Thursday, March 16, 2017

Toronto Collar Ban - Dog Training Milton

I've been waiting a little before I addressed the particular issue of the Choke Chain, Slip Chain and Prong Collar ban in Toronto. I wanted to think it over a while before I put words down, I wanted to make sure that no emotion was involved with this post. And I wanted to figure out how to keep this short, sweet and to the point.

So here goes.

Banning Tools will do nothing to help dogs anywhere, nor will it do anything to help owners. These tools are said to be banned because they cause pain, discomfort or, as I will call it, they apply an aversive.

An aversive is something the dog considers "yucky" in that particular situation, so it doesn't always mean a physical correction or pain. Are aversives bad? No, they are not. Aversives help to teach. Let's make very clear here, I am not addressing or speaking of abusive behaviour by idiots who are missing a few screws. I'm speaking of an applied aversive to interrupt, re-direct, or end a particular behaviour. Everyone applies aversives, from pure positive trainers to heavy handed, correction trainers. They just look different from trainer to trainer.

The unfortunate part of this, is the above mentioned banned tools are just that, tools. They are tools along side martingale collars, no-pull harnesses, head halters, e-collars, flat collars, food, body language, clickers, voice etc. All tools have their uses, and all tools can be considered an aversive. It truly depends on the dog, and the particular situation. Petting your dog when they are over stimulated and want to get to something can be an aversive. Pressure on a flat collar when your dog wants to pull can be an aversive. Simply wearing a head halter can be considered an aversive. A pop on a prong collar or slip chain can be an aversive. Spacial pressure to entice your dog to move can be an aversive. Should we then ban all aversives? Of course not, that would be absolutely insane.

Can we, as trainers, use less aversives when training clients dogs? Of course we can, and in fact, it's much better by far to start as positive as possible when and where you can. The relationship building and motivation to learn/work is where you will get the best results. However, there will always come a time when some sort of aversive needs to be applied when dealing with real life situations where the dog is more interested in something else, rather then working for the owner.

This is where aversives can be extremely beneficial in training. Now some will argue that no dog should ever be corrected and all dogs should be managed and kept under threshold, rather then actually trained, and this is something that is simply ignorant. The problem that I see with this particular side of the arugement is that they do not take into consideration competing motivation. 

And what is competing motivation? It's something that the dog finds more appealing to do in certain situations, than engaging/working with the owner. This could be anything from sniffing a leaf on the ground to wanting to chase and kill the neighbourhood cat. These are two very different forms of competing motivation and should be handled differently. If you have a dog with a high prey drive, it will take a lot more then a handful of cookies and your voice to get their focus "unlocked". These types of dogs/sitiations require differing levels of applied aversives, truly depending on the dog and what that particular individual requires in that moment.

I work with a lot of families, couples, people who love their dogs, but don't have 24/7 to invest in them. They need a clear way to tell their dog YES, but they also need a clear way to tell their dog NO. These are people who simply can not manage their dog 24/7 or keep their dog "under threshold" at all times, and real world circumstances come up where we must instruct them, and give them the tools necessary to safely and  humanely control their dogs. Is this not what responsible owners should be doing in the first place? Sometimes it might mean putting a no-pull harness on a mildly distracted dog who is a bit into pulling. Other times is may require the use of a prong collar for a large or small dog, who is intent on pulling with all it's force, and where prey drive might kick into overtime.

By banning certain tools, we are taking away these owners options on how to handle their sometimes difficult dogs, and, in turn, we take away another tool with this ban, which is THE EXERCISE. Exercise is a key component of training, helping to relax over stimulated dogs, enabling the owners to better work with their dogs when they have more ability to focus. Some of these dogs, with this particular ban, will NOT get walked, as, for example, the prong collar or the slip collar, has greatly helped reduce pulling and reactivity, allowing these owners to bring their otherwise unmanageable dogs, out into the world for exercise. Guess what happens when an already over stimulated dog gets little to no exercise? Yes, the difficult behaviour gets worse and worse.

I do not want to compare tools, or claim that one tool is better then another over all, because that is simply not true. Each tool has its place, and each tool can be useful in different circumstances.

However, I can tell you, with multiple years of experience and multiple years of experimenting, the most aversive tool that I have come across is the halti/gentle leader/head halter. I have put every tool I can imagine on my own dogs over the years, because I like to have the experience to speak about them, not the hear-say to think I know what I'm talking about, and the one that caused the most discomfort/stress/reaction/pressure/damage was the head halters.

Does this mean that I want to see them banned? Of course not, they are just not a tool that I will recommend or use myself in most circumstances, because of the effects that they have on many dogs. Notice I said "most circumstances". This means there are always dogs/owners/circumstances that this tool could be appropriate and even better then the others, for what we are trying to develop and work with.

I do believe that trainers should not be one trick ponies either. If the only tool in your tool box is a prong collar, you more then likely need to take some courses, better your skills, and revisit different options, as not all dogs need these particular pieces of equipment. We should be able to work with dogs, regardless of the tool involved, however, the tools can have a HUGE impact on owners lives, stress levels and well being. They can also have a HUGE impact on the owners ability to communicate CLEARLY to their dogs, which can impact dog stress levels and well being. They can also have a HUGE impact on the progress that the dog makes, and without seeing progress, owners can and will give up, which does nothing to better serve our community or canine companions.

And who is affected by this ban?

CKC, UKC, or any other dog show venue where slip chains are used.
Vet offices

This ban is basically taking away rights. Taking away owners rights to choose what works best for their dogs. Taking away trainers rights to prescribe what they see would be best for the dog. Taking away owners options for walking/exercising certain dogs. Infringing on all of our rights to make decisions for ourselves.

I encourage you to look at this situation with an open mind, and contact your counselors with your concerns over this ban.

I also encourage those from Oakville/Milton to contact the SPCA as they are moving towards this same ban, which once again, infringes on the rights of the dog owning public.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and keep on training your dogs - you and them will be better for it.

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