We only use positive methods, shame our students don’t

Blog post about attending positive dog training school allowing aversive dog training methods
By Laure-Anne Viselé, March 2011

The lost art of keeping your mouth shut

It’s tough attending a training class when you are shocked by the practices of your fellow students. But I am not the instructor in that class, so it’s not my place to say anything.  I wish the instructor did…

Positive training?

Extracts from the  ‘positive’ training class I attended this evening:

  • 4 out of 6 dogs were a wearing choke collar (some half-check)
  • 5 out of 6 handlers were frequently leash-jerking (some violently)
  • 1 handler regularly tapped her dog on the nose as punishment
  • Instructor told me I could drop the treats altogether, training being intrinsically rewarding

Dropping the treats altogether

This was actually an eye opener: my dog may actually love training for the sake of it! I was surprised, but he performed enthusiastically for her without a single treat (and without obsessing about her hands/pockets).

So, I’ll earnestly try to teach him that particular exercise without using treats at all (to lure or reinforce). Maybe I can expand it if it works. Could be interesting, as I am badly addicted to treats and I need help.

Choke collars

I am having a hard time understanding how a dog training school that advertises itself as positive allows them on its grounds. But, to be pragmatic about it, it doesn’t really affect my dog, so, whatever.

Leash jerking: I draw the line

Leash jerking was so frequent that it was turning into a dog bullying class.

I am not naturally a radical, but leash jerking goes one step too far for me.

One of my favourite sayings in dog training? “In leash jerking, “jerk” is a noun, not a verb“.


I’d done lots of research to find a positive training school in the region. I’d already been on the grounds, and asked the guide about the leash jerking and was told that it was ‘difficult to get it out of people’. It seemed like a reasonable answer, but I haven’t seen any attempt at addressing it.

I left the grounds feeling pretty stressed, and so did my dog, but I’d like to stick to it (as long as my dog can hack it) if only to try for my dog to pass this cycle with flying colours, to show them it can be done the smooth way.

I’ll keep y’all posted.

The whole palaver makes me wonder one thing: “Can a school really call itself ‘positive methods only’ if they allow their students to deal out aversive punishment methods“?

Any comments?

I love to read your comments, so go on, share your thoughts and remarks! Think am hair splitting? Think I should start World War II?

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  1. Posted 21 March 2011 at 23:57 | Permalink

    There IS a way to get people to stop jerking the leash. What you need is to get their hands off the leash. In a private class in a fenced area, the obvious thing is to just take the leash off.

    But in a regular class, all you need to do is to convert leashes into waist leashes. Anyone who is wearing a belt or jeans with strong belt loops can use a leash wrapped around the waist & tethered with a carabiner. For the rest, the instructor can have gear like this to lend out for duration of class. http://dugenclip.legendarydog.com/ There are lots of these leashes with extra rings which can be used to make a quick waist leash.

    Leash jerking is tough to quit if you’ve done it before (sadly waves hand!) I too sometimes need to get my hands off the leash to make good choices. Waist leashes are very handy for people who are new to using a clicker and treats – one less thing to hold on to!

    I think the difficulty for instructors is that they’re not only instructors, they’re business people. They don’t want to insult the clients & lose business, have people quitting & demanding money back etc. I’ve seen instructors get really flustered by clients who persist in behaving really aggressively with their dogs. One solution might be a more thorough class contract which explains what is & is not acceptable in class & what the instructor will intervene with. Then it can be easier to say “Now Jane, remember that contract I went over with you at the beginning?! There’s no leash popping in this class. Let me show you a different method.”

    • Posted 22 March 2011 at 14:00 | Permalink

      Hey again! Glad you’re back, I really like your comments.

      Tough habit to break in your students
      Oh am also convinced there are ways to stop people from popping the leash. I think if it gets communicated clearly from the word go (or at all), there are ways to be clear, polite, and effective.

      Thanks for the tip on waist leashes!

      I take your point that it can be tricky, though. And it’s not always the commercial thing to do if the majority of your clients do it. But doesn’t class composition in itself say something about how it was advertised/perceived by its clients? Essentially, I think it’s a mixed class (traditional and modern, and I make no comment about whether that’s good or bad), but they don’t really consciously advertise it as such. And they genuinely think themselves a positive training school.

      Mixed is not positive
      I think it’s reasonable to expect a professional to use ‘positive training school’ to mean a strong dedication to R+ (to all intents and purposes, for those of us unacquainted, means ignoring unwanted behaviour, rewarding wanted behaviour, and avoiding the use of active punishment). At least during class.

      I don’t want to get into the ins and out of the respective positions (there are extreme R+ practitioners too), but, really, if a customer goes out of his way to double-check the philosophy of your classes, I find it quite misleading to present it as positive, then institutionally allow leash popping (other classes on the field showed the same amount of leash-jerking).

      It’s an advanced class, so I first thought that the students all came from different schools. But many of them seemed to have done their previous training there too.

      Institutional laissez-faire
      In my view, if the school sells its classes as positive classes, then it has to enforce it. Or at least attempt to. But in this case, the instructor didn’t bat an eyelid. In the first lesson, I thought she would have maybe discreetly talked to the handlers after class (mail, telephone, in person?), but the next class seemed even worse.

      The nasty thing is that if my fellow students think they’re in a positive training class, and therefore that leash popping is perfectly OK.

      Side note: no judgment to those of us who used to leash-pop
      Anyone who started in dog training a few years back will have been using leash jerking, so I absolutely do not judge people who have done it.

  2. Posted 24 March 2011 at 08:58 | Permalink

    To keep you all updated, the dog training school in question has now kicked me out of the school for writing this.

    That we’ve come to this, hey?

    Still, I hope they’ll take the feedback in and do something constructive with it.

    P.S. Out of discretion, I never give out the name of the subject (training school, trainer, pension, etc.) if it could result in bad publicity for them. I shall make no exception here.

    Further, as I wrote in many posts, they are a great school in many ways.

  3. Posted 24 March 2011 at 15:55 | Permalink

    They can do that?? I didn’t know you could fire students like that.

    That just seems so nuts. You didn’t name them & you were mostly criticizing participants & the atmosphere, not the school, and you indicated you didn’t mention these issues in the class.

    This is just being petty & defensive on their part & I think ultimately it’s very bad for a business to treat students this way. What they should have done is a) nothing, or b) *publicly*- ie, right here, on the blog! – offered you a refund or the option of continuing.

    Honestly, if it were me, I’d publish the name of the school now. 😉

    • Posted 26 March 2011 at 23:21 | Permalink

      Their perspective
      What I understand from them is:

      1. They see it as disrespect for the trainer (but if you re-read the posts, it clearly compliment the trainer on several occasions). I think it has to be compartmentalised. It’s not black/white. I disrespect the position of the trainer with regards to 2 things. I do not disrespect the trainer as a whole, far from it.

      2. I think they saw as ‘going behind their back’. I am all sweetness during the course, yet I write criticism about them. Am no expert on the Dutch etiquette (I expatriated there 9 y.a. from the UK), but I think they prefer the ‘have it out’ approach. I think the Dutch find not speaking out dishonest. My perspective is that speaking out is often distateful, inappropriate and confrontational (imagine, me interrupting the class to make my criticism), but that’s a culture clash between anglo-saxon vs. Dutch approach, I think.

      3. I think they also would have wanted the opportunity to address my comments in person (presumably, before I published them). But as I do not name names, I really do not understand that. Even if I had talked to them, and they had changed everything, I would have still written the article. It’s just a very interesting subject.

      4. I think they also find my judgment expedient as I only attended two lessons. My view on that is: how many lessons does it take to see there is leash jerking going on? Does it stop on lesson 4? Quite possible, mind, but still, even if it had stopped. It’s just an interesting article about a phenomenon, not about a specific school or a trainer.

      5. They feel the pictures used showed disrespect and bring the school in a negative light. Perhaps they really took the pictures personally because they are not familiar with the blog medium (which has to be super punchy and visual)?

      6. They also feel my judgment is invalid (and presumably arrogant), as I only have the theory (mmmmh, a familiar argument by more experienced trainers whose methods I disagree with), and no practical perspective in giving group lessons (true enough, I’ve never given a group lesson). I do not see how this invalidates my judgment, though. Even as a customer, I had every cause for concern, having signed up to a positive school.

      I tried to explain to them that the point of the posts was not to seek a direct response from them, but to “throw out there” a general, interesting, note-worthy theme. But they are fixating on how insulting and back-handed it is. What are you gonna do?

      I’ve been wrecking my brains trying to empathise with them and, perhaps, in hindsight, it would have been wiser to wait a few weeks before publishing. But even then, am not even sure they wouldn’t have reacted explosively.

      I have been wondering: how would I have taken it? This is what I come up with: I didn’t name them, I made loads of positive remarks about them, and I only on made observable comments, no personal or subjective attacks.

      So, if I were them, maybe my ego would have been bruised a little, I mean, yes, it’s a criticism. I would have certainly preferred that my customer talks to me about it, and to turn them around to my way of thinking. But you can’t demand that people agree with you. So I think I would’ve taken it on board, and seen it as a lesson learnt. And maybe even tried to talk to my customer about it off my own initiative.

      What now?
      Am in a difficult position, now, as there’s no saying what’ll happen next time I see that trainer if she feels I have personally insulted her (which, once again, I DID NOT!). What a palaver…

      I really value my reputation, and the Dutch dog training world is a small place. It’s a tarnish on my record. Me, the straight A, geeky, obedient, unassuming student, actually kicked out of school!? Ah well, it’s certainly an experience.

      So, another life lesson: wait before you publish, even if it’s bursting out of you. And, get thicker skinned (been obsessing about it, lol).

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