Thursday, June 7, 2012

Misinterpreting the Need for "Firm" Training

I've been thinking about something lately that I feel needs clearing up.  It feels like I'm constantly reading about certain breeds needing a "firm" or "strict" trainer.  It seems to me that while in a way this is true, using this terminology with your average dog owner (or aspiring dog owner) is an accident waiting to happen.

Let me clear something up here: when you read that a dog needs "firm" or "strict" training, that does NOT equate ANYTHING about dominance!  There are absolutely dogs that thrive in a home that has structure, routine, and no short-cuts when it comes to what is expected (a full down, for example, instead of elbows off the ground).  However, many people see those words and think the dog needs to be "reminded" that it's supposed to "submit" or some other such nonsense.  People then go overboard on corrections, do silly things like walking before the dog through doorways, and do dangerous things like Alpha Rolling (pinning a dog down until it "submits").

Dominance based training, while scientifically proven to be less effective long term than positive reinforcement, is still running rampant, especially here in the US.  For many people, this stems only from being raised to treat a dog a certain way and ignorance of new forms of training.  It is the dog trainer's job to educate about how dogs learn and redirect people to more effective (and less dangerous) ways to teach their dogs.

The irony is, and sadly so, that in general, the dogs that require "firm" training are the ones that you'll run into the most problems if you adhere to dominance theory.  If a dog has a natural tendency to want to find short-cuts and sneak around the rules, chances are they also aren't going to take your shit (pardon my language) if you start pushing it around.  This not only means the dog won't listen to you, but it also means you run the risk of the dog going on the defensive, becoming dangerous.

I'd like to put it out there to anyone in a position to make changes in this speak, please make the effort to do so.  Dog trainers, breeders, shelter workers, or anyone who has a passion for dogs, do your best to replace things like "firm" training with "diligent" or "constant" training.  Explain that you can't take short-cuts, but you want your dog to WANT to listen because the reward is so high, not because the punishment is great for disobedience.  Expect full sits, full downs, a calm dog at the door, not a dog that doesn't do anything for fear of the consequences.

Have any other ideas for how to change the way we talk about this personality trait in dogs?  Leave a comment!

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