I realize that I haven’t really talked much about my training philosophy on this blog. Training my dog is a hobby and a passion for me. It’s both a way for us to bond, and a way to give Brèagha something to do with her brain, so she doesn’t get bored and pester me all day long. I also teach her not to be a nuisance around people and other dogs. While I understand that the things she may do that are annoying to me and others are part of her natural behavior, I also realize the importance of teaching her how to behave in a way that we humans would consider to be appropriate in all different situations; a well behaved dog gets to be part of their human guardian’s life, and in going places with them, gets to explore the world and have a fuller life than a badly behaved dog that has to stay at home all the time because their behavior is annoying or dangerous to others. But any time we manipulate an animal’s behavior to suite our own preferences, even if it’s for their own good, we raise some important moral questions. How far are we willing to go to get the desired behavior? What methods will we use? Where do we draw the line between humane and inhumane?
There are as many different opinions floating around out there about dog training as there are people in the world I think. There are people who have no problem with using yank-and-crank, strike-and-shock methods to hurt and scare their dogs into robotic obedience, and there are people so far on the opposite extreme that to them, even a little body pressure, (moving into the dog’s space until they back up, or moving into their space to block them from going in a certain direction, for example,) is nothing less than abuse. And there are people in between.
Some people like to get all technical and talk about operant and classical conditioning, some glorifying positive reinforcement and vilifying positive punishment, others arguing that we need all four consequences, (R+, P+, R-, and P-,) to be “balanced” in our training. The discussions get very lengthy and often very heated, and usually people have no idea what they’re talking about, and terminology gets misused and thrown around in confusing ways. For awhile I liked getting technical about it too, but I have come to the conclusion that while all the technical stuff is very interesting, and necessary to know if you are going to be a professional dog trainer or animal behaviorist, in general, it’s not terribly helpful to the majority of your typical average dog owners who are just trying to figure out how to get Spot to stop jumping on people. They just need to know what to do, and what not to do. And to be honest, though I rely mostly on R+, with some P-, I don’t think that P+ is necessarily always cruel, since it can vary greatly in intensity, and I have used it before.
I don’t really fit into either extreme, nor would I call myself a “balanced” trainer, since the term is usually synonymous with doing whatever works, regardless of the effect on the dog’s psychological state. I simply draw the line at hurting my dog or causing her distress. If I have to cause my dog pain or distress to get her to do/not do something, then it’s not worth it to me. It’s more important that my dog feel safe with me and see me as someone she can trust than that she be “perfect.” I am the one with the bigger and more sophisticated brain, so surely I can figure out a way to manage or change my dog’s behavior without hurting or scaring her. I don’t think it’s abuse to use body pressure to get a dog to move, or put a little pressure on the leash to guide them away from something that you don’t want them going towards. I do consider it abuse to use shock, choke, and prong collars, or any tool that works by causing pain, or striking/kicking a dog to get the desired behavior. I don’t think there is any situation where it’s necessary to do such things to a dog, nor do I think it’s fair to punish an animal so severely for their lack of understanding of our confusing human rules. I know that I do not learn well or think well when I am stressed or in pain, and I can only assume that it’s the same for my dog. If you put the time, energy, and patience into teaching a dog, in a way that they understand, then I don’t see why you would have to resort to such extreme measures. This doesn’t mean you have to be permissive. Neither pain nor intimidation were employed by my parents to teach me how to behave, and I seem to have ended up knowing right from wrong, what is appropriate and what is not. I don’t generally swear, (if I do, it’s certainly not in public or in front of anybody I don’t know, and it’s usually because I A. stubbed my toe or B. dropped and broke something,) I don’t participate in underage drinking, I consider using drugs to be about the same thing as throwing your brain into dumpster, (I dunnow about you, but I like my brain too much for that stuff,) and I think that most people would describe me as being polite, and probably remark on how “quiet” I am. People are always telling me I’m quiet. I never know how to respond to that. I would say “maybe that’s because you’re loud,” but the good manners instilled in me (in a non-forceful way) by my parents prohibit that.
I heard this abbreviation once, “LIMA,” which stands for “Least Invasive Minimally Aversive,” and I think that pretty much sums up my training philosophy. I try to take the path of least resistance and am overall more concerned with having a good relationship with my dog than having her be robotic in her obedience to me. I’ve been able to teach her how to behave appropriately without using extreme forms of punishment in order to do so, and I never want her to be afraid of me. So I will keep on training the way that I do, and always, always stay open to learning more about dogs, their behavior, and the way they think, (which is super important,) in the hopes that our relationship will never stop growing.