Dogs Trust Dog School, Bilston Glen Business Centre, 6 Dryden Road, Loanhead, Midlothian EH20 9LZ, UK – 07388 375835
We attended a 6 week training class in Edinburgh. Having attended several other training classes in the area, we were slightly disappointed with the Dog School. Week 1 is an introduction were basic concepts are explained, including appeasement and stress signals. We were impressed at the inclusion of basic canine body language. Unfortunately, there was also some misinformation among the useful information. For instance, the phrase "punishment doesn't work" was frequently repeated throughout the six weeks. If one is discussing behaviour in terms of operant conditioning, punishment does indeed work. This isn't an opinion but rather a fact and observable phenomenon. Both punishment and reinforcement are processes. If the target behaviour didn't decrease over a period of time, then punishment did not occur in the first place. What the trainer was probably referring to is harsh aversive techniques (which I don't use or condone). Some may think I'm splitting hairs. But semantics do matter here, especially when advocating the use of positive reinforcement or force-free training. I'm sure many have heard "dominance-based" or "balanced" trainers say that "positive reinforcement training doesn't work". Positive reinforcement 100% "works" when applied- it's a process and an an observable phenomenon. If the target behaviour did not increase, then R+ did not occur. It would have been preferable if the Dog School advocated the use of positive reinforcement and management of the environment on the basis of this being ethical and highly effective. Also that positive punishment or aversive techniques can cause fallout and behavioural issues vs merely claiming that "punishment doesn't work". Another gripe is the way dog handling was taught. There was no explanation of classical conditioning whatsoever or how this could be applied to crucial husbandry (nail clipping, teeth-brushing etc). We found it odd that the head trainer used a marker word when teaching how to handle dogs. CC does not require any criteria from the dog so a marker word isn't necessary or even helpful. The presence of stimulus itself (e.g hand or brush etc approaching) leads to the direct consequence of food appearing. We were also disappointed that during demos, verbal cues were added before repetitions of behaviour were predictable. The trainers would often repeat these cues or the dog's name. A rudimental explanation and demo of clean handler mechanics would have been beneficial to the class. Coming from a background of sports/ performance dogs, I totally understand that the average or first-time dog owner has no interest in being lectured in great detail on concepts such as operant conditioning, reward contingencies and matching law. Although some simple, honest and thoughtful explanations (re"punishment", reinforcement, classical conditioning, ABCs) would have been great. One of the trainers also advised against feeding raw bones, claiming that raw feeding presents significant risks to humans. This again is simply not true. There have are ZERO reported cases of humans falling ill due to raw feeding their companion animals. It can’t be ignored that numerous kibbles and cooked dog treats are recalled each year due to contamination from pathogens or toxic compounds. The risk of raw feeding is really no greater if good food handling and hygiene practices are adhered to. A recent study from the University of Helsinki found that homocysteine levels in kibble fed dogs were 5x higher than in raw-fed dogs. Furthermore, two recent studies have shown that raw-fed dogs possessed healthier microbiomes than kibble-fed dogs. On a positive note, the class are small in size and well-staffed. Approx six students per class with two trainers and several volunteers. We appreciated that each dog had their own mat and water bowl and was well separated with barriers, therefore minimising stress. All the staff were enthusiastic and friendly. It's obvious that they're passionate about their work. And every student gets their own certificate in the end which is a nice touch.
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