Dog Training Tools Vs. Teaching

One of the most common dog walking scenes across the country is a pet parent being pulled down the street while walking their dog. Sometimes I am lucky enough to see a dog wearing a dog harness however it is often without the benefit of being taught or learning anything.

How could a dog learn (other than that pulling gets them where they want to go) to walk by your side when they are so disinterested in you, are way out in front of you, and don’t even know you are attached to the other end of the leash? Your dog has no idea what you want or that pulling you isn’t a game. They just know it works. It’s just pulling, which is often fun when playing tug games, or functional for a service dog or working dog, right?

Black small dog pulling on leash

I pull because it works to get me where I want to go.

Tools Are Not Teaching

Tools facilitate teaching, as long as there is teaching present. As a society, we tend to rely on tools to get things done. But could you imagine if you bought a hammer and just threw it across the room at a box of nails? You wouldn’t exactly be a skilled carpenter.

However, if someone taught you the correct angle, force, proximity, stroke, speed, and grip of the hammer, your productivity and learned ability would skyrocket. You would, in essence, have learned how to use that tool correctly. Of course, tools do not work in a vacuum and you would also have to learn how to use a nail, where and how to hold it, the angle, length, texture, diameter and what environment it will be used in for it to be an effective tool to be used in conjunction with your hammering skills.

However, dog training is a rare discipline where one is teaching two different species simultaneously, both beginners, how to communicate. Therefore it is imperative not only for you to learn how to use tools correctly but also how to teach your dog the new behavior that you would like them to perform.  Otherwise, they will do what works, and in many cases pulling works just fine to get them where they want to go.

Here are some definitions as described by the American Heritage Dictionary:

  • Tool – “A device, such as a saw, shovel, or drill, used to perform or facilitate manual or mechanical work.”
  • Facilitate – “To make easy or easier.”
  • Teaching – “To impart knowledge or skill: or to cause to learn by example or experience.”
  • Crutch – “Something on which one depends, often excessively.”

Given these definitions how would you describe the dynamics of your dog walk and the relationship you have with your dog? Be honest! 🙂  You are not alone.

By all means, we indisputably have more valuable tools at our disposal now than at any other time in history. Tools are a blessing, and the right tool for the right job is critical but oftentimes not used for what it was intended.

For example, a head halter tool is a valuable tool yet not appropriate to be used as a muzzle. Another valuable tool in a pet parent’s arsenal is a front attaching harness for your dog. This tool will facilitate the learning process but does not teach the dog anything new.

Another tool is a vibration collar. There is never a case that would warrant the use of a choke chain, shock collar, or pronged collar. Not only are they inhumane, but we have access to a plethora of tools and options that do not have any fallout and that were not designed to inflict pain and discomfort that those archaic relics do. They have no place in education, should never be used and serve no one. If your “trainer” is suggesting a choke chain, electric collar or pronged collar, run the other way and find an educated dog trainer.

dog on front attaching harness behaving

I was a good girl. Insert dog treats here!

Teaching New Skills or Relying on Tools?

When a dog trainer is teaching a new skill such as loose leash walking (LLW), it is important to stress the teaching component and not over-reliance upon a tool such as a front attaching harness as a crutch. Crutches and tools in and of themselves do not teach a dog to want to stick by your side and to get rewarded for walking with you.

Sure, many people use front attaching harnesses, head harnesses, and other equipment when in a hurry in shelter environments, with foster dogs, or in other situations where time and resources are very constrained. However, as a pet parent, it is our responsibility to learn and teach a dog as one of the most fundamental necessities of care.

Teaching a pet is as important as teaching your child. Both are family members and need an education to function in society. No one can fathom having a child and not sending them to school or educating them, and a dog is no different. Everyone needs to be educated to coexist harmoniously and to communicate and understand one another.

Front attaching harnesses are simply one example of the over-reliance on tools as crutches. How else do people substitute tools for teaching? Please comment below on your experiences.

Red Panda playing with ears

I’m all ears

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