Let’s make one thing clear from the very start. There is no need to use any so called ‘tool’ that causes fear or pain to train dogs. Or indeed any animal. The use of fear or pain (aversive conditioning) is lazy, in my opinion. It takes away the need for the trainer to grow in sensitivity and respect for the animal. It means that the animal is forced. There is inevitably a lack of understanding or listening to the dog.
It’s easy to get results with shock collars and prong collars. It’s easy to then justify the aversive tools because people can get results with them. There is plenty of evidence that proves that the results you get by using aversive training methods are no better than positive training, reward based training. And there is also PLENTY of evidence to show that aversive training methods leave behind a legacy of trauma, of shut down dogs, or suppression.
I have helped a number of dogs who’s behaviour problems were made a lot worse by a trainer slapping a shock collar on them. It’s not uncommon for aversive training methods like this to shut the dog down, paradoxically making them more unpredictable and dangerous if put in a stressful situation.
I don’t like using only (or over using) positive rewards (i.e. bribing dogs with treats). For me, this is also a barrier to true understanding, communication and respect. If a dog is only focused on where the next lolly is coming from, they are indeed motivated… But they are also distracted from your body language. I have seen a few positive only reward dogs who were never asked to do anything they didn’t want to do. They were fat, disengaged, and in my judgement not terribly happy dogs.
Factors to consider with behavioural problems
I work with a lot of dogs with behavioural problems – anxiety, reactivity, aggression, over-excitement etc. I find that there are usually two major problems active in problem dogs that are important drivers of undesirable or harmful behaviours. Most treatment approaches in the Western medical model don’t consider these issues properly, for a range of reasons.
Let’s dig into what might be underneath your dog’s problem behaviours. There will nearly always be one, two, or three of the following issues active in your dog’s body or life, causing or at the very least seriously contributing to the problems your dog is expressing in terms of undesirable behaviour.
PAIN: According to my clinical research, approximately 70% of all dogs I see have soft tissue pain (neuro-fascial pain). Approximately 53% of all dogs I see have significant silent soft tissue pain. Pain that their owners don’t even know is there. Pain that many vets miss when they examine your dogs, too.
Pain is a very important factor in just about every behaviour case I see. Every dog that has any kind of behavioural issues needs to be carefully assessed hands-on for silent neuro-fascial pain. You can learn how to do this yourself with the Whole Energy Body Balance Bodywork for Pets online training (email me for a 60% discount).
Soft tissue pain, Neuro-fascial pain, is poorly understood and often missed by pet parents and many vets. I regularly see dogs who have recently been examined by other vets who have missed significant or even severe soft tissue pain. When this pain is relieved with neuro-fascial bodywork (which any pet parent can easily learn how to do), you’ll often see really significant improvements in problem behaviours.
POOR BOUNDARIES FROM THE HUMANS: Yes, that’s you. If you can’t clearly and kindly communicate to your dog with body language and a quiet command (NO TREATS) that you’d like them to stay out of your personal bubble (within a meter or so from your body) and have them respect that, then you have a boundary issue that will be contributing to behavioural problems.
OVER-AROUSAL: If you have the idea that the only happy dog is an excited, whizzed up dog, this is also a BIG problem. Many humans teach their dogs how to be crazy, but they never teach their dogs how to settle and relax. This is also a huge factor in many behaviour problems I see. If the dog can regulate to relaxation, often the only way they can do so is by using the human as a drug, clinging to them, need attention or touch.
My approach to training dogs.
I don’t use treats. I don’t use pain and fear. This leaves me doing things in the hardest, yet most rewarding and in the end the most effective way. Let me explain. And I’m talking about training for day to day living here – not competition, where you may use treats and toys.
The only time I’ll use any treats are if I have a very nervous, fearful, food driven dog- then I’ll use treats at the beginning as a bridge to help the dog realise that I’m friendly. Then the treats go away.
I also don’t use toys. Toys are nearly always arousing. I want a calm, grounded dog who is thinking and responding from a settled place. I love playing with my dogs, but that’s a different time and place.
I want the dog to respond to and respect my communication without treats or bribes of any kind, and without fear – I want to build a true relationship with my dogs. I want them to respond to my requests because the like me, because they trust me, because they understand me, and because they know I am listening to and responding to their communication with me.
This takes a lot more work, a lot more sensitivity, a lot more flexibility, a higher degree of skill in terms of your ability to interact with the dog. It’s significantly more difficult than zapping your dog with a shock collar (no matter how good your timing, or how amazing the results you get from doing that are).It’s also significantly more difficult than treating all the time.
I challenge you- remove treats and/or shock/prong/check collars from the equation. This is how you’ll find out where you really are at when it comes to connecting with and communicating with dogs. For me, this is what training truly is – building a deep and trusting relationship of respect and understanding between me and the dog. I’m not interested in competition or tricks.
I want my dog to listen to me and do what I ask when it’s reasonable. (Emphasis on reasonable.) I love it when my dogs question me, when they try to outwit me. It shows me that I have not crushed them, that they have their own mind. And I’ll insist that they do respect what I ask if there is danger to be avoided.
I use a lot of touch – a large part of the Whole Energy Body Balance Method is working with touch and gentle pressure and release (physical and body language) as a tactile conversation.
I can train anxious dogs to learn how to relax themselves with intentional touch with the WEBB method. I can teach you how to start doing this in about 15 minutes. I have seen major behaviour issues heal completely in a matter of weeks with this work. Some of the positive responses in dogs that have been on every prescription behaviour medicine known to man (without any response) have been amazing!
The WEBB approach is an innovative and unique way to connect with and train your dog, deeply influenced by the groundbreaking work of Monty Roberts (The Horse Whisperer). Contact me if you’d like to help your pets with the WEBB work.