"I had to..."

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Postby TheRedQueen » October 24th, 2011, 9:18 pm

http://www.suzanneclothier.com/blog/i-had


"I had to..."









There are a few phrases that really push my buttons. When talking to trainers, the one that will always get a reaction from me is this explanation for why the trainer used a specific technique or piece of equipment: "I had to."

When pushed to explain further why they "had to" it very often turns out there were other options available, but the choice was made to use that technique or equipment for reasons such as "Well, the class was nearly over" or "the client was frustrated" or "I had tried everything else" (really?), and so much more that has nothing to do with a careful analysis of the dog, the behavior, the situation or training methodology. Worse still, the trainer often attempts to rationalize it as if the animal left the trainer no other options.

This has always bugged me, and reminded me of something else but couldn't quite put my finger on it till I was reading a novel recently. The wife abusing husband justifies his behavior by telling his wife that she had actually caused him to beat her because she hadn't been [fill in the blank - attentive enough? quick enough? pretty enough? etc].

There are situations in which the use of force to defend yourself or defend another being is justifiable. Our criminal law allows for this, and yet also places a burden on us to utilize any other options available to us before we use force. It would be good for dog trainers to also be held accountable for their use of aversives and force in this way. I wonder what would change if trainers had to to build a case for their actions, including specifics of what other options had been considered, employed and discontinued or discarded before even trying them.

The most common example is the "positive" trainer who nonetheless shows up with a prong collar on their excitable dog. Watching the dog tow them into the seminar, I see that they are conributors to the process. After all, it takes two to tango, and two to pull. Dogs never ever pull off leash. But as the trainer stands with taut leash and a dog who is connected to them only by equipment, I consistently hear, "Well, I don't really like to use this collar, but he's so excitable, I just had to use it." What's left on the table as other solutions to the pulling dog doesn't get mentioned: positive reinforcement, consistency in expectation for on-leash behavior, actual training for on-leash manners, appropriate handling of the lead to eliminate the handler's pulling, teaching self control, etc.

Whenever I use force, I do three things:
1.Be as aware as I can be that I have used force I actually articulate to myself that I am using force (inner dialogue), and make a mental note to review this in depth. As soon as it is appropriate to do so, I then---
2.Ask myself why this use of force was necessary Sometimes, it is purely defensive or the only solution in that specific moment where I was taken off guard or the animal did something completely unexpected and potentially very dangerous to themselves. to me or to others nearby. Sometimes, I'm just a jerk with low levels of patience and have lost my sense of fairness. Either way, I have to hold myself accountable. I hold this proverb close to my heart: "Where knowledge ends, violence begins."
3.Ask myself how I got into this situation Did I push the animal too far? ignore warning signs, violate the animal's need for safety, override a threshold? Did I put the animal in a situation where their understanding and/or skills were insufficient for them to handle that situation? Had I ignored prior behavior which clearly indicated this situation was likely to happen or repeat the past? Whatever the answer, the solution is to recognize where I went wrong. Not the animal. Animals who feel safe, who are under their thresholds, who are not sending warning signals, who know how to be cooperative and whose skills and knowledge allow them to cope with the situation -- well, strangely enough, these animals just don't seem to force anyone to use force. Odd...

I am the prosecutor, the defense attorney, the judge & the jury all in one in my role as a trainer, and I am also the defendant on trial for my decisions. Kind of a Paw & Order thing, because sometimes there are also detectives involved who round up all kinds of evidence that will be brought to bear. If I've ignored past behavior which would have predicted the animal's response, then the prosecuting attorney asks quite firmly, "Why did you choose to disregard prior knowledge?" My defense attorney doesn't have much to say. If I've ignored warning signals, sometimes my defense attorney can make a good case for simple incompetence, that I just was not sufficiently familiar with this particular animal to correctly read that individual's signals. Having learned my lesson and apologized profusely, I am released (on probation!) as all involved are sure that I won't make that mistake again. Mistakes made from judgment calls gone awry are usually forgivable offenses, provided I'm not brought up again on the same error. All past offenses may be brought to bear; no protection from having a sealed record, no prayer of having the record expunged. I think it's a good thing for a trainer to remain honest about their mistakes past and present. Keeps me honest.

Replacing the phrase "I had to. . ." with "I chose to. . ." puts the responsibility where it belongs: on the trainer who made the choice to use techniques or equipment. It helps us all remember that in making that choice, by definition we excluded other possibilities. When using force, we need to be very clear that in discarding other options, other possible solutions, we may also be choosing to limit what is possible when we push ourselves.

Many years ago, while attempting to demonstrate some no-pulling techniques in a seminar, I was utterly exasperated by a young Labrador. Clancy had leaped up and head punched me very hard not once but twice, making me see stars and really hurting my nose. Clancy was not malicious or intending harm, he was just an exuberant adolescent who had been taught that leaping around was acceptable. Not being physically sensitive himself, doubtful it dawned on the dog that a head butt was very painful to a human. I had been patient, kind, vaguely successful but by the second slam to my face, my patience began to shred. I began to think, "One good correction might get through this dog's thick skull." I surprised myself by thinking that, but then I further shocked myself (and some of the audience) when I asked the handler explicity for permission to use a physical correction on her dog. She agreed, trusting me as a trainer to do right by her dog.

In that moment when she trustingly agreed to let me use force on her dog, I found something in myself that surprised me further: a little voice that challenged me to push myself further, to help this dog without force. It was like having a gauntlet thrown down at my feet. Do it without force, without ego, without justifying force.

Internal challenge simmering in my mind, I decided to see how far I could go before I chose to use force. I was very clear in my mind that using force was a choice I would make, not something I was forced to do. I perservered, patiently applying the techniques I've used with countless dogs, a positive approach that does not involve pain or aversion and seeks to engage the dog's mind, not control his body. I never did use force on Clancy; and I was successful in helping him find a new way of walking on leash. His response was nothing more than a lack of knowledge and skills. How on earth could I justify using force on a dog whose only crime was not knowing how to be right?

Very few in that audience would have blamed me if I had chosen to use force. They had all witnessed how hard I'd been hit in the face by the dog's head. They had all seen how much time I'd already devoted to trying to do things positively, and most would have given up long before I did, as if there is a certain amount of time to be spent trying and then all hope is lost and it's okay to use force. This particularly makes me very sad because getting trainers to learn what real patience means is something I strive to do in my work -- so I nearly sent the wrong message by almost going down the "I had to. . ." road. In fact, more time, more patience and thin slices did the trick, as it almost always does. My inner voice held me accountable, helped me find more patience and fresh eyes for what this dog needed to succeed.

I think about that dog, Clancy, a great deal. I have carried him for years in my heart and will continue to do so. I will keep seeing his owner's trust in my judgment as a trainer, will keep seeing Clancy's bright, trusting eyes. That inner voice that holds me accountable is one that challenges me to find new ways always to keep the light in those eyes, in all the eyes that turn towards me. It is my job to not betray the trust. I hold myself accountable for what I choose to do, and that is never explained away by the phrase, "I had to. . ."



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Postby mnp13 » October 24th, 2011, 11:26 pm

I don't "have to" I "choose to." :|

And I have to say that I rather resent the comparison with a man who beats his wife (abuse) with a decision to use physical discipline. Can discipline be abusive? Yes, absolutely, but that doesn't necessarily make it so.
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » October 25th, 2011, 8:24 am

The most common example is the "positive" trainer who nonetheless shows up with a prong collar on their excitable dog. Watching the dog tow them into the seminar, I see that they are conributors to the process. After all, it takes two to tango, and two to pull. Dogs never ever pull off leash. But as the trainer stands with taut leash and a dog who is connected to them only by equipment, I consistently hear, "Well, I don't really like to use this collar, but he's so excitable, I just had to use it." What's left on the table as other solutions to the pulling dog doesn't get mentioned: positive reinforcement, consistency in expectation for on-leash behavior, actual training for on-leash manners, appropriate handling of the lead to eliminate the handler's pulling, teaching self control, etc.

:oops: :oops: :oops:

Yeah, up until about six weeks ago this was me. I "had to" keep using a prong on Inara on walks because she pulled like a fiend. I justified by saying, "well, I don't correct her with it, she just KNOWS." Well, that "knowing" ended and I was forced to come to a decision. I had three options:
1. Let her pull like a fiend on the prong.
2. Correct her with the prong to make her respect it again.
3. Find another management tool.

Option 1 obviously wasn't an option. Option 2 wasn't an option either - I was surprised at how vehemently I was opposed to the one solid correction that would teach her to respect the prong again. I went with option 3 and spent about 4 weeks getting her desensitized to a Halti (yes, it kills me to say that, but front-clip harnesses are worthless on her). Two weeks ago I used just the Halti for our first walk - and she did great. Acted normal, didn't fuss with it, didn't shut down. YES. Also, in using the Halti, two things have arisen:
1. I am embarrassed to be using it so I am more actively working on getting her to a plain flat collar much faster.
2. I am more likely to actually actively work with her even when it's on, whereas with the prong I didn't work with her as much.

So yes, it took me a long time to come to "I choose to" vs. "I have to."
"Remember - every time your dog gets somewhere on a tight leash *a fairy dies and it's all your fault.* Think of the fairies." http://www.positivepetzine.com"

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Postby furever_pit » October 25th, 2011, 6:22 pm

mnp13 wrote:I don't "have to" I "choose to." :|

And I have to say that I rather resent the comparison with a man who beats his wife (abuse) with a decision to use physical discipline. Can discipline be abusive? Yes, absolutely, but that doesn't necessarily make it so.


Ditto.
While some may choose not to use physical correction in training, that doesn't make those who choose to use it (and are successful with it) wrong.
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Postby DemoDick » October 26th, 2011, 1:40 am

The more I read from this woman, the more I dislike what she has to say. Not because of her abilities as a trainer, but because of her communication style and overall philosophy.

She seems to be very invested in guilting people who use corrections. As Michelle mentioned, the comparison between a dog trainer who uses physical corrections and a husband who beats his wife is just asinine. Suzanne Clothier very clearly assumes that corrections are something that should be avoided whenever possible and used *only* as a last resort when everything else has been tried. Further, she pretty clearly states that if and when a handler "resorts" to giving a correction, they have in some way failed the dog. This is just plain silly. Corrections are neither good nor bad and neither are people who utilize them.

I feel absolutely no shame whatsoever in using corrections and I reject the nonsense that I should feel guilty for doing so. I don't allow traditional trainers to make me feel embarrassed for bribing my dog with cookies or tug rewards (and plenty have tried) and I likewise reject the judgement of "positive trainers" who feel that corrections are somehow qualitatively negative and indicate a failure on my part to "truly communicate" with my dog. Corrections and rewards are tools in any good trainer's toolbox that can be drawn from as necessary, and they should both used without guilt.

Demo Dick
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Postby DemoDick » October 26th, 2011, 1:52 am

pitbullmamaliz wrote:
The most common example is the "positive" trainer who nonetheless shows up with a prong collar on their excitable dog. Watching the dog tow them into the seminar, I see that they are conributors to the process. After all, it takes two to tango, and two to pull. Dogs never ever pull off leash. But as the trainer stands with taut leash and a dog who is connected to them only by equipment, I consistently hear, "Well, I don't really like to use this collar, but he's so excitable, I just had to use it." What's left on the table as other solutions to the pulling dog doesn't get mentioned: positive reinforcement, consistency in expectation for on-leash behavior, actual training for on-leash manners, appropriate handling of the lead to eliminate the handler's pulling, teaching self control, etc.

:oops: :oops: :oops:

Yeah, up until about six weeks ago this was me. I "had to" keep using a prong on Inara on walks because she pulled like a fiend. I justified by saying, "well, I don't correct her with it, she just KNOWS." Well, that "knowing" ended and I was forced to come to a decision. I had three options:
1. Let her pull like a fiend on the prong.
2. Correct her with the prong to make her respect it again.
3. Find another management tool.

Option 1 obviously wasn't an option. Option 2 wasn't an option either - I was surprised at how vehemently I was opposed to the one solid correction that would teach her to respect the prong again. I went with option 3 and spent about 4 weeks getting her desensitized to a Halti (yes, it kills me to say that, but front-clip harnesses are worthless on her). Two weeks ago I used just the Halti for our first walk - and she did great. Acted normal, didn't fuss with it, didn't shut down. YES. Also, in using the Halti, two things have arisen:
1. I am embarrassed to be using it so I am more actively working on getting her to a plain flat collar much faster.
2. I am more likely to actually actively work with her even when it's on, whereas with the prong I didn't work with her as much.

So yes, it took me a long time to come to "I choose to" vs. "I have to."


Honest question Liz, why did you feel so vehemently opposed to giving a prong correction that you know would have been effective in getting the behavior under control (at least for the time being)? Is it that you felt that the correction would teach her to respect the prong and not you? Are you just uncomfortable with the idea of physical corrections? Did it feel like a quick fix when what you wanted was a long-term solution?

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Postby pitbullmamaliz » October 26th, 2011, 9:11 am

Because that's just not how I train anymore. I know that my reliance on the prong was my fault, not hers, and I'm not going to cause her pain (which a solid correction would have done, let's be honest) and chance doing even the slightest bit of damage to our partnership for something that is my fault. I have neglected to do the proper training with her to teach her the way I want her to walk. I won't punish her for that. And like you said, it would work "at least for the time being." So this dilemma would arise again.

That being said, I'm not at the point where I feel prongs/e-collars/slip collars should be outright banned like a lot of positive trainers do. Though they are not for me, and I would like to see people NOT use them, I won't guilty anybody for doing an APPROPRIATE correction. Just wanted to throw that out there.
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Postby TheRedQueen » October 26th, 2011, 9:51 am

pitbullmamaliz wrote:Because that's just not how I train anymore. I know that my reliance on the prong was my fault, not hers, and I'm not going to cause her pain (which a solid correction would have done, let's be honest) and chance doing even the slightest bit of damage to our partnership for something that is my fault. I have neglected to do the proper training with her to teach her the way I want her to walk. I won't punish her for that. And like you said, it would work "at least for the time being." So this dilemma would arise again.

That being said, I'm not at the point where I feel prongs/e-collars/slip collars should be outright banned like a lot of positive trainers do. Though they are not for me, and I would like to see people NOT use them, I won't guilty anybody for doing an APPROPRIATE correction. Just wanted to throw that out there.


Well said...:clap:

As I've always said...I think most people rely on equipment PERIOD. Whether it's a head halter, prong collar, front-clip harness, choke chain, buckle collar.

Those of you who have met me know that I very rarely put my dogs on leashes...I want my dogs to listen to me...whether you want to call that OBEY or LISTEN or HAVE A RELATIONSHIP. I want them to work with me no matter what I have in my hand, be it leash, treat, toy, or nothing.

I personally find that working more positively...(and I'll be the first to say that I'm not 100% positive by any stretch of the imagination...I'm a human with a bad temper at times)...helps me get to that point with my dogs. :| I found (years ago) that working with corrections wasn't so helpful when I went to take my dogs off-leash...(not in the obedience ring, or anything structured like that). Maybe others find it helpful, I did not. I had a basset hound that would take corrections with nary a whimper...and then take off, ignoring me completely if she got off leash. We discovered treat training (not clicker at this point)...and the difference was amazing. 8)
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Postby DemoDick » October 26th, 2011, 10:07 am

Ok, thanks for explaining. Hippies. :)

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Postby TheRedQueen » October 26th, 2011, 10:29 am

DemoDick wrote:Ok, thanks for explaining. Hippies. :)

Demo Dick


I also find that handing them flowers and singing to them really helps with our relationship... :D
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"Dogs don't want to control people. They want to control their own lives." --John Bradshaw
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Postby furever_pit » October 26th, 2011, 10:58 am

DemoDick wrote:I feel absolutely no shame whatsoever in using corrections and I reject the nonsense that I should feel guilty for doing so. I don't allow traditional trainers to make me feel embarrassed for bribing my dog with cookies or tug rewards (and plenty have tried) and I likewise reject the judgement of "positive trainers" who feel that corrections are somehow qualitatively negative and indicate a failure on my part to "truly communicate" with my dog. Corrections and rewards are tools in any good trainer's toolbox that can be drawn from as necessary, and they should both used without guilt.

Demo Dick


This is really well put.

I work with a lot of off lead dogs, who receive both rewards and corrections, and don't have issues with dogs running off when they are off lead and even have no collars on. I'm not convinced that off lead issues are correlated with the use of physical correction.
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Postby TheRedQueen » October 26th, 2011, 11:06 am

furever_pit wrote:This is really well put.

I work with a lot of off lead dogs, who receive both rewards and corrections, and don't have issues with dogs running off when they are off lead and even have no collars on. I'm not convinced that off lead issues are correlated with the use of physical correction.


As I stated, I didn't fnd corrections helpful...and I said maybe others do. I didn't say that dogs that got physical corrections ran off if taken off leash, which is what you seem to have taken from my post. Back when I trained in a traditional way, I had a basset hound...a breed that was bred to take off running after scents. She could take some damn hard corrections, but she felt no reason to listen once she was off-leash...not BECAUSE of the corrections, but simply because of her breed. She saw no reason to listen to me...until I discovered COOKIES...then I was worth her while.

My dogs are off-leash most of the time...I leash them for safety reasons, or if we're going some place where leashes are required (pet store...but they go off leash to our local pet store, vet's office, etc). So I found that physical corrections can't really do anything, even if I wanted to use them. I do use verbal corrections and will put them on-leash if they fail to respond/listen...so I do use corrections, just not physical ones. Anyone who has met me and my dogs knows that I rarely put my dogs on leash...not just during "training"...so physical punishments (collar corrections, etc) aren't really a choice anyway.
"I don't have any idea if my dogs respect me or not, but they're greedy and I have their stuff." -- Patty Ruzzo

"Dogs don't want to control people. They want to control their own lives." --John Bradshaw
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Postby DemoDick » October 26th, 2011, 11:25 am

furever_pit wrote:
DemoDick wrote:I feel absolutely no shame whatsoever in using corrections and I reject the nonsense that I should feel guilty for doing so. I don't allow traditional trainers to make me feel embarrassed for bribing my dog with cookies or tug rewards (and plenty have tried) and I likewise reject the judgement of "positive trainers" who feel that corrections are somehow qualitatively negative and indicate a failure on my part to "truly communicate" with my dog. Corrections and rewards are tools in any good trainer's toolbox that can be drawn from as necessary, and they should both used without guilt.

Demo Dick


This is really well put.

I work with a lot of off lead dogs, who receive both rewards and corrections, and don't have issues with dogs running off when they are off lead and even have no collars on. I'm not convinced that off lead issues are correlated with the use of physical correction.


Erin already clarified, but I didn't get that there was some association between leashed training and off leash problems from her post. I was objecting to the guilt trip tactics that a lot of the clicker crowd uses. If I want to feel guilty there's always Catholicism.

Demo Dick
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Postby furever_pit » October 26th, 2011, 12:02 pm

Demo, the second part of my post was not in reference to yours. Perhaps I should have made that more clear.

Erin shared her experience, and I simply shared mine. Did her post come across (to me) as drawing a line between physical correction and unreliability off lead? Yes. Considering the entire thread is based off of an article that compares physical correction to abuse and assumes it is something that should never be used, I don't thin my interpretation was a stretch. I didn't say Erin was a bad trainer, simply stated that I have had quite different results - working with hundreds of dogs bred to follow their nose.
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Postby DemoDick » October 26th, 2011, 12:32 pm

furever_pit wrote:Demo, the second part of my post was not in reference to yours. Perhaps I should have made that more clear.


No, I understand it was directed to Erin, which is why I indicated that I did not draw the same conclusion as you after reading her post regarding training on-leash vs. off.

Demo Dick
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Postby mnp13 » October 26th, 2011, 1:00 pm

furever_pit wrote:I'm not convinced that off lead issues are correlated with the use of physical correction.


Oh, they definitely can be. Look what happened with me and the dog I posted about in my other thread. Mom was not a "safe place" so the dog had no reason to go back to her once she was off lead.

I've seen it a lot with people whose dogs like to take off. The dog gets loose, owner chases it, when the dog finally listens and comes to them, they severely punish the dog. What does the dog learn from that? When mom or dad calls me, and I come, I get my ass handed to me. So why on earth would they ever come when they are called? That is specifically related to corrections - yes, I completely agree that it is illogical use of corrections, but it's still related.

When my dogs don't recall, I follow them, then they do get in trouble. BIG trouble. When Ruby sees me take a step towards her, she comes running because she knows damn well that if I get to her before she gets to me she's in for it. But no matter how pissed off I am, if she comes running she gets rewarded for it. (as best I can anyway because sometimes her reward is me not flipping out.)

The problem, in my opinion, with the use of corrections related to off leash behaviors is with dogs that never learn what they are supposed to do, instead of only knowing what they are not supposed to do.

The pre-warmup area of a PSA trial is a prime example of this. People have multiple e-collars on the dogs, and multiple correction collars; the point being to confuse the dog into thinking that a collar is still on it so it will "behave" during the trial. Does it work? Sure, sometimes. But there are many many dogs who are trial smart, and once they are on that field they are total asses because they know that nothing will happen.

Until you teach the dog what you want, and then teach them that what you want is more desirable/rewarding than what they want, your off leash work will likely suffer. (You general, not you specific.) I believe corrections work (obviously, since I use them) but there is a very fine line once you get to off leash.

I've been told to never take my dog off leash, so when I trial them they won't even consider that there isn't a leash and will behave. So... doesn't that mean that you're just hoping the dog doesn't notice and that they really don't have off leash obedience?? In my mind, that's exactly what it means. Just like me making Riggs collar smart on purpose, because they can wear choke chains in AKC obedience. Why? Because I wanted to get that freekin title. And then I stopped because it wasn't working, and if he wasn't going to be obedient on a flat collar with no head games then he wasn't obedient.

This year at the DSO in advanced, the handlers had to send their dog down field using a release command. The dog had to go and play ball with the decoys. Then the handler had to get their dog back to them, it was very obvious very quickly who had dogs that wanted to listen.
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Postby TheRedQueen » October 26th, 2011, 5:21 pm

I have another question for everyone...as I was daydreaming today...

How many people have trained a dog with *mainly* R+...as opposed to rewarding with treats, while still using corrections for some things.

I am a crossover trainer, meaning when I started training dogs...quite a while back, we used choke chains and never ever use rewards/reinforcers...except for praise (and that was used sparingly). So when I say that I had worse recalls and obedience while using corrections, I mean that they never got a major reinforcer (food, toy, play)...it was only praise. I have trained with only traditional (Koehler) methods, and I've trained with both reinforcers and physical aversives, and I've trained with (mostly) positive reinforcement (with some negative punishment). This is over a span of over 20 years now...so yeah, I can get my panties in a twist when someone tells me that I said something I didn't. :D Hundreds of dogs...hundreds, and I still say that the R+ methods get better recalls...but it's not the ONLY way.
"I don't have any idea if my dogs respect me or not, but they're greedy and I have their stuff." -- Patty Ruzzo

"Dogs don't want to control people. They want to control their own lives." --John Bradshaw
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Postby furever_pit » October 29th, 2011, 8:58 pm

Michelle, I don't disagree with this things you have said. Those who freak out on the dogs who run off when they finally come back obviously don't understand the use ad timing of a proper correction, so simply not what I was referring to. Perhaps I should have said instead, that in my personal experience the use of fair corrections to proof an already known behavior does not negatively impact the recall. Consider this, many of the dogs I am involved in training go on to very high stress situations with usually quite green handlers and work and recall off lead every day with no ecollar use. To me that says that the methods that we use with these dogs produces reliable behaviors.

As for psa folks and the bungee/long line theory, I have heard it all before. Some people are quite successful with it, while others are not. If your only goal is the trial field then I guess it doesn't really matter what you get outside of that situation. That's not how I view it or go about it personally, but to each their own.

Erin, I have also used the Koehler method with limited praise being the only reward. I'm not a fan. For me, the benefits of teaching with food or toys are so obvious it would be silly to ignore them. That said, the use of correction to proof a behavior also works in such a way for me and the dogs I work with that it won't be discarded from my toolbox. I'm a very middle of the road trainer when it comes down it.

I still think that the original articles attempt to compare the use of corrections in dog training to domestic violence is far-fetched...as well as being potentially offensive or belittling to those who have actually been abused.
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