Old Schools Or New Tools?

This street art installation has absolutely nothing to do with dogs, or dog training. But I enjoyed seeing it. And it made me think…

…about dogs.
And dog training.
(Go figure!)


If you own a pet, you are probably already painfully aware of the sheer mountain of new training-related inventions, technological innovations, and products out there on the market. Whatever your dog’s issues – excessive barking, marking, destructive chewing, anxiety, pulling on the leash, hyperactivity, or aggression just to name a few – one quick web search and you’ll be inundated with modern, technologically-advanced, and usually pricey solutions billed as the solution to your problem. For excessive barking there are E-collars, citronella collars, and ultrasonic alarms. For marking and chewing there are sprays, corrective collars, and shock mats. For anxiety, hyperactivity, and aggression there are dietary supplements, scented oils, plug-ins, audio cds, pressure jackets, and every kind of collar and leash you can imagine.

Better living through science and technology!


Some of these products are undoubtedly helpful in a purely practical way. For instance, light-up leashes for easier night walking. Or martingale collars designed to keep from slipping off the necks of dogs with small heads.

Even with regards to behavior training, some modern products are undeniably helpful. The clicker, for instance, is a great tool designed to bypass the cognitive-processing part of the dog’s brain. The front-clip harness converts leash-corrections into a gentle redirection. And E-collars can help in certain extreme cases of aggression or prey-drive after all other alternatives have been tried and failed.

Technology in itself, of course, can and does save lives. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, along with pet-related sites like Petfinder have drastically reduced the percentage of rescue and shelter dogs that wind up euthanized (though we still have a long long way to go to stop the killing).


However, most training products are at best ineffective, and at worst a drain of money and effort and a source of frustration and resignation.

The real problem I see is that the marketplace’s excessive focus on “products” makes people believe that a tool, invention, or technological innovation is going to do the work for them and solve their problems. The fact is, the only training tools you need are ones you were born with: your hands, feet, eyes, voice, and mind. In Cesar Millan’s words, the most important tool is our “calm-assertive energy”. Once you’ve got that, a simple length of string will work for you as well as any leash.

The upsetting consequence of people putting too much emphasis on “products” is that even if some of these products CAN help if used correctly, most DON’T wind up helping because people don’t put in the time, energy, and mental and emotional commitment that are required to succeed with any tool at all.

The psychology is understandable, though regrettable. If you’re using a string held by two fingers, you’re going to martial your whole body, mind, and spirit in getting your dog to listen, heel, and behave on the walk. Whereas if you’re using a $30 retractable flexi-lead and $20 head-halter, you’re much more likely to just sit back and wait and see if they “work”.

Which, by that very behavior and mindset, guarantees they won’t.

I can’t tell you how many clients say to me “I’ve tried such-and-such a collar, and it didn’t work!” But IT doesn’t work – YOU do. (Or don’t!) Tools are just that: things to help us train. They cannot do it by themselves. The best tools allow us to train more quickly, efficiently, humanely, calmly, and happily. But it is still WE who are doing the training; not the tools.


If you don’t use correct energy, attitude, mindset, body-language, philosophy, and overall training plan, no training tool will solve your dog’s behavior issues. On the other hand, if you DO have all those things in place, then pretty much any tools you decide to use will work just fine.

If you’ve read all the way down this far, here’s a final visual treat for you.
Can anyone please explain to me just what the heck the inventor of this thing was thinking?

From the “What were they thinking?” department

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