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You don't need a shock collar to train a crocodile.....

I've just been watching a marvellous video from a facebook page called Behaviour Works. It's the page of Alexandra Kurland who is a well known animal behaviourist. Here is the link to the page. If you go to their videos and scroll down, you will find it called "Mounting Block".

This shows horses trained to walk up to a mounting block quite freely and joyfully in order for their riders to mount. For some reason I couldn't post the direct link to the video in this blog.

I so love these sorts of videos, and also videos where they show positive reinforcement in training wild animals and for that reason, I will keep sharing them until the cows come home (oh and you can train cows too...). The reason? They push home a MASSIVE point.

You can train a horse, who is so much bigger than you and could easily hurt you to do as you ask, such as walk to the mounting block, or any number of other tasks with just positive reinforcement.

You can train a wild animal who is an apex predator to present itself to you in a certain way so you can check on its physical welfare, or undertake medical procedures without the need of a shock collar, a prong collar or any sort of physical threat or coercion, using just positive reinforcement.

Therefore, and here comes the massive point, why do some trainers think that they have to use pain and fear in the form of shock collars, prong collars, choke collars, physical intimidation and physical punishment in order to train a creature like a dog? A creature who over the millennia has willingly become our companion and whose genetics (research says) have gradually changed in order that they can read our body language minutely because their survival has come to depend on it. Why do they think that using these "tools" and these methods of cruel and abusive training are necessary?

Dangerous as a crocodile?

Back in the bad old days of training, for me, the 70s and 80s when compulsive training was really all that was out there (certainly in the UK anyway) people used it. In the 80s, I am ashamed to say that we used it too because we believed our trainer when he said this was the only way to train a dog. He was after all, the professional and we the novices. There was no Google or internet then. We could not look things up except at a library mostly and anyway the only information available was the sort that we were being taught.

However, that excuse is not permissible now.

There is a wealth of information available about positive training and also about how punishment based training traumatises dogs both physically and mentally. There are dozens of scientific studies that show this. They aren't hard to find. If you are calling yourself a dog trainer, then you should have educated yourself about it.

There's a saying that "Punishment begins when knowledge ends" and this only reinforces my belief that those trainers who think that using punishment is a perfectly OK thing to do to are the individuals who need to be educated so they don't need to use punishment. Science tells us that it's unnecessary and helpfully shows us what to do instead. Punishment based trainers usually brush positive training aside with a flap of the hand. If you dare suggest they may find that if they educate themselves they will no longer need to use punishment, the usual response is a tirade of anecdotal evidence to "prove" that they get perfectly good results and theirs are probably better than yours.

All trainers who use science to train can produce scientific evidence refuting the anecdotal evidence. After the anecdotal tirade usually comes the abusive tirade, mostly personal insults of varying degrees with a lot of swear words. I believe the reason for that is that they feel frustrated because they cannot produce any scientific evidence to show that their methods are better for dogs and I believe acting in this way makes them feel they have some sort of power over us if they call us stupid and other variations on that theme.

As science based trainers, we have no need of insults or anecdotal evidence. We just quote the science. That is all I ever do. I usually tell the person that I've got a list of links to over 12 scientific studies which show using punishment and fear to train dogs is harmful to their mental and physical wellbeing, and I politely offer to send them that list. Then I ask them to send me a list of scientific studies which prove that their methods are not harmful and are better. At that point, after some more personal insults which are usually pretty ramped up by then, they disappear into the ether.

I think some of the problem may be cognitive dissonance on the part of those who believe that they need to use punishment in training. I think many of them have been brainwashed by certain TV personalities who show them magically how they can turn an aggressive and uncontrollable dog in the course of a 45 min TV show into a well behaved and malleable being. Of course, those of us at the sharp end know that this is an impossible task and of course this is all set up for the cameras. We know there must have been a lot going on behind the scenes that the audience doesn’t see maybe over a matter of days but made to look like it happened in a short space of time.

Sadly, dog owners also buy into this in their ignorance of the realities of training dogs and their cognitive dissonance so far as this is concerned is deep. What I find sad is that are also trainers who believe this rubbish too. So much so that they will shelve out thousands of dollars to attend the TV Personality’s “School” for trainers and seek to replicate what he does. Gosh, they even proudly exhibit it on their websites. This to me is even more disturbing.

I recently had a conversation with someone who really bought into the whole TV trainer mindset and insisted that the TV trainer did not use prong, choke or shock collars and that he did not approve of them. This individual said they had never seen in any of his shows that he used physical restraint or punishment on a dog. They claimed that people like me were just jealous because he has so much success and that is why we are triggered every time he is mentioned. My goodness, nothing could be further from the truth. This person said we should watch his TV shows so that we could learn from him. I explained that in fact, we did watch his shows (not often, I admit because I don’t have a strong enough stomach) but when we do, we watch them with the sound turned off. In this way we can concentrate on the behaviour of the dog, and not on the inane ramblings that are being spoken.

When I explained that in fact he did use shock collars, prongs etc. (someone has told me since that he actually promotes his own brand of shock collar) and these could be plainly seen in his shows, and the fact that he used punishment based methods, this individual denied it flatly.

Even when I pointed out several famous instances, such as the husky he nearly choked to death on camera, and the resource guarding Labrador who bit him badly simply because he was acting in a ridiculous manner and provoking her and he said “oh, I didn’t expect that” (though all of us positive trainers watching recognised immediately that he was going to get bitten well before it happened) this person persisted in their beliefs. The problem is that when someone has cognitive dissonance to such an extent, one cannot persuade them that the CD is why they can’t see the truth of what is happening. Fact is, I was not the only person having a conversation with this individual and no matter what any of us said they remained resolute in their belief in the TV trainer’s abilities. One might feel the need to try to get someone with CD to see the truth, but in the end, it’s nigh on impossible to get through.

There is a certain psychology involved with people who feel the need to punish dogs and humans which I won’t expound on here because I admit, I haven’t really studied it any detail so don’t feel qualified to discuss it. You can find plenty of reference to it on the internet if you search.

I wish more people would make videos of force free training with large animals. I follow a chap in India who trains crocodiles with positive reinforcement. Why? You ask. Well, I guess simply because it can be done and it makes it easier for the purposes of animal husbandry. I show here below a photo taken from his page of him standing barefoot with a stick and a large piece of meat, training a crocodile. I have to say he’s a brave chap!

Looking at this photo sums it up really doesn’t it? His name is Soham Mukherjee and he is a wildlife biologist specialising in snakes and crocodiles. He's training with positive reinforcement an apex predator that could kill him in a flash (they move extremely fast and he is very close! ) and yet still, there are those who think they need all sorts of painful methods and tools to train a mere dog. For me, this photo speaks volumes and probably says more than I ever could.


Brentwood Bay