Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Positive Mental Associations v. Reduction of Tension

If you've followed the comments section on "Chasing Squirrels," you'll see that someone calling him or herself "anonymous" has a bad taste in his or her mouth about the idea that dogs don't learn new behaviors or get rid of old ones by making "positive mental associations." Hopefully this article will spell out my reasons for the view that dogs actually do learn through the reduction of internal tension and stress, not the outdated, Skinnerian view (though it's not really Skinnerian, as you shall see).

Do Dogs Learn by Making Mental Associations,
or Through the Reduction of Internal Tension?
I think it's very important to make the distinction between two ways of looking at the general “Chasing Squirrels” phenomenon. Does this training paradigm work by a) satisfying a dogs prey drive, thereby reducing his internal tension and stress, or b) by giving him a positive mental association with something that previously seemed to have caused his misbehavior. The reason I think it’s important to differentiate between these two ideas is that the concept of teaching the dog to make positive associations with formerly unsettling stimuli—while fine in theory—doesn't really work in every situation. And it’s junk science.

For example, many positive trainers make a huge mistake in my view by thinking that if a dog is aggressive on the leash, for example, they can change the behavior simply by feeding the dog “high value treats” while another dog is passing by. This is supposed to work by teaching the aggressor to make a positive association with the aggressee:

“Hmm…every time I feel aggressive toward another dog on the street my owner gives me food that is of high value to me.”

Do you see the multiple errors in logic there?

Part of the problem is that sometimes redirecting the dog’s focus away from something distressing—like another dog coming toward him to something enjoyable like eating tasty treats—actually does to work. The fact is +R trainers are not total idiots. In fact many of them are anything but. And yet if “making positive associations” only works sometimes, and not all the time, why does it work at all? Shouldn’t creating a positive association with something that was previously distressing to the dog always work? I think so. And I think we need to ask ourselves why does it work sometimes and not others.

So let’s look at the situation with a dog whose leash aggression is actually (or rather, seemingly) cured by using high value treats to change the dog’s “mental associations” toward other dogs. To understand this we first have to figure out what’s actually causing the dog’s leash aggression.

One of the primary causes of leash aggression (or at least the primary flashpoint) is that the aggressee is usually coming toward the aggressor. It’s rare for a dog to exhibit leash aggression toward a dog who’s walking in front of him. It’s also rare for a dog to show aggression toward a dog who’s walking next to him. He’ll certainly do so initially. But once you walk the two dogs together for a few blocks, the aggressive feelings almost always dissipate and don’t rear up again until the dogs are face to face once more. (See “Walking 2 Aggressive Dogs.”) 

Another rarity is the big dog who gets aggressive only with small dogs. In the most general terms, it’s usually the other way around: the smaller dog is generally more nervous when a bigger dog is approaching. And even big dogs who do seem to have a kind of ingrained aggression to any and all dogsregardless of breed type or sizeusually display less tension toward dogs whose level of gaze is below theirs and more tension toward dogs whose eyes are either on the same level or higher.

So it seems to me that eye contact is what initially sparks the stressful feelings in a dog who then makes those feelings manifest by barking, snarling, lunging, etc. Eye contact isn’t the whole enchilada, but it certainly seems to be the meat. Of course there are normally all kinds of other contributing factors, typically involving past negative experiences with other dogs, or generalized fear issues, mistreatment by his previous (or present) owners, etc. But while those factors may always be present in the dog in a sort of latent form, it’s really the direct eye contact that provides the spark that sets the dog off.

So if a +R trainer distracts a leash-aggressive dog with a treat, in 99.99% of the cases, the aggressor will have to break eye contact with the aggressee, just to get the treat In and of itself, that automatically reduces some of the tension inherent to the situation. If the +R trainer does this enough times then that might create a situation where when the aggressor sees another dog coming he may develop a positive expectation of something good coming his way—not from the other dog but from his handler. If there’s a lot of praise, or a soothing word or two in the equation (like “Easy, big fella…” or “It’s okay, Sparky…), that will also be part of what helps reduce his tension.

But this is still operating through a reduction of internal tension, not through a process of making mental associations.

And here’s where it gets really good: If the aggressive dog’s tension is reduced enough, and he’s able to actually make friendly contact with the second dog, that’s what really changes things. And that’s because no dog ever wants to attack another dog. It’s simply not in a dog’s nature to want to be in conflict, socially. On the most basic level all dogs want to be in harmony with other dogs. (Even forming a detente with another dog is more harmonic than being in conflict with him.) The lunging and snarling and barking is actually an expression of the first dog’s attraction to the aggressee. If he had no attraction he would either run away and hide, or he would ignore the dog entirely. The more a dog barks, snarls, and lunges, the more attracted he is. The problem is he’s simply attracted at too high a level given his inability to offload tension normally, through sniffing, circling, play bowing, etc.

So by making a surface reading of what’s happened, we might be fooled into thinking that the dog is making a positive association with the movement of another dog coming toward him because of the treats alone. Or we might more rightly see that there was more to it than the treats, but still mistakenly believe that the dog is now making a positive association with the aggressee as a result of the redirection of his focus and attention. And I think in a very marginal way there may be some truth to that second way of looking at this. But the real reason this technique works is that the handler has accidentally reduced the dog’s inner tension and stress. That’s the deciding factor, not this fanciful idea that the dog is now making a positive mental association with other dogs coming toward him.

’s what Kevin Behan says on the subject in Natural Dog Training:

While dogs form associations, they don
’t directly learn by forming them. First they learn through the flow of drive and then they associate the level of pleasure or stress they experienced with them.

’m going to correct Kevin here a little and say that dogs have no ability to know what levels of pleasure or stress they experience with any given experience. The way a dog’s mind works, through energetic principles of attraction and resistance, they feel more attracted to experiences that reduce internal tension and more resistance to those that don’t.

Now back to Kevin
’s words (with a few thoughts of my own thrown in):

In the human mind a [mental] association is the linkage between thoughts, ideas, feelings, or sensations. These linkages from concepts that the human mind can then carry around and apply in novel and abstract ways and in new situations. A concept is a complex intellectual feat based on events that transpired over time [dogs have no sense of time-LCK], and it acknowledges that there may be other perspectives on the experience [dogs have no ability to see anyone else
’s perspective, at least not mentally, though they have the ability to feel what others are feeling, and even to pick up mental images from us-LCK]. In order to articulate something this complex Man requires an intricate language to communicate the vast range of possibilities.

A dog, not having an intellect, can’t range through time, nor can he entertain any other possible perspectives on an event [at least not mentally, though he can do this on a purely emotional level-LCK]. He can only know his own point of view [I would say that he can’t know it, he can only feel it-LCK] in any one particular moment.

Now B.F. Skinner, who, like it or not, is the font for this idea that dogs can form positive mental associations, would clearly not agree that dogs have such intellectual capacities. Skinner would be on Kevin Behan’s side of the above argument. In fact one of Skinner’s main rationales behind the development of behavioral science was to remove the mind/intellect/black box from the equation, which to him was voodoo. He wanted to be able to rely purely on conditioning. Yet this idea that dogs can from positive mental associations depends entirely on dogs having certain intellectual capacities that they clearly don’t have!

This is a bit of a puzzle to those who don
’t study cognitive science and don’t understand the differences between certain evolutionary pre-cursors to logical thought and language, because those pre-cursors operate in both the human and canine brain. For example pattern recognition, which requires no conscious, intellectual thought process, and which dogs excel at, is clearly a pre-cursor to logical thinking. You can’t engage in logic unless you can recognize patterns. In fact chess masters are said to rely far more on pattern recognition than logic. And computers are getting better and better at pattern recognition on an almost daily basis. But computers do not have any real intellectual or logical abilities. And I hate to say this but the same is true for dogs.

(Discussing these issues always upsets a lot of people, so let
’s get back to the discussion at hand, which is that solving a dog’s leash aggression by feeding him treats works because the handler has accidentally reduced the dog’s inner tension and stress, not because the dog is now forming positive mental associations.)

Does it matter that it’s accidental? Isn’t the result the same either way?

In the case of leash aggression, yes. However there are other cases where attempting to use this model gets us nowhere. If that’s true then there’s obviously a problem with the underlying philosophy, and we have to look for another explanation of behavior, and another means of producing “positive” behavioral changes in dogs, one that makes sense in all cases.

Let’s forget about leash aggression for a moment and go back to the two cases that sparked this debate: 1) how I got Freddie to stop stalking squirrels by stalking them with him and then playing tug with him when the squirrels went up a tree, and 2) how Anonymous’ friend reputedly got his dog to stop stalking children by having the kids play fetch with him. In both cases good results were achieved through redirecting the dog’s hunting instincts into a bite-able object. There’s no question that that’s the primary cause of whatever changes took place in each case. However, would anyone in their right mind believe that Freddie somehow formed a positive association with squirrels because of what I did? Was he now going to hang out and roll around and play in the grass with them and lick their noses? Even if any of the squirrels were crazy enough to let this happen, what would Freddie have done if given a chance to get that close (provided I wasn’t there to supervise)? I’ll tell you what would happen because it actually did happen twice: he would grab the squirrel between his teeth and jaws and bring it to me. Luckily the two times this did happen I simply said, “Out!” and he dropped the frightened animal, who quickly ran up the nearest tree.

Here’s another angle to see this from: while it’s normal and instinctive for a dog of Freddie’s persuasion go into a stalking position when seeing a small prey animal (Dalmatians are essentially setters/pointers), it is decidedly not normal and not instinctive for any dog to stalk a human being, even a child. So when something of that nature happens it means there is something badly out of whack. And on a certain level even the dog knows it, or I should say, he “feels” it.

So why does Anonymous think his friend
’s dog formed positive mental associations with the kids he was formerly stalking? Since the friend reputedly changed the dog’s behavior by having the kids play fetch with the dog, we might be tempted to believe that this is true. But isn’t it more likely that the dog now sees the tennis ball that the kids are throwing for him as the release point for the internal tension that was causing him to stalk them in the first place? Remember, he didn’t really want to bite the kids. I mean sure, he sort of did. But mainly he was just looking for an outlet for his prey drive. The kids gave him one. Does he see them differently now? Perhaps he does, though I doubt if he could articulate the difference or explain why he feels differently toward them. But if there is a difference, is it because the dog has thought this through logically?

Those kids were a negative in my mind before but now that they play fetch with me they’re positive!

The more probable answer is that the kids were always positive in this dog
’s mind/experience. Or rather they always held a strong level of attraction for him. But his attraction for them also had this baggage, the feeling that something was out of whack. It didn’t feel 100% right to the dog to be stalking them, yet he felt driven to do it anyway. Now that he’s playing fetch (reportedly), and he’s able to bite the ball (so we’re told), the underlying impulse that caused the stalking behavior (the urge to bite anything acting preylike), was satisfied. And while the kids were (reportedly) the avenue by which that impulse was satisfied, I doubt very much that this dog feels much differently toward them than he did before, except that now he feels more satisfaction of his prey drive because of the ball, and feels that they’re a viable delivery mechanism for that ball.

’t that the same thing as making a positive mental association?

I don
t think so because the dog never had a negative mental association in the first place. Just as Freddie never had a negative mental association with the squirrels. And when you think about it, even a dog who wants to bite every dog he sees usually has no negative mental association with any of them personally. It’s always about the dogs levels of internal tension and stress, and finding a way to release that tension through biting an acceptable object instead of biting another dog or a human being (or a squirrel, for that matter).

So while dogs do learn by seeing patterns and associating this or that experience with either a pleasurable (positive) or stressful (negative) feeling state, it
’s a big mistake to think that learning takes place by making mental associations because as a trainer or dog owner it puts you in situations where you aren’t getting the results you were expecting, the dog’s behavior doesn’t improve, and you don’t know why. The reason is simple: you’re using the wrong model for learning and behavior.

I think even B.F. Skinner would have to agree on that.

"Changing the World, One Dog at a Time"


walkerch_5 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
walkerch_5 said...

Hi Lee—
As you know, Henry has some leash aggression issues. It’s always with the same two dogs (Bonnie and Collette), and I'd like to work on that at our next session, but in the meantime I have a question. You say, “The more a dog barks, snarls, and lunges, the more attracted he is. The problem is he’s simply attracted at too high a level given his inability to offload tension normally, through sniffing, circling, play bowing, etc.” My question is this: Are there different kinds of attraction, like friendly attraction and not friendly attraction (for lack of better words)? When Henry sees his best friends on leash, he pulls to get to them but doesn't bark, he wags his tail and sort of skips over to see them. But with Bonnie and Collette, he goes crazy on the leash and completely ignores them when they are off leash at the park--not even a sniff. He doesn’t seem to be attracted to them at all. I suppose a lot of his aggression has to do with the tension I put on the leash, though. I do know that with Collette, it’s totally Henry causing the problem. A few times I’ve been able to get Henry to focus his energy towards me and Collette didn’t make a peep.

By the way, this morning at the park, someone commented that if we gave awards to the dogs at the park, Henry would win “Most Improved.” He’s really doing great!! I am so grateful to you!


Lee Charles Kelley, said...

I tend to think that attraction is like electromagnetic energy; there's no such thing as a bad form of attraction just as there's no such thing as bad form of electromagnetic current. I mean the only "bad" electrical current is one that zaps you. So while you don't want to get hit by lightning, there's nothing inherently either good or bad about the energy contained in lightning itself; it's all dependent on the context.

But you bring up a good point. It's hard for a lot of people, myself included, not to see leash aggression as being a negative form of energy. But it's not; it's really a counter-productive USE or EXPRESSION of one dog's attraction to another.

This brings up another key element about seeing canine behavior through an immediate energetic dynamic rather than through a mental, thought-based, mechanism that plays itself out in chronological fashion, which is that we, as humans, come up with all sorts of REASONS for the dog to have the leash aggression: he thinks he's alpha, he's defending his territory, he thinks the other dog is going to attack him so he attacks first, etc. So some people might try to teach that dog a LESSON. Others will try to REASON with the DOG to get him to stop the behavior. Who hasn't said something to his or her leash-aggressive dog like, "Henry, that dog isn't going to hurt you," or even, "Why on earth are you doing this?"

That last question is a good one, actually, because on an emotional, telepathic level the dog might very well answer you! You might get an impression or mental image of what's causing the behavior. He won't suddenly turn, open his mouth, and speak to you, but he WILL want to answer you on an emotional level. Dogs are pretty damn amazing that way. It's one area where we're dumber than they are. (There are several others...)


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lee Charles Kelley, said...

I don't mind if people want to argue with me or debate certain points of view. You just have to be respectful about it (i.e., not snide or snotty).


Anonymous said...

Hi Lee,
I want to let you know Tati's former owners contacted us; they are able to take him back as they decided to leave the city and return to North Carolina.
We saw steady and meaningful progress in his confidence, sense of well being/OK-ness. Thanks for helping us during the time he was under our wing. I sensed he was "visiting", but did'nt know where he was going from here. Your knowledge and help were most appreciated.
Best, Elise.

Lee Charles Kelley, said...

Thanks, Elise.

I'm a bit sad to know I won't be seeing that big boy again; he was certainly a handful when he stayed with me, but I did grow attached to him nonetheless.

At any rate it sounds like things worked out really well for everyone. I know you guys weren't sure he was the right shepherd for you; that you were his temporary caretakes. It'll be interesting to see what happens when you get that older female later this summer.

Thanks for letting me know about Tati, and please keep in touch.


Angela said...

Hi Lee,
I found your blog via amazon (I bought one of your books) and I find it very thought provoking. I look forward to exploring it further.

The food/R+ thing did NOT work with my leash aggressive (I should say DA, since he would charge dogs off leash, too) GSD...in fact, he got worse for a period of time.

What did work-and relatively quickly- were fair corrections on a prong collar, consistency, and focused exercise. And,I dare say our bond is stronger than when I was doing the R+ only training, which never felt completely right. My dog is now off leash (with my other former DA dog) daily and meeting 20-50 dogs a day while on AND off leash. Of course, I praised him for good behavior and all his obedience was trained using a clicker (but that didn't address the reactivity).

He now holds a TT and CGC and is working in Rally novice and agility in addition to going to dog parks every day...something the first R+ behaviorist thought he could never do.

I'm not a trainer so in my layman's terms, I think Roman simply needed to be told "No, this is not appropriate". I didn't even have to correct him that much but many people thought, "How terrible!" I say, but now he learned what is appropriate/inappropriate behavior and he has so much more freedom...we can go anywhere on and off leash, he's calm and even more in tune with me. We've been able to advance in our obedience and agility,e tc. etc.

Anyway, thank you for your thoughtful blog and review on amazon (though I cringed that you gave Marley and Me 5 stars, but we can agree to disagree on that one :)


Lee Charles Kelley, said...

I think you're right, Angela. With some dogs judicious corrections are the right and most natural approach. These dogs need a kind of shock to the nervous system to settle them down. The problem for most people is in knowing if their dog is the right dog! Luckily for you, it sounds like you did the right thing for Roman.

In NATURAL DOG TRAINING Kevin Behan writes that it's usually not a good idea for us to physically correct a dog in a way that the dog will attribute the corrections as coming from the handler, which is the old, dominance model: "I want the dog to know who's in charge!" Doing this most often creates other behavioral issues that get in the way of willing compliance, confidence, coming when called, and all around, pure obedience.

However, Kevin also writes: "There are those times when I will correct an extremely nervous dog--ideally with the lead and collar and in a training context--in such a way that he associates the correction with me. By acting confrontational I can calm such a dog. My specific purpose is to have the dog attribure the shock to me so that his nervous system can be dampered. It is quire analogous to grasping a tuning fork to quell its vibrations."

He adds, "Whenever domination is required we should immediately redirect he dog into a positive, instinctive pathway for success." (Meaning give him something to do with his energy that involves play or obedience.) I hope that's what you did with Roman. (It sounds like it.)

The one thing I'd disagree with you on is that it's not a matter of teaching the dog what's appropriate and inappropriate; that's putting things into a human context. What was most likely at work in Roman's mind was that you were teaching him that his aggression was unsuccessful at reducing his internal tension, while listening to you and obeying you WAS. Once he felt that you were the pathway to completing his drive (which I assume you did in some way after you corrected him), he became much more focused on you and more obedient.

If you look at some of the posts from Summer's Mommy (in other threads) you'll see that she's had a similar journey with her dog, who's a Malinois mix.

I also had to "explain" a few things to Tati when he was staying with me. His nervous tension had a tendency to bubble over into aggression toward other dogs on the street (not to mention in my apartment!). Correcting him, sometimes very forcefully, in no way reduced my ability to get him to come when called at the dog run, which was the primary thing I needed to teach him (other than that other dogs don't really need deep bite marks in their necks). His recall at the dog run was quite spectular; he came shooting toward me like a rocket whenever I called him.

I hope you enjoyed my novel, whichever one it was...


Angela said...

Hi again,
I also ordered Kevin's book and look forward to reading it. I should add that I went through 4 trainers until I found a trainer who was able to help me with Roman and my other dog, Tikka (you can read a bit about that here:


And, you are exactly right-it was more about Roman (and Tikka) reducing their anxiety/stress than learning what was appropriate/inappropriate behavior-In fact, my trainer asked me "Would you say your dog is anxious?" My first response was No, since he always seems so confident...but really, he WAS anxious/stressed or he would not have acted that way.

I have a real problem with R+ trainers that will take on a dog like mine and, when it becomes clear the dog is not really improving they don't refer or offer alternatives. Just keep up the treat feeding at a distance and manage, manage, manage while always carrying treats and using a GL! I was told my dog would probably always have this and could not go to dog parks. I was paying hundreds of dollars and this is what I ended up with?

I think my dog and our relationship are an example that fair corrections, and dare I say, use of a prong collar, can help a dog overcome leash aggression without intimidating or harming the dog physically or mentally. I feel our bond is stronger.

I am now sensing a shift in the training community. My trainer, and others like him, say their business has never been better because most of their client base come to them after they did not get results with a positive only trainer. While I still see a lot of GLs out there, I'm not getting the nasty looks I once did for using a prong and people actually stop me to ask how I have such good recall on my dogs and I don't use treats.

I do have another question for you and I apologize this is so long. You mention that wild wolves don't alpha roll. I don't know about wolves, but dogs certainly do. In fact, Roman was put on his back and held there with one paw by a Mal/Shep playmate the other day. Their play escalated and in a second their were a few flashes of teeth and Roman was on his back, the other dog staring him down. This could have turned ugly, but the other owner and I were calm and with the help of a wave that crashed into the dogs (we were at the beach), the incident resolved and the dogs resumed play.

While I don't alpha roll, I will put my dogs in a down/stay on their sides for certain things. I've never had to force this with more than a finger touch. The dogs immediately calm down and we can resume whatever it was we were doing (I've used this when Roman or Tikka tried to charge a dog off leash).

Anyway, thanks for all your information. I orderd Nose for Murder and look forward to reading it soon.

Lee Charles Kelley, said...

The reason wild wolves don't do the alpha roll, but captive wolves and some domesticated dogs DO is basically that the behaviors of captive wolves and domesticated dogs are not NATURAL. In captive wolves nearly all of their supposedly hierarchical behaviors are the result of captivity stress. When a domesticated dog does anything which smacks of dominance, etc., it's always due to stress. It's not a natural or normal social behavior.

(There's more on this topic in the "Proper Way to Do an Alpha Roll" thread.)

But I think you're right about the changing dynamic in the training marketplace. I've always thought that one reason for Cesar Millan's popularity is that it's a backlash against the ineffectiveness, not to mention ideologically superior attitude, of +R trainers. Don't get me wrong, I think their ideology IS superior, but unfortunately their techniques aren't effective enough to warrant such snootiness.

Similar to the dominance trainers of old, whose excuse to clients was always, "You're not acting alpha enough!" the mantra of +R trainers is "Up the value of your treats!"

What's my mantra? I don't know. I'm told by Andrea Arden that it has something to do with playing tug-of-war with your dog, always letting her win, and praising her for winning ...


boywunder said...

I think this discussion is an important one, as it is a gray area for so many people. So often the concept of mental associations and reducing tension can seem like the same thing, but they aren't. It took me quite a while to finally understand what Kevin was talking about in his book. But when I finally started to get it, my attitude towards my own dogs and how I was training them completely changed. And even if you "get it", it's incredibly difficult to explain to someone, especially someone who isn't open to it.

Like I said, it took me quite a while to get it. And I really wanted to get it. So I read about it, and thought about it, and pondered it for long periods of time, trying to figure out exactly what Kevin was talking about. I know, I'm a nerd. But after all that pondering I finally had a moment of clarity , so to speak, and it all started to make sense.

Now, understanding the idea and actually putting it to use can be challenging. And, as Lee is well aware, I've been sort of flying by the seat of my pants with this for the past number of months with my terrier mix Roxy. Who is opening up and slowly progressing btw. She and I have our good days and bad days. But we're getting there! :)

Through my own journey I've been learning and discovering lots of things, both about dogs and about myself. I've learned that chicken doesn't mean a thing when Roxy spots another dog. Sometimes she needs that "shock" to snap her out of it so I can redirect her into something else, like chasing and biting her tennis ball instead of trying to chase and bite that nice dog that's 40 feet away. I've learned that the pushing exercise really does work. And I've learned how to be patient and calm, and take things one step at a time rather than pushing too far too fast. There is only working and playing with the goal that one day she will no longer have issues.

I say all this because it wasn't until I started speaking with Lee and Kevin and started to understand what my dog was going through that I started to understand what I had to do to start helping her. And that's why I think it's so important to understand the difference between mental associations and reducing tension. Because how can you really fix something if you don't know how it works? So keep on posting this stuff Lee. It's really good stuff:)


Lee Charles Kelley, said...

Thanks, Sang.

And you're right. It IS kind of hard to "get." Right up until the moment you get it...

I was lucky. I got it right away with a dog named Mickey. It was the first dog I'd ever tried any of Kevin's techniques with, and I did it pretty badly, I must say -- without the proper build-up to the exercise (it was the "Twist and Shout"). But luckily for me and for Mickey, he had a good, solid, hardy temperament so he was able to handle the shock of the correction.

And I have to say, the shift in his focus and energy was immediately apparent. In fact, it was one of the most electrifying experiences I'd ever had in my life -- to have this super-aggressive dog that seemed intent on killing other dogs (he was a pit/Lab mix), suddenly, in half a hearbeat, turning all that wild, primal energy into the tennis ball I held out for him with my left hand, and yet being very, VERY careful not to bite my fingers but to ONLY bite the ball.

What a revelation. (And what a great dog!)


boywunder said...

It's so interesting how certain techniques and methods can turn you off to things when they're used and applied either in a heavy handed way, or in the wrong context.

The first trainer I worked with was a dominance based trainer, and he used the prong collar extensively. He used it for everything from walking on a loose leash, to teaching the "place" command. Why he felt the need to use it for teaching "place", I still have no idea. At any rate, it really turned me off to the idea of using "corrections" for anything for a long time, as my dogs seemed very unhappy and nervous all of the time after that. They didn't seem to know when they would get a correction, and for what, since they got them so often for so many things that didn't deserve them, even from the dominance school of training.

So for a long time I went without using any form of corrections of any sort, as I worked through just rebuilding our relationship and trust. It took a long time, but I've finally earned their trust again and they're all much happier now. But the fact that these corrections were applied so liberally and inappropriately created a lot of problems, and also put me in the completely +R camp for a long time. But of course going that way exclusively didn't work either.Sure, they don't "listen" as well, but we have a much stronger foundation to build our training from than we did before. Since I started using Natural Dog Training, when I give a command, whether it's something as simple as sit, or a recall, there's that fire in their eyes that just wasn't there when working the other ways.

Anyway, I just find it interesting that so many trainers can get so caught up in doing things only one way. To the point that they lose sight of their ultimate goal, which is to help dogs and their humans. They become so engrossed in concept, that they lose their perspective and objectivity, thereby halting their own growth and potential for learning. As with any other discipline or field of study, one can get to a point where you can start to feel like you know all there is to know. And that can be a very slippery slope when you stop seeing things with an open mind.


Summerinbrooklyn said...

Hi there! I'm Summer's Mommy aka Summerinbrooklyn.

I tred lightly with use of the word "correction" especially since I'm good friends with some people online who are +R clicker devotees. We don't always agree with each other, but I have to say that I don't think what I am doing is "corrective" or punitive to my dog, although some might think that I am. I prefer to think of it as a quick redirection to get her attention, and then I'm able to channel that attention and focus into a specific behavior that I know allows her to release energy. (For us, it's a HUP on the chest.) The simple act of HUPPING does wonders for Summer.

What's interesting too (and my current trainer sees it as well) is that nowadays, when I give her light pops on the prong, she actually gets more energized and it brings out her drive. She actually starts snapping her jaws and it almost looks like she's mad at me, but it's basically just drive, and once I pop her AND praise her, she channels her energy into the behavior I'm asking for. I'll give you the example of proofing her formal heel. She already knew the word meant to position her body to my left, head cocked to look at me. But sometimes she wasn't so up in drive doing it. So I put her back on the prong only for heel training, and popped it lightly especially around turns. Her drive went up exponentially, and all I did then was to praise her and remind her "HEEL!" and she rechanneled that energy into giving me a tight focused heel. I also used cheese to drive her at me. So the prong pops heightened her drive, while the cheese kept her focused, and at the end of a good heel, a HUP for the cheese allows her to release. It was the best way to teach her to heel.

There is a fine line I find between popping lightly to increase drive, and popping a hard one to drop it when needed. Thankfully, the hard pop is a lesson most dogs learn almost instantly. The secret is to immediately release the dropped drive in a way that includes the handler.

Angela, my dog doesn't charge at other dogs offleash save for an instance where she saw a dog who had attacked her mths ago, and she ran in. I've been using my keys to "shock" her out of her zone by chucking them near her front feet and immediately calling her to Heel. So that day it happened, she ran so fast I couldn't even reach her with my keys, but I managed to throw them just on the ground and yelling out SUMMER, DOWN! I knew I wouldn't get the control for a heel, but I knew I could get a down. BAM! She hit the ground. It was enough to get her focus off the dog, and then I called out COME and she did a recall. Prior to that, i had only really used the keys a few times (to redirect squirrel chasing). Now when I jingle them, I can get her attention much easier. As mentioned I used the same method to redirect squirrel stalks. Now, it's funny, when she's super drivey and anxious towards another stimulus (whether it's a friend, or a dog she wants to bumrush but I don't let her), I can call out, SUMMER,HEEL!! and a few times she's literally jumped into the heel position. (It helps that I am teaching her the Jump Finish for recall.)

She still has her days when something on the street will set her into over-alert mode and she turns frantic. Whenever that happens, if she's not reacting, I hold her leash firm, move in a new direction and ask for a HUP right after we make a turn. I find that helps too.

I'm not very verbose when it comes to the theory part of it, but in the past two years I've been working with her using drive redirection and release, she's come a long way. I can recall her on a dime, in mid play, and we're even going to start competition obedience. She got her CGC, and some time this fall, I'm going to try to get all 3 legs for her CD Novice Title.

What helps a lot is continual training, and always teaching a new behavior as well as brushing up on the existing ones. In a sense, obedience training has become a great way for Summer to collect her spazziness into a channel, and at the end of a good sequence, her drive has actually peaked in such a way that I can release her with a ball throw or just allowing her to leap on me with a good tug thrown in. I think using the prong has allowed that to happen on its own.

I DO use food a lot though, and still do, but I don't mind. I don't treat her for everything, but I do treat her for spontaneous formal heeling on streets to keep her drive up.

walkerch_5 said...

I just started working on heeling with Henry during my last session with Lee. We started using light pops on the collar in combination with "chase me." The light pops weren't used as corrections though. The way Lee explained it to me (correct me if I'm wrong, Lee) was to actually energize Henry and get him focused on me, much in the same way that dogs nip at each other's necks to initiate play or get dogs to chase them.

I have to take the pops very slowly with Henry though, because if the pop is too hard, he shuts down. Right now, Lee suggested that I just get Henry used to the sensation of being walked on a collar (I usually walk him with a easy walk harness). Right now he's doing pretty well with heeling without the pops.

Lee Charles Kelley, said...

Right. I call this "Chase Me with Hidden Pops." The idea is that if you get the dog energized enough, and you get him to chase you, you can countercondition him to the sensation of getting a pop on the collar so that it becomes more of a positive motivator and energizer (as Summer's Mom describes) than a correction or punishment.

Going back to the dichotomy between Natural and +R training, there's an ideological proscription that +R trainers have against doing anything physical to the dog in training. But the genius of what Kevin has done is that he's found that physical corrections don't have to be punitive in nature. They can be quite stimulating for the dog.

When Fred was younger I had him on a prong collar, but not before I'd tried it on myself to see how it felt. And I jokiingly called it his "pleasure collar" because around that time Madonna was at the height of her popularity and was quoted as saying she likes getting spanked during sex, and not just by her partner's hand; she was apparently a fan of certain wooden apparati that she said heightened the experience for her. As a result I started calling this principle (of taking something that would normally be perceived or experienced as a punishment and turning it into a stimulating experience for dogs) as "The Madonna Love Paddles Principle."

Many people from the +R camp would be horrified at this analogy, particularly because of its connection to sexual pleasure. They'd probably also be horrified to learn that a dog's (or wolf's) prey drive is directly linked to his sexual energy. But really -- and this goes back to both Darwin and Freud -- sex and aggression are part of the same basic instinct. It's eros and thanatos, the creative urge and the desire to kill. They're two sides of the same coin. (Our prisons are full of men who "loved" their victims to death.) And when the prey drive is active, the line between what's normally painful and pleasurable is often blurred.

And while this isn't directed to you, Walkerch_5 (because Henry doesn't wear one, and he doesn't NEED one) if anyone gives you grief about seeing your dog wearing a prong collar, just tell them that it's actually a "pleasure collar!"

On second thought, maybe you shouldn't say anything at all about any of this...

And seriously: do NOT use a prong collar without knowing what you're doing and what its effect will be on the dog in question.


boywunder said...

I totally agree with you Lee about not using a prong, or any tool for that matter, without really knowing what you’re doing or how the use of it is going to effect your dog. I know I paid the price for that lack of knowledge and understanding. The first trainer I worked with started using them on day one of our training sessions. Looking back I realize that I should have found another trainer, but when you don’t know anything, anyone with an explanation sounds believable. Our dogs were both just happy go lucky dogs that hadn’t had any training at all before then. But he didn’t base his training on their individual personalities or needs. He just used a blanket approach that he uses on all dogs. Luckily we didn’t get our 3rd dog until later. Because of her nature and issues, I think he would have had some REALLY negative effects on her.

It’s funny because I remember watching a Schutzhund training video a few years ago, where the trainer was also using a series of light pops on the prong to put the dog in drive. But at the time, since I was taught to use the pops as a “correction” rather than as a tool to redirect drive, I didn’t quite understand it. But when I revisited that video a while back, I realized that he was doing exactly what Summer’s Mommy is doing. Context is such a critical element to understanding, isn’t it? :)

Summerinbrooklyn said...

Hi Lee! I used to get such nasty looks with her on the prong, and even now, people stare at me like I'm crazy when I used my voice to interrupt her inappropriate behavior. I probably have the reputation of being the crazy dog nazi who doesn't let her dog root around in gargbage or run up too far ahead, but hey that doesn't bother me. At least I can safely say I have voice control! Sadly, it seems as if the norm in NYC is to have ill-behaved dogs and let them off leash (!!!) and then just laugh it off as, "well, my dog is just being a dog..."

I prefer to be a little more stringent in what I expect from Summer... :)

Sang, I just had a session this morning with Summer where we did a round of the CD Novice exercises, and we filmed some of it. I'll post it on youtube on Monday. My yt name is "summerinbrooklyn". There are already a few heeling exercises in there from 2 weeks ago, if anyone is interested in watching.

She was on the prong in today's session, and I used the light pops during the turns in the Figure 8 exercise. Also, I didn't film it, but right before the first exercise (Heeling on leash), I did my combo of Pushing and Hups with some cheese to get her drive up.

I find it's SOOO much easier to work her when her drive is up. I've tried building drive ONLY using food and pushing, and it's great, but whenever I combine it with light pops, I get her more energized. She's a strange dog who has spazzy drive and not the normal bore-a-hole-through-you focus of a pure bred Malinois. So it's necessary for a dog like Summer to purposely narrow her drive into a tight channel - I find using the prong does specifically that. The food and the pushing and hupping build drive and places me as the handler at the receiving end of her drive, but the pops serve to narrow down the pipeline where her builtup drive can go through, so when I DO release her, it's like WAGGH!!! Working her in this way seems to burn the behavior in her memory where it becomes the default, instead of her "choosing" to behave. Ever since I've worked her in the Heel by going back to the prong again, I find that she does her obedience behaviors with a lot more oomph, and better than anything, I catch her spontaneously looking at me for cues to what to do a whole lot often.

Lee Charles Kelley, said...

Before this thread becomes "Prong Central" (if it's not already too late), I should point out that when I met Summer she was the textbook definition for the kind of dog Kevin describes in NATURAL DOG TRAINING as needing to have her vibrations "dampered," the way you'd grab hold of a tuning fork to keep it from pulsating out of control. She could not focus on me or her owner.

The fact that this dog now often looks to her owner for cues on what to do next is proof, both that she needed to be given a "Thanks, I needed that!" experience (or two...), and that while those experiences may have dampered her vibrations, they didn't dampen her spirits.

A dog like Henry, on the other hand, would have shut down in an instant if he'd been worked on a prong collar. So once again, I have to make it clear that the prong collar is a potentially harmful tool if used improperly. So while none of us would use a scalpel to butter our toast, a surgeon wouldn't use a butter knife to cut open one of his patients.


Summerinbrooklyn said...

Perfect analogy Lee! And to anyone who's interested, Lee is the one who introduced me to these training ideas and Kevin's book, and he's the one who suggested I try the prong. And just like him, I put it around my own neck, ha!

Sorry, didn't mean to take this into deep prong country...

Have a question about +R training and drive training. I have a friend upstate who is a fantastic person, and she's currently in Karen Pryor's academy to train as a clicker trainer. She started a forum space on her website, and I frequent that forum too. I think +R has a lot to offer in terms of the learning stage of new behaviors, and I use a lot of +R methods to teach new tricks and new moves. (But I try to work in drive to "proof" the behavior.) Anyway, one woman talked about how she was working with her dog in the heel when a rabbit jumped in front of the dog. The dog started to move his body forward a little as if to give chase, but then backed his shoulders and turned his head to his owner for a treat. So she clicked and gave him what +R trainers call the "jackpot" (lots of treats). She explained it like he remembered that food was a primary reinforcer.

But it seems to me as if chasing down a rabbit would be more primary than accepting food from a human would be... So is there something to this idea of conditioning a dog to rearranging his priorities?

I also think that it would seem like a looooong process to get that level of control using clicker training. And frankly, it would probably take Summer a helluva lot longer than another dog.

WHy is it that +R trainers feel that any physical handling with the dog will harm the relationship the handler has with the dog? Has it to do with the "hardness" of the dog? Like Summer who is a relatively "hard" dog (not hard like difficult, but hard as in can bounce back easily after being knocked over in the playground and come runnign back for more...) can take a certain level of pop, while Henry can't? (BTW I love Henry. Amanda is determined to get them both to play. Summer will just gruff and dart at him enough to get him to move away, while Henry will jump around and taunt her. It's quite funny.)

I have a ton of questions... hope that's ok!!

Lee Charles Kelley, said...

I wrote a very long, very eloquent answer to this comment, involving Premack's principle, how it's been proven false, and why, and how the +R ideology, particularly the strain I like to call "Pryorism" has a built-in fudge factor for situations like this (when it works it's all due to the clicker, when it doesn't work, you need to up the value of your treats). But I lost my internet connection and lost the entire thing!

So let me just encapsulate my basic points:

It's possible that clicker training was responsible for what the dog did, but it's very unlikely. Why? Because


So whether this woman was aware of it or not, when she taught her dog to heel, even if she didn't use a Frisbee or a quick game of tug as a motivator and reward for heeling, she still ACCIDENTALLY tapped into her dog's prey drive while doing it.

Also, as Kevin Behan says


and heeling, particularly at the level you've described with this dog, requires a VERY HIGH level of attraction or the dog will "lose interest" (i.e., lose his drive).

You can't explain any of this to a true Pryorite, though, so don't bother. But this event had very little to do with clicker training and almost everything to do with the dog accessing his prey drive on his own, without his owner's help or knowledge, and plugging that drive into what his owner wanted him to do. Remember, the thing that is most emotionally satisfying to a dog is not necessarily a jackpot of treats: it's being in-synch with his owner's emotions while in a group hunting mood. In this case his prey was what was in the bait bag. And that's fine, and it might be enough to keep this particular dog (and all rabbits) safe from harm. But if one day the dog DOESN'T respond to the "high-value" jackpot trick, it will be because the owner didn't give him the real jackpot he needs, which would be a ball throw or a quick game of tug, or even a quick "Hup!"


Summerinbrooklyn said...

That's the thing about this incident. I just read a post by her in another forum when she talks about how she can successfully teach at least 95% of dogs loose leash walking in a week using her clicker methods. Then she goes into talking about it sometimes not working, and very often it happens in the competition ring. (Pressure? STress?) But the way I see it, if you work in drive and you hone the natural instinct into working an obedience behavior wiht you, you WON'T fail? Right? Or am i getting this wrong?

This morning when we worked in the Heel Off Leash exercise, Summer swung out to my right side as I did a right turn instead of keeping on my left. Tyril my current trainer said not to worry, she just wasn't as up in drive, but that is something we can work on. The good thing is, is that I managed to swing her back into the left pocket, and we made a great about turn with her driving at me. I can't imagine how I could get that level of drive in her using just a clicker and treats and "reinforcing" the position. She already KNOWS the position. I've been taking ONLY to giving her a piece of food when she walks into the left pocket on her own, and hardly ever on the right side. By their standards, she should already KNOW that the left pocket is intrinsically "reinforcing". Yet she wandered to the right today. So my take on that is her drive dropped at that point, and it was my fault by not engaging her drive enough offleash. (If you see the video which I'll post and email you the link for on monday, hte moment her drive dropped was when I made a left turn right before she fudged, and my body movement must have dropped it... I'm going to work on turning left and leaning my body a little ot the right as I turn to make that more of an inviting space... I think that would help a lot.) It's funny, but Tyril said that the right turn is harder to teach, but once a dog's in drive, it's easier to do than the left turn. The left turn can be very pressuring for the dog, and now I see why...

I'll have to read up on Premack's principle. The +R trainers like to reference that. I should learn what it is. Do you have an essay about debunking it? I'd like to read it.

Thanks again Lee! between you and Tyril and books like Kevin's and websites like yours and Neil's, I feel like I am a more kick-a-- handler than I could ever dream I'd become!!

(I'm tootin' your horn now - I have people introducing me to their friends/family from not around here like this, "This is Jacinta, this is her dog Summer who is the best trained dog in teh park." WOOT!)

boywunder said...

Hey Summer's Mommy, definitely let us know when those vids are posted. I'd love to see them.

Something to look forward to at work on Monday:)

Lee Charles Kelley, said...

Since all obedience behaviors (or almost all of them) are based on predatory motor patterns, stimulating a dog's prey drive before or during training will generally give you better results. However, dogs are very context oriented. But as I say on my website, "if you train your dog while he's calm he won't know how to obey when he's in an energized state." That's probably why this trainer is having trouble in the obedience ring.

As for Premack's principle, it says that "a more probable (higher-frequency) behavior can be used to condition a less probable (lower-frequency) behavior." However, some researchers have tested this and found that more probable behaviors don't necessarily have an effect on the reliability of less probable ones. So it isn't that the principle itself is flawed, it's all in how it's worded. How should it be worded?

A more emotionally satisfying behavior can be used to train a dog to reliably produce a less satisfying behavior. This means that when you link something that the dog really loves to do -- like chasing a ball -- with something he's not that crazy about -- lying down on command -- you get a dog who loves lying down on command.

I mean, it's pretty damn simple. The idea has just been mangled by trying to force it to fit into "scientific" language. I mean, these are people who refer to toys as "manipulanda..."


Angela said...

Lee, have you read Schutzhund Obedience: Training in Drive by Dildei/Booth. This has been the one book that has helped me train my GSD, Roman. I just got Natural Dog Training, so I'm anxious to see how it compares.

When I first adopted Roman (and when he was at the height of his reactivity) he couldn't or wouldn't chase/retrieve a ball or play tug. Now he retrieves with such relish (even around other dogs chasing balls, something he used to be obsessed with) and loves tug...and he's no longer obsessed and his reactivity on leash is almost completely gone. I guess I was doing something right, finally, but just didn't have the words for what I was doing.

Lee Charles Kelley, said...

No. I read the Barwig & Hilliard book. That one goes back to the early 80s, I believe.

Kevin studied with some old SchutzHund master in the 1970s, by the way. It was during that period, when he heard them talking about food drive, and pack drive, and ball drive, and defensive drive, that he first realized that all relates back directly to the prey drive, that there's really only one drive.

And, I mean, come on: ball drive? I don't know how long it takes for an instinct to develop in an animal, but ball drive? Have wolves been chasing balls for thousands of years and we didn't know about it?

As for Roman, this is one of the things I've talked about a lot, in my reviews on Amazon, and on my website, and here: most aggressive dogs don't like to play tug! Once you can get them to play (and it takes work), they stop being aggressive.


John L. said...

If I were a dog and my handler used anything like a prong collar, halti, or electronic collar, well, then I guess I wouldn't want to stand next to or give attention to my master, either. After all, my best friend is saying, “Do what I say or I will hurt or demean you.”

Funny how I have seen many trainers wrap the prong collar around their arm and put pressure on the pins and then say "you see, it doesn't hurt the dog and it is more effective than a choke." I get a kick out of that. Why use a prong collar or a choke anyway? It isn't necessary. I know I would be quite anxious and, through time, possibly become agitated looking for some release.

I have seen dogs extend this release to people, other animals, children, vehicles, and even their owners. All of those types of training collars do compromise your dog’s freedom and yours, and worse yet it might possibly lead to the difficult decision to end his life because he bit someone.

Any relationship is a long-term building of trust and respect, those who want to be followed must earn that and not demand it. Metaphorically speaking, if you put a prong collar on your husband during your first date, do you think he would have asked for a second date? I seriously doubt it!

Relationships take work and quite a bit of patience and understanding. We cannot expect our relationship partners, regardless whether it be dog or human, to accept us until we look at ourselves first. Your dog will not look at you until you are worth looking at and the prong collar is not the way to get to that point with your dog.

summerinbrooklyn said...

Sorry John I, I think you're comparing apples to oranges by comparing my relationship with my dog with my relationships with HUMANS.

The last time I checked, my dog isn't HUMAN. I believe that dogs view the world through the perspective of energy - how some things reflect energy better than others, how to release their own energy, how to maintain balance through keeping the energies around them in balance. Putting your dog's emotional state through words a human might use is anthropomorphizing her. I agree about the halti and the e-collar - that they cause discomfort in the first, and unnecessary additional agitated energy in the second. But I do like the prong because it does what its supposed to do - it gets the dog's attention, and then you can do something to redirect her energy.

If you have the kind of dog that never gets distracted by outside stimuli, good for you. YOu're lucky. The rest of us are handling tricky dogs who have lots of drive or energy that they need to offload all the time. Even the most attentive high drive dog will find himself diverted to something of interest that's NOT his handler.

Lee Charles Kelley, said...

I think you're missing the points that have been made here, John. By a country mile.

JL:"If I were a dog and my handler used anything like a prong collar, halti, or electronic collar, well, then I guess I wouldn't want to stand next to or give attention to my master, either."

I agree about the halti and the electronic collar. But as for the prong, you're seemingly talking about Summer, and you're not only taking her behavior entirely out of context, you don't have even the slightest idea of what her focus (or lack of it) was like before we started using the prong. I can guarantee you that if you saw her behavior with her owner before she started training with me – how almost panicky and at times uncontrollably aggressive she was -- and compared it to her behavior now -- how focused, obedient, and just plain crazy in love she is with her owner -- you'd be forced to eat your words.

JL: "After all, my best friend is saying, “Do what I say or I will hurt or demean you.”

Sorry, I have to laugh at this. How can a dog feel demeaned? That's a complex human emotion, one which requires conscious thought, self-reflection and a clear self-image.

JL: "Funny how I have seen many trainers wrap the prong collar around their arm and put pressure on the pins and then say 'you see, it doesn't hurt the dog and it is more effective than a choke.'"

No one here is comparing it to a choke collar, except to say that it's less harmful to the dog physically.

JL: "Why use a prong collar or a choke anyway? It isn't necessary. I know I would be quite anxious and, through time, possibly become agitated looking for some release."

Yes, we can see that you're agitated now, John. And you're seeking release here.

JL: "I have seen dogs extend this release to people, other animals, children, vehicles, and even their owners.”

No you haven’t. You may believe you have, but you have no idea what we’re discussing here. You’re lumping this discussion into two old, outdated paradigms: dominance and +R. This is something you can’t understand from the outside in. It’s just not possible. You have to see the principles in action before you can possibly make any sort of judgment about what we’re discussing.

JL: “it might possibly lead to the difficult decision to end his life because he bit someone."

That's pure +R propaganda. Look, I've been doing this for over 15 years and I've never seen a prong collar cause a dog to become aggressive. In fact, it’s always had just the opposite result.

Once again, the prong is not for all dogs. I'd never recommend using one with Henry, for example. But it was the only way to control Summer's energy. I'd like to know how you'd do that with a dog who has no focus, who's stronger than her owner, and who shows no interest in food treats outdoors.

JL: "Any relationship is a long-term building of trust and respect, those who want to be followed must earn that and not demand it."

I don't think anyone here wants "to be followed," John. That's not our agenda with our dogs. I'm curious as to why you think it's part of the Natural Dog Training paradigm.

As for Angie, Summer's Mommy, and Boywunder, I think they're probably all champing at the bit to tell you how powerfully NTD has changed their relationships with their dogs for the better. Everyone who really understands and applies this system would agree.

JL: "Metaphorically speaking, if you put a prong collar on your husband during your first date, do you think he would have asked for a second date?"

You never know. Some guys might go for that kind of thing. You can't really sum up all of human (or canine) behavior or relationships in such simple terms.

JL: "Relationships take work and quite a bit of patience and understanding. We cannot expect our relationship partners, regardless whether it be dog or human, to accept us until we look at ourselves first."

I agree. And that's one of the current themes in the comments section of my last post, that much of your dog's behavior is based on things that you're unaware of. But I'm not sure you and I are talking about that from the same angle. Your agenda seems to be to take the pulpit and preach against the prong collar. And it's misguided. It's particularly misguided since no one here is preaching FOR the prong collar. We're just pointing out that it's not the bugaboo it's being made out to be by those in the +R field.

JL: "Your dog will not look at you until you are worth looking at and the prong collar is not the way to get to that point with your dog."

That sounds an awful lot like a hard-and-fast rule, but the truth is it depends on the dog. I'm not kidding when I say that I've seen dogs whose energy was spinning out of control, and yet the minute I put the prong collar on them they became more relaxed, and much more focused. It’s a real, “Thanks, I needed that moment.”

This is based on sound psychological principles, too. It’s not something that comes out of a vacuum or is being presented as a way of disguising dominance techniques. Since I assume you've never used a prong collar on such a dog I'd have to question where you get your information: from personal hands-on professional training experience, or from the +R book of talking points?

If you were to re-read all the posts here thoroughly, and do so with an open mind, or even just with the tentative presumption that maybe I know what the hell I'm talking about, and that I don't take these things (or any other important issues about dog training) lightly, you might come away from this with a different view.

Also, this really isn't an US v. THEM debate between devotees of Natural Dog Training and all practitioners of "reward-based," "dog-friendly," or "positive-only" training. None of us are punishment-crazed dominance trainers. I think we all recognize the value of rewards, the need for being dog friendly, and value of positive reinforcements. We just also recognize that canine behavior isn't as cut and dried as the behavior of rats in a maze. Since dogs are much more complex creatures than rats there are gray areas that the +R movement doesn't understand or communicate well with dogs yet.

But I'm glad you mentioned the halti up top. If any device should be banned, it should be the "gentle" leader (etc.), not the prong collar. Most, if not all dogs would clearly prefer wearing the latter.


boywunder said...

Hey John, I understand where you’re coming from, but it’s important to make the distinction between the principles of using a tool such as a prong collar in NDT to redirect and channel drive, versus using it as a subversive tool from the old school of dominance training. I’ve been through that ideology of dominance and submission, but I’ve also been through the +R school of thought too, and as a result I have a pretty broad view and perspective of the dog training world, as well as a pretty open mind.

Just to give some context, I have 3 dogs, and each one is completely different from the other. One is a 5 year old Lab/Flat Coat mix who is the gentlest dog you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting. The second is a Whippet/Pointer mix who has a strong healthy drive and loves to chase anything that moves, but is also very emotionally sensitive. The third, well everyone on here knows all about the third. She’s a 40 lb terrier mix who has incredibly intense drive and energy and is incredibly dog reactive. She’ll try to “attack” any dog she sees. Well, at least she used to. And just to make things interesting, she’s also fearful of new people too. A very fun combination. I point this out just as a point of reference of the different types of personalities and temperaments I deal with on a daily basis.

So back on topic. When it comes to things like prong collars, I definitely don’t need to use one on my 2 dogs Delta and Jackie. Delta is generally a very relaxed dog that likes to just sniff around a lot, and Jackie is excitable and drivey, but also emotionally sensitive and easy to refocus with other methods. But Roxy has a combination of a low emotional threshold and a ton of drive. She can only handle so much stimuli before she gets overwhelmed and needs to offload onto something. If I were using dominance based methods, I’d just correct her using something like a prong collar to, as Cesar puts it, “disagree with her behavior”. But that’s not what NDT is about. One of the things at the core of NDT is relationship building, and earning your dog’s trust. The very things that you also value. The difference in this situation between dominance training and NDT, is that in dominance based training, you would use a prong collar to deliver a correction, basically shutting the dog down emotionally. Not a pleasant experience for the person or the dog. In NDT, you use it as a stimulus to redirect that flow of energy into something positive, like playing tug or biting a stick or jumping up on you. You might say, well then, why not just play with the dog in that moment instead of using a prong collar first? For a lot of dogs that would be fine, including my own Delta and Jackie. But I don’t know if you’ve ever dealt with a dog like a Summer or a Roxy, but they NEED that kind of stimulation from a prong collar to redirect their focus and energy back to you and into something positive. Believe me, when you see it in person, you’d change your viewpoint. When I need to give Roxy that type of redirection with a prong, she goes from feeling overwhelmed and frantic, emotions that aren’t positive for dogs or humans, to energized and happy. She doesn’t want to feel overwhelmed and frantic. But she can’t help it. So in the context of NDT, my job is to help turn that frantic energy into something positive, by helping her release that stress and tension. And the best way to do that is to let her be a dog and bite something, like her ball usually, or a tug toy. And if it works out really well, she’ll take that toy and snap its proverbial neck, like a good terrier should. After that, she’s totally calm, relaxed, and confident. She struts around next to me like she’s the queen of the neighborhood. Tell me that isn’t a good thing:)

Since I’ve been working with NDT, Roxy has gotten so much better. She’s calmer, more relaxed, and just overall happier than she used to be. And our relationship is stronger than it’s ever been. She trusts me 100%, and we have an incredibly strong bond. If a strong relationship is the goal, then I can’t recommend anything but Natural Dog Training. Not only will you have an incredibly strong relationship, but you’ll also have an incredibly well trained dog too:)

Lee Charles Kelley, said...

S’s M: “Sorry John I, I think you're comparing apples to oranges by comparing my relationship with my dog with my relationships with HUMANS.”

More like comparing apples to banana cream pie.

S’s M: “…dogs view the world through the perspective of energy - how some things reflect energy better than others, how to release their own energy, how to maintain balance through keeping the energies around them in balance. … I agree about the halti and the e-collar - that they cause discomfort in the first, and unnecessary additional agitated energy in the second. But I do like the prong because it does what its supposed to do - it gets the dog's attention, and then you can do something to redirect her energy.”

This is exceptionally well put.

BW: “Since I’ve been working with NDT, Roxy has gotten so much better. She’s calmer, more relaxed, and just overall happier than she used to be. And our relationship is stronger than it’s ever been. She trusts me 100%, and we have an incredibly strong bond. If a strong relationship is the goal, then I can’t recommend anything but Natural Dog Training. Not only will you have an incredibly strong relationship, but you’ll also have an incredibly well trained dog too:)”

Well, BW, if this “John L.” is who I think he is, my impression is that he’s someone who’s not part of the +R camp, and clearly not part of the dominance group. He told me once via e-mail that he'd glanced through a few chapters of Natural Dog Training but got hung up on the idea of using prong collars so he stopped reading, but not before sending me an acid-filled e-mail excoriating their use. (As a result I had to ask him not to write to me anymore, and spam filtered him.)

My impression is that he’s still attracted to the main principles behind NDT (why else would he be showing up here?), but he’s too attached to the idea that training is about “relating” to the dog. And that would be fine, I suppose, as long as you’re relating to the dog through her emotions and her energy, not through ideas like what’s “demeaning” to a dog, or how a dog is supposedly able to think logically, or learn through imitation, etc. He appears to be emotionally hung up on that stuff. And as I’ve said many times, you simply can NOT understand NDT through these three other paradigms. (Oddly, enough, Kevin even wrote about the drawbacks of using the relationship model of training back in 1993.)

So, John, go back and read the whole book. Then put it away for a couple of months (or years), and pick it up and read it again. Here’s what you’ll find: that you’ve already “discovered for yourself” that Kevin’s ideas and methodology are right on the money.

Years ago I wrote a little pamphlet called “No Bad Dogs, Just Bad Trainers,” which was a precis of Kevin's ideas, filtered through my sensibilities. It was available at pet shops and bookstores in Manhattan. Someone gave a copy to a fashion photographer named Brion Something-or-Other, who had grown tired of that world and had become interested in dog training. His training was informed at the time by the pack leader model, so when he read my pamphlet he thought practically everything I said was total bullshit.

Cut to 7 years later, he’s moving and is going through some old boxes and finds the pamphlet again, and glances through it. He’s stunned. He now agrees with nearly everything I’ve written. So he calls to tell he this. He also told me he had a book coming out (a combo dog training/photo book) in which he recommends that people with dogs who like to hunt squirrels might consider doing what I did with Freddie—hunt squirrels WITH their dogs.

Sadly he quickly devolved into his own Karen Pryor phase (which may last another 7 years—who knows?), and now his brochures state, quite incorrectly, that there is nothing natural about teaching a dog obedience commands. Hopefully one day he’ll come across my website, or this blog, and realize that to a dog nothing is MORE natural than learning these behaviors as part of a “group hunting” dynamic.

Maybe John L. will learn that one day too.


boywunder said...

It's funny how often people who read Kevin's book need to come back to it later to embrace it. It was the same for me, and I know it was for you as well Lee.

I just wanted to add something as far as the prong collar goes. If you follow football, you'll know that when the game's about to start, all the players run onto the field and are incredibly fired up. There is such an emotional high, and a lot of "aggressive" unfocused energy just waiting to explode. You can see it on the players' faces and in their body language. They'll tend to move around a lot, shaking their limbs and loosening up, but at the same time, giving themselves an outlet for that pent up energy since it needs a place to go.

Usually the team that wins the coin toss will opt to play defense first. Why? Because the players are so fired up with overwhelming emotions, that they aren't in the proper state of mind to play offense efficiently. They always make mention of the fact that the players don't settle down enough to be focused until they've put in a few good hits. After they get in some good licks, the game starts to get into a rhythm and a flow, as the players have diffused their energy by hitting each other, and now they're ready to focus on the game at hand.

I've always found an interesting correlation between this and dogs that become super energized and lose focus. When they're emotionally overloaded, they need that "hit", like a football player, to help snap them into focus. And then once they get that, they can have laser like focus and have all their emotions flowing through the right channels.

I don't know if any of that makes sense, but you can probably tell I watch a lot of football:)

Angela said...

Hi John,
While Lee's response is so much more eloquent than mine, I had to give my 2 cents since my experience with my aggressive dogs flies in the face of your theories.

I totally agree with you that our relationships with our dogs take work, patience and a building of trust.

My relationship with my dogs is always my number one goal...otherwise, I probably wouldn't have dogs. My dogs have all been rescues, too, so they did not have the best start in life.

Today, they are happy and motivated not only to 'work' ( we do obedience and agility-which is done off leash so you need a good connection) but to simply be with me. Our walks off leash now are silent meditations. I hardly have to speak to them. We walk together or sometimes they walk ahead and wait for me. I can call them out of any situation with one, quiet command (mid chase, playing with other dogs, etc.). They are calm in the house and greet all people politely. I can take them anywhere and do. AND, I use a prong AND e-collar (Lee, I realize you don't approve of this tool, and that could be another conversation, but its effectiveness with Roman cannot be denied-he needed that shock to his system off leash and it actually had a calming effect). I won't go into the mechanics but I will say that every dog handler team is different. My GSD responded best with the the prong, then I added the ecollar for our off leash work.He used to charge dogs and the ecollar was the best tool to help me redirect his energy. The result was a dog that no longer charges, turns on a dime with a recall and he does this with joy...not fear of being 'demeaned'. Why? Because I chose the appropriate tool to help him and used it appropriately/fairly. The e collar (and prong) actually helped us communicate better, imagine that!

There is no doubt in anyone's eyes that my dogs adore me. Using these tools has helped us and led to the dogs having the freedom they do today. These dogs were neglected, unsocialized and dog aggressive! Today, we meet 20-50 dogs a day, they do humane education in classrooms, and they both have their CGC and TT.

Part of my responsibility in caring for my dogs is helping them be in harmony with their world. I want them to have as much freedom as possible. The prong/ecollars were tools I used but I was never focused on the tool, as many people are. I was/am focused on my dogs, who they are and what they/we need to communicate. If the prong/ ecollar are so bad, then why are my dogs so happy and free? Why are tons of people asking ME (just an average Jane) how did I get my aggressive dogs to be so good? I invite you to visit my blog to see pics of them happily romping at the beach with tons of dogs...something I probably could not do without the help of a prong/ecollar.

Suzanne Clothier says it better (and I consider her a relationship trainer):
Understanding training principles & applying them with skill is important - love alone isn't enough . Don’t drown in technical know-how and forget the heart & soul of the relationship, but also don’t sacrifice good technique for pure emotional involvement. Balance is important, and technical proficiency can help smooth the way for the kind of profound relationship you want. Remember, solid training skills are actually solid communication skills, and clear communication is critical to a healthy relationship.

When we went to the beach the other day, I realized I forgot to put collars on the dogs. They were naked. ( I did have their leashes, which I always carry and never use). I decided to take them on the walk anyway and it was uneventful and profound at the same time. Two dogs and a human, choosing to experience nature, together.