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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

To Prong or Not To Prong: The Debate Continues

I think this is a good discussion.

Here's my take.

First of all, for me personally, I have really high standards and expectations for myself and my dogs. All my dogs must eventually get their CGCs. I have only had one (my GP, Dri) who didn't get his. I don't want to be the stupid neighbor with THAT dog. It's very important to me because I'm the caretaker for these dogs. Kids go to school. They get graduation certificates. Shouldn't my dogs?

My goal for my cattledog boy, Artie Blue, CGC, is some kind of Obedience, Rally, Agility or Schutzhund title. For sweet Elke it was getting her CGC (done!) and have her qualify as an Asst. Dog or Therapy Dog. Most of the folks on many of the lists I'm on have Pibbles. Being a terrier-type they have a different head set from herding breeds, which is what I've mostly dealt with. So, I can't speak as to Pibbles, as much as I've worked with them in the shelter and have tons of friends who have them. I love them dearly too and advocate strongly on their behalf! But I "get" herding dogs better.

Here's one my stories as pertains to prong collars:
In 1993 I had a girl cattledog, Hart-Marie (in the picture) that I started in classes at 6 months old. She wore a soft buckle collar, and I was armed with tons of treats.....all the trainer would allow. (Harnesses were for Guide and Service dogs or if you did pulling or crating.) She was pretty good EXCEPT with pulling horribly on the leash while walking. Her one huge drawback: she was horrible with small, fuzzy, white dogs.

For the leash pulling, we did tons of luring and tons of turns using the treats with The Happy Voice, that kind of thing. It worked pretty well, although I was dizzy from all the turns and switchbacks. It did take a while and lot of commitment on my part. The trainer's deal was: free classes for us for Hart's lifetime BUT she had to get her CD (Companion Dog AKC obedience title).

The fuzzy dog thing? Much harder because Hart meant business; she would have killed that dog (a Bichon). We did lot of desensitizing with focus and treats etc, that kind of thing, but she still wanted to kill that dog. I am not exaggerating. Cattledogs are very quick; they have to be fast and agile or they'll get killed by a cow's kick square in the head.

When Hart was a year old, my trainer (who was also Hart's breeder) gave me a prong, first putting in on my arm and showing me exactly how it worked and how to use it correctly. She also showed me how it needed to be fitted correctly etc. She stressed it was a Training TOOL. Not to be worn causally or all the time, like a regular buckle collar. Ever. We did probably 3 weeks of classes with a double leash technique, never, ever touching the leash with the prong. One class, with no warning (cattledogs can be like that, most of them are extremely subtle, even for a fully sighted person) she went after that Bichon. One pop, we changed directions with lots of praise and treats for a nice heel. I think she wore that collar for maybe 3 months and never again. She didn't dread it, she never turned away, she'd happily wag her tail and wiggle her butt when she saw it. But she also had great work ethic. I maybe corrected her 5-10 times, mostly to refine a heel, quite honestly. I will tell you that her three years of year-round classes and out of class work were 90% positives and 10% aversives or corrections.

Hollering at your dog to shut up or using a sound (Acckk! is ours) is considered by many All Positive trainers to be an aversive. Come on, Seriously? Who doesn't holler at your dog or kid once in a while.

"Oh, Johnny, darling, don't go near the street. You might get hurt by a car," works great on a three (or eight) year old. Not. You go get Johnny and if he continues to do that, you just might holler at him or give him a time-out. (Parenting a kid is for another blog!)

If Elke insists (sneaks) on getting on the sofa with a bone or toy, she knows that's a no-no, I'm going to say, firmly and yes, loudly, "Get off the sofa with the bone!" point to the dog bed and praise her when she eats the bone on it. The rules haven't changed in 4 years, Elke, and they pertain to all dogs!

Back to Hart the prong collar.
She had her CGC, TDI (when it meant something more) and her CD, was working towards her CDX and Agility titles when my circumstances stopped her training. She could walk through a herd of little, fuzzy, white, yappy dogs on a buckle collar with tons of treats and no worries. Interestingly enough, she had a best bud who was a Chi-weenie and was fine with small black fuzzy dogs, like Schipperkes.

I've had 2 other cattledogs I used prongs on once in a blue moon, Jesse Ann, my wonderful pig-head, could get very fixated and wouldn't respond to click/treats at all. Again, maybe 3 uses of the prong and never needed again for 10.5 years. Wingie JoJo, my lovable dope was scared of regular clickers (we used a cricket clicker) but he sure loved his food!! I had to fde food fast and use praise and pets on him!

E-Collars? I am not a fan. I think it's the lazy way to train. I do get why hunters use the warning-beeper ones. "Hey, Buster, you're off track," is really hard to holler when your German Shorthaired Pointer is 1,000 yards away. More and more, I'm hearing, hunters are using whistle training. I don't how I feel about e-fencing.

My current ACD, Artie, is soft and he won't need a prong. He "gets" what he's supposed to do, what I'm asking. He's smart and willing. He's still reactive and stupid and mouthy but I can get him back. My Elke is very soft and needs a whole other approach to help her get over herself. I confess to use a prong on her for excessive pulling the leash when she a couple of years y0unger and in retrospect it was NOT the "right" thing to do for her.

Now times and techniques have changed in those 19 years! I use the clicker too --- all the time! I usually use a tongue click when I'm working on leash though. Too much stuff to deal with and my dogs "get" the tongue click! Artie and Elke don't need the prong. Three other ACDs I've had needed the use of a prong maybe a few times each in their 10+ years on this earth in my care.

My German Pinscher (a terrier) really didn't need it. In retrospect it proved to be counter-productive. He was started as a wee pup on a clicker and treats and he is the reason why I can be somewhat ambivalent about clicker training. He was extremely hard to train as he was not food or toy motivated. And trust me, we tried everything, even a real (dead) squirrel tail! He is also the reason I am loath to get another terrier-type dog much as I love the clownishness of terriers and the love-a-bull mugs of the Big Heads.

Point: I think each dog is an individual and may learn in different ways than another dog. It is a process and you may need other tools. Some rock it on a harness, others are idiots on a harness. A tool is a tool. It's how you use it or even IF you use it at all. Honestly, it's not for most dogs and definitely NOT for most owners or trainers. However, I'll stand by my decision to use the prong collar on Hart-Marie all those years ago. As a training tool, it helped her "get" that a certain behavior was unacceptable. It may have saved two dogs' lives: a small, fluffy, white dog's and hers. Had she killed a dog, I would have felt obligated to put her to sleep. She died at age 16 1/4 years, nicely trained, deeply loved and tenderly cared for all her life.

Just my opinion.

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