John, my husband, is looking for a “new” truck. He is looking in lots of different places just for the “right” truck at the “right” price. He actually goes and drives a couple that appear to be promising. After one of those drives, he pronounces — in between giggles, that the one he just drove had a cassette player!! What? No CD player? No bluetooth? Airbags? Clearly, he chose to pass on this beauty and continue looking.
As he dove daily into Consumer Reports, car dealership websites, and the like, we discussed perhaps prompted by the cassette player, which “bells and whistles” were non-negotiable in the purchase of his truck. It took us but just a few minutes for both to agree on the high-tech modern technologies that the truck needed to have.
I get that not everyone is interested in high-tech. Yet, high-tech is nearly but present in most people’s lives. We are past the point of expecting technologies of all sorts to go away. As a matter of fact, most of these technologies have brought ample benefits. Especially so, I would argue, when they are used appropriately. As I like to remind myself: the phone and computer are there for me; versus me for them. This little reminder most often puts me on track on how I choose to spend my time. Especially salient, I find unplugged and get uninterrupted time.
Technologies are everywhere. Even in dog training. A practice that has very much embraced them. Most trainers that are worth a client entrusting their precious pup to, are using advance methods that are backed by hard science versus simplistic theories in explaining behavior and most importantly in shaping and modifying behavior.
So why is it then that there are still some folks out there — that almost religiously, continue to expect help from pros that subscribe to obsolete, simplistic models of “alpha” or “leader”? Can you hear me yawning?
I guess we can blame our big mammalian brain! Our brain loves patterns. We create patterns perhaps to better understand our environment(s) and keeping ourselves safe. We love to put stuff in categories – such as the Border Collie, keeping everything neatly in place! In effect, we must really make an effort to look beyond what appears to be “the facts” to dig deeper and to question claims.
Not only are scientific findings interesting, but I would argue they are also fair (to the species being studied) and very, very helpful to the ones doing the training. There has been (and we can continue to add to these numbers) over 200 animals species studied. These studies are the foundations of much of what we know about animals and how they learn, relate, feel, etc. But we still doubt the findings?
Besides the scientific findings, that are the tenets of the science of animal learning and cognition, there are also technologies that have made a big impact in the world of dogs and training.
One that comes to mind is, of course, the clicker. This is one of my ultimate favorite tools AND technologies. It is a technology because there is much more in the background than the just “click” and “pay” modicum. There is quite a bit that one must understand regarding the science of animal learning if one wants to not only use the clicker (called an event marker) well: click first, pay second, etc. But we must apply what we know about how dogs learn (or your species of choice) and then use the clicker anchored in this learning.
Another great technology is the head-halter. Think of a head-halter as driving with power steering versus without. You still need to know how to drive the car, but the steering will be much easier. The same is true for the head-halter. It can surely aid folks whose dogs are powerful, rowdy on the leash or exhibit big displays of fear/aggression such as lunging at a passerby. However, due diligence must be in place to assure that the owner knows exactly how to use this piece of equipment for effectiveness and kindness to the dog, while the dog must be taught to enjoy wearing the halter because the owner or the trainer have taken the time in paring the halter with fun and positive stuff for the dog. Enjoy is much better than “tolerate”… I have never liked “tolerating” itchy clothing. Yuck!
I would argue the same about crates. They can be fabulous in providing dogs with the safety when riding in the car, the flexibility of leaving your dog in a hotel safely in their comfy crates and a personal place for your dog to hang out. However, the notion that all dogs love crates because they are “den” animals is more fiction than fact. I would argue that all dogs must be taught that the crate is the place to be. Some will take to it a lot easier for a myriad of reasons while others will never want to be near a crate.
These are but three examples that, in my opinion, have bridge living life with a dog with technologies that make existing with a dog more pleasurable for the person, and when used appropriately, they can also be a bonus for the dog.
When it comes to training high-tech, we must also pay attention to the thinking behind the practice. No, not all training is the same. Yes, dogs are individuals and as such they do have preferences and dislikes but to claim that any dog choose to be pushed around, scared of hurt is plain stupid!
We owe it to our dogs — the ones we claim to be wo[men]’s best friend, to really understand them as a species first and as an individual second. Not only is this crucial for anyone giving advise about dog behavior, ethology and training but even for dog owners.
Truly, it is time for all of us involved to get our heads out of the sand and educate ourselves in reputable, science-based methods of animal learning as well as the understanding of canine ethology, instead of simplifying the factual known nature of our dogs just because we are too lazy to dive deeper. I guess our brain make us do this!