Is bigger better? Not when it comes to dog training

Choke collarsBY TENA PARKER
Success Just Clicks

“The more tools you have in your tool box the better. If you purposely exclude a particular tool and a problem pops up that requires that tool, you won’t be able to fix the problem. I’m not one of those cookie pushers that limits their toolbox to one tool, cookies!”

This is a quote from a commenter on a Facebook post that was about a nine-week old puppy. In the conversation, the poster was looking for a training school. One of the places locally required all dogs and puppies to wear choke chains plus they never used food to reinforce behavior. She was unsure.

In the conversation that followed, someone (it might have been me) posted that there was absolutely no reason to strap a choke chain or prong collar on to a nine-week old puppy and that learning should be fun. Shortly after I posted that, someone wrote the above quote as a response and it got me thinking, I really don’t think bigger is necessarily better.

I do think it’s extremely important to know about as many tools as possible, how they are used, the limitations of the tool and potential problems. Because I know about a tool, does not mean I need to include it in my tool box. I really do not believe that a bigger tool box is at all a better tool box.

I don’t need to go to a hardware store and get one of everything to have a tool for most occasions. There is a lot redundancy, if I were to get one of everything.

I do need a wide variety of tools in my tool box, so I can tackle a wide range of problems, but I don’t need every single individual wrench size, if I have a couple adjustable wrenches.

Back in the day when I was cutting lots of PVC piping for jumps and weave poles, I didn’t have the extra money to buy a good PVC cutter, but it wasn’t a big deal because I had a hacksaw at home that did the job easily. I didn’t need the specialized tool when I had a multi-tasking tool at home.

It’s the same thing with dog training. I want to know about as many of the tools out there as possible, but that doesn’t mean I include all of them in my tool box. I know how prong collars can be used to build drive with small pops that are not corrections, I know about using a sustained low-level shock to get fast responses using negative reinforcement, and I know the the science behind why both of these tools work and their potential pitfalls.

I don’t need them in my toolbox, if I have other tools that can accomplish the same goals. When the average person talks to me about using a prong collar, more than 90 percent of the time they want it because their dog pulls on the leash. Well, it just so happens I know more than a handful of ways to teach loose leash walking without a prong collar (as we know dogs can learn to pull through any no-pull tool, so it’s about training not a tool).

The average person who talks to me about either using or wanting to use a shock collar wants off leash control and/or recall. There are many tools, exercises and skills that I use to achieve that without relying on a tool, that by its very nature, utilizes pain, discomfort or annoyance.

Skilled and experienced trainers select tools that have some versatility, use each tool to its full potential and with some creativity push the tool beyond its normal capacity (aka think outside the box). It’s pushing the versatility of the tools and being creative that makes the need for a warehouse-sized toolbox unnecessary.

I don’t want to have to carry a toolbox the size of Home Depot with me everywhere I go to make sure I have a tool for every individual issue. I would much rather choose to stock my toolbox with tools that are the most flexible, most versatile and the most open to modifications.

By choosing tools that meet that criteria and being willing to think outside the box, I can absolutely maximize my toolbox’s effectiveness without having to increase its size or add in tools that work on the premise of fear, pain, discomfort, annoyance or intimidation.

Tena Parker M.S., has been working with dogs for over 10 years. She is the owner of Success Just Clicks Dog Training in Pittsburgh, PA, has a thriving daily dog blog online, is a member of the APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers), is a Certified APDT C.L.A.S.S Evaluator (and instructor), is a Certified AKC Canine Good Citizen and S.T.A.R. Puppy Evaluator, and is a Certified Mentor Trainer for Animal Behavior College. She also teaches popular dog training classes through Western Pennsylvania Humane Society’s Get Smart! Training School several days a week.

It’s really not about the number of tools but the quality of tools in the dog trainer’s toolbox and their willingness and ability to be creative.

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