I am, by nature, a very cool-headed, laid back and understanding human being. I have quite a lot of patience–I mean I worked with toddlers, pre-teens, and teens for quite a while! One thing that has begun to make my skin crawl is the marketing of some trainers that is being used to deceive the public into buying a product very different than the one they are expecting. This irritation also extends to those mimicking well-known (or recognizable names of) programs even though they are not even close to a similar philosophy. Honestly, it’s not that they are trying to mooch off of already known methods/trainers/programs but that they are often deceiving people in the process. It bothers me that someone who is seeking a positive reinforcement trainer can end up being deceived by a name and guilted into a style of training they had no intentions on pursuing. Don’t think it happens? Unfortunately it does.
I wanted to share some of the confusing terms/trademarks. I figure if more people know about the confusion, less people will fall victim to it.
Force Free Training is different than some Force Free methods (there is a trademarked method but some of these trainers seem to be rather litigious and I’d rather avoid that so I’m not naming names). One type of force free training revolves around heavily rewarding desired behavior to increase the likelihood that it will be repeated (positive reinforcement) and the other involves the use of shock collars. I don’t know about you, but using a shock collar doesn’t seem very force free to me. These are tools that can “down a dog” (words from an actual user) because of the level of pain they are able to produce–now, I’m not saying these methods use a level of shock anywhere near that…but the vast majority of shock collar users are using the collar as a form of physical punishment or negative reinforcement. It’s either “I’m going to shock you until you sit” or “You didn’t sit so I’m going to remind you with a shock”… neither of those seem very force free to me.
Hands Free, Hands Off, Touch Free … sometimes these mean positive reinforcement trainers and sometimes they don’t. Like with force free, some of the Hands Free, Hands Off, Touch Free methods involve shock collars. I suppose it’s not completely untrue that their methods are hands free… they don’t need to physically touch the dog in order to deliver corrections… but they do need their hands to hit the remote buttons.
Over the last few years, Tellington TTouch has become much more popular in the US. It is a popular class at camps, seminars, and workshops because it has such wide uses. At its core, TTouch is about connecting and communicating with our dogs through touch. For those unfamiliar, TTouch is similar to a massage that has certain techniques, movements and exercises. TTouch can be used to ease stress, to build up drive/excitement, to create calm behavior, to address fears, etc. Honestly, even though I’m giving the ‘massage’ to the dogs, I feel calmer through this process (or more amped up if we are building excitement). I recently discovered E-Touch a, you guessed it, e-collar training system. I have no idea if the name was an intentional play, but I could see people who are interested in TTouch looking into E-Touch because of the similarity (though hopefully they will not be as easily fooled as previous names since it’s more clear).
I guess my whole point is buyer beware. Although a trainer may sound like a positive reinforcement trainer… it’s not necessarily the case. On one of the force free/hands off method sites… there wasn’t even mention of e-collars anywhere on their site (that I found)–it wasn’t until I looked at the gallery and found all the photos with dogs in e-collars that I figured out what their methods included. Before you sign up for a class, go and observe the trainer and figure out their methods, ask specific methodology questions, ask about the tools required/suggested for their training; basically get the scoop. One of the things I’ve realized is that many (though not all) trainers who use physical punishments (leash pops, prongs, choke chains, shake cans, e-collars) often do not have very descriptive training methods section to their websites. They write about “leadership,” “energy,” “pack mentality,” “social learning,” etc. pretty enigmatic stuff that doesn’t really give a clear picture of methodology.
I will say, as a side note, that I believe positive reinforcement trainers have benefited from one such confusing name (though the name was usurped from the R+ community*). Back in 1999 Paul Owens’ book “The Dog Whisperer: A compassionate and non-violent approach to dog training” was published. Five years later “you know who” started staring in a show with a nearly identical title. These two men are so vastly different in their methodology that they create a stark contrast. Now, “you know who” has had a wealth of press and fame between his show, books, lectures, and items. I will say that it’s not terribly uncommon for a fan of “you know who” to inadvertently pick up a copy of Paul’s book by “mistake” (or their good fortune). So perhaps Paul has been able to reach some of those who are enamored by “you know who” and change how they work with and relate to their dogs. Even though Paul was really The ^Original Dog Whisperer, I think his message may be picked up by more people because of the Dog Whisperer 2.0 (who doesn’t live up to the original).
(*The R+ community borrowed the phrase that has been around for centuries. Animal whispering has a long history, though most notably in the equine community)