By Niki Tudge Copyright 2013
April is designated Pet First Aid Awareness Month™ so I started thinking about the things that pet dog owners may be doing on a daily basis that could be risking the long term health of their dogs without their knowledge. The practice of using choke collars and jerking the lead as a “correction” that many people still use when training and handling their dog can do so much physical and mental damage to the dog.
The most common ‘use’ of the ‘jerk’ correction I have noticed is when a dog owner wants their dog to ‘heel’. Over the years, I have witnessed many dog handlers telling their dog ‘heel’ as they have issued a big leash correction. Usually this ‘correction’ results in frustrating the dog owner as the dog pulls even harder against the leash. ‘Heel’ is supposed to be the cue for walking in the appropriate place. Think about it. If you were constantly jerked, pulled or tugged when you were next to, slightly in front of, or behind your owner, would you choose to be in a ‘heel’ position or would you forge ahead or fall behind to escape or evade any future corrections. If I had experienced a correction like that while hearing the cue ‘heel’ I would also want to head for the hills. Sometimes the ‘heel’ cue inadvertently becomes a warning signal to the dog that a correction is coming and thus the cue evokes a ‘move away the owner behavior’. It is far more pleasant and effective for a dog to learn appropriate leash manners when they are taught where to walk nicely in relation to their walking partner rather than being corrected for getting it wrong. If the dog is reinforced for correct placement and pace then it will no longer forge ahead or lag behind. The dog will seek out that highly reinforcing location.
A dog training ‘cue’ should be music to the dog’s ears. A dog who has been trained using effective, efficient and pleasant methods will happily respond to a ‘cue’ and training your dog will be a more pleasant experience for all. So let’s take the ‘choke’ out of training and replace it with clear concise instructions that will build your dog’s behavior repertoire, sets your dog up for success and rewards the dog when they get it right. This is a far more pleasant situation for both owner and dog. In addition to being an ineffective training method there are real health concerns when a dog’s head is jerked around. Read this great PPG handout on the damage that can occur when using harmful and ineffective tools.
To learn the steps and mechanics of teaching your dog to ‘walk nicely’ or to ‘heel,’ contact your local Pet Professional Guild Force-Free Dog Training Professional. Each member will have a different approach to accomplishing your training goals but you can rest assured it will be dog friendly, fun and effective. Your PPG member will cover a variety of skills suited to your situation like teaching your dog to stand while on a leash without pulling and lunging, teaching you the ‘walk nicely’ behavior in steps so you build on a solid foundation and how you can manage an inappropriate behavior while you teach your dog new and acceptable behaviors allowing you to walk and exercise your dog without the choke.
Download our PPG handout on how damaging some dog training equipment can be