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When should you lie to your Border Collie?


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Dear Doggers,

 

On another topic Ms. Camden's Mom wrote (in part) "What worked really well for me was when my puppy nipped or used his teeth on my skin I'd let out a loud, high pitched "OUCH!" You need to put on an academy award winning performance... dramatic is good, even if the nip didn't hurt you one bit. When you do this you are communicating in the exact same way puppies communicate with each other. When one puppy gets too rough the others will let him know with a high pitched squeal and normally all activity will stop as everyone regroups and accesses the situation."

 

 

The remedy is familiar and though I prefer a direct correction I imagine this usually works. It turned my mind to a question I've been puzzling since I studied different dog training schools (Koehler, ecollar, behaviorist, pharma-behaviorist, drive theory) for Mr. & Mrs. Dog.

 

When should a trainer lie to his/her dog and what are the consequences? That there can be consequences for lies is certain. When shock collars first appeared among sheepdoggers, at least dozens and perhaps hundreds of useful sheepdogs were swiftly converted to goosedogs and family pets. The shock collar (the ecollar is used somewhat differently) was a Remote Lie. It told the dog that if it did this or that wicked thing, the world/nature/God/the-ways-things-are would give it a painful shock. Unfortunately, since the dog didn’t always know just what “wicked thing” it was doing, the dog could interpret the shock in ways the trainer didn’t intend. To trainer, shock might mean “Dog too tight on it’s outrun” while to the dog it might mean “Avoid sagebrush.”

 

When these mistrained creatures ran they’d come to some part of the course and suddenly begin acting as no sane sheepdog does.

 

W/O shock collars, the sheepdog trainer’s shouts tell the dog “Boss is angry” or “Boss wants me to do something else” and the Boss is NOT the world/nature/God/the-way-things-are he is only the Boss, who makes mistakes too.

 

Because we all –whatever our preferred school – care so deeply about our dogs, training methods are often justified in ethical terms. Bill Koehler argued that his methods (especially the longe line) taught the dog that the dog must take responsibility for its actions. Dog behaviorists often argue for speciest kindness (“You wouldn’t want it done to you.”) and ecollar adherents argue that their method keeps dogs out of the roads and the kill shelters.

 

But whether you tell the dog – when it behaves it gets a treat or misbehaves it gets a mild shock or is tugged by the choke collar – you are pretending that something other than you: (the world/nature/God etc) is making the decisions.

 

We are learning a great deal about the effect of persistent familial lying on the human soul. We know that concealed abuse and addictions hurt and haunt families for generations.

Do the lies we tell our dogs lessen their ability to function in a world they never made nor control?

 

While I train for sheepdog trials not manners, I want a dog that can accompany me anywhere. I want them to understand the world as it is. They’re better at that than some trainers imagine.

 

Donald McCaig

 

 

 

 

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The concept you mentioned about the shock collar of unintended associations reminds me of the parent who tells a child that he/she should not do something or the police will do something he/she doesn't like. Does the child grow up being obedient? Or just being afraid and distrustful of police?

 

Clear and consistent communication is key, and I think honesty is important in delivering a clear and consistent message.

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Amen. Because I learned a great deal from watching mother dogs with their pups about how to communicate with dogs and therefore how to teach them the things they need to know in order to be useful and safe, I, too, think a dog should always know the source of both praise and correction. I never saw a mother be cruel to her puppies nor, as significant, unclear. In each and every case, not only did the puppy get the message clearly and quickly the first time, but if the litter was present, all the puppies got the message.

 

I am not so sure that exaggerating the pain from a nip is lying - when I visited the Seeing Eye years ago, guide dogs were taught to be aware of the height of their handler by an exaggerated response to a mistake - I do believe wholeheartedly that it's a mistake for a correction to come out of the blue or from the environment. Just as the dog knows it is you who hands him his dinner bowl, gives him the chance to work, pets him for a job well done, he should know, too, when he displeases you by ignoring a command he already knows or working in a sloppy fashion. I have found that there is nothing more powerful than his owner's feelings, sometimes only expressed by a change in breathing pattern, to let the dog know he's going in the right or wrong direction.

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I'm trying to figure out how giving a treat to a dog in the course of training communicates that you, the Boss, is not making the decisions but rather some outside unknown force is. I own the treats. I dispense the treats. I reward what makes me happy. My 3 m/o puppy will come lay calmly in the kitchen while I cook and I reward it. He knows exactly where the reward is coming from and the criteria he must meet to get one.

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Very interesting post. While training my second BC I learned that a Border Collie is a Dog That Overcomes. She overcomes fear, exhaustion, pain, ovine aggression, discomfort, all in order to work livestock. And I learned that the only thing that can stand between the dog and the sheep that she will give into is me. Because everything else she was bred to overcome, but me - she was bred to give into.

 

So my aim was always to make sure that the dog saw that the correction (and I do not mean punishment but a a modification in behavior) came from me. Because I felt that even with the unbridled and seemingly uncontrollable instinct of a sheep-crazed pup there is a desire to give in to me. But that in everything else there is a desire to overcome whatever it is. So by using something that the dog thinks is external will create resistance, and something that comes from me - will be working with the dog's desire (never mind that it's hard to see it sometimes at first)

 

In time, the degree of Bonnie's tuning in to what I want from her has become incredible and working with her is joy hard to describe, but I am sure most people on these boards will understand.

 

I had a problem with being nervous, and it was causing making Bonnie lose her marbles that always happened what we went to a clinic, because she thought I was angry with her. I strove to have a hold on my nerves, but it didn't work. I had to change for her internally. And I did, so much so that I learned to go to the post in trials relaxed. Excited - yes, but in a positive sense.

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Do the lies we tell our dogs lessen their ability to function in a world they never made nor control?

 

This is interesting to think about. There are really two issues being approached in the post: that of letting your dog think a correction comes from something other than you, and that of lying to your dog even when it does know it's you. The second is what intrigues me. Dogs, no matter how domesticated they have become, still live in a world that is not their own. They abide by another species' laws. They didn't make it, they don't control it, but most importantly, they don't understand it. And we have very limited ways of explaining it all to them. A good sheepdog will understand to treat a lamb gently, but is that because they know that a lamb is a baby, fragile and easily frightened? Or is it just that the dog reads the physics of the situation, knows how the lamb moves as opposed to the sheep? I have never done stockwork. I couldn't say. Does a dog understand what babies of a different species are? Does it understand that a bite of the same force will have different results on an adult human and a baby one? Does it understand that a baby may cry because it's scared, even if mouthed just gently? Again, I don't know. Maybe it does. But we act as if it doesn't, for the safety of the dog. We lie to the dog about how much its bite hurts us, but we aren't lying to the dog about how much its bite might hurt a baby. It will generalize. It will understand that bites hurt a lot, though it may not understand that a bite scares or hurts a baby more than us. What I am getting at is that I don't believe we're really lying to the dog. I believe we're using one of the few methods we have to help it understand our world. We can't explain the rules to it with the precision that we would explain to a human. So we explain with less precision. Instead of "bites like this hurt babies, bites like this scare children, and bites like this hurt me" we just say "all bites hurt", and that's enough.

 

I know this is just one very specific situation, but I think it applies to a lot of things. We have to explain the rules to our dogs with less precision that is ideal, to keep them and others safe and happy. Maybe it counts as lying. But I don't think so. It isn't does with the intent to hide, like lies are, but rather with the intent to illuminate as much as we can.

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Dear Doggers,

 

Ms. Chene wonders: " Does a dog understand what babies of a different species are?'

 

Probably. But that understanding many not predict behavior: "precious" and "prey" are alike in more than spelling.

 

When we were raising hogs for our larder, a barn cat had kittens and while the hogs would get nasty when another tried to push it away from the slops, they allowed those kittens to eat beside their muzzles.

 

My first sheepdog, Pip, would "mother" the very sick lambs we'd tube and lie beside the fire to die warm and Pip saved some. But watching him closely it was clear that he was conflicted between saving and snacking.

 

I don't think Border Collies "generalize" in the same ways that seem obvious to us. There are plenty of Border Collies that endure and even appreciate toddlers while being very standoffish with adults and contrarywise.

 

I am not unwilling to lie to my dogs when the stakes are very high - I used a shock collar to convince my dogs that carrion was dangerous, but as a rule, I let them interpret the world and my experienced but all-too-human relationship with them as if they were intelligent sensitive mammals.

 

Donald McCaig

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Dear Doggers,

 

Since I covered this in Mr. & Mrs. Dog I 'll be brief. Simply put: early electronic collars delivered a sharp shock at short distances while modern variable intensity ecollars more reliably deliver vibrations and electric shocks from nearly imperceptible to severe. Training has changed with the new technology and their use is SOP in bird dog, retriever and police sport dog training.

 

Sheepdoggers and positive trainers call them all "shock collars". Those who use them daily call them 'ecollars."

 

 

Donald McCaig

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I'm trying to figure out how giving a treat to a dog in the course of training communicates that you, the Boss, is not making the decisions but rather some outside unknown force is. I own the treats. I dispense the treats. I reward what makes me happy. My 3 m/o puppy will come lay calmly in the kitchen while I cook and I reward it. He knows exactly where the reward is coming from and the criteria he must meet to get one.

 

I am confused also. The treats obviously come from me as do the cues and markers (clicker or the word yes). How is that "pretending that something other than you: (the world/nature/God etc) is making the decisions"?

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Thank you.

 

I'm well aware of what they are; was trying to understand the distinction you're making between them.

 

Since they all, including collars used for electronic (aka invisible) fences, deliver a shock, they're all shock collars.

 

A rose by any other name, y'know (although this rose doesn't smell so sweet) . . . or calling a spade a spade . . .

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Sheepdoggers and positive trainers call them all "shock collars". Those who use them daily call them 'ecollars."

Changing the perception by changing the name. There is a local pet dog trainer who uses them quite frequently. I did watch her fit a collar to a dog for the first time and although the dog wasn't screaming in pain, I think that it is sad to base a relationship with an animal on avoidance of something unpleasant. If the collars were not unpleasant, they would not work.

 

This trainer claims that these collars are "calming". My guess is that the dog shuts down because it doesn't know when and from where the next "tap" is coming. The dog learns that if it walks by the humans side and stares straight ahead, the unpleasant sensition stops. I'm not sure what happens when/if the collar is removed.

 

Anyway, I am curious why you think rewarding a dog with a treat is lying to the dog?

 

I think that dogs are smart enough to differentiate between a treat being handed to it and snatching a treat off the ground after it rains from the sky.

 

Some dogs work for food. Some dogs work for toys. Some dogs work for praise. And some dogs work for access to sheep. In all instances, the human (aka god) controls access to what the dog wants. The clever trainer manipulates the envirement so the human gets what it wants (the desired behavior) and the dog gets what it wants.

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I'm trying to figure out how giving a treat to a dog in the course of training communicates that you, the Boss, is not making the decisions but rather some outside unknown force is. I own the treats. I dispense the treats. I reward what makes me happy. My 3 m/o puppy will come lay calmly in the kitchen while I cook and I reward it. He knows exactly where the reward is coming from and the criteria he must meet to get one.

 

I am confused also. The treats obviously come from me as do the cues and markers (clicker or the word yes). How is that "pretending that something other than you: (the world/nature/God etc) is making the decisions"?

 

Put me in the confused camp, as well.

 

When I'm working with my dog reactive lurcher, she looks to me for her treat, not to the cookie container, even though I may have to go there to get said cookie if I don't already have one on me. She clearly knows that the treats come from me, not the world/nature/God, etc. :rolleyes:

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Donald, I read your post this morning and have been mulling it over throughout the day. Since it was a comment I made on another thread that got you thinking about this question again I felt as though I should respond.

 

Specifically regarding the technique I used to train bite inhibition, I've been struggling to think of the over reaction to a nip as an overt "lie", but I will concede that at the very least it's a deception. I do believe that in my suburban lifestyle the lack of bite inhibition could be just as high stakes as the dangers of carrion to your dogs working on your farm. I agree with a lot of what Chene said and she put it much more eloquently then I ever could have. But you asked about the consequences of the lie and I have been trying to think of what those might be for this specific situation. Perhaps he now has an unrealistic understanding of the power of his bite (or lack there of) when it comes to humans? I'm just not sure...

 

Regarding lies in a more general way, when Camden was in the worst part of his bratty teenager stage my husband starting pretending like he a had a treat when he told the dog to do something. Of course Camden would immediately comply (bribery is a powerful crutch) but then the dog would be confused that there wasn't a treat in his hand. It didn't take long before the dog stopped listening to him altogether. The effect of that lie was obvious, immediate and quite frankly took a long time to undo.

 

I try my best to keep an open line of communication with my dog and, while I'm sure I fail often, my intention is always to remain honest. I think the old cliche of "honestly is the best policy" is an apt one when it comes to our relationships with our dogs.

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I don't accept the concept of telling a lie via a training method. A lie is a spoken falsehood, and action is just that, an action.

 

As for the example of bite inhibition, the method originally being dissed by Mr. McCaig works extremely well and is easy for owners to do. It will SAVE dog's lives. I've taught and used this method for over 30 years with far better success with biting problems in puppies than the results of methods described by the author/OP.

 

Bite Inhibition teaches the dog that if he/she feels the need (for whatever reason) to put it's teeth on a human, then to do so with the least amount of force (or no force preferably). Other methods, such as application of punishment (things such as hitting/slapping the pup, pinching the lips etc.) do not teach the dog HOW to bite a human softly. And YES, dogs BITE, that is a fact. when a dog is scared or hurt or hasn't learned that he/she is not in charge of things when living with humans, then the dog WILL bite. If/when the dog is taught "not to bite" by application of the later methods, then when he/she bites it will usually involve much greater force (to the bite) than when the dog is taught bite inhibition.

 

With bite inhibition, WHEN the dog bites, he will apply no pressure to the person, thus not causing damage. What bite inhibition does is teach the pup HOW to bite a human. Yes, an weird thought, but dogs CAN bite at different levels of pressure and when pups are playing they teach each other not to apply too much pressure by yelping and avoiding the biting pup for a short time. The pup doing the biting appears startled by the yelp and starts to bite with less intensity. This has been shown to be an effective method for preventing dog bites.

 

I have seen a dog with a dislocated shoulder have the shoulder moved back into proper position by a vet chiropractor without the dog having any anesthesia. As we watched the shoulder move (shudder) the dog turned her head slowly and with an open mouth put her mouth over the vet's arm as a warning. This was a perfect example of how bite inhibition can work.

 

And I wish there was a "Like" button for Ms. Benjamin, Sue R's and a couple other posts.

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Lying to a dog is sending it out on an away to me and then changing your mind and redirecting it to a come by. Or calling a dog off an agility obstacle because your body language told it one thing and your verbal another. This will erode trust because the dog never knows if it can believe what you say.

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Lying to a dog is sending it out on an away to me and then changing your mind and redirecting it to a come by.

Not necessarily a "lie" or handler error. Used judiciously, this can be an important training exercise tied to flank flexibility, obedience, etc. The "lie" is sending on an outrun (or flank) when (ETA: you know) there are no sheep, IMO.
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Interesting

I had a friend over working sheep one day. Sheep were not up in the field and he sent the dog anyway. Took a long time for the dog to sweep the field looking for sheep. Came back with nothing and I asked, "why did you do that when you saw sheep were somewhere else? Aren't you setting the dog up to fail? if done to many times won't the dog start to question your request?" Guy said, "no, there's always going to be a time when the dog doesn't find it's sheep. He still has to look where I send him."

 

Years ago, I watched my mentor send her dog out for sheep. Dog came back with nothing. Sent her again. Came back the same way. Friend finally figured out there weren't sheep out there. She was very upset for sending her dog out on a wild goose chase. Said she felt bad for lying to the dog.

 

I guess I see the validity in both answers but for me, I wouldn't do that sort of thing on purpose to many times. Accidently yes but, I know, stupid....I find myself telling my dog I'm sorry for lying to him/her. It's a partnership and partners don't lie on purpose.

 

But as ecollars go....or shock collars whatever, all the same to me. I tried using one once. I didn't want the dog to associate the correction to me. It was an LGD who was eating my chickens. She would stop if she saw me, so I wanted her to not do it even if I wasn't there. Didn't work. Probably my timing or lack of knowledge using one. But for that purpose I think I was on track with not wanting her to see me do the correcting.

 

Although the LGD I have now is very good at taking a correction from me and quickly learning it means all the time, with me in sight or out of site.. Maybe I communicate better now......

 

 

 

 

 

 

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