Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reactive Rovers Night One

And I'm already in trouble . . . why can't I just "go with the flow?"

I don't want to use a gentle leader with Elo and our instructor is not happy. She wants everybody to use a gentle leader, and she does not like people that disagree with her. About anything. Night one was a people-only lecture and it was liberally sprinkled with groans and eye rolls for people who believe in "leadership" concepts of training and people who use no-reward markers, etc. Well, I believe in being a leader to my dogs and I use no-reward markers in certain situations--topics for another day and I wasn't gonna get into it. But I don't want to use a GL for Elo, and I did get into that. 

For one thing, Elo doesn't NEED a GL. Elo is a trained dog, unlike some of the other dogs in the class who really haven't had much if any obedience training. He's perfectly under control on a buckle collar. It's what we've always used. I have nothing against GLs. I've used one with Jun, but I am currently regretting my dependence on it with her, and with Elo I wanted a dog who knew how to behave on leash on a plain buckle collar. We are well on our way to achieving this. I see no need to introduce a tool (particularly an aversive tool) where one is not needed.

Second, Elo HATES the GL. I put one on him once and he flopped on the ground like a fish WHILE reacting to the nearby dog. Sure, I could desensitize him to it. But why would I want to if I don't need to use it? And you can't tell me that all dogs learn to tolerate the GL. Jun's been wearing hers for 2 years and it's always predicted fun things, yet she STILL doesn't like it and tries to rub it off any chance she gets. It's a distraction when we're training (and it interferes with HER behavior mod work) and I don't want that with Elo. Lok did not learn to tolerate it either, completely shut down and ignored me with it on, and pulled just as hard. Ok positive trainers . . . can we stop pretending that the GL is a positive alternative to the prong collar? At least on a prong, the dog only gets punished when pulling. On the GL a dog who doesn't like it is being punished constantly.

But the REAL reason I was extra resistant to try it with Elo is the stated justification for using the GL for a reactive dog . . . . Supposedly, if your dog is staring at his trigger, about to react, and you need him to stop doing that, all you have to do is gently use the GL to turn his nose away. I am calling BULLSHIT on that!!!!!!!!!  Oh, that is SO complete BS! Jun is reactive and good luck turning her nose away from anything she is intent on staring at! Sure, I might be able to turn her head, but it won't be gentle--she is going to resist and keep trying to look at whatever is scaring her! And if I DO succeed in turning her head, she is just gonna swivel her body around so her head is pointed the way she wants it again!

If Elo is so under control while looking at his trigger that I will be able to turn his head gently, then I would also be able to just say his name and break his focus and get him to look at me. In fact, if I did try to use the leash to control him, it would probably be MORE likely to cause a reaction (tight leashes anyone??). If he is already over threshold, there is NO controlling him and I might as well just get him out of that situation however I can.

I am also extremely put off by the fact that my safety concerns were completely ignored. Elo is a cattle dog. He may be small, but he is STRONG. And when he hits the end of the leash, he hits it HARD, regardless of the amount of slack there is. To me, that creates an extreme risk of injury to his neck on a GL. He's not thinking at that point and is not going to self-preseve--the GL works to stop pulling because dogs are thinking about it and choose not to pull to avoid the pressure on their nose. A reactive dog is no longer a thinking dog and he has suddenly lost the ability to moderate the corrections he receives from the device. This is dangerous for him, period. But my safety concerns were brushed off (more groans and eye rolls).

A gentle leader is supposedly the best option for ALL dogs. I hate inflexible trainers. I hate trainers that assume their students don't think about things and make reasoned decisions in the best interest of their OWN dog. I hate trainers who assume their students know nothing about dog training and should listen to the instructor unquestioningly. In the end, she agreed that we could "see how it goes" without the GL. This is going to be fun.



  1. I'm not a fan of the GL either. I've never put one on Maisy, but she hates wearing harnesses and clothing, so I've outright refused to even try the GL.

    Positive trainers need to remember that the DOG gets to define what's aversive, not the people. If the dog says the GL is aversive, then it is. Period.

    I'm sorry you've run up against an inflexible trainer, but I'm proud of you for standing your ground!

  2. I'm sorry! I've never taken a class under the instructor but I know a lot of people have really gotten a lot out of it.

    I also hate GL although they can work very well for some dog/human teams. It seems ridiculous to force everyone to have one if they don't need it! It can make controlling a reactive dog easier for a lot of people but I don't think it's the best and prefer not to use one.

    I hope that it still ends up being a good class for Elo. Even if you completely ignore the instructor it will still allow you to work on controlled set ups with other dogs.

  3. I don't require the GL for my reactive dog classes.

    My own reactive dog NEVER got to the place where she would not shut down wearing one.

  4. Hi Robin! Crystal told me about your class--I may be looking into it. Thanks for confirming that I'm not crazy that for some dogs the GL is always aversive.

  5. Yuck on training with inflexible instructors! At the end of the day, every dog is different and as Crystal said, the dog gets to decide (and tell us) what is aversive and what isn't. Having said that, I HAVE used a version of the GL for my reactive dog, and find that it is really helpful in de-escalating the situation. Particularly because it allows an appropriate redirect of anxious, fearful energy (helps me prevent the hard stare, fearful alert bark) but thats just my two cents. The one I use is sold on Clean Run.. its actually called the Wonder Walker.

  6. Actually, just to follow up... I see that Leslie is one of your heros. Mine too :) I'm also lucky enough to call her a friend and I train with her with my reactive guy. We are actually taking a nose work class together right now, and she recently helped me out big time, with suggesting I look at Grisha Stewart's BAT protocol for Griff. Leslie is also the one who recommended using our Freedom Walker for Griff. Good Luck!

  7. Hi Kirby! Thanks for the comment! Lucky you to get to train with Leslie! I will look up the BAT protocol. I feel like I've heard of it but can't recall what it is. I'm glad the freedom walker is working well for you! Gotta find what works for each individual dog! I am loving the results I'm getting with my other reactive/fearful dog Jun since deciding not to use it anymore. It frees up her mind to think and focus a little more! I also see you're starting the RP! I couldn't get your blog post to totally load on my phone, but I want to watch the vid when I get to a computer! I had similar issues to start. What I've found . . . Just keep doing it! And make it as boring as possible! No clicker and boring treats! In about a week my dogs learned "oh, we're just supposed to sit here, ok cool!" It helped me to position my body differently than I do when I'm training/shaping. I don't look at my dog, lean my weight to one side, stare at the wall, read off the RP, and also focus on relaxing yourself, deep breathing and relaxed shoulders/jaw. It was as much an exercise in relaxation for me as for my dogs! A month later they are pros and it really seems to help them relax overall. I also reward relaxed behavior when they offer it in the course of the regular day. That has helped too!