, honest viewpoint you give here. It is one of the ironies of "positive" training that people take it to extreme and end up being very negative w/ other humans on the subject. It takes a brave woman to admit the use of a shock collar may have a place. I can't say I agree, but I can say I think you are very realistic in the scenario you presented.

Magnus has taught me more about aversives and positive punishment than I probably want to know. I rarely use physical corrections, unless you count putting my foot or hand in front of him to stop the mad dive into the kitty litter, or cat food, the mud puddle, or. . . well you get the idea. (In that case wouldn't that be a positive punishment, adding something to stop a behavior??)

But he is so fast to get into things he shouldn't that I frequently use a vocal correction. For serious offenses I have a noise that my friends affectionately call the "screeching terradactol" or I simply and calmly say say, "NoNo."

But my Maizey is like yours, very sensitive. She rarely needs a correction. Magnus on the other hand. . . Well lets just say he is speedier at getting into mischief than her, and having a cue to say, "stop in your tracks buddy!" is a necessity at this point in his life.

I guess I consider it more of a cue, since when he responds he always gets rewarded for making a good choice. We almost always turn it into training. I don't know, I guess I still get stuck on the semantics.

Basically I think this is just illustrating what you already said so well, "Every person, dog and situation is different, and as such, needs a different approach."

Fear and pain don't have a place in training. Fear and training may show up in management situations and are perhaps necessary in extreme cases, but that is not the same as training to me.

Fear and pain are an expression of the secondary emotion of anger. I would never want to use anger on a dog. Anger is not training, it's not discipline, it has no place in education of any species.

It's one of my favorite parts of positive training that you can take even problem situations and with out fear or pain turn them into a desirable behavior. For an example see Donna's video on putting an unwanted behavior on cue: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c877MVeZkyE

For Sam, (whose viewpoint I always appreciate) Dr. Sophia Ying did a post about a study on the effect of shock collars in dogs being trained for police and watch dogs. It was very interesting. http://drsophiayin.com/blog/are-electronic-shock-collars-painful-or-just-annoying-to-dogs-a-new-study-r

Good thing you accept novels, cause I just left you another one.:)) Thanks for always getting us thinking!

Sam said...

Very interesting, Katie, thank you for sharing that link with me. I wasn't specifically referring to shock collars in my post, but was more or less just making an umbrella statement about aversives in police dog training (more specifically, bitework). The point made in the article about dogs specifically bred for high drive was what I was getting at.

I'm saddened that, in the article, they mention that a shock collar was used to get the dog to heel. To me, that's a totally unnecessary use for such a powerful object. There is a lot of unnecessary harshness that goes into police dog training, unfortunately. I don't know a whole lot about it, but have read some links and some of it's really nasty stuff.

Crystal said...

I'll respond to you both more fully tomorrow, but I wanted to address something you said now, Katie: I can't quite tell from the tone of your comment, but it sounds like you think I condone the use of shock collars. I do not. The better choice out of two bad options is still bad. At the risk of repeating myself, I think it's possible find a positive solution instead, but I also understand that there may be times when time, money or skill/knowledge makes this difficult. That does not make the owner a bad person. Even good people get stuck between a rock and a hard place sometimes.

doberkim said...

i have so much to say about this topic since i am this weird person whose dogs are very clicker savvy and love clicker training, but also get excited to see their electronic collars when they come out...

however, im just too tired tonight after 10 hours in surgery :( hopefully i can get back and read things tomorrow. i will say that the study that was posted about is VERY flawed and has such observer bias and poor scientific method that I wouldn't use that to support anything.

And using ANY tool incorrectly (and isn't that a loaded term), is going to be bad.

katie, Maizey and Magnus said...

Hmm. . . perhaps my sinus infection is making my thoughts come out as muddled as they are in my head today.;)

Crystal, I did not mean to indicate you condone shock collars. I trust what I have learned from you too much to think you were saying it was a good option. So sorry it came across that way!

I actually appreciate your mentioning the reality of situations that people find themselves in. You say it beautifully, " I think it's possible find a positive solution instead, but I also understand that there may be times when time, money or skill/knowledge makes this difficult. . ."

There was a time in the past that I was the person "between the rock and the hard place." My situation had the worst possible outcome, with me accepting bad training advice, getting level four bite and losing a dog that had become a member of our family.

Even though my experiences with that dog were formative life experience and have shaped my training ever since then, I rarely talk about that situation. I did make many mistakes and I do have regrets, but the reason I don't talk about it is my experience of getting put in the "bad person/owner" category.

I was naive, inexperienced, maybe stupid in some ways, but I was not a bad owner/person. I loved him, I did the best I could by him with the knowledge I had at the time. But getting judged over it now keeps me from sharing my experience. Your balanced and kind viewpoint may help someone else feel free to express themselves, learn and change. It has helped me with that, just by writing this.

Sam, I understood the context of your comment to be referring general use of aversives, it just reminded me of that post, and I thought you would find it interesting.:))

Hope this is not too muddled, as I think my fever may be making me delirious.LOL

Crystal said...

SAM- Your statement that you don't use pain or fear in training because of who Marge is really resonated with me. I don't choose to be a positive trainer because of Maisy's issues, but it's what keeps me there. I can certainly see how people with "harder" dogs, or an interest in schutzhund or herding might use more aversive techniques because they're "harder" sports (as in, require more physical and mental toughness)- though my trainer has done both with a clicker, so like I keep saying, I believe it's possible to train without pain or fear.

KATIE- Thanks for your clarification (and sorry about your sinuses!). It's funny that you say you think "no" is more of a cue to Magnus than a correction. I use "no" with Maisy in the same way. It means stop that! and wait for further directions.

As for being judged by people for your past choices- I know how you feel. I really struggled with my decision to tell all about how I got Maisy. People were really supportive, though, and if Maisy's not the poster child for why a pet store dog is a bad idea, I don't know what is! If sharing our story stops just one person from doing it, then it was worth the risk and judgment.

DOBERKIM- I really want you to come back and write more. The concept of clicker-savvy, shock-loving dogs is FASCINATING, and I suspect it is a testament to your training skills. After all, you must make training REALLY fun if they're willing to put up with the annoyance/irritation/pain from the collar.

Although this didn't make it into my post, I agree that tools are not "good" or "bad" in and of themselves- it's the way they're used. I've said before that I'd rather see someone use a prong collar well than a gentle leader poorly. Obviously, I'd rather see the gentle leader used well than the prong collar used well, but... a tool is as good as the trainer.

But if I really believe that, why do I have such a gut-reaction to shock collars? I've thought about this half the night, and all through my morning routine. I think it's because the possibility of misuse is so much higher... but I know it's more than that. A choke can be misused, too. One of the differences is certainly that it's easier to escalate the level of punishment on a shock than with a prong or choke- which makes it easier for the inexperienced to misuse it. It's probably also an anthropomorphic reaction- I've always hated getting shocked, whether it's static electricity in the winter or accidentally touching an electric fence.

Like I said- I hope you'll come back and share more.

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

I tend to separate out my dogs sports training which tends to be about the percentages you listed above or higher with R+, with my dogs daily living which is likely higher with the P+. I still try not to use any pain but I do a lot more verbal reprimands throughout the course of a day. And I will admit that I also use fear, without pain, in daily life training. Not that often but sometimes over more serious infractions I use my body language and voice to intimidate the dog. Not too often but it does occur in my household.

With actual training sessions I want to find out how far I can go in the obedience world without using pain OR fear. I can't say I am training without corrections since I use a very light no reward marker and draw attention to their mistakes by making their errors bigger (ex. run a different direction if my dogs look away on heeling) but I have no desire to force my dogs to do anything for a sport. I want them to WANT to play the game and it's my job to figure out how to build that drive.

I know I can get a UD without pain/fear but the question remains for further trailing. It is a very common belief that once you start campaigning behaviors fall apart. It becomes obvious to the dog that the ring is not the same as practice or even a match. To do the amount of trials needed to get an OTCH brings up the question if it can be done without pain/fear. I don't think I am a good enough trainer to get an OTCH, yet, and I'm pretty sure I won't add aversives into my training if we get to a point where we stall out. But the question remains to be answered.

Anonymous said...

Crystal - I wouldn't say Marge's temperament is the sole reason why I prefer some training methods over others (though, of course, her personal traits do and should dictate the way I train her specifically). I have just simply found that that's what works for me, even when dealing with other dogs (like in class). I suspect that I will train subsequent dogs the same way. I like using appetitive outcomes more than using aversive ones. This undoubtedly has to do with my fascination with classical conditioning.

I do agree with you about the over use and misuse of aversives. THAT'S when I have a big problem with aversives... when people are using them harshly, unfairly, unpredictably (which is often in the pet dog world and not all that uncommon in the performance dog world). But, if a dog is being trained with a mix of reward and punishment and is happy and engaged, well, then there's really nothing I can say to that.. because we need more happy, engaged dogs in the world! If the aversive isn't bothering the dog, why should it bother me? If the dog IS stressed by the punisher OR the handler is using punishment where something else would be more effective (eg. counter conditioning), THEN I take huge, huge issue with it.

I wonder if dogs trained with a mix of new and old school have come to see punishment as a signal for a reinforcement contingency to be in effect. If a dog is consistently punsished because they did something incorrectly while training, then rewarded shortly thereafter, I think that that model might fit. My mentor has talked about somethign like this as a possible explanation for some human behaviors (like a child seeking out punishment because of the attention that follows, or a person staying with an abusive partner because of the affection that gets lavished on to them after an incident because their partner feels guilty about having been physical). Those are harsh examples and I don't mean to imply that it's a BAD thing in dog training, just drawing a comparison.

Sam (posting from the pigeon lab!)

Dawn said...

Prong collars are not bad. Shock collars are not bad. I can find instances where they may be the most effective and humane method. Head halters are not bad either, yet I have seen some horrendous usage of those.
To play devils advocate, I have also seen many many dogs whos owners talk about how they only use positive training, or how they are clicker trainers and they have no control over their dogs in public environments. Is it the training, or the trainer who thinks they dont need to mind their dog? Or is it a dog who really doesnt understand its job? Dogs learn from correction too, ever watch a mother with her pups. Pup goes wrong, gets a quick correction from mom and the issue is over. A dog or pup getting a quick correction from its human is the same.
A quick collar pop telling a dog that no, that behavior of lunging is unacceptable, is not an abusive. Letting the dog in the halti collar hit the end of the leash and snapping its head around is, in my opinion.
I guess this is my long rambling way of saying all tools need to be used appropriately, and in a manner that fits the dog, the human and the situation. A dog like Maisy needs a different type of handling than a dog like Grace, who is different again from Magic.
I am not a fan of ear pinching or prongs, I prefer to use much more positive methods. but I do concede that possibly sometimes other methods do have a use. So sometimes(although rarely) maybe yes, pain or fear is appropriate. JMO as always.

Ninso said...

The question was, is it ever NECESSARY to use pain or fear in training. By "necessary," I assume you mean--is there anything that you cannot train without using pain or fear. Your answer is no, and I agree with you. But really, it's a completely theoretical discussion, because absolutes cannot be proven.

The people I've heard claim otherwise are usually competition obedience, schutzhund, and hunting dog/field trial people. But none of them have ever put forth a convincing argument for why pain is NECESSARY in those contexts. Useful, sure. More convenient, possibly. Effective, definitely. But not necessary.

I don't think pain or fear is ever necessary. I do think using pain/fear is sometimes more practical, sometimes easier, and is not always a bad thing. Elo hates having his nails clipped--I could desensitize, but quite frankly, I'm busy and holding him down to get it done doesn't cause him any lasting psychological damage as far as I can tell. I've gone to extreme lengths to work on Jun's barking in a positive manner. I may not be skilled enough. I may not be using a sufficiently high-value motivator, etc. But I am not going to pay a trainer thousands of dollars to fix her when I can put on her bark collar and she calmly lays down and shuts up--in complete control of whether or not she gets corrected. And I'm sure the shock is unpleasant for her, but she's not afraid of the collar--at one point putting on the collar had even become a reinforcer for her barking!!

And @Dawn, the "out of control dog" phenomenon is SO not limited to positive trainers (not that you were saying it was). I've seen many a person with a dog on a prong/choke, jerking away and screaming at their dog, while the dog pays no mind. Many a loose dog out for a joy ride, happily running and sniffing while its owner (who will beat it when they get their hands on it) screams it name. The behavior of the dog is in direct correlation to the owner's expectations for the dog, as far as I can tell, not the training method.

Crystal said...

Ninso, I really like your comment. I think there are two different things being discussed here.

1. Is it possible to train without pain or fear? To which I'd say, yes, it is, although I acknowledge that's not always the easiest option.

2. Is it therefore better to train without pain or fear? Or, to state it differently, does that mean it's bad to train with pain or fear? I think that's a personal decision. It is wrong for me to train with pain and fear. It is not something I am comfortable with. Other people have different comfort levels, and I am trying very hard not to judge them for that.

Sam does a nice job of pointing out part of why I don't care for the more traditional methods: people misuse them by being unfair or unpredictable in their application.

But Dawn is right, too. People also misuse the so-called positive tools. For the record, I hate seeing that just as much- and maybe even more- than seeing the misuse of corrections. Really, when you get right down to it, I hate seeing bad training, regardless of the method.

Part of why I really prefer positive methods overall is that generally there is less fallout when you screw them up. Look, I make mistakes all the time. I'm not a perfect training, and sometimes, I don't even approach very good. I feel free to make mistakes, though, because I know that when I do, Maisy isn't suffering as a result.

Laura- I'd love to hear more about how you're using fear in daily life with your dogs. Could you give me a few examples? It is a concept that I have not defined well for myself. I get pain, I know what pain is, but fear? It seems more nebulous. I might be willing to take a softer stance on my "no fear" line after thinking about it.

Raegan said...

Kim, I am also very interested in hearing what you have to say! E-collars are extremely prevalent in field dogs, and clearly using one properly does not ruin dogs. Using one improperly is a darn good way to ruin a good dog fast though.

One reason I've heard of about why the e-collar is such a powerful tool (and Crystal, this might be part of why you have such a strong gut reaction to them, one that I share) is that dogs understand physical pain. Dog-to-dog corrections are quite physical. A dog knows what a bite to the face means. But electric shock is "unnatural," its like nothing else the dog has ever experienced before. It's why you have to collar condition a dog, you have to *teach* him how to turn the stim off because it's not something he knows on his own.

Laura, are you on the Ring-test-obedience list? They've been talking a LOT about that topic recently. Gave me a wake up call, I have a tendency to assume the reason traditional trainers can't get the results is because they're doing it wrong, or don't understand how the clicker works, and while there are certainly those people, there are also people that a very "clicker-savvy" but still couldn't get where they want to go.

As much as I want to be a clicker-OTCH, I just don't have the patience for it. You do literally the same thing every time. Exactly. Like, that's the point. To do the same thing exactly the same. And darn it, there's just more I want to be doing on my weekends than the exact thing I did last weekend. At least in agility they give you a different course.

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

Crystal, Its not like I'm using fear as a punishment technique everyday :) The situations that come to the top of my head all involve failed automatic leave its. Our house is messy, food or trash is often accessible to the dogs so I do a LOT of training, using R+, on leaving things. Leaving items without being told to, even when no person is in the room to enforce it. My use of fear, I consider it intimidation, comes in when a dog steals/eats something they have been well proofed to ignore. I don't physically hurt them but I do use my body language and voice to send a message. I hover over them, use a very stern voice, basically intimate them. I then follow up with several practice leave its, practically dropping the item on top of them. the dogs are a bit scared but I never hurt them.

Is it necessary? Well probably not. I do it though because I'm human and I have a temper. The dogs have been very well trained and even though they are just dogs who make mistakes I want them to know that some things they do not have a choice. In the obedience, agility, disc world they always have a choice and I work hard to make it an easy choice. When it comes to life manners they don't. I think using R- and giving a time out could work, but the dog could also choose that having my pizza outweighs any negative. For punishment to work it has to be strong enough to be worth avoiding so using a little bit of fear enables me to not have to resort to any pain. But like I said I don't know that it's necessary.

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

yes I am on the Ring tested list and have found the discussions interesting. It comes up over and over again on any comp obedience list, this last one has just been with better writing :)

I used to feel that way about obedience. I thought it was boring. But then I realized how hard it was to get that perfect front, finish, heel, etc everytime. So it's not just doing the same thing over an over again, it's working to make it BETTER over and over again :) But yes, I really think the reason there has not been a clicker OTCH is because good clicker trainers are attracted to obedience. We like shaping, we love the thrill of watching the dogs think and training new things. Obedience training is about little details and perfecting already taught tricks. Not as exciting!

Raegan said...

"Dogs learn from correction too, ever watch a mother with her pups. Pup goes wrong, gets a quick correction from mom and the issue is over. A dog or pup getting a quick correction from its human is the same."

I actually have one huge, glaring issue with this justification of using P+ (which I avoid, but like Sam if the dog is still happy & engaged its none of my business).

I am not a dog.

My dog knows damn well I am not a dog. I will never be quick enough, perceptive enough, or precise enough to even remotely resemble a dog at all.

So to me, justifying P+ because dogs do it is like saying dogs have hierarchal packs because wolves do. The analogy isn't perfect, but just because they're more similar than people and dogs, doesn't mean working with dogs gives you the ability to work with wolves (or visa versa).

Crystal said...

Laura- thanks for the explanation. I'm really struggling to figure out how I feel about the use of fear or intimidation. I don't really find briefly startling a dog, or even using a sterner voice than usual, all that objectionable, even if that is technically fear. But there does seem to be a line between that and prolonged screaming or causing a dog to pee itself or intimidating it to the point that it's actively displaying calming/stress signals. I'm just not sure where that line is or how to describe it.

Your comment that clicker trainers love the thrill of shaping and teaching is very interesting. I've actually been thinking about this a lot lately, and had planned on posting about it soon- I love to teach Maisy new things, but I get bored when it's time to put it on cue. We will probably never get an OTCH because of that. Part of why I like rally so much is that you can get good scores and high-level titles without all the precision needed for obedience. But I just thought that was who I am, I didn't really think of it as a part of the typical clicker mindset. I could see that though- shaping can be addictive!

Sophie said...

"Your comment that clicker trainers love the thrill of shaping and teaching is very interesting. I've actually been thinking about this a lot lately, and had planned on posting about it soon- I love to teach Maisy new things, but I get bored when it's time to put it on cue."

I think this is one reason why clicker training appeals to all sorts of people. I'm not a perfectionist, and rather I like exploring different behaviours and starting them from scratch - and on the other hand, you can use the clicker to tighten up any skills that the dog
already knows.

I don't think it is ever *necessary* to use pain or fear, but I have to admit I've done it before: not to Lola, but to Jess, definitely. I'm short-tempered, and the majority of times when I've physically corrected Jess, it's been lashing out in anger. I'm ashamed to say I've slapped her across the muzzle and back before; for things like stealing a bag of chocolates off of the table and devouring them in the few *seconds* my back was turned.

I can't say that I'd ever purposefully use pain or fear though, unless it was a life-or-death situation. I'd rather shock a dog about to take off into a busy road when off-lead than have it get crushed, for example. And although I've found myself lashing out at Jess in anger, I've also used hard collar pops previously with her (when I was younger, before I tried R+) to stop her from lunging on the lead.

In sum: I don't think it is necessary to use pain or fear and I try never to do so, but I'm only human. I make mistakes, and I have a temper. Jess has helped me become more patient--but she's also the catalyst for a lot of my frustration.

Crystal said...

Thanks for your comment Sophie. I suspect we've all done things we regret in a moment of frustration and anger.

When I had a horse, I was taught to use positive punishment and negative reinforcement. Since I thought it was acceptable to do so, when I got upset/frustrated/mad, the amount I would use would increase accordingly. Although I still struggle to contain my frustration from time to time, it's easier to hold in check because I don't have a pre-existing habit of using physical corrections.

Of course, that's just me. I admire the trainers who can use physical corrections without emotion.

Ninso said...

" . . . intimidating it to the point that it's actively displaying calming/stress signals. I'm just not sure where that line is or how to describe it."

For some dogs, it doesn't take much. Elo is ALWAYS giving me appeasement signals and I swear I've never beat him, but anyone watching would sure think I did!! Sometimes all it takes is me standing upright and calling him to come--he freezes and lowers himself to the ground! I just bend down and call him in a squeakier voice and he comes running. And I'd consider Elo a very confident dog, not fearful at all, but very respectful of perceived authority. Jun on the other hand does not understand pressure (some border collie, huh?). Body blocks are lost on her! When I do them, she will give me lip licks, look-aways, and yawns not because she is intimated but because she is totally confused!

Crystal said...

Ha. Okay, Ninso, now that you say that, I realize that I've had those moments with Maisy, too. Clearly, that was not the description I was looking for. Still... you all know what I mean when I say there's a line between a brief startle and scaring the crap out of your dog, right? I just don't know how to describe what it is.

doberkim said...

im coming back in to the convo, and i will try to post and share.

for the record, both of my dogs are trained in this manner - their differences and variances are not training methods, but differences in the dogs. the same things that have rah high as a kite turn berlin off, and the same things i can do to berlin make rah flip. and most of those behaviors are physical ones and have nothing to do with a collar they wear.

my goal is an OTCH - maybe it wont be possible with these dogs, i dont know if i'll even have time with rah - but i want one. i am enthralled with the sheer perfection and the absolutely minutia that getting an OTCH entails - its truly for me the best of the best in a sport that i adore.

all of my dogs are introduced to an electronic collar minimally for a recall. this is a no-ifs-ands-or-buts sort of behavior for me. maybe its the type of dog i seek out, but i know that i can think of some situations that i could create (much less fall into accidentally) where my dogs would ignore my commands to pursue their own wants - and for me, that becomes a life or death situation at times. for my dogs, i dont want them to even think that there is an option.

the other introduction ive used this for both my dogs is stays - forget competition, my dogs (and maybe this is a failure of my own actions again) have a hard time standing still and think that they can move if they feel they have been still long enough - and again this is a life or death situation. last time a dog got injured out hiking and i had to have everyone hold a stay to tend to a sick dog, i NEED them all to understand i really meant stay. if we're running and a car comes and i tell you to drop and stay there, you better.

so for me emergency is - you come when called, or stay put when told. my dogs are as crazy as some can come - and i will never, EVER, go out with them off leash without a collar. because the one time i do, i need them to think that there is a possibility that if they ignore me, they will get corrected for it.

that being said, my dogs rarely get corrected any more, because ive built a habit. its second nature to them, and they love the collar because of the freedom it entails for them.

i have more to say, especially about how i introduced it in obedience and how i train obedience (since this i posted about here is more life skills, IMO) but alas its time for obedience class itself :) so ill give some more time to this later...

Crystal said...

Thanks for commenting again, Doberkim. I may not like shock collars, but it is clear that you are a good trainer who understands how to use them. I look forward to reading about how you train obedience.

Anonymous said...

I've seen Kim's dogs work, and they are quite happy to be doing it. (Kim, you know I admire you and your dogs very much!)

I know SEVERAL people who have used electronic collars on their dogs for recalls. With something like that, it's hard to say that the possibility of a shock (which the dog is aware that they can avoid through proper and fair training) is really all that bad when the dogs are gaining so much quality of life by being allowed off leash.

Sam (now posting from the boyfriend's dorm room - I've been following this post diligently throughout my busy day!)

Crystal said...

With something like that, it's hard to say that the possibility of a shock (which the dog is aware that they can avoid through proper and fair training) is really all that bad when the dogs are gaining so much quality of life by being allowed off leash.

Sam, I hate to say it, but I kinda agree. I still think we can get a reliable recall using positive methods, but I think I have a better understanding of why people choose to use other methods. And I have a TON of respect for the people (like Kim) who do it well.

Anonymous said...

I'm a relatively new follower of this blog and I don't get to read it all the time. So I don't know what kind of history this type of topic has or much of anything at all about Crystal.

I just want to chime in here and say that I have no reason to argue with this post. I have no reason to fault Crystal for making these assertions about dog training and whether or not you can be 100% positive.

I'm actually feeling quite pleased with myself for finding this blog now that I've read this article.

Why? Because I consider myself an "old school" trainer in that I started training with dogs before the clicker took off as a phenomenon. I've dutifully moved on with the flow and embraced the clicker as well. Now, it's really good to see Crystal's post because I hope it means that the clicker phenomenon is finally coming full circle and we can all be the best trainer, period.

I hope we will no longer need to make our adjectives like "clicker" trainer and "traditional" trainer more important than simply being a trainer. To me, it's never been about the method you use as much as it is about doing what it takes to love your dogs as much as they all deserve.

Sometimes, love can't help but hurt a little bit. I certainly never enjoyed subjecting my kid to surgery but I had to do it. I had to be the one individual who took responsibility to do something that my son definitely despised and certainly caused him great pain in order to give him something more as a result. He hurt for six months but now he can walk.

Could he have lived a full life never walking? Sure he could. But would it have been as free a life? I don't think so.

We don't train with our dogs in order to oppress them or harm them (unless you are some total whack-bar sadist) but in order to lift them up from the life of an untrained dog on a chain or in a locked kennel or never leaving a fenced yard and place them in a better place where they can enjoy a richer life.

There is so much more I would love to say about this whole topic but I don't want to overstay my welcome on a first visit.

I'll just end with kudos to Crystal.


Crystal said...

GB- I think you will like this quote as much as I do:

Training doesn't limit a dog. Training frees a dog. My dog, being trained, is free - free to walk with me, free to ride with me, free to play off-leash with other dogs, free to learn and run. An untrained dog is "free" to sit in the backyard where he can get into as little trouble as possible. -Sue Ailsby

Welcome to my blog, and please feel free to stay as long as you'd like.

Anonymous said...

Lurker here, but a few posts on here have me wondering, has anyone gotten a 'clicker-OTCH'?

Overall, the discussion fascinates me. I'm heavily positive trainer, probably around the same ratio as Crystal. I learned on more 'traditional' methods and have read and studied those just as much as I have clicker training and more positive based methods. That said, I have seen or read cases where I could see the benefit of using pain/fear to help proof something in a life or death situation. So I'm not really sure where I'd stand... it's easier to explain to a kid why something hurt/what they did wrong, than it is to your dog... and there is so much fallout that can happen with punishment... but at the same time, when thinking off leash hikes where you can't really know what you're going to run into, I can see the benefit in the idea of a safety line. :/


Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

Val- There are supposedly a few OTCH-clicker dogs but as far as I know none are verified and openly shouting from the rooftops.

And I'm assuming you mean an OTCH being trained without the use of any pain based corrections since there are several balanced trainers with OTCH's who use mostly positive techniques and the clicker but do resort to more physical corrections when needed. There are also OTCH's in other countries who are positively trained, but again it remains to be seen if an AKC OTCH can be done with the clicker philosophy.

Crystal said...

Val, for what it's worth, I hike off leash with my dog a lot and I don't feel the need for a "safety line." We hike in relatively safe areas, and Maisy has a good recall. I also carry treats on hikes and regularly call her back for a piece of liver before sending her out again so she thinks coming is a great idea, even if she smelled something good. It's worked for us.

Beyond that, though, I wonder if shock collars are perfectly reliable, either. They can fail, batteries go dead, and my sister-in-law's dog will often get out of their wireless/shock fence just by running through the shock... although I suppose you can prevent some of that through strength of shock and continuous shocks. Having no experience with them, I don't know. I simply assume that nothing in life is a guarantee, and weigh the risks and benefits of each decision.

Anonymous said...

Laura - Thanks!

Crystal - Oh, I agree! I wasn't condoning them, it was more of a half finished thought for me looking back at it. Underground fences are very popular around here and they fail a lot. The 'safety net' idea that sticks in my mind is from a discussion I had not long ago with someone who uses it on her walks. Her dog recalls beautifully off squirrels/deer/other dogs/you name... except for coyotes. She was lucky when she discovered the first time her dog didn't respond to her recall, but was able to get the dog back unscathed but did resort to using a shock collar. As far as I know, she only had to use it once and on a mild setting when her dog ignored another recall to go after a lone coyote and it worked to help regain her dog's attention enough that her second recall cue had the dog coming back to her. I believe I've heard of a similar case online through other blogs as well (where once again, coyotes was the culprit... makes me wonder if there's a special lure about them? lol).

So I've been mulling over her story a lot since then. The places we have around here where we could let the dogs loose to run, are the same places we're likely to run into coyotes. For mine, that just means we haven't done any off leash hiking. I don't have nearly as good of a reinforcement history on my recalls to want to test it against deer, let alone coyotes. The risk is too great. Whether or not, even if I feel she's good enough at recalling back to me in the future, she ever gets to do off leash hikes with me around here is something I haven't decided yet. But I try to look at it from the other person's perspective as well, which is where I got my nice half finished thought there... looking at it from her perspective, I can see where the shock collar provides the idea of a safety line. I do question the effectiveness all together and the fallout, but I can see the lure there too for people to want to use them.


Crystal said...

I understand what you mean now, Val.

As a kid, I went to a summer camp in an area that had rattle snakes, which are poisonous. One summer, a kid accidentally sat on one... that didn't end well. If I lived out there, I would have to think long and hard about off leash hikes, snake aversion training, and all that.

Erin said...

I agree, very well stated.

Crystal said...

Thanks, Erin. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Crystal, I was drawn over here by your comments on Patricia McConnell's blog. When you said that if a dog is headed toward a highway that's no time to futz with the clicker, I had to laugh because I found myself in that situation today. I was walking up a busy street with my dog when she suddenly became rigidly alert to a huge flock of geese that were grazing on the lawn of a public building. "Great," I thought, "we can work on desensitization and counter-conditioning," and I began clicking and doling out cheese for eye contact and attention to me as we slowly made our way past the geese. I was taking off my gloves to handle the cheese better when somehow I fumbled the leash and clicker, and my dog took off. She raced around the lawn barking madly at the geese, which were twice her size, and I ran after her, but first I stopped to pick up my clicker.

Of course her recall was useless, so I chased her around nearly tripping on geese whose heads came up to my waist. Then the geese took flight up over the busy street. My dog slowed to watch them go up and I SCREAMED her name as loud as I could.

She turned her head to me and made eye contact, and... she galloped back to me with a wild grin. I tackled her and gave her a whole handful of cheese. It was definitely the funniest thing I saw all week, but if I didn't grab my clicker who knows how it would have ended.


Anonymous said...

Snap. I meant to write that my dog looked at me and I CLICKED her for that moment of eye contact, but I put hard-angle brackets around click so my text didn't show up. Too late to fix it! :-(


Crystal said...

Thanks for the second comment, Thea- I THOUGHT that's what you meant, and I absolutely LOVE your comment. No matter how much I try to understand other methods, when it comes right down to it... I love my clicker.

I hope you don't mind if I link you back to an old post of mine, but your comment reminded me of it: http://reactivechampion.blogspot.com/2010/12/why-i-love-my-clicker.html