At the dog show last weekend (where Squidge took another major reserve, not bad for a baby ranchy border girl!) I was walking Idgie on her stylish purple Sense-Ation Harness.  I decided to get the harness for her because she can be a bit of a puller at times, and while I need to work on her other issues I don’t think it’s fair to add the criteria of “keep the lead loose” to her plate just yet.  I find these front-clip harnesses to be fabulous tools to curb pulling during times that the handler does not wish to work on the issue of pulling.  A friend of a friend saw me and said, rather disgusted, “I never thought I’d see one of those on YOUR dogs!” Puzzled, I asked her why that was and she responded matter-of-factly, “well I thought you’d train her not to pull.”  My response was that I am indeed teaching Idgie not to pull, just not right at that very second in time, and that I practice what I preach–if you’re not going to train on a problem, you need to manage it so that it’s not occurring.  She then went on to say that the device I was using doesn’t work anyway–they still pull.  I told her I was aware of the fact that she might begin to pull on the harness, but that the harness does stop her from proceeding with the pulling.  Unable or unwilling to hear my opinion on the matter, she responded, “but it doesn’t teach them anything, take it off and they still pull.” 

And thus I am blogging today! No, of course the device doesn’t teach her anything.  It’s a configuration of straps and buckles, why would it have the capacity to teach?  And herein lies one of the biggest problems with the public’s perception of dog training tools, and dog training in general.  They want a tool to do the work for them.  They want the Gentle Leader or the Sense-Ation or the *wince* prong collar to turn their dog into a delightful walking companion.  They want the shock collar to teach their dog to obey indefinately.  They want the weave pole configuration to teach their dog to weave fast and accurately.  I have news; the tool is not the teacher–YOU ARE.  Your dog pulls? You can walk them on a no-pull device (hopefully a humane one) forever or you can train them that pulling never works.  The best way to teach your dog to stop pulling is to work on it in small increments, meanwhile walking them on a no-pull device when you don’t feel like training so that they never get away with it in between times.  Your dog doesn’t listen? Make yourself present in his life! Make that Premack Principle work for you! Make listening to you worth Fido’s while. 

The most frequent argument I’ve heard against Susan Garrett’s 2×2 weave pole training method is that it doesn’t teach speed, while, the arguers say, the channel method does.  I beg to differ! It is not the type of weave poles you use that teach speed or accuracy.  It is you, the trainer of the dog.  Done correctly, the 2×2 method creates a dog that not only has wicked accuracy, but goes nuts for the poles, something I can’t say for the channel method.  In fact, I would feel comfortable saying that the channel method allows people to be lazy in the motivation department, and churns out more slow dogs than most other methods for that reason.  Again, the issue here is the training, not the equipment.

Finally, I have to talk about my favorite little piece of equipment, and the one that is most hotly argued against in current circles.  I am, of course, talking about the clicker.  I read once that “clickers teach animals to ignore humans and follow food only.”  WOW. That’s a whole lot to accomplish for one little piece of plastic!  Clickers aid trainers a great deal in teaching behaviors, but the clicker itself teaches nothing–it can’t, it’s an inanimate object.  This is why once the dog is trained the clicker is obsolete until you wish to train something new. 

So, there you have it. The tools don’t teach. They help you manage, they help you communicate your point, they don’t do anything themselves.  Shock collars don’t teach dogs to be quiet any more than front-clip harnesses teach dogs not to pull.  The only difference is that one hurts and one helps.  So choose your tools wisely, and understand that no matter what tools for management or training that you choose, you’re still in charge of what your dog does or does not learn.