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The Check Cord

We revere them in photographs, magazines, catalogs, art galleries. We praise them in written words, in the field and shared stories. Authors and businesses use stunning photos to accompany articles or promotions. Books are written, bronze is cast, and we profess our love for these dogs. But there is another side. A side many mistakenly believe “has to be,” others are happy to remain blissfully unaware of, some with a financial interest and others who unfortunately just don’t care.

Far too many dogs today are still being trained with a very heavy hand and methods that rely on high levels of physical pressure to teach dogs how to do things they don’t know how to do. When a dog fails, “It can’t take the training program,” and it gets cast off to a rescue home or shelter. Those are the lucky ones.

I believe it’s long past the time for sportsmen and the industry in general to take a hard look at some longtime, widely accepted training methods promoted every day by both amateurs and professionals.

I’m far from an advocate of the misguided “positive only/force free” doctrine that has swept the pet training market and led to predictable results. But we long ago reached a point in training field dogs where you don’t need be using high levels of pressure to teach or to employ poorly or unskilled application of reasonable methods.

Part of the problem is the old, outdated information is still available, but more disturbing is the current mentality that that old method is THE method.

When I learned my formal remote collar integration and formalizing mouth manners (force fetch) over 30 years ago, it was at the hands of highly skilled professional trainers who had learned from other professional trainers years before. In those day the only people that I encountered who used remote collars and forced dogs were either professionals or their “satellite” clients, people who were around them daily. Those satellite clients had watched the different processes countless times, been taken through them step by step and then continued to be supervised going forward. Today it seems most everyone has a remote collar and tries to force certain behaviors onto their own dogs.

I am a huge proponent of remote collars, transitioning over a thousand dogs and training forced-fetch methods to literally hundreds of dogs, but I’m extremely apprehensive of the widespread use of remote collars today. I’ll be the first to admit that many novices are able to train in an excellent fashion, and props to them, but countless other don’t.

Right now, you might be compelled to say, “To hell with you, Sparks! I forced my own dogs and use a collar on them. They deliver to hand and come when they’re called!”

First, don’t validate your training skills on the results of outcomes in the field. I can fill my bank account by stealing, but does that make me a rich man?

How you train is what should validate your success.

Part of the problem is the old, outdated information is still available, but more disturbing is the current mentality that that old method is THE method. Well, as they say, there is more than one way to train a dog. They’re right. You can use an old, outdated method that relies on high levels of physical pressure to bully a dog into a behavior. Or you can try a more modern approach that fairly teaches the dog things it doesn’t know how to do, shows the dog how those things will be enforced and enforces in a way that’s fair, humane, compassionate and effective.

“But … but … but … old school works!”

A lot of things work that are unfair, bad ideas, outdated and stupid, too.

Whipping your dog with a leash isn’t justifiable.

One of the reasons poor training continues is our field dogs take pressure at their own expense. Use too much for a particular dog and the tail goes down, the ears go back and they “sull up” or sulk.

“It’s the dog’s fault. It has to be that way. It’s the way it has always been done. It’s only a dog.” Training with that kind of an attitude is really similar to an abusive relationship if you think about it.

The compartmentalized echo chamber of field dog training is a real thing. We generally only hear the preacher talking to the congregation. Whatever magazine, book or internet article or discussion forum you frequent, the information is mostly the same because trainers rarely suffer any consequences as a result of using these methods.

Rather than dig in and defend your position like you really want to, start thinking about how field dogs are trained and if those methods support your professed love of the dogs. Grow, be intellectually curious about the training process, try to figure out if you can get the same or better result using less pressure. Anyone can follow the herd: Be different, lead, take chances. It’s not easy or more people would be doing it. It’s time we abandon a lot of accepted training doctrines while it’s still our choice to do so.

Putting training and remote collar education in the hands of anyone with an internet connection, website or YouTube channel has already shown us how NOT to train intelligently. It’s time for a seismic change.

Words just convey intent; action demonstrates conviction.

Alec Sparks

About author
Alec Sparks has been training dogs professionally for over 22 years. He can be reached at www.snowboundkennels.com or on Facebook at Snowbound Kennels.