E-collars and the Alley Monster

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(Image credit – http://deivcalviz.com/2012/11/01/sketches-and-study-muffins/)

Some of you may or may not know that I was a Police Officer in my former career. I joined the Police as a part time officer in 1992 annd then full time from 1997 until 2015. When I joined, I worked with a fair number of cops who had joined the police in the 1970s and even a few in the 1960s. Attitudes were different in those times and there were not as many female officers. In my intake at The Scottish Police College in 1997, a third of my class were female and this had risen to half by 2005 (or thereabouts). One of the attitudes I would hear fairly often from some male cops, young and old, was that while they had no problem working with a female offiecer, they questioned their ability against the 16 stone (226lbs/102kg) angry man in an alley who needed to be arrested. Looking at it objectively, I would question the overweight, out of shape, 30 cigarettes a day male officer’s ability against that mythical alley monster as well. He was very often the one making the remarks.

I’ll get to the point. In my 10 years full time working in uniform patrol in a busy, high crime area of Glasgow I only once came up against the alley monster and looking back with hindsight, the situation could have been dealt with much less violently than it was. I’m not saying that there were not violent people who we came across in our work, but they were so rare that statistically it made no sense to use this as an excuse not to work with, or be apprehensive about working with, female officers.

And to dog training. One of the excuses/reasons I see often for the the justification of the use of e-collars is that the dogs the trainers are using them on are the last resort, need to be sorted now or they’ll be euthanised alley monsters. To date, I have over 4500 hours of client based experience and at least 50% of those hours are dealing with dogs who are aggressive and reactive. Now, statistically, those numbers would throw at me a higher number of alley monsters than I have seen, if they in fact existed in the numbers e-collar trainers claim they do. Again, I am not saying they do not exist, I’m just stating, from my experience, they just don’t exist in those numbers.

Three times in the last month I have worked with dogs whose owners have said I was their last resort. All three of these dogs were showing  aggressive or reactive behaviours and all three of them are making massive improvements with positive training methods. All three of them had been to other trainers too. I can almost guarantee that those three dogs, had they gone to e-collar trainers, would have had an e-collar out on them with the justification that it was the only option. It wasn’t the only option, we showed that.

Some police officers like the fact that they occassionally deal with and have to defeat alley monsters. I know as a young man I did. It pays into your ego, your sense of toughness, your bravado. Once you have done it a few times, however, there should be enough personal growth and self knowledge that you can do it if required but you should be looking for a less violent solution to the problem. Less violence means less injuries for everyone, less paperwork, less complaints and less lawsuits. A wonderful female detective I worked with used to state “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”. If I never have to experience violence again in my life I’ll be happy, I’ve seen more than enough to last me several lifetimes.

The same is true for some trainers. They like dealing with the “violent” dogs. They like seeing them become less aggressive and with some of them, the only way they now how to do this is by using violent means themselves. I get tremendous professional and personal satisfaction when helping owners turn aggression cases around because everyone, including the dog, is less stressed and more peaceful. In committing to a more positive, less violent world, I have to know how to apply less forceful training methods to achieve the same results. It can be done if you commit to learning it and doing it. I know this, because I have.

Happy training.

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A question of ethics – part 1

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I was at the office today (our local park) doing a consultation with a man and his Labrador, working on recall and loose lead walking (connection). We have a really nice community at the park on weekday mornings, the professional dog walkers, the power walkers without dogs, the recreational cyclists and the dog people walking their own dogs.

There is a fella who I see who has two GSDs who he has trained to a high level from the brief glimpses I get of him (I see him several times over the month). He appears to use positive trainng methods from what I can see. He uses food to reinforce the behaviour which he likes and I’ve never seen him physically correct his dogs. When he asks the dogs to do something though, he’s not really asking, he’s telling.

This fella knows I’m a dog trainer and from reading his body language (he never says hello to anyone etc) I get the impression that’s he is trying to show me how it’s really done. Today (and every other dog he sees me), he put his dogs in a sit stay in the middle of the path and walked away. There were other dogs and people around walking past his dogs. The dogs were transfixed by him and then he called them, they raced towards him and then held a heel position targeting his hands for about 50m or so. They were then reinforced with food. Impressive? Yes, maybe. Ethical? I’m not so sure. If this had been in competition for a dog sport, then yes, it’s impressive. If it had been in preparation for that dog sport competition, then yes, cool also. My issues is that it’s done for the benefit of all those watching and at the dogs’ expense to boot.

For me it would be far more impressive if his dogs were walking with him off lead, moving forward in front of him, sniffing, moving with him when he walked on and behaving in an appropriate social manner with dogs and people. But they’re not. The appear to be automatons, with little choice and not allow ot behave like dogs (I’ve never seen them sniff when out)

Training with positive methods isn’t enough. We need to train with an ethical mindset too. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

Until next time, have a great Christmas.

John and the Glasgow Dog Trainer Team