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Naked Dog Training

    No, this isn’t an article about the next step in pornography or an idea on how to get more dogs into obedience classes (though it would probably help get more men-folk enrolling their dogs if the trainer looked anything like Victoria Stilwell).  The human must still wear clothing.  It’s the dogs we want to see naked.

Two ways to train – reward ’em or correct ’em

Though there are variations in techniques, there are only two basic training philosophies.  Either you focus on teaching the dog what to do by rewarding the right behavioral choice, or you focus on teaching him what NOT to do by correcting the wrong behavioral choice.  Focusing on the correct choice is referred to as positive reinforcement training, which includes the lure/reward method and clicker-training.  This type of training is also referred to as dog-friendly, since it does not include the use of force, fear, pain or intimidation to get a response out of the dog. 

Correction-based training depends on the use of a training tool, such as an electronic shock, prong/spike, Illusion, or choke collar.  When the dog does not perform the desired behavior, the handler delivers a correction by jerking the leash to close the collar around the dog’s neck, or pressing a button to deliver a shock to the dog.  The way this works is that the correction must be sufficiently aversive to the dog to make him want to avoid it.  At the very least, it’s intimidation; at the worst, pain is the aversive in operation.  With this type of training, even hands can be “tools,” such as when pushing down on the dog’s back end to make him sit.  He will sit to avoid the pressure.  (And possibly become wary of hands coming towards his back end.)  Verbal corrections such as “NO!” are also extremely aversive to some dogs… and others learn to tune them out, just like children.

Some trainers will advertise their methods as positive-reinforcement because they do reward the correct behaviors also.  But if they are using correction tools, they are correction-based.  The reasoning behind this is simple.  There is only one correct choice that the dog can make.  There are an infinite number of incorrect choices.  If the dog is corrected for everything he does that isn’t “the right answer,” then that is his main motivation – avoiding those corrections.  It’s not a fun way to learn anything.

Wouldn’t it be easier just to set the dog up for success by showing him how to do something (i.e., with the use of a food lure) and then rewarding it?  If the dog wants the reward, he will eagerly and willingly perform the behavior again.  Simple, easy, fun… and so much more humane.

Management vs. training

That doesn’t mean that dogs should be trained without leashes and collars.  The distinction is between whether these tools are being used for management or training.

A plain buckle collar or harness holds the dog’s identification and rabies tags, and provides a place to attach the leash.  This is management.  Also the leash is something that you need to ensure that the dog doesn’t leave the county when you’re in an open area.  It also establishes a territorial limit of how far away from you that you want to permit your dog to roam.  That’s management.  If the collar is used to give corrections by snapping back on the leash, that’s not Naked Dog Training – it’s correction-based training.

Other tools such as the Gentle Leader, one of the head halters currently on the market, are also properly used as management tools.  (My favorite head halter is the Comfort Trainer. MWolf) When you are teaching your dog to walk nicely on leash, just like for any other new skill, you need to set the dog up for success by requiring compliance first in easy, distraction-free environments.  When you are in an environment that is beyond the level of what your dog can easily accomplish, a head halter or an anti-pull harness can be used as a management tool to prevent the dog from practicing the undesired behavior of pulling.  If you yank on it, you’re attempting to use it as a correction tool.  This is not recommended.

When working with aggression cases, you may need a leash to establish a safe distance between the dog and the object of his aggression.  Again, this is a management tool.  Using corrections on these dogs is an absolutely horrific way to deal with the problem.  If the aversive is strong enough it may temporarily shut down the dog enough to make anyone viewing believe that it worked, but modern scientific research has concluded that using confrontational training techniques worsens aggression.  Remember that what you see on TV is essentially parlor tricks, edited to portray maximum drama and excitement.  There’s a reason why confrontational TV personality Cesar Millan warns his viewers not to attempt anything he shows on the program at home.  It’s not dog training, it’s show business.

The idea behind Naked Dog Training doesn’t literally mean your dog should have no collars, harnesses, or leashes on him, it’s that his training should not be dependent on these accessories.  Some dog-friendly classes these days are conducted off-leash, or owners are asked to drop and step on the leash or tie it around their waists – all in an attempt to prevent corrections.  Other than for management, you should be able to train your dog the exact same way with a leash and collar on as you would if he were completely “naked.” 

For more information on Naked Dog Training, see How to choose the right dog trainer.  You can find truly dog-friendly trainers who use this training philosophy both here in the Orlando area and all over the world at Truly Dog Friendly Trainers Roster, Peaceable Paws Trainer Referrals, or Karen Pryor Academy Trainer Referrals.

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