Don’t Be a Tool

The Dog Training Equipment Debate Debacle

All over the world dog training tools are created and discussed, used and loved. Dog training tools are thrown out and banned, dismissed and hated. Associations are made between dog training tools and cruelty, dog training tools and kindness. Judgements are made based on what tools a person uses to aid in the training of their dog or their clients dogs.

So what is the purpose of dog training tools? Why do we use a flat collar on one dog and a head collar on another? I ask this question to countless groups of dog training students that I teach and the answers vary. Is it control? Management? Correction? Safety? To stop a behaviour? To create a new behaviour? Do dog training tools train the dog? The answer to the last is almost always no- the dog trainer trains the dog or the owner trains the dog- not the training tool.

So what do tools do for us and why do we need them?

When we choose dog training tool X over dog training tool Y, we do that because we believe that- in that situation, with that dog, that handler and that behaviour problem, that training tool X is actually going to provide us with MORE opportunities for reinforcement. Wait. What? Dog training tool selection is about reinforcement??? Indeed.

We know that it is the building of reinforcement history that creates habit- good and bad- in the dog. Dogs pull on lead despite physical restraint and discomfort because they are given repeated access to reinforcement- smelling that tree, playing with that dog. So when we need to address these issues it makes sense that we address what are fundamentally reinforcement issues, with reinforcement.

I can see the nodding now.. the trainers and the interested saying yes, yes that’s why we don’t need XYZ dog training tool, because we know it’s about the re-allocation of positive reinforcement!! Yes- but training tools are about the provision of that reinforcement- maximising opportunities TO reinforce the dogs desirable behaviour.

It’s for this reason dog trainers need options. What Mrs Smith needs with Freddy to maximise opportunities for reinforcement will not be the same as what Mr Jones needs with Dozer. We do ourselves no favours by arguing against correct use of any tool.

BUT- Will the tool be used correctly? If it is not used correctly we are no longer maximising opportunities for reinforcement- the dog trainer must assess the likelihood of THAT tool being used correctly in THAT situation with that dog and that handler- it’s not always the same. Ultimately though, it’s not about the tool.

So today I say to every dog trainer- you are not a tool. You are your timing and consistency. You are your understanding and knowledge. You are your foresight and insight. You are your organisation and management. You are your patience and determination. You are your kindness and intelligence. Importantly, you are your attitude and demeanor. What sets great dog trainers apart will never be about what tool you use- it will be your genuine skill.

You are not a tool. You are a dog trainer.

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