This blog is for every self proclaimed "positive trainer" out there, especially you younger and/or newer ones who have only begun training since the description "positive trainer" was coined. Having trained dogs for over 30+ years I'm obviously a crossover trainer and have only been exclusively using positive, dog friendly techniques since the late 90's. While I pride Pup 'N Iron Canine Fitness & Learning Center on being a positive, dog friendly training facility, the other night I allowed a new person to remain in class with a traditional choke chain on his German Shepherd. Gasp! I didn't demand he take it off his dog like I normally do and further I welcomed him to come back to the next class too, with the choke chain if he wanted to. Double gasp! Why would I, a self proclaimed "positive trainer" do such a thing? Well, let me give you a little more background information. The person in question is a 71 year old man, yep, 71, who has had GSD's all his life and during our brief discussion about the dreaded choke chain, he told me he has used choke chains on every one of them. This man lives quite a distance away, was recommended by his veterinarian's office, and took a leap of faith and the time to register for a class with us sight unseen. He is a jolly guy with a perpetual smile on his face, definitely some lucky kid's "grandpa." And as he enthusiastically told me how he walks his dog for 1.5 miles every day and plays ball with her every evening, it was clear how much he loves his dog. He'd previously attended a class at a local PetSmart but pulled her out because "all she did was bark during class." She never barked once for the entire hour she was in class with us that night. I liked him, I liked his dog and despite the "evil choke chain," I sensed a connection between the two of them that I knew could be built on. But even more importantly than all that, in addition to be a "dog friendly" training facility, we are also a "people friendly" one. Had I refused to let him stay or insisted that he immediatley remove the choke chain, the only piece of dog training equipment he felt comfortable using for decades, and not to return unless he was willing to get rid of it, how "people friendly" would that have been? Not very. And how likely would it have been for him to ever return? Also, not very likely. He would have walked out the door and found a "traditional" trainer all too happy to not only allow him to use the choke chain but would encourage its use even further. For me, that just wasn't an option. He walked into our doors for a reason and I planned to keep him there.
Preaching to the choir is easy. Bringing in new voices is the challenge and makes for a much sweeter melody. So, yes, throughout the hour he tugged the choke chain here and there and in response I immediatley showed him a different way of getting her to perform the exercises and he was always willing to try "my way." That's a wonderful start. And boy you should have seen his face light up when I pointed out how "smart" his dog was when she began offering appropriate behaviors in response to shaping a "leave it." He was proud and I was proud of both of them. I am certain if I can keep him coming back the tugs on that choke chain will continue to lessen over time. Maybe one day he will even get rid of it. Maybe, maybe not. But regardless it will be my mission to show him that it isn't the essential piece of equipment he always thought it was. It will no longer be a crutch. How would I have ever accomplished that had I kicked him out?