Many dog owners own dogs who are pretty much calm and heel nicely besides them on walks -until a person or another dog crosses their path-. Then, suddenly it's almost as if Rover forgets all his manners and all his focus goes on getting to greet the other person or dog. At times, this can get embarrassing especially if the other person is not eager to meet your dog, and can turn even dangerous if the other dog is not quite friendly.
The Risks of Using Quick Fixes
How to deal with the problem? You may feel tempted to use some quick fixes because you may have heard how other owners or trainers use a special collar that provides immediate power-steering or provides a remote correction that will give a gentle"tap." Following are some quick fixes you may have heard about:
- Use a choke collar. It will tighten around the neck and stop him from pulling.
- Use a prong collar. It will deliver a correction just as mother dog corrects her pups.
- Use a shock collar. It will give a "static" correction that will stop him in his tracks.
- Give a collar pop. It will distract your dog and keep him in track.
- Give a leash correction. It will correct your dog and prevent him from going.
- Spray your dog in his face. It will startle him enough to stop him from acting badly.
- Yell at your dog. It will intimidate him so he'll be discouraged.
What do all these tools and tips have in common? Firstly, they are based on pain, intimidation and cause unnecessary stress in dogs. Secondly, they train your dog to associate other people and other dogs with a correction. Force-free trainers are often accused of not using all four quadrants of training, but then balanced trainers fail to recognize a very important notion, that dogs learn through respondent conditioning too. As Bob Bailey said "Pavlov is always sitting on your shoulder." Thirdly, they only teach your dog not what to do and fail to train him what to do instead. And last but not least, they interfere with the dog and owner bond. What dog wants to stay near an owner who delivers corrections all the time?
But let's for a second assume that no respondent conditioning takes place. The dog is so hard-headed and anxious to meet the other dog he doesn't feel the collar pop, leash correction or fails to listen the dog owner's angry commands, what does this cause? It mostly causes dog owners to feel compelled to increase the intensity of their corrections leading them to pop more, yank stronger, yell louder and increase the shock collar setting. For more about shock collars read my article about Shock Collars. Often, this increased correction leads to two results: either it causes the dog to shut down and give up trying or it increases the dog's anxiety and stress. Add on top of that the fact that the dog learns to associate the owner with the correction too.
It's not rocket science. Correction after correction the dog may put two and two together: "Every time I see a dog, my owner delivers a correction." For science junkies, read about Watson's experiment with Little Albert. Little Albert was conditioned to develop a phobia of rats by sounding a loud striking noise every time he touched the rabbit. After some time, just the sight of the rabbit was enough to make Little Albert cry. Not only, the fear also generalized to anything furry even though it wasn't a rabbit!
Safer, Better Alternatives
To prevent undesirable associations, nothing works best than creating positive associations. However, in order for this training to work, you will have to follow the following tips:
- Work under threshold. You dog may heel nicely when you're walking your dog and he sees another dog 10 feet away. Then as the other dog is 8 feet away your dog may start looking at the other dog coming towards him. Finally at 5 feet your dog no longer seems capable of listening to you. This is because your dog is over threshold. You need to find a distance where your dog can acknowledge the other dog and work gradually from there.
- Start at home and train alternate behaviors. This means you'll start training in a quiet home, then in your yard, then on walks at a distance from other dogs and then finally around other dogs. A good alternate behavior is "watch me" which is the core of what I call "Cor Training. These alternate behaviors need to be proofed so well that they almost become a reflex.
- Use high-value treats. Your dog may find another dog much more interesting if you're using normal kibble, but what if you try freeze-dried liver, hot dogs or green tripe treats? Find the treats your dog is willing to work for.
- Practice makes perfect. Let's be honest: your dog won't learn to walk nicely overnight. It takes loads of gradual practice gauged by your dog's learning pace. Practice at your pet store parking lot for proofing after your dog has started responding well in lower distractions. If your dog pulls, do an about-turn and work from a farther distance.
- Manage your dog. If you let your dog meet every dog or person on the street, he'll rehearse the unwanted behavior and it will strengthen since it's rewarding. This doesn't mean your dog will need to lead a secluded life, it just means your dog will need to be trained in low distractions areas at first and then you can train him to go greet through the Premack Principle.
A video is worth more than 1000 words. Watch Kiko Pup's (Emily Larham) videos:
Advantages of Using Force-Free Methods
There are several advantages in using force-free methods over tools that use intimidation and pain. Let's take a look at them:
- You create only positive associations. What happens when you get out valuable treats every time your dog sees another dog or person? Your dog will learn that "every time I see a person tasty treats come out". This prevents your dog from dreading the sight of another dog or person because you deliver a collar correction each time. If you're a science junkie read how Mary Cover Jones removed Peter's fears or rabbits by giving him food every time he saw the rabbit
- You form a stronger bond. Your dog won't associate you with the correction either. Your dog will learn that "every time I stay by my owner's side great things happen." This will increase your bond and your dog may also see your presence as a safety blanket if his lunging towards other dogs or people is based on fear.
- The more the alternate behaviors are rewarded the more they'll increase. This adheres to B. F Skinner's thought that "Behaviors which are reinforced tend to be repeated (i.e. strengthened); whereas behavior which are not reinforced tend to die out-or be extinguished (i.e. weakened)."
As seen, force-free methods offer several advantages. And remember: no tool should be used as a replacement for training.Yes, a prong may seem to give you more control over your dog but what will you do the day it falls apart (it has happened) or you find yourself in an emergency situation or forgot it at home? If you're diligent and work a lot on proofing your dog's loose-leash walking, your dog will have more freedom, he' ll be happier, and best of all, only positive associations will form and your bond will increase too!