Excuse me while I quickly climb onto this here soapbox

A short rant on the belief that physically painful and harmful behaviour modifiers are necessary if you want a well-behaved dog…

Get on your soapbox...

I live in one of the oldest and most beautiful suburbs in Pretoria. We have a rich history with many homes and structures that are recognised heritage sites, and the streets are lined with arguably the most beautiful and striking fauna in the form of Jacaranda trees. It is this pride in my neighbourhood that led me to volunteer to sit on the Executive Committee Board of my Resident’s Association. My portfolio is Bylaw Transgressions, but we all chip in on neighbourhood issues wherever we can. More often than not I weigh in with the animal safety, lost & found and animal bylaw enforcement and transgressions.

Recently, at the Annual General Meeting I once again heard a “suggestion” concerning pets from a community member that made me so angry. I was discussing the importance of collaring and chipping your dog as we have had many violent storms leading to many lost and found dogs when a lady raised her hand to make a snide comment about the importance of making sure your neighbours with dogs fit anti bark collars, that they use electric invisible dog fencing, more people should also use electric shock collars for training, use “proper” behaviour modification equipment and must be strict disciplinarians with their animals – all for the good of the wider community of course.

The two worst offenders in my eyes: The Prong Collar and electrified shock collars

The two worst offenders in my eyes: The Prong Collar and electrified shock collars

Now, I know that these types of negative reinforces are widely used, and I’m sure there are many people who could make pretty convincing cases for why they are good for training and behavioural modification. I’ll even go so far as to admit that in my darkest days when I didn’t believe there would ever be a light at the end of the tunnel for Phoebe’s endless barking, howling and distress that these might be viable options to try so that the neighbours (and I) could get some peace. In the end though I felt I had read too many reviews and articles on how damaging they can be to your dog both physically and mentally – especially when dealing with an already traumitised rescue dog. Luckily I decided against going this route and carried on researching to find better solutions.

Here’s the thing I quickly learnt about dealing with “problem dogs” and “problem behaviours”:

1) You need to deal with the root cause of the problem

2) You will only see true long lasting success if you use positive reinforcement

3) If you need help dealing with any problems be patient and go to the experts.

4) Many countries outlaw these enforcers that cause physical pain. Some examples of these countries that outlawed painful training tools are electric shock collars in Wales, many parts of Australia and many more; prong collars in New Zealand. If you’re not sure whose argument to believe, looking at things that have been outlawed should be a good indication of whether this is 100% safe and acceptable or not.

What riled me up about this comment was the flippant way the lady just expected everyone to naturally turn to these kind of negative solutions, and after she spoke other community members made comments about how owners must give their dog a “hiding” when they bark incessantly, or misbehave. As an animal lover this kind of talk frustrates me and makes me so sad for the poor animals.

The only part of the statement that these people had right in my eyes was that animals need to BE TAUGHT. Period. Not through painful devices, violence or scare tactics, but through good old fashioned time, patience and TLC.

I’m trying to avoid getting stuck on this soap box for too long, but as a final word let me just assure anyone who is at their whit’s end about their own dog, or even their neighbours’ dog, of the following:

1) Only using painful, negative reinforcement may work initially, but positive reinforcement and training methods are the only longterm solution to a happy pup and owner. It’s all about the war, not the battle people!

2) People are ignorant of the needs of dogs when they get them. Especially the psychological and mental stimulation needed. Before you, or anyone you know, decides to get a dog do some thorough research on whether you’ll be able to cater for all the needs of that breed and type of dog for life. Getting a dog is getting a new family member that you stick with for life, so get to know a bit more about which breeds are known for needing lots of exercise, stimulation, are vocal etc.

3) When dealing with dog behavioural issues nip it in the bud. Get help as soon as you can, and go to anyone who is affected by the behaviour IMMEDIATELY so that they know you are working on it and have taken their frustration and how they are affected into account. Neighbours and fellow dog park visitors are far more patient when they know what the problem is, and that you are working on it. Trust me, I have experience with this, and can only thank my neighbours for sticking it out through Phoebe’s howling days!

4) If you are the irritated neighbour also nip it in the bud. Go to the owner as soon as the behaviour transpires, and calmly tell them exactly what is happening and at what times of the day etc. It might be (as in my case) that they are totally unaware of the behaviour because it only happens when they are away, or it simply may not have occurred to them that the dog barking in that area of the yard is right next to the bedroom window where your colic baby sleeps.

At the end of the day it’s just important for everyone to remember that we all live in the same shared spaces and our lives will overlap with our neighbours from time to time – this includes occasionally being affected by their children and/or dogs behaviour. It just makes it easier for everyone in the longterm if we deal with problems in a kinder, more compassionate manner that will make city living far more enjoyable for us all!

Principles of positive reinforcement training

Principles of positive reinforcement training

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Summary: Positive Reinforcement Training

Issue Addressed: All Psychological, Physical and Behavioural Needs

Tool(s) Used: Positive Reinforcement Techniques

Cost: Free!

Ease of Implementation: Easy. Treating your dog with love and kindness while patiently training is far easier and less frustrating for you both in the long run.

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Rating: 5/5. As a troubled rescue dog with unknown trauma in her past, the only way forward was through gentle, positive training that set her up for success. She has become a beautiful, calm, self confident dog as a result of these training methods.



2 thoughts on “Excuse me while I quickly climb onto this here soapbox

  1. I’ve had a fair number of people over the years tell me use use a prong collar on my reactive girl (sadly it’s still such a common tool in the German Shepherd sport world) – these people are so set in their “old school” training ways that my explanations of why I will never use one goes right over their heads. One of these people had the nerve to alpha roll my girl when she was a puppy for no good reason!
    I find a lot of people in South Africa are so narrow minded when it comes to training, they think “positive” and “permissive” are one and the same – I feel sorry for their dogs 😦


    • Just looking at a prong collar gives me the heebie jeebies! I don’t know how people can use them and seriously believe that there is no harm physically and emotionally to the dog once they are used – especially if the dog got it because they were anxious in the first place! …And Alpha Rolls have never made sense to me – again, what are you proving by upsetting the dog and physically coercing them?

      Your GSD is very lucky to have you around to protect him and teach him through kindness. It takes a lot to stand up to the “old guard” when they’re convinced they know better (whether it’s about pets, child rearing, cooking, politics or anything else!). Good luck, and ‘sterkte’ to you and your girl!


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