Battle of the Training Methods: Facts & Fibs

If you’ve had a dog for even a short period of time, you are likely aware that the amount of information available about their behavior is overwhelming. There is endless advice from books, the internet, TV and that guy next door. To make things worse, it’s contradictory information. The most obvious example is the philosophical battlefield of dog training methodology: the carrot, the stick, or both.

“I hired a trainer because my dog snaps at me if I try to take his chewies, so we’ve been trading him for cheese. Now my neighbor, who has trained dogs his whole life, tells me he’s trying to dominate me and I need to put him in his place. He says my trainer is just a softie cookie slinger and we’re rewarding bad behavior. I’m confused and I don’t know who to listen to.”

People who just want to do right by their dog are bearing the brunt of it all. Shock collars and prong collars are heavily promoted and at the same time heavily condemned. The Dog Whisperer wouldn’t be on TV if he didn’t know his stuff, right?

To understand this deep divide, first we must understand the sources of our information: anyone can present themselves as an expert in this field. Many truly believe they are experts because dogs are so familiar to us. Their perceived expertise is false: I’ve been familiar with my teeth my whole life, but does that make me a dentist? Cesar Millan is simply a charismatic TV star. He is making guesses about dog behavior from his own interpretations and selling it to the masses as fact.

Dog training is unregulated, and this has resulted in a virtual information landfill. It’s frustrating, and I’ve been there. When I first started out in the pet care industry, the biggest thorn in my side was that so many used their authority (however small it may be) to assert their nonsense as fact. This nonsense often meant physically hurting a dog. It became my mission to set the record straight and advocate for these animals who cannot speak up for themselves. My hope is to bring clarity to those who are torn about the “right” way to train their dog.

I won’t give you strictly my opinions (but I have them, as I’m sure you can already tell) or anecdotal evidence. I’m going to give you facts that are supported by scientific evidence, which I have listed at the end of this page. I encourage you to research for yourself. Let’s begin by debunking some common myths.

FIB: “It doesn’t hurt.”

“Contemporary E-Collar Training utilizes the softest, most gentle remote communication, and is one of the most humane and effective approaches to dog training available! These collars use TENS Unit technology, the same muscle stimulation used by chiropractors and physical therapist.”

You may have been told that shock, prong, or physical corrections do not hurt your dog. However, in order for these tools to work, they must hurt. The dog stops barking because they don’t want to be electrocuted. They stop pulling because they are avoiding pins digging into their neck. They do what you ask because they are afraid of what happens when they don’t.

If the tool didn’t hurt, it wouldn’t work. This is the law of animal learning. It is not up for debate, it is science. Arguing with this fact is the equivalent of arguing with gravity or joining the flat earth society. When someone says it doesn’t hurt, they are demonstrating a serious lack of even a basic understanding of how animals learn, and very shallow knowledge of dog behavior. Besides, who are we to decide for another being if something is painful?

FIB: “Punishment occurs in nature. Dogs correct each other all the time.”

Dogs do not use barbaric, painful tools to control another being’s behavior because they find it annoying. They do have very dramatic looking arguments that are not intended to hurt each other. Their ritualized, intense display looks scary to humans, but is simply a form of communication. Actual bites and injuries between dogs are rare.

​Furthermore, electric shock only occurs in nature if the dog is struck by lightning.

FIB: I’m balanced. There isn’t one right way to train.

One either hurts and scares animals or they don’t. Period.