column By: Alec Sparks | November, 19
Depending on the doctrine or method of training you follow, your dog is probably exposed to some mental or physical pressure. Pressure isn’t an enemy of training; both dogs and people thrive on it as long as it falls within some very important parameters. Then pressure needs to be understood, not overzealously or poorly applied, and it can’t be never-ending. People tend to think only about pressure one dimensionally as in, “What am I doing right now?” or “At what intensity/duration mode is my remote collar set?” To really get a handle on the pressure your dog is dealing with, we need to look at things a bit more comprehensively.
Rarely do people consider “background pressure.” Background pressure is everything that is happening outside the actual training. Consider all the things your dog experiences: weather, kenneling or home life, feed, interaction with other dogs and people, fitness or lack thereof, general health, how you interact with your dog outside training — the list goes on.
Many dogs are under a fair amount of background pressure people don’t even consider, some of it mental and others physical.
When dogs first arrive at my kennel, I let them just relax for a couple days and adjust to all the changes in their normal routine. Occasionally a dog is ready to roll the next day while others can take a number of days to adjust. Diving right into training sometimes helps them adjust while other dogs just need to ease into things. Different feed, different water, different people, different dogs, different location, different noises and smells, different kennel or travel crate/trailer/dog box. All that can be pretty stressful on some dogs.
In actual training you need to be aware of the intensity of the pressure, its duration and its frequency. Breaking that down, intensity is the actual amount/level of physical pressure you’re using. Duration is how long that pressure lasts per event, and frequency is how often the dog is subjected/exposed to pressure. Yeah, it’s a lot more to consider than just what you’re doing that second. All three need to be taken into account and balanced per individual dog while also keeping background stressors in mind.
High-intensity pressure should be kept brief and infrequent. Even if a dog “can handle it,” that’s no reason to be cavalier with pressure. They’re on the sharp end of the stick here, not you!
Duration. Again dog specific but my experience says most dogs handle intensity better than duration. If we’re talking remote collars here, positive punishment has a much lower unwanted impact on most dogs than negative reinforcement does at high drive enforcement levels. Positive = adding something; negative = taking something away. Those words carry no emotional meaning in dog training.
How often a dog is exposed to whatever level and duration of pressure it experiences must be considered. Infrequent high pressure might be a better option for some dogs than frequent low pressure.
All four pressures should be considered and balanced. Even “positive only” trainers have pressure to keep in mind although many don’t think so.
And now we haven’t even considered the most important aspect of physical pressure: timing. Poor timing is going to play havoc with your training, and, unfortunately, perfecting your timing really only comes from experience. Doing it poorly for 30 years, however, means you’ve probably perfected doing it badly while a sharp novice progresses quickly.
Pressure can accumulate and causes stress. Stress often leads to unwanted behaviors. The dog that was handling pressure so well and “out of nowhere” developed some issue? Guess what? He didn’t actually develop it out of nowhere. It was probably the result of stress from training pressure
All dogs can be very different, and one of the most important rules in thoughtful training is, “There is no should!” As in the dog “should be able to do this or take that by now.” No, no, NO! Don’t compare dogs, training timelines, ability to handle pressure or current abilities. Your job is to train the dog in hand and help it advance at a pace the dog dictates to you by the nature of your abilities as a trainer and the dog’s ability to advance. No calendars, datebooks, watches or schedules — just advancing in successive approximation to the best of both of your abilities.
Don’t think “pressure” always means electric collars or outdated “toe of the boot” either. Many dogs perceive what most would consider benign acts as stressful.
Clearly a trainer has a lot more to consider than just what he is doing “right now” if he cares to be thoughtful in his training. All the more reason to keep emotion out of training decisions. Our dogs deserve every consideration.