Pebbles in a can???!!!

So yet again, I have seen a dog with a clinical mental health disorder who has been subjected to this bizarre training technique.

Many people assume that a dog that is not behaving in a way the client wishes simply needs training. In many cases that is correct. For the dogs I work with, the problem is not simply a training issue, but good training can be very helpful as part of the treatment plan.

Unfortunately, the training industry is unregulated so some bizarre techniques get utilised. I have encouraged many clients in the past to go back to the trainer to inform that the technique has actually made the problem worse. Whether that has been done I do not know but I am still seeing this technique used.

I wish to use this space to let the general public know that they should question the qualification of any trainer who recommends throwing a can of stones at their canine family member. The “training” that I am being told about involves the trainer throwing the can at the dog to make physical contact. In doing so, the trainer is actually hoping to elicit a fear response such that the simple act of shaking the can in future will cause a dog to stop unwanted behaviour.

In a dog who does not suffer a mental health disorder, such behaviour from a human towards a dog is simply a one off act of cruelty. For a pet suffering from a functional brain problem where fear is processed abnormally, such behaviour from a human can cause much more damage with further sensitisation of the fear response in association with the trigger for the behaviour problem.

It is very sad for any owner to be involved in this treatment of their own dog and they do not realise it is going to happen until it is too late. They are asking the trainer to help them with a problem and they expect that the trainer has a knowledge of learning and teaching that would solve the problem in a way their dog understands. Unfortunately, this is clearly not the case.

Fear should never be the the emotion used in any teaching. The part of the brain involved in the fear response reduces the type of learning and memory that should be encouraged when teaching an animal. The type of learning that occurs with fear is emotional and is only beneficial when aiming for self-preservation.

Training that is based on the science of learning is enriching socially, mentally and physically for many dogs, and it can increase the bond between pet and owner in a very positive way. Training that uses the fear response to reduce undesired behaviours will not tell a dog how to be successful in its environment and will likely lead to either different unwanted behaviours, a deterioration of the current behaviour problem, compulsive disorder, behavioural shut down or learned helplessness.

Research any trainer you wish to use. Ensure positive reinforcement, force-free methods are used.

Trainers who use force free techniques and scientifically sound principles can be found at these links:

Pet Professionals Guild of Australia

Delta Trainers