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Dog training methods - Right or Wrong?

Wolves are thought to be domesticated as early as 15,000 - 30,000 years ago, through human interaction and breeding they slowly became what we categorize as Dogs. Dogs are known to be more docile and enjoy the company of humans, it is said that the first attempt to interact with wolves was when they came searching for scraps in the territory of humans, those that were aggressive were killed and those that were more friendly would be kept as pets, these "friendly" wolves were then bred for many years before becoming what's known as dogs today. From there on, dog training have come a very long way, many have tried and studied the most effective ways to train dogs in that time, now it is our turn to carry on and improvise methods even further.

Don't worry as we are not here to focus on history, but to better understand how dogs behave in the past, science have been able to let us know what was going on before we were even born, however what science can't do is to give us a solution to how life should work, they are just there to provide evidence and additional knowledge. This is when we need to decide whether or not to accept these "evidence" and apply it to our lives, which is also why occupations are clearly defined, if science is the sole key to everything including nutrition, health and training then there won't be Nutritionist, Veterinarians and Dog Trainers (for example) around, they would all be classified as scientists, even scientists among themselves distrust each other's findings at times. Well, this is no different as what we are dealing with for dog training as well, we simply need to learn how to get around it and choose the best for our dogs.

The Dog Whisperer

The dog whisperer television series, which was first aired in 2004 caused a lot of mixed reaction, professional trainers and veterinarians claimed that CM knew nothing about dog behaviors, that his correction methods are inhumane and causes dogs to be traumatized, this got the attention of the humane association and they requested for the show to stop airing. I have seen a couple of past episodes personally and did not see any signs of abuse in his methods at that point of time, yes these dogs did looked traumatized and stressed but I am very sure that they were already unstable before the correction started - even with dogs wagging their tails and running around to thrash objects can also be defined as stress symptoms from my point of view. We'd always access the situation to understand why dogs portray certain behaviors, it's just wrong to define a dog's feelings by just plainly looking at their body language, we need to read their body movements, their reactions, what happens before and after the said behavior, at times we might even need to stay with the dog a few days to understand their characters better.

I am very certain that most people complained his methods because of his pack leadership mentality and physical corrections, some say that he "jabs" the dog to cause pain, he also "kick the dog's internal organ" to make them listen, well if this is so I'd imagine how many dogs would already be at the hospital after each episode because of the jabs and organs attack. One thing to note is that pack leadership training was already around even before the show started, my great grandparents and their ancestors had already been using physical corrections and pack leadership even before CM was born.

People study how animals behave among their species, they would then try to get closer to them by learning how to communicate using the best way, most of the time one needs to let them feel that the humans too are one of their species, and to do this you need physical interactions, no two dogs become friends by just throwing each other treats, they interact, they play, they share and they even fight at times. My view towards the celebrity started to change after being tagged recent videos of him choking dogs high up in the air, getting bitten doing the wrong things and even using shock collars on dogs under rehabilitation, some products started to appear that seemed to cause more unwanted effects on dogs, like the weird collar which I have seen dogs choking and having their eyes red and almost popping out, basically he lost my focus from there on. I've since gave up on celebrity trainers, the temptation of money is just too hard to resist when you are famous, but once again, this is just my opinion.

Other famous trainers
Other well known trainers like Ian Dunbar and Sophia Yin had been just as successful, but couldn't reach as much people as dog whisperer, both of them are considered pioneers in dog training and have managed to be very effective in training dogs using positive reinforcement. Why didn't they gain as much popularity as CM? The reason is simple, people enjoy seeing instant action, they love seeing dogs change instantly like some sort of magic, to see a hero empowering troubled individuals and watch as they submit and change in front of their eyes can be very exciting. Because of this, many started to imitate tv shows and become obsessed with abusive training methods, which then backfire and attracted the attention of animal activists. In my opinion, positive trainers also tend to be on the losing side of the argument because many of them poke too much on celebrity trainers like CM, I've seen many that repetitively insist that their methods are better and shun on pack leadership mentality, this in my opinion will never be able to change the mindset of people, it will only create more confusion and hate instead.

Positive reinforcement

In the past, people did not understand about reward based training and would knowingly rely on only negative reinforcement, which means using methods like physical corrections, chains, choking, shouting and inflicting discomfort, though what they missed out was to understand that they themselves too, had also been incorporating positive based training. Logically, no one can keep a dog alive without using food, and we instinctively know that dogs will be happier if you give them food. No humans at that time would give food to an animal that will threaten their lives and family, they'd feed those that they deem useful - docile, friendly and hardworking, but reject those that are dangerous. In short, our ancestors had been rewarding dogs for behaviors that they want.

Reward based training works very well on puppies and also on dogs that has behavior problems due to fear, the training make use of mostly food to establish bond and trust between human and dogs. Both human and canine are known to protect and cherish food, thus learning to be the first to share will only improve relationships. Dogs do not understand that the packet of treats in your hand is meant only for them, they'd always think that you are the one owning the food, so giving a portion of your food is equal to sharing, this method alone when used correctly can reduce as much as 90% of fear related problems.

As effective as they are, positive reinforcement can never be as popular on television because it is always the same thing over and over again, you can't have hundreds of episodes taking out food and see dogs eating them, compared to watching human wrestling large aggressive dogs, positive reinforcement simply does not have enough action to entice viewers.

Celebrity trainers
No matter what, we'd just say that there are many different opinions and arguments about celebrity trainers because it's simply a show and those behind the television and internet needed to be entertained, viewers want to have a topic to discuss and debate on, including us of course. If CM for example was just a regular trainer then nobody would even talk about him even if they knew how he trained dogs, just to let you know that there are thousands of similar trainers out there that train their dogs the same way, some dogs even managed live a new lease of life. For dogs that are about to be put down, if harmless physical interactions can let them have a new lease of life, we'd think that this is fair enough.

Despite the amount of hate and disagreement, many trainers continue to use Dog whisperer's name and even take personal photos with him to boost their reputation, I've seen people calling themselves Singapore CM, The Whisperer and what not, yet behind they are dissing him and his methods. Of course, with any training methods there are also the bad points of it, one example is the constant use of physical interaction which can easily trigger abuse in owners, without patience and thorough understanding of dog behaviors one should not attempt any training methods without supervision, a lot of amateur trainers had caused dogs behavior to backfire after trying to imitate training methods from videos, books and television shows, this we believe is also one of the main reason people simply don't believe in pack leadership training, because they have tried and it doesn't work, all due to their lack of understanding.

Types of training methods and the explanation
As mentioned before, dog training methods have come a very long way, many had tried to become famous (and rich) by creating a new term for training techniques, however these terms are nothing more than just basic dog training methods that had already been used for quite some time but tweaked and improvised. Throughout these years I have practiced a number of training methods, both positive and negative techniques had been used for years and I'd always make sure that I am able to achieve the same results using either techniques before moving on, during this journey I had also tweaked methods according to my needs. But remember, in the end it's still back to basics, once you've grasp and practice enough basic techniques everything will become easier to play around. There are owners that we've trained coming back after a year or so, either because they had gotten a new dog or just wished to be retrained, these owners will always be finding lessons slightly different from their first experience, and that's because I do not believe in using the same techniques for life. I believe that there are always better ways to work around a dog depending on its personality and also the owner's, there are ALWAYS room for improvements no matter how good you are, and I hope that by the time I reach 70 I'd still be improvising dog training techniques.

No matter what people like to label their techniques as, they all boil down to these 3 methods that I'm going to share below. Note again that this is my personal opinion on the pros and cons of each training method.

Positive reinforcement
Positive reinforcement in our term basically means methods that do not use force nor physical corrections, mostly relying on treats/food, soft approach and praises, this is a very good way of training for beginners that wish to teach their dogs commands and also with dogs that has fear issues. However, with very complicated behavior problems, positive reinforcement might not be as effective and may take very long before results are being shown. Positive reinforcement to work on tough cases requires a lot of time, dedication and understanding of dog psychology to work, inexperienced owners can easily over reward unwanted behaviors, resulting the dog to think that bad behaviors will be rewarded. Many dogs have to also deal with overweight problems due to over feeding. There is also a problem with dogs that are not food motivated, dogs that dislike food although are pretty rare can be really hard to deal with, many positive reinforcement based trainers would find themselves being unable to do anything throughout all the lessons.

Negative reinforcement

Negative reinforcement focuses on using ways that cause discomfort to the dog to achieve what the handler wants. This is a very straightforward and somewhat ancient technique which has proven to be very effective no matter how complicated the problem is, one can almost see instant result once it is applied correctly. However, most dogs does not last long with negative reinforcement, dogs get "used" to the techniques and handlers will have to increase the pressure to keep up with individual dog's adaptation, this is when dogs will either break down and become depressed, or they fight back. A number of owner who practices negative reinforcement have turned abusive, violence thoughts and anger management problems may start causing more unwanted behaviors than positive ones. Many professional trainers, as long as money and fame is involved have admitted causing abuse to animals due to their inability to control their mood and emotions.

Negative reinforcement requires a person to be very firm, stable, dexterous and sometimes strong physically to be able to achieve results. To dogs this is a display of dominance, thus one would have to send the message that they are stronger.

Neutral training is when one does nothing to control the emotion of animals, for example ignoring when a dog whines or barks, or walking away when a behavior is deemed unsuitable. This is very effective especially when dealing with puppies, though a whole lot of patience might be required before results are shown, the good thing is that once results are shown, it last much longer than any of the methods above. Neutral training is very hard for many people including professionals, it is never suitable for impatient people and will backfire if one gives up halfway, this method might be useless for dogs that had went through similar program and was dropped halfway through.

Understanding the available training methods might help owners gain a better understanding about the pros and cons, bear in mind that this does not mean that you should choose one among the 3 and just apply it onto dogs. The 3 methods mentioned requires a thorough understanding of dog behavior, one should have experience practicing them for years before it should be applied onto other dogs. Many trainers have the problem with jumping into teaching lessons before they are even experienced enough, owning only show quality breeds and think that the same logic applies to every other dogs out there is just wrong, they can win awards but it will still be pointless in my opinion. A show quality dog is usually of good temperament and structure, thus it can be rather easy to teach, in fact many of them does not even portray much behavior problems when untaught, giving owners more time to work on fancy stuff like agility and tricks.

In my opinion, training methods should not be isolated individually, they should all be used according to the problems faced, just like how it was explained earlier on that humans in the past used to train dogs without knowing that they had been using both positive and negative reinforcement. Therefore I see no reason why trainers should fight about what methods are best for dogs, there are no such thing as being wrong to apply ancient training methods, without this "ancient method" humans would never have been able to contact with what's known as dogs today!

In every area no matter if it is positive, negative or neutral, there are good and bad trainers, the good ones will be able to provide results without causing any injuries, health problems or traumatic experience to the dog. The main strength towards dog training, which I strongly believe is a person's ability to find out the best method to train different dogs, all dogs are born with different personality and there are no such thing as one method fits all, on top of that the owner's personality is also very important, if an owner is not able to apply a certain technique due to their personality then it is the job of the trainer to find an alternative, this is when someone with the knowledge and experience of all available techniques shine.

This is also why I can never provide an exact answer when people ask me about their dog's behavior, I will always advice to have a look at their dogs and more importantly, the owners themselves before providing solutions. The main purpose of this article is to provide insights on dog training so that people can learn to make better decisions, I really don't wish for anyone to regret years later when their dog pass on, learning that they could've provided a better life for them using better training methods, some dogs had been suffering throughout their lives with their owners thinking that they are happy. I've spent more time telling owners that their dogs are stressed out than saying that they are relaxed and happy, they do not enjoy hearing that and I do not enjoy lying either, I've spent all my life bonding and learning with animals, it's already my nature to be able to see right away if a pet enjoys the company of its owner and my aim is to advice owners before it becomes too late.


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