Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"Brutus, I know that child is tasty, but..."

It should surprise no oneleast of all methat today's "enlightened" approaches to training puppies/dogs are as soft and hyper-indulgent as the child-rearing techniques that have now given us several generations of the most narcissistic, entitled Americans on record. To be clear, when I talk about today's approaches I am pointedly not referring to the methods embraced/espoused by Dog Whisperer Cesar Milan. In fact, today's methods are the antithesis of the "pack leader" philosophy you see from Milan; in some cases a direct challenge to it. In short, it's if Dr. Spock wrote a book on dog training.

"Get off the sofa..? Oh yeah? Sez who...?"
It is but a slight exaggeration to say that in these systems there are no corrections, to speak of; there isn't even really a place for the command NO. Training unfolds as a hierarchy of endless yeses in which you endeavor to teach the animal not that Behavior A is undesirable, but that behavior B is simply more desirable than Behavior A. There are thus no punishments, only rewards. Certainly there are no physical penalties or any consequences designed to produce even an instant of pain or fear in the animal. 

The core assumption of this school of thought is that to the dog, all activities are basically an innocent form of play in which your pet is forever seeking your approval, so when the dog does something you deem inappropriate, you simply substitute another activity and then promptly reward the animal for buying in. Even leaving aside the objectionable notion that this puts the animal in the driver's seatby training the human to continually monitor and adjust to the dog's behaviorI should point out that this kind of training is not always feasible unless all you do is train your dog. It requires of the human being in the equation not just the patience of Job but a 24/7 vigilance and an inventory of treats and props that may not always be at hand at a given momentEffectively you can do little else but manage the dog for the extended period during which the animal is coming of age and assimilating all of these behavioral insights. One is also required to smilingly abide unwelcome activities on the animal's part, like constant nipping for the several months during which the animal is teething. Or routine "accidents" on the carpet during the month or so in which the dog is being housebroken; 29 months if your dog is a shih tzu. 
'Training unfolds as a hierarchy of endless yeses in which you endeavor to teach the animal not that Behavior A is undesirable, but that behavior B is simply more desirable than Behavior A.'   
There are times when you simply need the animal to CEASE what it's doing, like that, and you may not be equipped to substitute a game that the animal deems more fun and engaging. Today's soft-sided training methods make little or no allowance for situations where you and your pet encounter an unfamiliar circumstance away from the controlled training setting, and the proper behavior must be extracted from your pet immediately and without trial and error.
 
I also questionagain philosophicallywhether there isn't something to be said for the old line from A Bronx Tale, where the kid asks the mob boss, "Is it better to be loved or feared?", and the boss replies, "Fear lasts longer than love." (Please do yourself a favor and watch this entire scene):

  
No, I'm not saying that training a dog is like being made in the Mob. And yes, for those who just threw their computers across the room, I am well aware of the dangers of inducing fear biting. I am not talking about reducing a lovely animal to a quivering pile of fur and teeth. I am talking about some necessary corrections that will prevent the animal from doing damage to himself or others...as well as the establishment of an environment in which your pet knows, and never questions, who's in charge. Needless to say, this is especially important in working with breeds that are quite capable of inflicting serious if not lethal damage. Like, say, the cane corso pictured above.

Rebuttals welcome....

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