Updated: Sep 26
"Whoever can find the answer to the question 'How can I say this to my dog?' has already won the game and can develop from his animal whatever he likes." - Max Von Stephanitz
An Advocate's Perspective on Pressure in Dog Training
As someone who's all about using pressure the right way in dog training, I know how effective and crucial it can be when done correctly. But, I've also seen way too many cases where it’s gone horribly wrong... whether it's dogs avoiding their owners like the plague or dog-on-dog aggression getting worse, the struggle is real.
The path to effective training is a continuous journey, and while many embark on it with the best of intentions, It's a heart-wrenching sight, watching these loyal companions pay the price for our learning curve.
As they say: "The devil is in the details." It's a realm where precision matters, where understanding that a split second can make all the difference. It's the small details that can make or break your success. And let's not forget, when we mess up, it's usually our dogs that pay the price. So, as we dive into the nitty-gritty of using pressure in dog training, remember that every choice we make can have lasting consequences.
We owe it to our dogs to make sure those consequences are for their benefit.
Dog training is an art that seamlessly blends science, intuition, and experience. Among the myriad of tools and techniques employed by trainers, pressure is one that stands out - both for its efficiency and potential for misuse. For those who are unfamiliar, pressure refers to a stimulus used to encourage a desired behaviour or discourage an unwanted one.
But like any tool, when used incorrectly, it can cause harm.
The Skilful Use of Pressure
The experienced dog trainer knows that the effective use of pressure is much like a surgeon with a scalpel, every movement is precise, deliberate and with clear intent - understanding that even the smallest misstep can have consequences. An experienced trainer understands the subtle signs of a dog’s body language, the signs of stress, comfort, compliance, or resistance. When applied correctly, pressure can yield swift and positive results.
The Fallout of Inexpert Use
In the hands of an inexperienced or unskilled trainer, pressure can lead to a multitude of problems. Some of these include:
Trust Diminishment: Incorrect use of pressure can quickly erode the trust between dog and handler. Once trust is compromised, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve positive training outcomes.
Behavioural Fallout: An overuse or improper application of pressure can result in unintended behavioural issues, ranging from anxiety and fearfulness to aggression.
Reinforcement of Undesired Behaviours and Desensitisation: Improperly timed or insufficient pressure can inadvertently reinforce the very behaviour we're trying to eliminate. If pressure is released before the behaviour has changed, it can send the message that the undesired action is acceptable or even rewarding.
Continued misuse of pressure can harden the dog to it. As the dog becomes desensitised, it may require even more pressure to convey the same message, leading to a counter-productive cycle. This not only makes training harder but also risks pushing the dog into a defensive or resistant state - further reinforcing undesired behaviours.
Avoiding the Pitfalls
So, how can one ensure that they’re using pressure sensibly?
Education: A solid understanding of canine behaviour, anatomy, and psychology is crucial. Trainers should continually update their knowledge through seminars, books, and workshops.
Mentorship: Novice trainers can benefit immensely from mentorship. Learning from seasoned professionals can provide invaluable insights into the art of applying pressure effectively.
Self-Awareness: Trainers must be in tune with their emotions. If one is frustrated or impatient, it's best to step back and take a breather rather than risk applying pressure inappropriately.
This next example illustrates the complexities of using pressure and the potential consequences of its improper application. Proper timing, consistency, and intensity are key components in the effective use of pressure in dog training.
Barking at Other Dogs:
• Scenario: Bella, a small terrier, barks aggressively at other dogs during walks. Her owner, in an attempt to correct this behaviour, tugs on her leash. However, due to incorrect timing, the correction often comes just after Bella stops barking and is merely looking at the other dog.
• Fallout: Instead of associating the correction with her own aggressive barking, Bella starts associating the unpleasant tug with the presence of the other dog. Over time, this incorrect association creates more fear, aggression, and anxiety around other dogs. She may begin to believe that the appearance of another dog leads to an unpleasant experience, further intensifying her negative reactions.
Mastery in Dog Training
In the realm of dog training, the subtleties and complexities are crucial. A trainer must know what to do, when to do it, and why to do it. It's essential to understand the exact intervention point during a behaviour and to know what actions to take once you get there. Equally crucial is recognising when to stop or adapt an approach to ensure optimal results.
One of the most widespread issues I observe in dog training is the inconsistent yet persistent use of incorrect pressure on dogs. Unfortunately, it's rare for me to encounter individuals, whether they are owners or trainers, possessing the necessary skills to apply pressure wisely and effectively. This lack of expertise often culminates in a multitude of unintended and adverse outcomes.
If there's any reluctance or hesitation in taking the necessary actions to correct a behaviour, one should reconsider the approach entirely. If you're not competent or willing to do what it takes to achieve the desired outcome, perhaps it's an indication that the method at hand is not the best fit. In such situations, it may be more beneficial to redirect the focus on the positive aspects of training, honing skills in timing, deepening the understanding of canine behaviour, and fortifying your bond with your dog.
The art and science of dog training depend heavily on understanding and empathy, combined with the technical skill of application. It's a delicate balance. At the heart of it all is the well-being and happiness of the canine. As trainers and dog lovers, the responsibility lies in our hands to ensure that our actions promote trust, understanding, and a bond that stands the test of time.
Pressure, as a training tool, can be both powerful and dangerous. Its proper use can be the bridge to harmonious dog-human relationships, while its misuse can spell disaster. As responsible dog owners, it's so important that we approach the application of pressure with the respect, understanding, and skill it demands.
- Ryan King | OzcorpK9