Monday, March 8, 2010

Positive versus Negative Training

The dog lists are all abuzz with debate over the wisdom of Premier Products (purveyors of the Gentle Leader, Manners Minder, click sticks, and other dog-related products considered acceptable or admirable by most positive trainers) selling themselves to Radio Systems (purveyors of electronic fences and shock collars).
Some well-respected names in the dog training and dog biz are involved in this acquisition, and say that the merger will encourage Radio Systems to develop electronic devices for positive trainers, and thus push the agenda of positive training. I wish them luck, and I wish it were so, but the Manners Minder itself is the most applicable case in point.
Originally marketed as the Treat n Train through the Sharper Image catalog, it is a remote rewards device that was sold along with a DVD of how to use it to teach a dog to "go place" (i.e., lie down and stay in a specific location). It did not sell well. It went through a slightly modified version and still didn't sell well, and then went to Premier as the Manners Minder. Quite a few trainers have one of the old or new version -- I have one myself. But it never made anything like a wave as far as selling to the general public.
On the other hand, electronic fences and shock collars are wildly popular. I cringe at ads by a local radio host I thought knew better, enthusiastically promoting an electronic fence. I try to ignore the lovely display of shock collars when I visit the local Petco. Most of the pet supply catalogs I receive have a whole section of electronic devices such as shock collars, Scat Mats, electronic fences, bark breakers, all based in punishment. I'm sure they sell or they wouldn't continue to be carried by the catalogs.
I'm a realist. I understand that some people may have covenants that prohibit them from building actual solid fences, but still need some way to contain their dog. But I also know that as a species, humans tend to find punishment rewarding. Sound contradictory? It isn't. There have been a fair number of studies demonstrating that humans are quite willing to punish other beings, sometimes to a rather horrifying extent.
Don't people find rewarding other beings rewarding themselves? That seems to be a less common characteristic of our species. Add that to the often-expressed sentiment that the dog is "doing it for spite," and you've got a real tendency toward using and accepting punishment.
So do I think that Premier will change Radio Systems for the better? No. Do I wish them all the luck in the world with their efforts? Yes.

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