Pawsibilities NY


3 Quick Fixes That Don’t Work

There are a lot of different tools out there that claim they will help you to train your dog, quickly and effectively.  Most products that boast such results are, unfortunately not only misleading, but also can be quite damaging to your dog.

The first example are sprays designed to stop your dog from chewing.  These sprays either are supposed to taste unpleasant, or smell so bad that your dog doesn’t want to go near them.  These sometimes can be effective in stopping your dog from chewing a specific item, shortly after it has been sprayed with the anti-chew spray.  The problem is, they wear off quickly, and don’t actually change your dog’s behavior of chewing inappropriate items.

When used as a management tool, along side positive reinforcement training, this can be somewhat effective, but I will warn that it can easily get onto your hands and clothes and can be quite bitter.  I will occasionally try using these sprays in circumstances with very hazardous things that cannot easily be moved, or removed, such as wires.  Treating wires with bitter spray can help stop your dog from chewing, but you better buy a lot of spray and get ready to spend a lot of time applying it, if you don’t pair it with training.

You can train your dog to have better chewing habits in many ways.  Redirecting your dog to appropriate chew toys, and feeding him from a food stuffed toy are two quick examples of ways you can actually train your dog to not chew inappropriate house hold items, and save yourself the trouble and money of using these sprays.  Another option is tin foil.  Wraping things like wires and chair legs with tin foil will make it unpleasant for your dog to bite into.  Just like with the sprays, the tin foil is not a quick fix, and should be paired with training.

The second example are all the different anti bark devices, including citronella and shock collars, and table top bark deterrents.  The collars are designed to sit directly on your dog’s vocal cords and the vibration of your dog barking sets off the spray of citronella, or the shock from a shock collar.  The table top devices are set to use high pitch sound emissions as punishment when the dog barks, they are set off by loud noises, so your dog might get punished for a siren roaring by, or the people in the apartment next door hanging pictures, and he won’t understand why.

The collars don’t ever teach your dog what you are looking for: quiet.  The dog just gets sprayed in the face, over and over, or shocked several times, every time he barks, and no other feedback is given.  Dog’s behavior will naturally mean they repeat successes and with these collars there is no success for the dog to repeat.  Think of what a confusing and unclear message the collar is sending, while not teaching your dog anything at all.  The shock stopping, or not getting sprayed by the citronella is not a reward for your dog, it is rather the lack of punishment.  The lack of punishment is not reinforcement; for a behavior to be reinforced, there must be something the dog can view as a reward.

Also it is important to take note that citronella is poison.  Any and all citronella collars will come with directions to wash your hands if your come into contact with the citronella, and to be very careful not to touch your eyes or face, and then we go ahead and put it around our dog’s neck and spray them right in the face with this poison!  Citronella is also very dangerous if there is a baby or children in the family; it can of course be highly toxic to them as well.

You would absolutely never want to use one of these on a dog who is barking out of anxiety.  If your dog only barks when he is alone then you MUST count these collars and devices out.  You simply cannot punish the fear out of your dog, and if you try you will make it worse, that will be a quick breakdown you can count on, instead of the quick fix you were hoping for.

Dogs are very clever animals they also learn very quickly when they are wearing the collar and when they are not.  They also learn to rub their neck against things to move the box and then they are off and barking again!  Finally dogs do desensitize to things, we count on this for some training, you can count on them desensitizing to these collars if you aren’t doing any training or positive reinforcement.

I like to use a clicker to stop dog’s from barking.  Check out my blog about clicker training if you are not familiar (see: What Is Clicker Training?).  Then I just let the dog bark all he wants, and as soon as he is quiet, I click and feed a treat.  After a few repetitions, be sure to vary the length of time your dog must demonstrate the quiet before he earns the click and treat.

Third and lastly I don’t like the use of prong collars or choke chains to stop dogs from pulling and/or teach obedience.  Some people believe it is the proper way to teach your dog to walk; slap on that prong or choke and anytime they get ahead or pull, jerk them back into heel position.  The problem is there is no teaching involved; this is entirely punishment.  Again it gives your dog no idea of the correct behavior and how best to repeat this.  So you will see time and time again your dog continues to trot out in front and needs to be jerked back.

Also using leash jerks to train a dog it’s cues or commands; saying “sit” to your dog and then jerking the leash if he doesn’t sit immediately does not encourage him to work faster for you, but instead it usually causes a period of shut down, where the dog is afraid to proceed with any behavior out of fear of being jerked.  This doesn’t encourage your dog to think or make proper decisions on his own, and is extremely difficult to fade, meaning that most people who use these tactics cannot get their dogs to respond when the prong or choke is not on.

It is much better to teach your dog the behavior you are looking for.  Teach your dog to walk by your side by holding a treat in front of his nose and keeping him right where you want him with the treat.  Every few steps reinforce him for being in the heel position by feeding him the treat.  You can also teach your obedience this way.  Your dog will respond to your obedience cues on and off leash because the leash isn’t involved in the training (or punishment really.)

Anytime you consider using punishment or harsh methods with your dog, remember that there is always the chance for very negative fall out.  Not only have prong collars been proven to cause brain damage, vision loss and skin conditions, they can also create negative associations for your dog with things he will encounter everyday such as other dogs and children.  It won’t take too many jerks on that prong or choke in the presence of other dogs or children before your dog thinks they could be the cause of his pain, and you will see your dog become more reactive and even seemingly aggressive towards these triggers.  Now the quick fix tool has left you with a complex problem to face, and you can count on a long road to fix the fall out from the “quick fix.”

It is an old saying, but a true saying; if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Your dog is not a bike, or a car, you can’t just send him to the mechanic for a few days and he will come back fixed.  Dogs are complex animals, they are extremely intelligent and sensitive.  If taking the time to train your dog what you want, rather than just punishing him for making mistakes, is too overwhelming for you, then perhaps the commitment of a dog is not right for you either.  If you want to encourage a relationship of learning, patience and understanding, then the possibilities are endless for you and your dog!

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