What’s Stopping People From Training Dogs Humanely?
Training your companion dog can be difficult. Learning how to communicate with dogs is a complex process that requires active engagement, and some training methods employ negative reinforcement as a shortcut to understanding. This article examines the barriers to adopting humane dog training methods. These include lack of knowledge of the harm caused by inhumane methods, poor information available to the general public, and an unregulated dog training system.
The author begins by citing studies showing that dogs trained with inhumane methods are consistently shown to be more aggressive and stressed, which in turn makes them more likely to disobey and act out. Despite many dog training organizations requiring their members to use humane methods, inhumane training is still common. This is partially due to the mostly unregulated nature of the dog training industry: the barriers to becoming a trainer are very low, and this leads to a large amount of unqualified and inexperienced trainers. Of course, qualified and compassionate trainers exist, but it can be difficult for the general public to differentiate them from unqualified trainers using inhumane methods. Furthermore, many inhumane training methods are completely legal in several nations, which can confuse people into believing that they are both effective and humane.
If dog trainers are unregulated and potentially untrustworthy, should people turn to veterinarians? While the profession is more regulated and requires more education, the paper cites studies showing that many vets are not thoroughly educated on behavioral and training techniques. There are guidelines given by veterinary organizations that recommend humane training methods, but inhumane methods are often allowed as a “last resort.” This lack of strict guidelines and education means that many veterinarians may be giving bad advice to clients who ask them for training recommendations.
If professionals are not necessarily trustworthy, might people themselves be better at training their dogs? Probably not. For one thing, training is difficult – many well meaning guardians may end up reinforcing or discouraging the wrong behaviors. Furthermore, laypeople are often less knowledgeable about proper training techniques than trained professionals are, and are more likely to use inhumane methods like shock collars. Some of this is due to an overestimation of their own capability. This essay cites two studies conducted in Italy and America, in which guardians were often found to rank themselves as a top source about dog training, and many said that they got their information ‘instinctively.’ In addition, many popular training books and websites are full of misinformation, leading people to have confidence in inhumane or unhelpful methods.
So, how do we fix this problem and create a world of happy, healthy, and well-behaved dogs? The author believes that something called the “Reasoned Action Approach” (RAA) can be of use. This approach is already widely used in human psychology to explain and predict changes in behavior. In particular, it is useful in predicting a parent’s use of corporal punishment, which suggests it could be useful in predicting attitudes towards dog training methods. The RAA can be used to understand a guardian’s existing beliefs about and knowledge of humane training methods, as well as predict their reaction to different teaching styles. As everyone learns in different ways, it is important that programs educating guardians about humane training methods are somewhat tailored to each individual. Training instructors can use this information to better reach people, which will lead to more people using proper training methods.
For animal advocates, the paper ends on an important point, arguing that the differing positions of organizations creates the impression that there is no consensus regarding humane training methods, when this is not the case. However, standardizing policies across veterinary and training organizations could help to clearly define what methods are acceptable and effective, which will result in changing social norms regarding dog training more broadly.