Ethical training

“Where knowledge ends, brutality begins” Charles de Kunffy

Ring ring goes the phone

Hello? Is that the dog trainer?

Yes, how can I help you?

“We have a problem with our dog-she is a rescue and


dog (Photo credit: davidyuweb)

she came over from Spain a year ago but she doesn’t like other dogs”

This is often the beginning to a conversation that I always find hard. Yes, I can help, yes it will cost as I have expertise that I have worked for, and no it can’t  be done in only a few sessions, especially if the behaviour has been practised for a good chunk of the dog’s life-or there was a bad incident early on in the dog’s life, which is often the case.

So, what often happens is that I explain the correct procedure that will start building the confidence that this dog inevitably needs (when he/ she is around other dogs), BUT it is never a “quick fix” and the more isolated the dog was in his/her previous life the more time it will take to educate the owners (first and foremost) and to help the dog develop enough life skills before he /she will be comfortable in situations that the “majority” of dogs are happy with. I have put the word majority in commas as many dogs have different and varying reactions to other dogs and many dogs are not always predictable in their reactions when meeting strange dogs. This is not primarily a conversation about dog socialisation, but it is an observation on how to encourage people towards thinking about using ethical methods when teaching/training their horses and dogs.

I am passionate about the ethics of training horses and dogs. I believe that there is no such thing as a “quick fix” and this expression usually denotes that the horse or dog has been trained at least partly with the aid of aversives.

Aversive methods may not always be barbaric or severe but they often mean that there is a price to pay. The reason why they are so abhorrent to me is that our horses and dogs deserve the most educated owners and trainers that they can possibly have.

What are aversives?

Aversives are the methods which  are used to surpress behaviors or to make quick changes to postures (in the case of horses) or aspects of behaviour- in the case of dogs. Changes to posture are not often demanded when training dogs, but having said that they dogs are asked from time to time, depending on the demands of the owner/trainer to change the way they naturally move -for instance an obedience dog at “heel” will be asked to walk on the owners left side and with his head looking up at the owner/handler. This is not natural and can be just as destructive to the bones, tendons and muscles as a horse forced to work with his head in an overflexed head position. The two have similar consequences, both horses and dogs will comply and do their very best, until they cannot sustain the position any longer. This leads to injuries and stiffness and can cause all manner of problems to the individual animal.

Other examples of aversives are spraying a dog with water or citronella when he is barking,identical aversives are often used to prevent dogs running off especially if they have little or no recall . They are often used when dogs bark at other dogs too, or when dogs bark at people or children.

Why are these methods so wrong? Water is harmless after all, but citronella in the face is no joke, if it gets into the dogs eyes it will  be very distressing and painful. Startling dogs when they are exhibiting a “bad behaviour” does not put things right. It does get an immediate response and it will cause a cessation of the behaviour but has the dog actually learnt anything form this episode? The answer is that it is very unlikely anything useful has been taught in this episode.

Horses often get put into false postures before they have developed the strength and balance to maintain them. Being pushed too quickly puts huge demands on a young mind and very delicate joints, plus he is expected to carry an alien weight on his back, that of the rider, at the same time.

Aversives are basically extremely destructive

Wakira: Deutsch: Hannoveranerstute an der Long...

Wakira: Deutsch: Hannoveranerstute an der Longe fotografiert von Mijobe 18:09, 11. Mai 2004 (CEST) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In common with both horses and dogs what is actually needed is a road map. The road map involves everyone-both trainers and teachers and this has to be passed on to the owners of horses and dogs.

The road map may have a list a little like this:

What is required may take time

A plan ion how to develop the behaviours and reactions that are wanted.

Consideration and empathy (for the horse or dog)

The cost should not be paid by the horse or dog

Observe the natural movement and behaviours and use them

The cost of quick fixes means that a behaviour is often surpressed, but does the horse or dog really  understand  what the lesson was? Ask yourself as you set out to train or teach what is actually wanted, and think about how you are going to teach it. Can you teach your dog to understand why jumping up is wrong, or that peeing at the door when someone new comes in is unacceptable? Remember that some of the behaviours that humans find unacceptable are “normal” for our dogs and horses and that surplus energy is often the result of youth and health.

I am constantly reminding people that a young animal is hard work, and that they should not be surprised if they have some quirky and mad behaviour at times.

The one thing that should be taken for granted is that anyone who takes on the job of helping you with your horse or dog has the best interests of that animal and will do help and use the best and most positive training methods possible, and keep the highest standards.

This may not seem like a difficult thing to ask for, but before you employ someone to help with your horses or dogs training please check their ethics first.

A little nose-to-nose communication. (iPhone)

A little nose-to-nose communication. (iPhone) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3 thoughts on “Ethical training

  1. Pingback: Ethical training | horseandhoundschool

  2. Couldn’t have put it better myself. In my experience not only do “quick fixes” not work long-term, but they are detrimental to the physical/mental wellbeing of our animals and often cause far more ‘unacceptable’ behaviors that then require much longer to address. Much better to take the slow and steady approach and take the time to understand the animal’s reasons for exhibiting the behavior in the first place


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