It’s not a myth — summer is dog bite season. Apparently, the same irritation humans feel as the mercury climbs affects our canine companions, too. But, did you know that the method you use to train your dog could have a big impact on whether he becomes a biter or not?
If you ask most good trainers, they’ll tell you that the very best insurance against dog bites is to attend a safe off-leash puppy class while your pup is between the ages of eight to 16 weeks. Pups need play with other puppies to develop “bite inhibition.” For older dogs, training in a positive manner, as soon as you can after you adopt them, poses far less risk than using punishment or dominance-based methods. Research shows that aggressive training methods have been associated with increased levels of aggression in dogs, and many leaders in the industry advise against them (http://abrionline.org/article.php?id=254).
Sadly, there has been resurgence in the use of such methods, including the use of electronic shock collars, despite evidence of the risks. (http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/shockcollars)
Jean Donaldson, of the highly regarded Academy for Dog Trainers, and author of “The Culture Clash,” is critical of all such methods, but is very adamant in her rejection of shock collars.
“Until these devices are illegal, consumers must protect themselves and their dogs by looking beyond the marketing messages of those who profit from their sale and use,” she said. “It is not necessary to use electric shock to change behavior. It is not necessary in humans, in zoo species, in marine mammals or in dogs.”
Donaldson’s sentiments are echoed by Dr. Karen Overall, VMD, PhD, and diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behavior (ACVB), who is also certified by the Animal Behavior Society (ABS) as an applied animal behaviorist, in her paper titled, “Why Shock is Not Behavior Modification.”
So, how does the consumer know who to hire? This column’s author, Anne Springer, who manages SeniorCare’s Positive Connections program, suggests that people ask, “What equipment will be used on my dog?” “How does this equipment work?” “What specifically do you do if my dog disobeys?” “What are your credentials?” (“I’ve been training dogs for 20 years” isn’t a credential!)
If the person is college-educated in a behavioral science, has attended a science-based professional training curriculum (such as Academy for Dog Trainers, Karen Pryor Academy, Companion Animal Sciences Institute), and regularly attends dog behavior seminars and workshops then it’s likelier that he or she has the knowledge to be able to train a dog safely without the use of coercive collars or other punishment techniques.
For more information about the potential problems of punishment or dominance-based training, visit the AVSAB site: www.avsabonline.org.
Anne Springer owns Paws for Praise. She will be available with fellow trainer Jennifer Titus, of Jen’s Happy Dog, at Cape Ann Animal Aid’s Dog Day on Sept. 15 at Stage Fort Park to answer your dog behavior and training questions, and to provide information about SeniorCare’s Pawsitive Connections Program.