In my journey to becoming a dog trainer, I am continually learning and growing. I consider myself lucky to have fallen in with a group of people that have showed me the way of positive reinforcement training. There is a lot of information out there on what this particular type of training is, but if you have never heard of it, here's a good starting resource:
What I specifically want to touch on in this blog post is my feelings towards using punishment based training (prong/pinch collars, e-collars, spray bottles, loud noises, etc.) to deter behaviour. It is well known that using aversive tools like these can be an effective method in stopping your dog from doing whatever annoying thing you want them to stop doing. If somebody pinched my arm every time I did something they didn't like I would probably stop doing that thing, and a pinch on the arm doesn't seem so bad right? So why do I have a problem with using these tools?
Effectiveness is not enough.
Now, I can't take credit for those profound words. Susan G. Friedman, Ph. D. coined this phrase and you can check out the original article here.
What does it mean to me? It means I will always choose the most ethical way to solve a training issue. I will never use a training method that get's results fast at the expense of my bond with a dog. I will always favour building a relationship, rather than forcing my leadership. I will follow the Humane Hierarchy (another genius contribution to the world by Dr. Susan Friedman).
The Humane Hierarchy is really well explained in this article on themoderndogtrainer.net. It's basically a set of steps that dictate what you should do first, then second, then third in regards to animal training, and follows the steps in this picture. This is the most ethical way to conduct your animal handling!
So what does this have to do with dog walking? Dog walkers can also benefit from familiarizing themselves with the Humane Hierarchy. The equipment we use and how we handle ourselves in the park are also governed by the rules of training. With that in mind, let's revisit the idea of prong/pinch/e-collars. These tools are designed to punish the dog for pulling on the leash. They fall under "positive punishment." (TO CLARIFY: positive punishment means something bad happens to the dog, not that the punishment is fun and happy). If we look at our Humane Hierarchy, that is the LAST stop. There are several ways to train a dog to walk nicely on leash, without being in-humane right from the start.
"But I'm a dog walker not a dog trainer!".
I absolutely understand that not every dog walker out there has the desire to pursue training. If a dog you walk is behaving so horribly that you have to punish them just to get through their walk, then you are not doing them, or yourself, any favours. It is COMPLETELY OK to refer a dog out to a trainer for leash training, or jumping up, or barking, or any other behavioural issue you may encounter. The reality is, we can't always train when we have 4 or 5 other dogs with us! Have you ever tried giving just ONE dog a treat with the other 5 trying to steal it, getting tangled up in the leashes, and simultaneously pulling you to the park? Not fun, and not exactly good training. Being an ethical, humane walker, means evaluating the severity of the behaviour, and deciding if it's something you can handle in a humane way. Prongs/pinches/e-collars and other tools made to punish a dog when they misbehave are TRAINING tools. So if you are one of those walkers that says "But I'm a dog walker not a dog trainer!", stop using these training tools, and refer out to a trainer!