"Purely Positive" training - the worst thing to happen to dogs?

At some point in the 80's? I think, the "purely positive method" of dog training was born. I don't know when it was as during that time I was focused primarily on field training with my dogs and so was only sort of aware of these folks with their clickers and their unique ideas. Based on how trainers of dolphins and killer whales train their humongous charges, what at first was known as "clicker training" was also touted to be the "only way to train a dog in a 100% positive manner". This sort of training, which appears to work pretty well with marine mammals, involves first teaching that the click means whatever you are doing is correct and you will get a treat, and then either luring the dog into whatever is wanted or merely waiting until the dog offers it, then click/treat. Of course, no one pointed out that there is a major difference between dogs and marine mammals, nor that the dophins, seals, etc performing at Sea World are allowed to make mistakes and are given second and third "cues", something that any decent dog trainer would not allow.

At that time, I was living in Washington with a full kennel set up and was doing board and train. What started as a trickle became a minor flood of dogs for me to "fix" after their owners had been taking them to local classes or trainers who were using this new method. As time went by, I could separate them into two groups - the more dominant dogs who were now trying to take over their households and the softer dogs who were close to hysterics trying to figure out what they were supposed to be doing to earn the click and treat. Many of these dogs were mere days from death when I got them due to problems running from extreme bad manners all the way up to biting people and/or other dogs. I talked to a few clients about their experiences with this method, but since I didn't know anyone who trained this way, and the internet wasn't the huge information gathering vehicle that it is now, I really didn't know much about what was going on.

In 2001 I returned to competitive obedience, slowed way down on my field training, and ran smack into these new trainers, which I will call PPer's for short. The first thing I noticed was these "obedience dogs" seemed to be rather out of control, and that their owner/trainers didn't seem to enter many trials. Then as I started doing more matches and more drop in training groups, I'd see these folks start reacting and complaining any time I used a physical correction, no matter how mild, or if I used the word No. When I started doing agility in 2003, I almost gave up the sport before I'd even started due to the sheer number of out of control dogs in the classes I attended, in three different schools!

All of this would be neither here nor there for me, as I really don't care how anyone trains as long as it doesn't impact me or my dogs. However, lately it has been doing just that. In one of the training groups I frequent is a youngish man with his own training business, who is never shy about voicing his disapproval any time I (or anyone else) use any correction, technique or method he doesn't approve of. The fact that I have decades more training experience, that my dogs are obviously not melting into little puddles of puppy, or that he is not likely to ever even approach my record is apparently lost on him - he has decided that his particular brand of PP way is the one true right way to train and he is going to "fix" something that isn't broken. This has been going on for 2-3 years now and I have shown an admirable (particularly for me) amount of patience with this. Another issue is the banning of e-collars in some countries and the on/off call for their ban here, by people who are completely clueless about them (not that they will ever admit it). Match flyers include statements that pinch collars and e-collars will not be allowed, along with the admonishment that "no harsh corrections will be allowed" - this has to be as a result of PPer's complaining about perfectly normal corrections as I think I've seen maybe three corrections that I thought were "harsh" in the 40+ years I've been going to obedience matches.

The most recent episode happened on Facebook of all places. Someone, who I wasn't aware was a crazy PPer er, I mean subscribes to a different training outlook than I, posted a video clip showing how an e-collar can be used in the same way a clicker can. Her reaction, as well as that of about ten people before I saw the video was extremely over the top so I posted something along the lines of "please don't bash a tool you obviously don't know anything about without at least educating yourselves on it's use". Most ignored me, but a woman I do not know and who doesn't know me decided to take me to task. Her interpretation of the video caused me to look at it again, to see if I could figure out if I'd missed something (nope) or if there was something there I'd forgotten (nope). She then called me abusive and a liar, said the same thing about a few nationally known trainers who happen to use the e-collar, insisted on calling it a "shock" collar and used many other emotionally charged words and phrases. When I responded - well I'm going to assume that she simply has some problems with reading comprehension and not that she willfully misinterpreted and misquoted what I'd said ;-). Her final, uh, interesting statement was that all e-collar users are liars because we can't answer a claim that is essentially the same thing as "have you quit beating your wife yet?". Because she was getting increasingly rude and volatile, and I really had no way to continue when she insisted on, um, misunderstanding what I'd said, I dropped out of the "discussion".

Which, again, wouldn't mean anything to me - there are nutjobs all over the internet - except for two things. One is the increasing acceptance of everything PPer's believe in, for dogs and also as an aside, for children. Despite their professed belief that dogs should never be subjected to any negatives, they don't hesitate to be as rude and nasty to any human they percieve as "wrong" as they want, and sometimes they can get quite loud as well. People who - heh - have no dog in this fight back down in the face of this onslaught, and so we see things like "no harsh corrections" in match flyers, which is coming to mean NO corrections. What good is a match without being able to correct a dog that messes up? This is particularly an issue in the stays, when there are PP dogs mixed in with non-PP dogs - when the non-PP trainer goes back to, say, pull his dog back into a sit when it's gone down in error, extreme care must be taken to not freak out the PP dogs, since they don't have the experience to deal with any negatives that may happen around them. I've also noticed far more dogs that just get into every other dog's face at matches and trials because, of course, their owners have no control over them, and don't appear to want to since that would crush his spirit or some such nonsense. I won't go into what a complete mess agility has become...

This of course spills over into the pet population, with owners calling their dogs "fur kids", buying them clothes, walking them on Haltis and absolutely positively never correcting. Which means Joe Average's image of the pet dog these days is of a completely out of control pain in the ass.

Leading to the other problem - this twit on Facebook actually called for PETA to do something about these "abusive, lying shock collar users". PETA, the enemy of all pet animals. Does she actually not know this, or does she really think that it's worth it to let PETA get yet another toe in the door to force her beliefs off on the rest of us? I really hope she was either using hyperbole, or she is a very very small minority. OTOH, she reminds me of some of the anti-abortion nutjobs, who insist that ALL fetuses be born, whether it will kill the mother and/or the resulting baby will live only a few hours or days and die suffering. Their cause and their beliefs are more important than anything else, including the fetus/baby they claim they are protecting.

I truly wonder about the future of dog training. What appeared to be a fad 20 or so years ago has become far too much of a driving force and despite it's severe drawbacks, it doesn't appear to be slowing down any. What I don't get is what it is about the mentality of these folks that they are so sure that they are right, and that they have the right to tell everyone else what to do, sometimes loudly and with violence. One of the things that every dog trainer should know is that there is NO ONE RIGHT WAY TO TRAIN DOGS. Each dog is an individual so a good trainer will be flexible and have many tools in their bag so they can adapt and best serve each unique personality. PPer's don't seem to get this, maybe because many if not most of them don't actually test their dogs' training by trialing and getting titles. Indeed, the Facebook drama mama actually said something along the lines that titles don't matter. Okay...I guess proving that one's methods work doesn't mean anything, that being able to get titles that require the dog happily work for you day in and day out doesn't mean anything...shrug. And yet Drama Mama made claims that she would go "toe to toe" with any "shock collar trainer" I cared to sent her way, which of course is another way for her to "win" since I don't know any "shock collar trainers".

And perhaps that is all these folks want - just to "win" at teh interwebs. They happily go about with their smug little smiles telling themselves that they really told that abusive trainer! Must be nice to be that sure of your superiority over everyone who doesn't agree with you. Now, how about you guys quit ruining it for the majority and shut up??