ClickerSolutions Training Articles

In Praise of the GL

As usual, I'm coming in on this late and I'll repeat a number of things people have already said but I must admit I'm bothered by the very idea that someone is taking on faith that a GL is an aversive in itself and in fact less aversive than a prong collar.

If you've ever seen an ADULT dog learn to wear a collar or tolerate a leash, you're looking at something akin to the response one sees in adult dogs learning to wear a GL. Most people do *not* see a 3-5 year old dog suddenly realize it has a length of leather around its neck or see its first reactions to a leash that controls its movement. They paw excessively, they look "depressed" because they're holding their heads at a weird angle, they can't seem to "think" while the darn thing is on and if any pressure is applied to the collar or with the leash, they buck like broncos, throw themselves on the ground and insist it come off!! Of course they do. They lived a good portion of their lives without such a thing and now it's not only new and uncomfortable simply because it's new, it's also immediately associated with their ability to go where they want to go. That doesn't mean it's an aversive in and of itself. Is a collar around the neck an aversive? Is a leash an aversive? Yes, you can use both as an aversive but you most often use both to control a dog's ability to be reinforced by the environment.

As someone who has fostered 40+ dogs, I've now had 5 who never wore a collar of any kind after 3-5 years of life. (Hard to believe and I found the first one shocking but not a rare bird, obviously) Not one of these dogs showed a smidgin difference between learning to wear a collar around its neck and learning to wear a GL. Both were new, both were initially upsetting and uncomfortable *because* they were new, and intentionally I did not connect either with limited mobility until the dog had accepted the collar itself, thereby lessening the possibility the dog would see it as an instrument of new limitation, and both were associated with attention, play, toys and treats. THe majority of these dogs learned to push their noses into the GL or the collar for treats and sweet talk. By the time I used either to control the dog's environmental possibilities, they no longer "blamed" the new collar. Well, it wasn't the new collar, was it? It was something they wore at all kinds of times. One summer my infant nephew was most often tracked by following first one abandoned tiny sandal, then the second tiny sandal, then his shorts, then the diaper and then there he was, bare footed, bare bottomed and happy as a clam. He *hated* shoes and clothes on his bottom. Are these things aversives? No, they're just uncomfortable to a baby who isn't used to them and sees no need for them. (I was thrilled when my sister-in-law told me, "Any time you see Brian wearing shoes, tell him they're nice shoes and he looks handsome in them.") Had shoes also determined his ability to go where when he chose, he'd have doubly had a grudge against them. So if you avoid the connection between limitation and the new uncomfortable thing, you're saving yourself and your dog a headache. One of my dogs *hates* her raincoat and looks depressed while wearing it. Even though she's the same dog who complains on a hike if her back gets wet, she still objects to the plastic material around her body in a way that material is rarely around her body. The raincoat is not naturally aversive. It's just new and different and I've not spent enough time gettng her used to it. (Besides, to sound really cruel, the sight of a wire fox terrier bitch looking depressed because she has a hood on her raincoat is hilarious to me. It's not really so miserable for her that she does anything about it; she just sulks.)

Once accepted as just the way we walk around the world, a GL can give you all kinds of control ability and *drama* not available when teaching a dog a new way to understand a longstanding pattern of behavior or an entirely new set of options. Let's take the tugging dog. Dogs tug on the leash because it pays off eventually or because they're not clear that it doesn't pay off. If you foster dogs like I do, you learn those patterns of reinforced behavior within a week or two. THe dog who showed me this was a nice little JRT bitch. She'd tug, tug, tug, tug, tug futilely, seem to give up, walk close to me, I'd relax and BAM--she'd step back and dart to the left hard and fast, snapping the leash backwards and out of my hand even when I thought I was savvy to her moves. ANd every time I fell for it, she got reinforcement for doing it. Similarly, most dogs continue to tug and scramble and yearn forwards even when they're not gaining a centimeter of forward progress because their eyes and their nose are pointed at what they want. "penalty yards" (TM pending, Lana Horton) toward a real target is a method that works better than "be a tree" because it's clearer to dogs. I see, I see, I smell, I can get there if I just keep moving my feet....becomes Yikes! It's gone! I can't see it! The smell is getting weaker! When you control a dog's face, you can do this more easily and make even clearer distinctions. YOu cannot make these distinctions with a prong collar--the dog is still ahead of you with its nose and eyes pointed at what it wants and you can only let the collar punish it repeatedly until it cares.

And you can also make these important distinctions: This is not allowed right now and I can stop you; I appreciate your cooperation, however forced; and BINGO, you won what you wanted! Let's take the sniffing dog. I start by letting them sniff, saying, "Not now" and lifting their heads from the reinforcing smells. THis is passive cooperation. THe dog has earned nothing but my smile and/or thanks that it didn't buck and fight. To earn the right to sniff, the dog has to actively respond to a cue--I use their names first and any half head cock. Click and I let them sniff, saying "Sniff" and waving my hand at the ground. At some point, however, I say, "Not now" and I lift their heads. I'm doing all the work so they get only thanks for not being a pill about it. To sniff again, they have to earn a click. This takes about 10 minutes with the most hard core sniffer/blower off of people. I'm controlling their reinforcement possibilities, not using an aversive to stop them.

To do the same with a tugging dog can change the universe in a matter of weeks, rather than a matter of years after years of otherwise reinforcement. This is important to me as someone who fosters and so who cannot afford to pass up an adoption possibility because I feel like taking the long road to eventual success, and also matters to exasperated owners who've been reinforcing tugging for years. Being a tree and even turning around are not necessarily as dramatic and clear as actually changing the dog's ability to see and smell what it wants to see and smell--and dogs respond accordingly with what most benefits their need/desire to do both. To some dogs it comes as a real shock to find out that you can control what they're pointed at. I think this is a GOOD thing and an extension of the very reason I have them on a leash--to control their ability to find reinforcement. I do not have dogs on leash to leash jerk them or deliver P+ and that's exactly what a prong collar does. It just does it less obviously and with less effort required of the trainer. When I used a prong collar on 3 occasions--with the Airedale I tried to train before I owned Dash, with Dash who lay down and refused to get up the first time he was pronged and with a Kerry Blue foster who came with one and who had a ring of bare skin around his neck and callous-like strips where the prongs had rubbed for years without requiring him to actively do anything, just to avoid what eventually got painful--I was actually annoyed by my lack of control. The prongs bite when the leash goes taut. This means I can't decide I've been in error in over-facing a dog; it means I have to be much faster at deciding a dog has earned a reinforcement and it means I'm much less conscious of those times when the dog is actually not controlling itself but ceasing a behavior because it's already been punished.

Prong collars are more convenient to owners because they require less effort, are less noticeable and seem to indicate a dog who understands self-control when in fact that dog simply understands the punishment connection, is using very little willful effort of its own, and must be repeatedly "pronged" but doesn't seem to be because the trainer doesn't have to act. The conscious effort of turning a dog's head away is not necessary if you use a prong collar but is that a GOOD thing? I've not done any serious study but since hearing people claim a prong collar is less aversive I've decided this: a prong collar may be less aversive but that's why dogs wear them for years without learning to live without them; in my own informal survey of dogs I observed and timed, dogs wearing prong collars were poked or pronged a minimum of FIFTEEN TIMES during the ten minutes I observed the dog/handler team and never once did this cause the handler to more directly address the behavior of loose leash walking he/she was aiming at. I can't imagine someone needing to turn a dog's head away from something 15 times in 10 minutes who wouldn't then be teaching the dog how to act not what to avoid or accept.

If you carefully and consistently use a GL as a training device, you can be absolutely crystal clear that a dog needs to earn what it wants. Well, you control its head. Can't see! Can't sniff! Hey, how do I get back there?! It's a dramatic change for the dog and it's a dramatic change for you and both are good when the change really is dramatic. I'll admit I lose patience with people who have reinforced tugging for years and then expect an overnight miracle at no cost to the dog or no inconvenience to themselves. The least confusion for the dog is if a HUGE change occurs repeatedly. Oh, okay. The world just changed. Permanently. And I say so having turned at least 40 fosters into dogs who could walk politely if not perfectly on leash and having used GL's in my adult pit bull class when people could not physically manipulate the dog and were wearing down prong collars to blunter ends than they had originally, and having helped 26 people learn to use GL's when I'd not have touched a prong colllar with a ten foot pole. In not one of these 56+ cases did the dog do more than initially resent the GL and all of them were off it after 6 weeks to 6 months because what I stressed and what many of the owners/trainers did beautifully was to use it as the device that enabled them to control reinforcements, not just deliver punishment.

A GL is a refinement of your ability to make clear to a dog that you control its reinforcements. A prong collar is a refinement of your ability to punish a dog with leash jerks. For all I"ve heard a prong collar described as "power steering" I've never actually seen a dog wearing a prong collar who wasn't repeatedly punished by stepping into the prongs/pinching/tightening. IOW, it became a matter of acceptance after continual aversives applied and without any real will of the animal from the get-go. Accepting that one is punished at certain limits is different from earning reinforcement by maintaining a position. Spanky, a 100+ pound nightmare of wild-eyed with joy pit bull terrier learned in less than a month that to earn the right to clobber Dash, his buddy, he had to maintain something approximating heel position and after that month, he did so without a leash, without a collar, whining and snorting and yearning as his 19 year old owner heeled him in a circle around Dash, practically touching Dash as they passed. WHy did Spanky "get it" so fast? He had to actively assume a behavior before his owner let him clobber Dash and so the behavior mattered more to Spanky than the non reinforcement when the GL prevented him from even seeing Dash if he wasn't in the right position. Most dogs don't "get it" so fast but Spanky's owner, an otherwise too cool for words teenager, immediately understood that the GL could limit and explain the reinforcements possible for Spanky and he did a gorgeous job of being consistent and reinforcing Spanky when he had earned the right for reinforcement.

I could go on and on about possibilities for the GL. I occasionally use them for rude, young terriers, often male, who crowd, intimidate or outright snap/grab other dogs simply because they're there and moving. What I really like about the GL is that it turns the tables on these dogs. I would never take a rude dog and put it in close proximity to a non-reactive stable dog when the "rude" or as I call them "cheapshot" dog was likely to take a cheap shot. Think of this:as long as I'm controlling a dog ahead of me from his neck, I"m going to pull him backwards and I can't control his face so he can still intimidate, snap, threaten, and stare. THis is not kind to the non-reactive dog and may reinforce the rude dog. But now I"ve got control of the rude dog's face. SO this happens--he moves too quickly or too attentively towards a nice non-reactive dog and what I do both protects the peace of mind of that non-reactive dog and puts my bully in the most vulnerable position--with a GL, I turn his head away so he can't stare, snap, threaten with his face and now he can't *see* the other dog who is both comfortable and now frighteningly unknown to the aggressor. Let me be clear: I do not do this with fear aggressive dogs or seriously aggressive dogs but simply with rude dogs and at the same time they're given chances for earned reinforcement for alternative behaviors. Nonetheless, some of them need to learn to leave other dogs breathing space because if they don't, they find themselves in an awkward position they don't want to be in. You can do this as well with too friendly dogs who must rub shoulders with dogs and handlers who don't appreciate their bonhomie and you can do it only because you're controlling their faces.

I won't even start with what GL's do for the fearful dogs. Donna was right to point out that there's a physiological value to the headstrap. IN fact, I"ve found that the tighter the head strap part of it is, the more dogs are accepting of it and indeed apparently calmed by it.

Victoria Farrington
copyright 2001 Victoria Farrington


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