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Stimulation is not about pain
Touch, or stimulation, is a critical part in the development of dogs

Articles published about deer hunting, turkey hunting and more... Nice shot as this hunter takes down a white tail deer.
 


By By Rick Smith and Sharon Potter
Posted Sunday, October 3, 2004

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What comes to mind when we mention the word "stimulation" with regard to dog training? For many people, the first thought that comes to mind is electricity. While it's true that an e-collar is one way of applying stimulation, it's only one small part of the total picture.

Huntin' Dog

Simply explained, stimulation is about touch. We use it every day in our own lives. For example, if you walk up behind someone and want to get his or her attention, how do you do it?

Often, it's by touching them on the shoulder or the arm, at which point their reaction is to turn and acknowledge you, with a questioning look on their face. You applied the stimulation, or touch, and the other person responded with the reaction you anticipated.

Let's replay the same scenario again, only this time you walk up behind the person and punch them in the arm or grab them harshly and abruptly. What kind of reaction can we expect in this case?

Quite probably, the other person will turn toward you and step away, assuming a defensive posture. Stimulation is all about touch, and the type of touch we use dictates the response we will receive.

Why is touch so important?

Touch is a critical part of the development of both dogs and people. Over the years, research has proven that animals raised without touch do not develop normally, and that includes humans.

Lack of touch restricts social development and creates all sorts of other problems — and if the only touch given is painful, fear is created. Litters of puppies raised without touch are spooky, shy, and fearful.

On the flip side, the more that puppies are handled and played with, the better adjusted and more trusting they become. Touch is a basic need for proper development, so the way we use touch in our training becomes extremely important.

It's very important to apply stimulation in a calm, soft manner that will allow the dog to learn. Dogs will learn more quickly if they are confident in their handler — and pain is not a confidence builder. Rather, it inhibits learning and creates mistrust.

Let's go back to stimulation.

Giving in to stimulation

In training, stimulation is a touch applied to a dog in a specific manner in order to get an equally specific intended response. A very simple example is a dog learning to accept being restrained by its collar.

At first, the dog will pull and tug, causing an increasing level of stimulation on its neck from the touch of the collar. What is happening at this point is a learning experience: The dog is learning how to turn off the stimulation, and is finding out that pulling only increases the pressure of the touch.

Eventually, via trial and error, the dog will understand that the quickest way to turn off the pull is to give in to it, moving toward instead of away from the pressure. As this learned behavior is repeated, the dog will respond more quickly and to a lighter touch, eventually anticipating the stimulation and responding without the need to apply pressure at all.

Points of contact

The Silent Command System relies on applying stimulation to certain parts of the dog's body that we call "points of contact." The most commonly used point of contact is the one we just described — the neck. The other major points of contact are the flank ("whoa") and the toes (the trained retrieve).

There are other minor points of contact as well, but for now we will stick to the major points. Our goal in using these points of contact is to be able to use the lightest touch possible in order to get the best response.

In the initial stages, we use manual stimulation via the leather collar, wonder lead, stakeout chain, checkcord, flank cord, "whoa" post, and our hands to develop conditioned responses, defined as a consistent reaction to applied stimulation.

Once these points of contact are developed and the dog responds correctly, quickly, and calmly using manual stimulation, we can add the use of an e-collar, whistle, or voice command for remote stimulation.

In the early stages of training, we are only asking for general responses to stimulation, and once those are learned and understood, we can refine the cues — by using them in differing ways, we get differing responses from the same point of contact.

Huntin' Dog

It's very important to apply stimulation in a calm, soft manner that will allow the dog to learn. Dogs will learn more quickly if they are confident in their handler — and pain is not a confidence builder. Rather, it inhibits learning and creates mistrust.

There are times when a dog will apply the stimulation without you, such as on the stakeout chain. These are the times that the dog will learn most quickly, as the chain is always consistent, with the exact same amount of movement available at all times.

Because of this consistency, the dog is able to learn by trial and error that giving in to the pressure will turn off the stimulation, and, more importantly, the amount of stimulation being applied is solely the responsibility of the dog.

This early lesson, where the dog learns how to turn off stimulation, carries over into all the training we will do later on. It motivates the dog to find the correct response, because the dog knows that responding properly can turn off the stimulation.

It's important to note that there is no pain applied by the stakeout chain or the collar. There is stimulation in the form of a pull on the neck, but that is pressure applied by the dog, not pain.

In training, it is important that the dog not be confused between stimulation and pain. Stimulation provides a learning opportunity, while pain closes the door on learning. The only thing a dog can learn from pain is to fear.

If at any time during training the handler feels the need to be so aggressive with a command that it will cause pain, it's time for the handler to step back and accept the blame for not properly preparing the dog to accept the particular command.

.

Correction and pain - Pain is not the answer; patience is


Another point we'd like to bring up is the difference between a correction and causing pain.

A correction will always put the dog in position to succeed. Causing pain via a harsh, angry correction will encourage the dog to fear the missed cue that caused the correction. If we've been patient and consistent in our training, our dog will be easily able to understand what we want, and corrections will be minimal.

By taking the time to really allow a dog to learn the correct response, we can make a correction if needed, and it will make sense to the dog.

If, on the other hand, we correct a dog for not giving the expected response to a cue it does not thoroughly know or is just learning, the dog doesn't understand why it was corrected. When you correct a dog and the dog doesn't understand why it was corrected, problems will crop up immediately.

Give your dog every opportunity to succeed by making the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult.

When to make a correction

Now we've come to a critical point: How do we determine whether or not the dog really knows what is being asked so we can decide whether we should make a correction?

Ask yourself this question: Does my dog know what I want? And has my dog accepted that understanding? There is a huge difference between the two!

For example, when teaching a puppy to come, it's a fun game when you say, "Here, Spot" and Spot comes barreling over to have his belly rubbed or get a treat. Pretty soon you assume that Spot knows that, "Here, Spot" means come to you, because he usually does it. He does it because he wants to be petted, fed, or rubbed, and he knows that those words mean you'd like him to be nearby.

Unfortunately, that doesn't mean he's trained to respond; it means he can be near you if he feels like it. What Spot hasn't done yet is accepted the understanding of your command. He knows you'd like him to come, but he doesn't know that he has to do it, no questions asked.

If you apply a correction before Spot has learned to accept that command (through use of a lead,checkcord, etc. by working on stimulation of a point of contact to program a conditioned response), you form a negative association with the cue you were trying to teach.

In other words, when Spot decides to ignore your command to come, you chase him around the house three times before catching him. You finally grab him by the collar and angrily smack him to correct him for ignoring your command, making what you consider a correction.

What this reaction means to the dog is that, "Here, Spot," means anger and pain. While he may still come to you, he will do so hesitantly and often will stop a little ways away to gauge your mood before deciding to come closer. The command has now become a negative association.

Taking the time to set Spot up for success could have eliminated the problem before it ever started. Never give a command that you can't enforce.

In the above scenario, that means never asking Spot to come without having a way to enforce the command immediately and clearly.

In this case, you would always use a lead or checkcord (and no anger) until Spot has clearly learned and accepted your command. Apply stimulation (pull on the checkcord) to the point of contact (the neck), and once the dog learns and accepts what that stimulation requires in order to turn it off, then overlay the learned behavior with a verbal command.

The same pattern holds true for all the exercises we do in training, from the stakeout chain to the lead to the "whoa" post to the e-collar to the trained retrieve. The important thing is to thoroughly develop each point of contact using consistency and patience, and be sure the dog not only understands but also accepts what you're asking before moving on to the next step.

Our goal in training is to have a finished dog that will respond to the lightest of commands. With a finished dog, it often appears as if the dog reacts before the stimulation is even applied. This is a good thing, because it means the dog is very attentive to the handler and is confident in its training.

A dog responding in this manner is usually reading the handler's body language, and the handler is doing the same with the dog. It makes for a subtle system of communicating, and a strong partnership in the field.

A correction will always put the dog in position to succeed. Causing pain via a harsh, angry correction will encourage the dog to fear the missed cue that caused the correction. If we've been patient and consistent in our training, our dog will be easily able to understand what we want, and corrections will be minimal.

 

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