Training Conundrum


A few weeks ago, I ran into a woman doing outdoors obedience classes, and was intrigued – I wanted to do a fall training course of some sort.  I got her card, her website seemed decent, and speaking with her, she seemed sane/stable/nice.  I also liked the idea of doing treat-free training.

In her words: “My training style teaches your dog to want to listen to you, not just to get a treat”.

It sounded like it had potential.  So much so that, when I saw that she had been trained under Brad Pattison, I was a bit wary, but still curious.  The number of people who strongly dislike this guy and his training methods … well, there are a lot!

However, she offered the option of participating (dog and all) in one class, so I went for it.  I can almost hear the horrified gasps of a number of people whose dog training I respect so much.  Just… wait.  Read the rest.

Things I liked :

  • outdoors – It’s great that Gwynn will sit/stay for a long time in a gym with other dogs in it… but I rarely find myself in a gymnasium anymore.
  • Action – there was a lot of running around and changing directions and generally trying to get your dog excited about paying attention to you. 
  • No-talk-rule – The trainer had a ‘no talking’ rule for the first three or four classes.  I like the idea of that because I think it helps to get your dog to pay more attention to the words you do say, and for you to pay more attention to his body-language.
  • Martingale collar – Correct me if this seems wrong (seriously, please do leave comments about this – I’m considering getting one of these), but here’s the explanation she gave me:  The collar puts pressure all around the dogs neck, instead of just at the point they’re pulling towards.  It then loosens as soon as the dog isn’t pulling, to a point that is looser than you’d be able to leave a regular collar without worrying about it falling off.  And he definitely pulled less/for less time when he tried to go towards the other dogs when I wasn’t walking towards them.  Thoughts, opinions?  I think it might help with Gwynn’s freak-out-and-go-apeshit reaction to seeing cats. If it were a quicker all-around pressure on his neck, maybe he’d let-up on his lunging/craziness a bit faster after spotting a cat.  More on cats in another post.

Things I didn’t like:

  • Martingale collar – the purpose to which she used the collars, rather than the collar itself.  It was used to force them into positions.  Gwynn knows hand-signals.  So, when she called for a sit or a down, I used the hand-signal.  But the other people in the class were doing as she instructed, and pulling up on the lead (and thereby tightening the collar) or down on it to make the dog do things.  The trainer wanted us to be entirely in control of the timing of obedience, and (so it seemed) to take the decision to ‘be obedient’ away from the dog.  This doesn’t make sense to me at all.
  • Yelling – the ‘stop’ command : the purpose is to train your dog to ‘stop’ on command, like, say, if he were running towards the street, and you yell ‘stop’, and he stops.  The way she trained it: get your dog in a sit, encourage them to come towards you, and then yell, loudly, ‘STOP!’, while your arms go forward and stop them by blocking their forehead from going forward.  Well, I tried it.  Once.  And Gwynn looked at me like I’d grown a snake-head out of my forehead and grown horns.  It wasn’t all yelling for the class (or even half-yelling… it was just one exercise), but it was too much yelling for my pretty-timid dog.

I liked some aspects of the training – and plan to kind of incorporate them in my day-to-day training/walking the dog.  But, overall, I think there were too many things about the class that made me uncomfortable.  Plus side of this adventure, now the trainer knows there are coyotes in that park, so it isn’t the best idea to hold a class that ends after dusk.  Did I mention that lesson was in one of my main parks?  I don’t go there after dark because of the coyotes and the creepers.  Mostly the creepers, to be honest.  They are super creepy.

sometimes the dog chases the coyote, yes... but other times, the coyote is just luring the dog into the woods, where all his coyote friends are waiting. They're wild animals and they do sometimes work in packs, so treat them with respect and wariness!

Instead of hopping into the Patti-wagon, I signed up for a ‘Foundation work for Dog sport’ class with the same company as I took a class in the summer.  They’re going to show us things from a variety of dog sports, including agility, and do some trick-training/shaping type obedience.  One class in, it’s great.  I think the trainer will be able to help me a lot with using the clicker, rewarding at the right moment, and generally improving Gwynn’s obedience without the class being entirely about obedience training.  It’s basically exactly what I wanted, and I’m totally psyched!

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22 Comments

  1. I’ve heard of the Martingale collar but never used it. Personally I am trying to stay away from forcing my dog to do anything regardless of what method is used. But that is my opinion.

    I hear what you are saying about getting away from the treating, but the way I understand it, you only treat all the time in the beginning; once your dog begins to understand and respond to your commands you will back off the treats.

    We had a couple of outdoor classes this summer and the dogs really seemed to enjoy it!

    • I agree with you – I’d rather teach Gwynn that listening to me is a good idea, instead of what that class appeared to be teaching: DO AS I SAY NOW NO QUESTIONS!
      My hope for the martingale would more be about getting him to stop pulling and also avoiding that awful rasping coughing he gets when he flips out and pulls ridiculously on the leash… it seems like it would apply pressure all around instead of putting all the weight of Gwynn and his pushing away from me right on his trachea and causing him to gag and gasp. I don’t think it’d impact my training gwynn at all, since the only purpose of the leash/collar in training for me is to ensure that he doesn’t wander off. So i wouldn’t be snapping or tugging or popping at the collar to make him do… whatever it is i want him to do at the moment. I want more feedback about it before I’m willing to purchase one, though, and google wasn’t quite giving me the detailed analysis I was looking for.
      I’m hoping more of the training places in my area will start doing outdoors classes. I think it’d be the best way to teach Gwynn to listen to commands in real-world situations.

  2. I’ve never heard of that collar & probably know a lot less about dogs than you. But, we use a Gentle Leader on Sadie and it works great. We got her from the pound when she was about 5 months old and weighed just under 30 lbs. She couldn’t walk on a leash, wouldn’t go upstairs, and was not house broken or crate trained. With the help of a great trainer and the gentle leader she really is a good dog. Even my little boys can walk her on the leash if she has it on. As long as they don’t go crazy and try to get her to chase them!!

    • I’ve had the gentle leader recommended before. I might have to give it a go for getting him to calm down upon seeing cats on our walks! Gwynn didn’t know how to climb stairs either (not even the three steps on our porch) when we first brought him home. it hadn’t even occured to me that this would be something that needs teaching!

  3. Personally, I don’t like any collar that tightens around the dog’s neck. Daisy is a stubborn, strong-willed dog and we trained her very well using Jan Fennell’s and Paul Owens’s methods – no yelling and no tightening collars. For small dogs in particular (like ours), tightening collars can cause tracheal collapse.

    We used a combination of a book and video and trained Daisy ourselves, with great success. Consistency is key, and finding what works best for your dog is also important. Dogs are like people in that different dogs learn faster from one system over another, just like different people learn better from different teaching methods.

    Just my two cents.

    • and a great 2 cents at that 🙂
      My worry with gwynn with the regular collar is that it focuses all the pressure right on his trachea when he pulls away from me. He’s pretty sturdy, so i doubt a plain collar or martingale would ever cause collapse, but i hate to hear him wheezing!

  4. Another vote for skip the martingale. Here is my thoughts, if she is pulling so much she is gasping, she’ll do it with the martingale too. And once you have a correction type collar on, it’s too easy to get frustrated and give it a good old yank, even when don’t set out to train that way. I am betting she is using the martingales with the chain links in them, and if so, those tighten more than the size of the dogs throat, otherwise they don’t really fit correctly/safely – they would be too loose and would come off.

    If it were me, I’d use either a front clip harness or a head collar, whichever you and your dog are more comfortable with, and then practice on the flat collar only during controlled training sessions, starting in environments with little or no distractions, so she really has no need to pull and gasp. Only move her up to more distractions when she is reliably not pulling with no distractions. In the meantime, use the device that gives you more control without throttling her – there’s nothing wrong with that.

    And there’s nothing wrong with working for treats. Would you work for free? Think about it. We ask our dogs to do so much for us, things we’d never ask other animals to do – and walking slowly at your side on a leash without checking out things in the environment is completely unnatural to a dog. Using treats to reward them for paying attention is a wonderful way to thank them for going against their natures upon request. Once she’s doing it reliably, you can fade them, but even then, it would still be nice to give her a little tidbit here and there as a special treat.

    Finally, I have been working on an emergency “Down” with Toby for months now, rewarding him heavily only for the fastest drops. We practice all the time, in the yard, and on our walks. Well, sure enough, his leash unclipped in a parking lot just a few weeks ago and although I was scared, I mustered up my most confident voice, just like I would have used while he’s on leash, and said, “Toby Down.” He dropped, I hooked his leash back on, and gave him a bunch of treats. All without yelling at him. 🙂

    As for training outside, hey, you can do that on your own. Stand outside the fence at a dog park, or Petco, or in the parking lot of a dog show – and practice getting attention when other dogs walk by. Plus, it’s free. 🙂

    Anyway, those are my thoughts.

    • good point about giving in to the urge to snap at the collar once it’s there.

      I like using treats, but i think i need to be less free with them on things that he’s already good at. more something i need to work on, though, than something i need in a training session.

      I work a lot on Gwynn’s sit from a distance – so that, instead of having him come to me if he ran across a road, i can get him to sit and wait for me to come and get him. probably similar to your emergency down, and acutally, i might start working on his down-from-a-distance more, since it’s harder to break a down than it is to break a sit, once the dog is in the position.

  5. Hi, Lexy, great post. A very interesting experience that bears a lesson for all of us to learn, I think. I would have felt equally uncomfortable if I were you, and I’m pretty sure George wouldn’t have liked it either and would have asked to go home. That whole yelling and pulling on the dog’s lead/neck when they’re already obedient and used to respond to hand commands (the best ones, anyway) seems pointless to me, and that trainer sounds like a very inflexible person stuck in her own methods.
    Martingale collars are primarily used on sighthounds (i.e. greyhounds, whippets and, to a lesser extent, Italian greyhounds). They’re meant to provide a gentler feel to these dogs’ long and thin necks, not to be used as an obedience tool. The explanation she gave you is correct, they spread the pressure over a larger surface of the neck, but I can’t say I agree with the use she put them to. Because they loosen when you release the pressure, you have to be careful with these collars. If you decide to purchase a martingale, never let Gwynn off the lead for a run whilst he’s wearing one, because it could get trapped in branches, bushes, etc. It might sound unlikely, but accidents do happen, and I’ve heard of a few unlucky dogs who practically hunged themselves. As a plus, there are some gorgeous martingale collars out there and it’s hard to resist the temptation of buying some.
    Having said all of that, I must add that I don’t use a martingale for George (which other whippet owners frown upon), for two reasons. One is that we always walk George on a harness (not because he pulls, but because he’s always liked it better) so a martingale would be pointless. The other reason is that we like to give George a run whenever possible, which means that we’d have to take the martingale off anyway. Sounds like a lot of unnecessary hassle to me, to be honest, although the thought of poshing George up even more is hard to resist.
    I’d better leave you now. Let me know what you’ve decided about the collar. x

    • One thing I read about them is that they’re good for dogs with thick necks and small heads (greyhounds, whippets, etc), because it stays loose on the neck and then, if the dog tugs to try to get it off, tightens around th ears to prevent him from getting it over his head. If george is just as happy with a harness, then i dont’ see any reason to get a martingale collar (though there really are some very cute ones, especiallywith the cloth-martingale loop, you’re right!)
      Also, great point about the hazard of it being on when he’s alone – a flat collar’s the only thing i’m willing to leave on him when he’s alone or running around in the bush.

  6. I’ve never used a Martingale collar, but we do use training collars (ie choke chains…I know horrors!). If the dog is gasping then the collar is not in the right place. It should be high up just under their ears. Gentle leads and flat buckle collars are great if you have a smaller dog or a dog that doesn’t pull. But when you have a dog that pulls, they will pull you right around if you don’t have a collar on them that you can control (or worse, they can pull out of those collars). Collar/leash corrections are not bad things if done properly. The problem is that few teach the proper method these days.

    Got a nice compliment at a HRC hunt test recently. (HRC hunt tests are mostly populated by guy guys…lol.) A guy was watching me walk 93 pound, all muscle, Thunder and commented that he was very well behaved on the lead. He was saying how such a big dog could pull me over if he wanted, (yep he used to do that regularly when he was a youngster). But Thunder has learned what is expected when he is on lead and that was accomplished with a training collar.

    As for the yelling…it sounds sort of like our whistle stop that we use for handling at hunt tests (?). I have never heard of that way to teach it though.

    I think it is important to pick training that you are comfortable with and that is fun. If it isn’t fun or if you are not comfortable, what is the likelihood that you will stick with it? It sounds like you found the right fit for you.

    • I think the martingale is kind of like a choke, but with less opportunity for the person using it on their dog to mess up and damage their dog (yes, you’re right, most people don’t know how to use them properly. The way the trainer put it on gwynn, pulled to his neck-size, it had about an inch gap between the two rings the martingale was attached to – so it wouldn’t be possible to choke him like it would be to someone untrained using a choke chain.

      How do you guys train your whistle-stop? that sounds like a good idea to me, especially if the training doesn’t involve scare-tactics like yelling and surprising the dog.

      I’m sure you deserved the compliment – Thunder seems like such a well-behaved dog, especially considering the number of people I see getting dragged along behind their big strong dogs! You guys put in the time/effort to get your dogs so nicely trained, and that’s definitely what i’m aiming for.

      • Thunder is great at walking on lead everywhere except walking right up to the test. Then he looses his mind and can’t pull hard enough on the lead…lol. Winter project.

        To teach whistle stop (this is really abridged). You walk the dog on lead at heel and teach sit on whistle. Once that is solid, you take the lead off and practice sitting on whistle off lead at heel. Once they have that down and understand whistle means sit…then you let them get out a bit in front of you and whistle and hope they sit. We used fetching exercises for this…run, fetch, whistle sit on the way back. Start short and work to lengthen. The trick is to get them to face you when they sit, so that is why it is on the way back at first. There are lots of drills to work this until gradually you can make them sit when they are running away from you. But before we ever taught the whistle sit, they knew a recall whistle. Because after they sit, of course you have to get them back to you…lol.

        • i’m goign to have to try that – he’s decent at sit-from-a-distance (though he tends to try to get close to me before he sits… we’re working on that), but it’d be nice to have something louder than my voice to use for that command.

  7. O_O Have to say that my reaction to the lab running after the coyote was a little “WTF IT’S SADIE! WHY DID YOU STOP TO TAKE A PICTURE!?! When I left did I take all of your will to resist the Crazy-Dog-Owner with me?” until I realized that that dog is waaaay bigger than Sadie, and I know that your inner Insane part isn’t LIKE that. I like the pictures that you used in this 😀
    I think the collar seems like a good idea, if not the uuber MUST-CONTROL-DAWG! bit of it. I think that dogs get used to the feeling of it pulling only from the one side, and can easily lean one way to get some of the uncomfortable-ness off of the sensitive bits for a while, and it would probably be a subtle treat for the leash to loosen that much… Gwynn likes walking around the house sans-collar (Egads dog, you’re NAKED! 😀 Imagine that for a comic), so it’d be a treat eh?
    I also tink using the no-talking rule is great, and that might help more with the clicker action as well. If Gwynn is always listening for the glory that is when The Boss Speaketh, the click will always go NOTICED (not just noticed).
    I’m jealous that I can’t participate in this class you’re talking about 😐 For the week I’m down at the end of October, will it still be going on?
    Love you, miss you, and talk to you on the phone in a bit 😀

    • I think it will be, yeah 🙂 you can come out and hopefully see Gwynn in his obedient/entertaining element 🙂 instead of him in his ‘i just want to sniff dogs’ element 😛

  8. Moses’ collar is a martingale. And not just for training in classes – it’s his everyday collar (if he’s even wearing one, which he doesn’t if in the house/yard).

    As far as “training collars” go, when compared to prong and choke collars, it is the softest tool out there, and when fitted properly it cannot harm your dog, and the metal links allow for any pressure caused by pulling to be released quickly as soon as the dog stops pulling (as compared to some of the ones that have cloth instead of chain, which can stick). But yes, they’re great for greyhounds or similarly structured dogs – or any dog that’s an escape artist and tends back out of their collar.

    On the other hand, I’m not convinced gentle leaders or haltis are the safer, less harmful option. I’ve never used one, but I have read warnings about causing dogs serious harm to the neck/spine when they are pulling and you’re controlling them by the head (assuming it’s being used as a training tool to teach loose-leash walking and other skills you might use a different ‘training collar’ for). But I’m sure just like the martingale, it’s really perfectly safe when used properly and in the right context.

    An interesting article I read recently on this subject (though really has nothing to do with martingales) is here: http://www.thatmutt.com/2011/08/24/gentle-leader-vs-pinch-collar/ Though, it’s the only thing I’ve read on that website, so I don’t otherwise vouch for the information. Just food for thought.

    But I think the very bottom line is that the collar is used correctly and in a manner that you’re comfortable with. If you’re not comfortable, it’s obviously not the right option. (This is so relevant to Kristine (Rescued Insanity)’s recent post on trainers!)

    Though I do very strongly agree that training classes outside are a huge bonus – since that’s where you walk your dog anyway. But I’m sure you’d be able to find a trainer that both works outside and isn’t a Pattison grad.

    • very interesting article, thanks!
      I’ll be doing a bit more research about the gentle-leader, since my trainer recommended it as a good tool for refocusing Gwynn from his obsessing/reactivity towards cats on our walks. and if, like in the article, it could help calm him down a bit, that might give me a chance to train him to not go crazy towards cats when we see them on our walks. However, she’s right when she says it’s just a bandaid – that’s why i’ve been so reticent about the idea of using it. Sadie wears a halti, and it is amazing… she is tiny but very feisty, and the halti stops her from pulling. i try once in a while to take it off, and she is back, whole-hog to the tug-a-war method of getting down the street. very frustrating. however, possibly for use for just-the-reactivity… it could work.
      thanks for the info about both the face halter and the martingale. 🙂

  9. you can start out with treats, then when the dog knows what you want you can just pet them and say “good boy” I did it with a cat, you can do it with a dog!! Dont use the martingale, he will not like it!

    • I agree, and I try to spread out the treats on things I know he knows. sometimes he gets a treat (especially if he resonds quickly),a nd other times, just a ‘good’ and a pat.

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