Thursday, August 18, 2011

Leadership and the e-collar

Along with the previous article about the dream I had, I woke up this morning, not with the remembrance of a dream, but a realization and sort of epiphany about true leadership, training methods and what constitutues real training and behavior modicafication.

I feel that due to advertising and the availability of e-collars at major pet store chains, the e-collar is becoming the answer to all canine issues - and not necessarily just issues of aggression, but also in actually training your dog to sit, down, heel, come and stay.The e-collar is becoming the first tool used instead of the last result for many trainers.

How do I feel about e-collars? I feel they have their uses, in handling aggression when all other methods have been exhausted, or the finances of the owner have been exhausted, and the only other recourse is to euthanize the dog. In other words, to save a dogs life.

While in theory I can say I would only use shock as a last ditch effort to save the dog’s life when no other method has worked, I have only had to do this once and there were only three "shocks" involved. More often than not these cases involve an owner who mistakenly believes that shocking the dog is an easy magic bullet solution . More often then not, the owner gives up because it's too much work.

If you have a toothache and take strong enough drugs the pain will go away. Cure? Marketing. Nothing but marketing. The modern human wants everything right now, without effort, with guaranteed results and preferably cheap. Fast food, weight loss, dog training. The modern human does not want the inconvenience of changing habits and lifestyles (even if temporary), does not want the inconvenience of investing time into weeks of training, the inconvenience of understanding basic dog behavior and basic learning theory. Smart marketing sells people what they want. It is primarily about selling.

In my experience, those trainers who actually use e-collars are also the ones holding on for dear life to dominance theory and the pack way of canine life. Many of the positive reinforcement trainers have moved away from the pack and dominance heirarchy theories as science advances and more is known about the true state of canine social interaction. The correction and positive punishment based trainers, as a rule, have not.

My realization this morning revolved around this, to me, dichotomy. To have true leadership, to really be a pack leader doesn't require positive punishment, it doesn't require the use of punitive tools to "correct" the "bad" behavior and get compliance. A true leader inspires his troups, becomes their role model and leads by being able to construct a plan and follow it through. How does this fit with e-collar usage?

Let's take just general obedience training. I stopped doing obedience training just for the sake of obedience training long ago for this very reason. Obedience means you OBEY - no matter what. the e-collar fits right into that model - you OBEY or you get a "tingle" that basically is a warning you that if you don't do this right, it could get worse. Is this leadership?  What would your response be if your boss shocked you everytime you didn't do your job exactly right?  I had a boss like that once.  Everytime I made a mistake or didn't do it exactly the way he wanted, I got my pay docked and screamed at for "thinking stupid".  I ended up defying him at every chance.
I can see that it's dominance - dominance is all about control, and specifically control of resources when you are discussing canines. Obedience training is supposed to allow the owner control over the actions of their dog thereby by default giving the owner the control of the resources.

However, it does not show the dog who really does have the control, it only instills a sort of fear that if they try to do anything not proscribed they will feel pain. So again I ask, where is the leadership?

So you add in the "who's fear is it really" to the lack of true leadership in regards to correction based training, which includes the e-collar and it sounds more like someone with a fear of spiders reacting adversely to a spider crawling up his arm - whack whack whack and it's dead !!!

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