Please Stop Making Excuses – Part II – School

By Lynn –

At my vet tech school, we are (in my not-so-humble opinion) learning how to be “humane” and “nonconfrontational” by using — what else? — the Gentle “‘Tis truly cruel to correct the dog so we’ll just pull on it’s face while it pulls back” Leader on dogs who really don’t care about using force and coercion on us! (Do take note: This not me at my most scathing. However, if this week is any indication of how the headcollar is supposed to work and somehow fails in fantastic proportions, then it’s going to be a long 2 years. I might get a little lippy.) In one day, these two phrases were heard in a class taught by an otherwise great professor, who happens to also be a DVM:

“The dogs will paw at the ‘Gentle’ Leader because they’re bored. Keep them busy!”

“The reason dogs fight that ‘Gentle’ Leader when you first put it on is because they know you’re taking control from them with that nose loop, and they don’t appreciate that.”

Let’s let Roger take the stage again to go over the flipsides to some material taken straight from the “Gentle” Leader instructional packet. (By the way, I wonder how much better pinch collars would sell if they came in perky packaging that included a 64-page booklet and instructional DVD!)

Simply put, the dogs paw at the headcollar because it is placed in a very sensitive area and, when properly fit, insanely tight and most likely, insanely uncomfortable. I don’t care if the occipital-cervical junction or the muzzle right under the eyes are accupressure points. They might do great for a dog needing that treatment in a veterinary setting. However, I don’t believe I’ve seen any dog yet (possibly excluding those in the painful instructional video) acting as though they’re experiencing any type of calming effect from the pressure on those points from the headcollar. Quite the contrary, in most cases!

When using a tool on a dog, it’s meant as a device to enhance and make clear the communication from the handler. When the dog learns what the handler is asking of it (for example, the dog comes on command regardless of distraction), the tool is no longer necessary. Any tool I choose to use on a dog is pretty much an inert object at first, and should be. As a prime example: dogs are used to wearing collars from the day they are taken home, whether to be a pet, assistant, partner or otherwise. Hence, why should my putting a pinch collar or an e-collar on a dog give it cause to worry, regardless of my intentions or knowledge of said collar? The dog doesn’t know what I’m doing, and it doesn’t care what I’m doing because, honestly, my intention is not to domineer the dog with such an overwhelming event (such as putting on a headcollar) that I suddenly become the LEAST of its worries. This ultimately creates resistance, similar to someone forcing ideas down another’s throat–I’m sure I’m not the only one who knows some dedicated atheists who attended parochial school as children! When I work with a dog, I don’t want to create resistance: I want to allow the dog to make it’s own decisions and learn from them. A dog can hardly make any decision short of “DO NOT WANT! when it is beingforced, for lack of a better word, to comply.

NOTE: I mentioned not domineering a dog. That means that I am not attempting to create any resistance in the dog by forcing it or causing it undue pain and stress through such means as physical or mental abuse. Remember: anything we consider definitively inhumane, we don’t use. We just like to draw the line a bit further out from most positive-reinforcement-only trainers. But there is still a line, and it’s pretty consistent with most real trainers. I am not against teaching a dog that I am the dominant pack leader, but this process does not involve anything which might fit the description of domineering. Again, this is truly something that most real-world, balanced trainers would never recommend unless the dog is facing inevitable euthaniasia, and even then they set limits on what will and won’t be done. Positive-only trainers, please remove your heads from the Koehler era and advance into present times. I will even be your line leader if necessary, but I believe we can all get there without holding hands.

From a veterinary standpoint, I can clearly see why control of the head is necessary, due to the sometimes-massive weapons contained in the mouth. However, vets and techs experience dogs all the time who wear no such head restraint, and are either happy, bouncy dogs who don’t know to not be scared of the vet or get to wear a “party hat” (one of the more fun euphemisms of a muzzle).

I typed with one nice entity–as opposed to talked, as this was in a large Comments area on a favorite blog of mine–and she stated “If a vet tech tried to put a gentle leader [sic] on either of my dogs, I would leave and find another vet. I also wouldn’t want a vet tech using a choke chain as a training tool on my dog. A vet tech that can’t effectively use a simple nylon slip lead in a normal office setting wouldn’t get my respect…an actual vet’s office that insisted on this practice [of using only headcollars] would not see my dogs or my money.”

I can’t say that I disagree! Unless the client is explicitly asking for behavioral counsel, no tool other than a what the dog arrived in or a kennel slip lead should be used.

To the vets, trainers and behaviorists who recommend headcollars because of pathos-ridden, viral marketing of “dog-friendly, humane methods” and sterile “cutting edge of behavioral science” revelations: Please stop making excuses for why dogs actively resist these tools even months and years later. I certainly wouldn’t enjoy wearing the equivalent of a straitjacket my whole life, which might be why my parents bothered to teach me the consequences of my actions: so that I might have the freedom to do what I want in life as a well-rounded, mature adult.