If you’re talking about the evolution of dog training equipment, then why put a picture of hammers at the beginning?
That is because unlike dog training equipment that raises a whole set of issues that no one can agree on; let’s use
something that everyone in their life has probably seen if not used before, and everyone can agree is a useful tool that
carries very little ethical controversy.
Let’s start with the “Stone Age” of the hammer. Well look back up at the picture, you see the stones in the top left?
Those are literally what were used as the first hammers. Imagine how fun that must have been trying not to smash your
fingers. The next evolution of the hammer, which took about 2 million years later, added a handle made of wood or
bone, attached using straps of leather. Early users quickly figured out that the longer the handle the more force they
could apply with the hammer. There were two fundamental problems with these hammers and it has to do with the old
saying “flying off the handle”. The other was that since they could hit things with greater force, the rocks and straps
didn’t last long.
This brings us to the Bronze Age, where people began to forge hammers out of bronze with holes in the middle for a
tapered wooden handle. Again this was a great improvement on the older hammers, and I’m sure if you gave someone
a choice at the time they would have chosen to use the improved tool. There still stands the problem of durability, since
bronze is a softer metal, then hammers had to be reformed after heavy usage. So what did the people of that time do?
They found a harder metal, Iron. With blacksmithing in full swing this led to many more useful things but since we are
on the subject of hammers, let’s talk about nails. When nails were introduced they were very expensive because every
nail was hand made. Why bring this up you ask, because it created another need. The need to recover coveted nails
instead of just letting them go to waste, and again the hammer made a change adding the ability to pull nails.
Now this is an article about dog training equipment so I’m not going to go into every little detail, but keep in mind how
many different hammers there are out there. How many different materials they are made out of and how they were
altered to better fit its intended job. The last thing I would like to discuss is the introduction of the pneumatic nail gun.
This invention changed the building industry forever. Think about how fast you can pound in four inch nail, and realize
that a pneumatic nail gun can drive that nail in a split second. Imagine how much faster houses and buildings can be
erected or renovated. This type of lineage can be traced back in every tool or item that you use today, but how does
this pertain to dog training?
In every situation the hammer was evolved or improved to help solve a problem or improve its ability to be useful. Now
let’s talk about an early training tool, throw chains. As some may be aware and some maybe not, throw chains were
used to punish a dog from a distance. Whether you were trying to stop a problem behavior or you were working on
your recalls, throw chains fell short for many reasons. Some of those shortcomings are; injury to the dog or the trainer,
the ability of the trainer to throw accurately as well as how far they could throw. It also made it hard for the dog to not
associate the chains to your presence, which may hinder your ability to stop problem behaviors you don’t want the dog
to do even when you’re not around. Not to mention a big factor in dog training is that dogs are much, much faster than humans are. That means that we have to figure out a way to bridge the gap in our speed and make it a little more even playing field. The ability to communicate at a distance as well as maintain the ability to catch your dog is what probably led to the use of long lines, as well as light lines. In addition dogs obviously do not speak English. In fact dogs primary means of communication isn’t verbal it is physical. They do this through body language, as well as using their mouths for correction bites. If dogs use correction bites, and they can accomplish those without injury to the other dog, then why not use their form of communication.
This is what led to the development of the many martingale style training collars. Someone figured out a way to mimic
the correction bite of a dog and gave humans a way to communicate with their dog the same way they communicate
with each other. Thus increasing the ability of dogs and their owners to communicate effectively and have a better
understanding of expectations between the two parties. Now although this made great strides in training there are a
few drawbacks outside of the normal ethical battle that is always ensuing about training equipment.
Personally there are three issues that I run into with these types of training equipment, besides improper use. First,
although the use of the collar should be used in a neutral emotional state, there is still some physical conflict between
the handler and the dog, and although there are many things you can do to mitigate that conflict, like a high reward
history, but wouldn’t it be nice to just not have that? The second is the training collars are only effective at the length of
the leash you are using. Yes there are things you can do to mitigate that such as marking a mistake with the word “no”,
but again can’t it be easier? Lastly, the training collars have to be operated by you through direct contact making it very
hard to remove yourself from the situation making it very difficult to take care of problem behaviors that happen when
you’re not immediately present.
So the question is, why use archaic methods or tools when a new more efficient tool has been invented? Is a carpenter
less of a carpenter for using a pneumatic nail gun instead of a rock tied to a stick? To me it just makes sense to use the
most advanced tools of my trade, but in the end that is the question you must answer for yourself. At the very least,
next time you want to ridicule a trainer for their use of a tool, maybe, just maybe, you will realize that a tool doesn’t
define the user; the user defines the tool through increased efficiency and proper use.
Canine Training and Behavior Specialist.