Leonard Cecil is producing a PDF of various applied dog behavior illuminaries stating for the record that they have no interest in being “pack leaders.” The idea originated with Nando Brown and has since mutated to dogs stating their own cases regarding this useless concept. For instance, here’s Buffy’s:
If you’d like to participate, go to the Facebook group Out of the Goldfish Bowl and get ahold of the template to build your own (or your dogs’) to submit to Leonard.
Even if you’re like me and not a football fan, you might find this podcast on the physics of football fascinating.
Proponents of the use of pain and avoidance in training like to place themselves in the middle ground, using words like “balanced” to describe themselves and “extremist” to describe trainers who get the job done without hurting dogs. The most cursory examination of this framing, however, reveals that the underlying assumption – the reasonable, middle position is to employ pain and fear along with rewards – is faulty.
It’s basically a rhetorical trick. For instance, the force free could claim the middle ground by saying, ”I’m a balanced trainer because I use a judicious blend of prompting, shaping via approximation, capturing and reward removal. I used to be more of an extremist, using and defending the use of motivators such as pain, startle and fear, but started migrating in the 1980′s toward this more reasonable approach.”
It’s also worth noting that, on scores of issues, “middle ground” approaches can be framed as insane or immoral. Absolutist positions are common in society, especially regarding violence. There is a pretty absolute moratorium on the use of physical force by spouses. Nobody sane attempts to defend a “balanced” position regarding domestic abuse. We don’t quibble – and notably the American Psychological Association doesn’t prevaricate – about, say, dragging by the hair if the scalp isn’t bloodied in the process, or punches to the face if there are no really *big* bruises left.
I can’t think of anybody who’s very “balanced” about the use of physical coercion by teachers either, even though it’d likely be more motivating to use some electric shock on scholastic under-performers: “Sure, the desire to get good grades and the good careers that follow are okay motivators, but why limit ourselves to two measly quadrants when we can have the richness of four. We would, of course, have to give it some other name than electric shock, which has unfortunate baggage. Maybe E-ducation or something.”
I and everybody I know also have extremist positions regarding shaking babies, hitting children, flogging military personnel who go AWOL, using shock on the developmentally disabled, amputating the digits of violent offenders, briefly choking employees under one’s supervision if they are chronically late for work, waterboarding high-school bullies, or rendering the dead into food for the starving. There are, in theory, more moderate, balanced positions on these and many other issues.
There was a time in recent history when all kinds of violent practices that would get one arrested today were both legal and considered a private choice. Not that long ago, you could easily be labeled a pious extremist for suggesting that parents shouldn’t smack their kids around or that husbands couldn’t “discipline” their wives. Dog training is headed, like other parts of modern society, like a steam train in the “it’s not okay to hurt and scare them” direction and it’s unsurprising that trainers who like shock are going down kicking and screaming as did their predecessors. If you’re young enough, you’ll probably live to see the day of back-pedaling by organizations who would dearly love to bury their current policy statements that bless the use of any training tool at the trainer’s discretion.
Another rhetorical device you might have seen is the contention that everybody is using coercion because, look, you’ve got a leash on that dog when you take him for a walk! The equivalent argument would be that a parent who holds a child’s hand while crossing the street is a hypocrite for lobbying against child battery. I don’t know whether the coercion crowd are just throwing shit at the wall, arguments-wise, or whether they actually can’t tease out the difference between managing the behavior of a member of society who, with absolute physical liberty, could easily run out into the street, and the hitting, strangling or shocking of that same member of society. It’s pretty eye-popping if you think about it. But it often does seem to be their idea of a trump card.
I sometimes wonder who will be the very last self-selected – as opposed to legally mandated – crossover trainer, and if they’ll breathe a sigh of relief that their legacy, for all to see in succeeding generations, is that they weren’t among the very last hold-outs.
Click here for an in-depth article on shock collars.
This 2009 piece is from a now-defunct previous blog.
When I first got into dog training, the mantra was “dogs are pack animals.” It was never questioned: dogs were strong bonding animals and fit into human families so well, sometimes to the point of developing bona fide disorders like separation anxiety. And a lot of behavior was deconstructed with social hierarchies in mind. Nobody examined what dogs do when they are not inserted into human families, i.e. are free-ranging. So a while ago I took a look at what is known about feral or semi-feral populations of dogs around the world. It turns out there are many such populations.
During the tenure of dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu, a poorly thought out reconstruction effort in Romania resulted in the demolition of thousands of houses and the relocation of thousands of families into small apartments throughout the country. For family dogs, this meant being turned out onto the street, where they have multiplied and eked out a marginal existence ever since.
A sad situation from every possible angle, the explosion of free-ranging dogs in Romania is an unintended experiment that challenges one of the most taken for granted aphorisms in the dog behavior world: that dogs are “pack animals.” The dogs in Romania have not formed packs. Their associations with one another are brief and casual: a couple of dogs may hang out together temporarily and then part company. Dogs are often drawn
together by a scarce resource like a food source or estrous female but once this magnet is gone, they go their separate ways.
This contrasts with wolves who, while a genetically identical species to dogs, live in packs. As explained by University of Minnesota biologist David Mech, each pack is a nuclear family consisting of a breeding pair and their offspring. When the offspring reach
maturity around two years of age, they disperse to avoid inbreeding depression and, if they live long enough, mate up and start their own packs.
The social lives of Romanian dogs may be the exception that proves the rule, so it’s
necessary to examine all free-ranging populations in order to formulate a stronger hypothesis about dog social behavior.
Significant populations of free-ranging domestic dogs exist in sub-Saharan Africa, South America, India, Mexico, on the Cook Islands, Hawaii, Bangkok and, in a situation paralleling that of Romania, in Moscow. Pariah dogs on the Indian subcontinent
are thought to be the longest-running continuous population of feral dogs – on the order of 14,000 years.
There are cases of dogs buddying up with one or more dogs for days at a time, and dogs being drawn into proximity to each other by food sources, however none of the above populations form packs the way wolves do. Males, in fact, do not participate in the rearing of puppies, which is the foundation of a wolf pack. And, scavenging far outpaces hunting as primary food-acquisition activity, another difference from wolves, who hunt much more.
By contrast, the accounts regarding the social behavior of Dingoes are much more conflicting. Often the same source will in one paragraph say that Dingoes are primarily loners that only occasionally pack up with a few others to take down a large prey item and later state that Dingoes are pack animals with stable hierarchies, a la Gray Wolf. Recent genetics research has allowed for the teasing out of pure Dingoes from Dingo-dog hybrids most of the time. Interestingly, hybrids are often outwardly indistinguishable from pure Dingoes to an untrained eye. So to be generous, it could be that the disagreement
between (and within) sources is partially due to some observations being of mixed ancestry animals and some of pure Dingoes.
A colleague of mine who has made trips to the Cook Islands to provide veterinary care to the feral dog population was struck by two things: the large numbers of short-legged dogs, and the absence of social cohesiveness. She fully expected and looked for packs, having heard and parroted for years, as have I, the party line of “dogs are pack animals.” Again and again, she witnessed what Dunbar has termed “loose, transitory associations” rather than packs.
If we are to support our contention that dogs are pack animals, we will need to account for these many populations where dogs, in the absence of the glue of human confinement and
husbandry, simply do their own thing.