Truly authoritative source of training theory? - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 35 (permalink) Old 11-29-2010, 01:17 AM Thread Starter
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Truly authoritative source of training theory?

I use a prong collar, and I have no problems with that. When I tried to get my step-dad to use a prong collar on his Lab this weekend, he would have nothing of it stating: "No way in **** you are using that torture device on my dog!" I tried to explain my beliefs on it, my experience of studying wolf ethology- how canids correct through neck bites, how it doesn't dig in, how to properly size, etc, etc but he didn't want anything to do with it...

It made me start thinking about the collar. It made me wonder why people have such extreme opinions of it. What I discovered in researching this is that even my own professional trainer might not be using it "right."

But this thread is not about the prong collar. It's about knowledge. The prong collar is just a good topic to use to discuss training theory.
What I really want to know is:
Where does one go to get truly authoritative information on dog training theory?

I can read a couple thousand opinions on this forum, I can watch endless youtube videos, I can find countless books and movies, and I can find finite numbers of 'professional trainers.' But in the end, I have to take all that information (and mostly, if not all, opinions) and decide for myself what I believe.

I don't see any reason why I shouldn't have access to information from actual scientific research studies that have factual information (not just opinions) on best training practices and training theory, including the ethical/moral side of training techniques. I think this is a logical endeavor- such info must exist somewhere. Where do the 'pro' trainers get their information? Where do you get your information?

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post #2 of 35 (permalink) Old 11-29-2010, 02:12 AM
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I don't see any reason why I shouldn't have access to information from actual scientific research studies that have factual information (not just opinions) on best training practices and training theory, including the ethical/moral side of training techniques.
I don't think such papers exist. As someone who reads (and writes) scientific papers (although, not on behavior), I don't really think there exists such sources. While you can easily find several nice papers on animal psychology and behavior, and I've read a few cohort and one case review on the matter, usually it is VERY hard to put it into any relevant context. For one thing, the controls of both the animal and the trainer would vary so much, as to not make much in the way of meaningful conclusions.

Once you put several journal manuscripts into a review article, you get very close to forming an opinion, and by definition, bias.

IMO, in the end, you really have to look at the people who are the experts, and find the techniques that work for you and your dog. Now, if you want a JAVMA article that shows/exonerates X damage from Y type of training, then thats easy. But for results based on training, theory, methods; best bet is probably see the results and decide on ethics yourself.

my 2 cents.
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post #3 of 35 (permalink) Old 11-29-2010, 02:50 AM Thread Starter
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I probably wasn't super clear in my initial post. I didn't mean that I wanted to read the actual worknotes directly from the researcher. Those would be rather dry and probably immensely hard to follow. I guess what I was getting at is that there are techinques such as:

-Operant Conditioning- perhaps best highlighted by the popular Clicker Training, or just Pure Positive Training, which I think is referred to as Foundation Style

-Aversive Conditioning- perhaps best highlighted by the opposite extremes in peoples' belief in using prong collars


I didn't study psychology in college (though I did enjoy it as a gen ed class) so I am sure there are even more types of conditioning. The point being that I assume there have been studies to show what kind of conditioning has worked best, and had the best overall outcome.

An example would be that the other day I asked my trainer why we needed positive reinforcement training. It seems that there are very few "positively reinforced" behaviors displayed in wild wolves. Most behaviors are either existent as genetically inherent positive (therefore untrained), or undesirable negatively reinforced through bite corrections (therefore eliminated via training). In this respect, it would make some sense that our dogs would react best to aversive conditioning such as prong collars. Why even have the positive, praise-based stuff if it isn't exhibited in the wild? Of course the answer is somewhat obvious:

--If we trained with pure negative reinforcement, we'd have a perfectly well behaved dog that didn't want to come to us or show any affection

--If we trained with pure positive reinforcement, we'd have a perfectly well behaved dog that wouldn't do anything without a food reward.

...it makes sense that we need a balance. But this is just an observation (admittedly a logical one) that is based in one guy's experience. Certainly it could be backed up with scientific research and study. So what I am looking for is to see if anyone has pinned one training method against another to weigh the results against quantifiable markers (whatever they may be) using the scientific method including a control.

I did, just tonight, find these books which I will likely be checking out and may offer what I am looking for:
Don't Shoot the Dog
Dog Behaviour, Evolution, and Cognition
Canine Ergonomics: The Science of Working Dogs

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post #4 of 35 (permalink) Old 11-29-2010, 07:52 AM
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I see, I am sorry for jumping to conclusions. I thought you were interested in using primary source literature to formulate a training scheme. I've heard a lot of good things about Don't Shoot the Dog. Thats about as much help as I can be on this;
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post #5 of 35 (permalink) Old 11-29-2010, 08:10 AM
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You'll find many people who say they are the authority in dog training. But as you found, everybody has their own opinion.

I have used all the methods, except e-collar. My first dog training class was Koehler method in the 70's. I've used prong, treats and clicker, oh, and Ivan Balabanov's wonderful DVD. By far, the easiest and fastest method I've tried is a tie between Ivan's "game" and using a clicker. My prong collars are collecting dust in the garage.

Even if you found a study of 50,000 dogs being trained by different methods, you really need to learn and understand the method. My neighbor has a prong collar, and she still barely has control of her poodle-retriever mix. But, when I take her dog for a walk with just a martingale (so I don't lose it), she's a happy obedient dog.

Yes, I know, I'm no help!
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post #6 of 35 (permalink) Old 11-29-2010, 10:05 AM Thread Starter
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and Ivan Balabanov's wonderful DVD. By far, the easiest and fastest method I've tried is a tie between Ivan's "game" and using a clicker.
I've never heard of Ivan Balabanov. I took a look at his website, and I'd say if there was ever an authority on dog training, he'd have to be high on that list. His accomplishments are outstanding, though his training DVD series is quite pricy. I suppose there is a cost for "authoritative" material though. Once the christmas seasons rolls through- I think I'll pick up his series and see what he has to say... Thanks for this!

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post #7 of 35 (permalink) Old 11-29-2010, 10:11 AM
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I don't think there is. You have to wade through all the stuff and just decide what works for you. There are probably thousands of different varients of dog training theories and a zillion different books, videos, online commentary, etc.

To say "go here" or "go there" isn't really possible because there is just too much out there and too many different opinions.

You have to wade through it all and decide what works for you, unfortunately.

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post #8 of 35 (permalink) Old 11-29-2010, 11:07 AM
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Patricia McConnell's book, "The Other End of the Leash" is a very interesting read. She has a PhD in animal behavior and explains a lot about dog behavior in the book.

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post #9 of 35 (permalink) Old 11-29-2010, 11:51 AM
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It's almost impossible to test one training theory against another because there are too many variables. Bad tempered handlers shouldn't use prongs, timid handlers don't do well with compulsion, inconsistent dog owners can't make any training method work.

You might want to look up Turid Rugaas, she's an interesting read if you're interested in how dogs communicate. I don't know how scientific her works are, but she's spent her life working with and studying dogs. Calming Signals for Dogs is one of the best resources I've seen for understanding what dogs are "saying".
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post #10 of 35 (permalink) Old 12-02-2010, 10:42 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks everyone for you suggestions; I really appreciate it! Last night my trainer decided in our advanced obedience class that we would work off-collar. Pimg did very well, as her foundation is strong and I've worked many, many hours with her in obedience. But, with any class of a large number of dogs (around 45-50 or so last night), you will always have some that aren't as good as others. Since they no longer had their prong collars on, the dogs obviously couldn't be corrected via the collar. As such, we were instructed to tug on their ears to "let them know we were still in charge."

Now, I don't have any issue with the responsible use of the prong collar- I feel that it very closely mimics what happens in the wild. But to drag a dog around by the ear is just simply beyond what I am willing to do. To me, it shows a pretty blatant disregard to the animal as a living creature, and therefore I didn't feel the need to issue such corrections on my dog.

Anyway- it seems the more I learn about dog training/behavior [EDIT- perhaps more correctly stated: the deeper I get into training my own dog], the more wary I get about other people's methods- thus this thread. Today I just picked up four new books on the topic, and I'm hoping to gain a lot more knowledge in this area. I picked up:
  • The Other End of the Leash: Patricia McConnell
  • The Cautious Canine: Patricia McConnell
  • The Rosetta Bone: Cheryl Smith
  • Don't Shoot the Dog: Karen Pryor

I am not convinced that purely positive-reward training is a worthwhile cause; it seems to be ignorant of the fact that the dog does sometimes perform undesired behavior that should be corrected. On the flip side, I am (gladly) discovering there are limits to how far I will go in physically correcting my dog. Hopefully I can learn a much better balance with some new reading material... Thanks again all!

Willy
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Last edited by wildo; 12-02-2010 at 10:44 AM.
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