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Management Devices In Dog Training
To Choke Or Not To Choke?
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What is a good way to train my dog?

The goal of training is to teach the pet to respond to a variety of commands. To be successful, the owner must first be able to get the pet to exhibit the desired response when the command is given. To achieve this, the owner can use a lure such as a food or toy (lure-reward training) or a closed hand target (target training) to encourage or lead the dog to the correct response. Alternately, training devices such as a head halter and leash can be used to prompt the dog into the response. The dog should then be rewarded. Although primary reinforcers such as food or a favored toy are generally used first, over time secondary reinforcers (e.g. clicker, praise) should intermittently replace these. Clicker training pairs a clicker with food so that the clicker soon becomes a consistent predictor of food. It can then be used to immediately mark and reward desired responses. Over time the training can then progress to gradually more complex or more accurate responses (shaping). If you are interested in clicker training see an obedience instructor or check on the web.

What about punishing the incorrect behavior so the dog learns to do the right thing?

Unfortunately, many trainers still advocate punishment, which is intended to discourage or "reduce" undesirable behavior rather than train and encourage desirable behavior. This is not really training because punishment does not teach the dog what it is "supposed" to do. Punishment can also cause fear, anxiety, increased aggression and discomfort or harm to the pet. Some dogs may even retaliate or defend themselves by attacking the person who is administering the punishment. Therefore, it is not a logical, scientifically sound, or acceptable method of training and may in fact be counterproductive.

What is perhaps confusing is that many dogs have been successfully trained with punishment. In fact, many of these dogs are actually trained with negative reinforcement where the pain or discomfort is released as soon as the desired behavior is exhibited. This is a difficult concept to teach and requires "impeccable" timing. In addition, dogs that have been trained with punishment may be fearful of misbehaving in the trainer's presence. Some of these dogs are then labeled as "one-man-dogs" because the dog is only responsive to a trainer who can successfully administer the punishment. On the other hand, dogs trained with rewards and shaping should respond to the commands of any family member as long as the commands are consistent and positive.

What types of training devices are available?

There are a wide variety of leash, halter, and harness systems that can be used for walking and training. In fact, a control device attached to either the head, neck or body is essential when leash control is mandatory, as well as for those dogs that do not heel or come consistently on verbal command.

Choke, pinch and prong collars have been designed to control and train in a manner that makes it increasingly uncomfortable if the dog does not obey. The more forceful the owner's pull, the more discomfort for the pet. Choke collar training may be useful as a means of applying negative reinforcement. This can be accomplished by issuing a command, pulling on the choke collar to get the desired response and then immediately releasing as soon as the dog complies (obeys). In other words release from discomfort indicates to the dog that the desired response is now being exhibited. Unfortunately, since many owners are unskilled, untrained or unsuccessful in the use of negative reinforcement, the choke, pinch, and prong collars are primarily used to correct or punish undesirable behavior. In the short run, these corrections may cause sufficient discomfort for the behavior to cease. However, with repeated exposure and training, the dog's fear and anxiety may actually increase each time it is exposed to the stimulus (because previous exposures have been uncomfortable or aversive). Conversely, some dogs may become so accustomed (desensitized) to the effects of the choke or pinch device that it becomes ineffective. Although many trainers still train with devices that are intended to pull, jerk, choke, punish or "correct", the most effective and humane means of training is through motivation, positive reinforcement and shaping.

Body harnesses or head halter restraint are two alternatives to neck collars. Some body harnesses merely serve as restraint devices while others such as the K9 Pull Control™, Lupi™ and No Pull Halter™ have been specially designed to stop pulling since they pull the forelegs back when the dog attempts to lunge forward. However these devices do little to aid in training or control. There are also a number of devices that utilize head control. Since the Gentle Leader™ (also known as the Promise System™) has both a neck and nose strap adjustment, it can be used either to control the dog when the owner is holding the leash, or with a leash or "drag" line left attached and dangling, for immediate "remote" control. Therefore it might also be referred to as a head collar. The Halti™ is a head halter, which is an effective leash control device but cannot be fitted to leave attached to the dog. The Snoot Loop™ is a head halter with side adjustments to allow for a snugger muzzle fit, thereby reducing the chances that the pet can remove it. Other products such as the NewTrix™ head halter are designed to stop pulling but do not aid in training or control.

How might I use a head collar/halter for control?

One of the most effective means of gaining control, and ensuring that the pet responds quickly to each command is to use a leash and head halter such as the Gentle Leader™ for training. With the Gentle Leader™, the owner gains control naturally through pressure exerted behind the neck and around the muzzle. The head halter acts as a tool to help achieve the desired response without punishment and to communicate the owner's intentions. The proponents of head halters point to the fact that horses can be successfully and humanely controlled with head devices since "where the nose goes the body follows". Yet dog owners continue to try and control dogs with neck restraint (often with limited success). With a head halter the owner can gain eye contact and reorient the dog to perform the desirable response (sort of a power steering option for dogs). With the head halter properly fitted and the leash slack, the dog is not restricted from panting, eating, drinking, chewing, barking, jumping up, biting, lunging forward, or stealing from the table or the garbage. On the other hand, since the halter encircles the head and muzzle, a pull on the leash can immediately curtail pulling, barking, chewing, stealing, stool eating and even some forms of aggression. The head halter and remote leash can also be used to prompt the dog to respond to a command (e.g. "Quiet" for barking or "Off" for puppy nipping). A release indicates to the dog that it is performing the desired behavior. With a 10-foot leash attached the head halter also provides the owner with a mechanism for interrupting and deterring undesirable behavior immediately (e.g. garbage raiding, jumping up, house-soiling.  A longer rope can be used for outdoor training.

How exactly does the head collar work?

Pets tend to oppose or pull against pressure. Dogs that walk or lunge ahead of their owners are therefore more likely to pull even harder if the owner pulls back on the leash. There are three basic ways of pulling on the head halter to achieve most goals. If the dog is walking at the owners side or slightly behind the owner with a minimum of slack on the leash, all the owner has to do is pull forward to get the dog to back up (heel, follow). A pull upward will close the mouth (barking, nipping) while continuing to pull up and forward will back the dog into a sit. Of course, with the leash attached to the head halter, the owner can immediately turn the head to achieve eye contact. A continuous pull rather than a tug or jerk should be used until the desired behavior is achieved. The second hand can also be used to gently guide the head into position. Immediately releasing tension then indicates to the dog that it is now responding acceptably.

Training should begin in calm environments with minimal distractions. The dog is given the command and if it responds appropriately, a favored treat can be given as a reward. A lure reward or closed hand target can be used to help guide the pet into the correct response. After a few successful responses the treat can be phased out and given intermittently but the praise and stroking should continue. Clicker training (as discussed) would be another option. If the command is given and the desired response cannot be achieved, an immediate pull on the head halter can be used to ensure success. The tension is then released and the dog rewarded.

What are the most important elements to be successful with a head collar?

There are five key elements to successful head halter training.

  1. Fit: The neck strap should be high and snug, and the nose strap adjusted so it can't be pulled over the end of the nose. Use rewards and distractions to help the dog to adapt quickly. The dog can then be taken for a walk or played with to keep it distracted while getting used to the head device.
  2. Be prepared: Keep a short amount of slack on the leash (less than 3 cm/ 1 inch) and be prepared to immediately pull the dog into position if it does not respond to a command. A gentle pull (not jerk) up and forward can get eye contact (for target training, control and calming), close the mouth, and get the dog to back up into a heel or sit. Using the second hand to guide or support the head can help the dog to respond faster and calm quicker.
  3. Motivate: Remember the goal is to encourage the dog to respond to the command. An appealing tone of voice, positive eye contact, target training, primary reinforcers such as special treats and toys, and secondary reinforcers such as praise, clickers and stroking can be used to improve success. The rewards (stroking, clicker, food, toy) should not be given until the dog responds appropriately.
  4. Release: Release immediately as soon as the desired response is exhibited
  5. Reward or repeat: As soon as you begin to release the tension (a very small amount of slack), be prepared to reward or repeat. If the dog remains in a position with some slack in the line, give rewards. If the dog does not maintain an acceptable position on the slackened leash, take up the slack by pulling once again to obtain the desired response. Release and either reward the desirable response or repeat the pull and release until the acceptable response is achieved.

Once these steps are accomplished, the owner can proceed to more complex tasks or more difficult environments. For example, the dog can be taught to ‘sit' and ‘stay' for gradually longer periods of time before the reward is given. The owner can gradually move farther from the dog [still maintaining only a few centimeters (1 inch) of slack] to train the dog to stay and not to follow or lunge forward. And, once the dog will walk by the owner's side, the ‘heel' or ‘follow' can be practiced at times when the dog might lunge forward on a walk or jump up at visitors at the door or bark.

...::::::: This client information sheet is based on material written by Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB and Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB. © Copyright 2002 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. March 11, 2004. :::::::...