Updated: Mar 28
For ages there has been a great divide between the purely positive trainers and the balanced trainers. Personally, I think it is childish and unnecessary. Any good balanced trainer, has their program firmly rooted in positive reinforcement. It's why treats are used. It's why marker words are used and for some even clickers. The belief is that balanced trainers use force and abuse to train dogs. Simply put, this is untrue for any good trainer. Now, I am not saying that there are not people out there who call themselves trainers who do use these methods, because unfortunately there are. What I am saying is that good trainers do not. You see, the thing is and what most people struggle to understand is that we as humans do not decide what is aversive, the dog does. And when training is done correctly in a positive way then these tools such as a prong collar, muzzle and proper e-collar, become nothing more than a communication device. Take the prong for example. Yes, used and fit incorrectly this can absolutely cause some serious damage to a dog. But, used and fit correctly, well you just gave yourself power steering which allows you to now teach the dog what you do want from them. It's important to remember that not every dog needs a prong collar and not all prongs collars are the same. Let me repeat that last part. NOT ALL PRONG COLLARS ARE THE SAME. They are not created equal. The dogs that benefit from this particular training tool are dogs who can not be walked safely on a standard collar because they are dragging their owner down the street. An elderly client with a strong dog can be seriously injured if immediate control is not established. Buy limiting your use of tools you are essentially capping yourself and the dog of their potential and putting the client in the position of having to possibly consider rehoming the dog they can not control enough to teach them new behaviors. The thing with a prong collar is this, they take zero time to train the dog to accept and because of this you see instant results in the amount of control you have. This allows for faster training time to more desired behaviours. You do however need to teach pressure and release. Without doing this, the dog does not understand how to turn the pressure on it's neck off and thus does not understand what the expectation is.
So what about the muzzle then? For starters, not every muzzle is created equal and Canada in general is so far behind in the industry when it comes to finding properly fitting bite proof muzzles than the U.S. is. We do have some Canadian muzzle makers thankfully that know the value of a well fit muzzle and are working hard to get that information and their products out to those that need them. There are many reasons to muzzle train a dog from reactivity, bite risk, scavenging, nervousness and even just in foresight to any potential situations that may arise in your dogs life where a muzzle would be required. Consider this, your dog has suffered an injury and do to the amount of pain they are in they will not allow vet staff or even emergency crew to help them, They will need to be muzzled to treat their injury. Now the dog is obviously under a great deal of stress already and throwing a muzzle on an already fearful and stressed dog is just going to add even more stress to the dog. But if they are already comfortable in a muzzle than it is not big deal to them to have one put on and the dog is even willing to have it put on. What about if your dog is rescued from a house fire and first responders need to put on an oxygen mask. Well, it is similar enough to a muzzle that the dog will accept it without issue. How about the dog who picks up and eats things on walks? You could literally save your dogs life by having it muzzled. Now, I am going to remind you all that NOT EVERY MUZZLE IS CREATED EQUAL. This is very important because if your dog can not reach a full pant, yawn, drink and eat freely with their muzzle on than that is not the right muzzle for more than 5 mins at a time. DO NOT walk your dog in a muzzle like this, you are risking their life. A dog regulates their temperature through panting and if you taken the ability to reach a FULL pant away from them the the risk of over heating and in some cases suffocation. If you think your dog needs a new muzzle or that muzzling might be right for your dog then please reach out and I will happily give you some free resources to help you get your dog sized for a muzzle that is the right size for them.
Lastly, let's touch on the dreaded e-collar. Once again, THEY ARE NOT ALL CREATED EQUALLY. Please, for the love of dog, do not get your e-collar from your local pet store or on amazon. You are risking having your dog randomly shocked at the highest level among other things. There are several good, consistent and reliable brands of e-collars out there. However, I am not going to list them here because no one should be e-collar training a dog without the help of an experienced trainer. Your dog should already have a solid foundation of obedience at an intermediate or advanced level before an e-collar is ever introduced. You may be asking yourself why would anyone who's dog has solid obedience at these levels require an e-collar? Well let me explain. E-collars are used like an invisible leash per say. The are most often used on dogs with high prey drive, dogs who have a strong desire to chase things. You see once a dog has started the sequence of chasing it's 'prey', even if that is a car, they no longer hear you. This is because when a dog is chasing prey it doesn't require it's ears so they essentially turn them off. Not literally but they do divert their attention to their other senses like sight, sound and even smell. They literally do not hear you. However, if they have been correctly conditioned to the e-collar you now have a way to safely recall your dog from a potentially dangerous situation which you otherwise could not do. Yes, there are other reasons and uses for e-collar training as well such as proofing off leash commands. What remains true throughout the balanced community is that they are not used to train obedience they are used to proof commands the dog already knows but would otherwise not respond to in highly stimulating situations. A good e-collar is not a shock collar and used correctly does not cause your dog any pain. They feel like a tens unit. It is essentially like a tap on their shoulder when they are distracted to say, hey I'm over here and need your attention. Reward based training is prevalent in the e-collar world, and e-collar training saves lives every day.
As trainers, and as clients and potential clients, I think it is very important to keep in my that training is not a one size fits all. We all want the same thing. To help dogs and owners build a better working relationship which in turn strengthens their bond and creates a more pleasant life for all involved. We want to help the dogs who some thing are beyond help, even knowing that we can't save them all. But the more tools we have in our bag accompanied by the knowledge of how to use them, the more lives we can save. And this above all is what matters. Not what side of the training fence you are on. There is more than one way to train a dog, just like there more than one way to bake a cake. What works for one doesn't always work for another. So let's put aside our differences and unite for the common good. At the end of the day you must train the dog in front of you and not the one you saw yesterday.