The ALS ice bucket challenge has inspired a dog training version called the “Transparency Challenge.” It consists of three questions; What happens when the dog gets it right? What happens when a dog gets it wrong? Is there a less intrusive method? Having watched a number of trainers answer these questions apparently the proper formula is to always be positive, ignore the negative and then control the environment so that the dog isn’t confronted with a negative until he proves ready for it.
This is a clever marketing device designed, it seems to me, to “Out” those of us who believe that it is appropriate under certain circumstances to correct a dog and to, if necessary, intrude on a dog’s construct of reality. At any rate, that’s the most charitable view because this so-called transparency challenge really smacks of being a purity test. And is it any wonder that dog trainers of what’s now being called the “balanced” variety, are a bit opaque about the subject of corrections when the atmosphere of discussion has been so poisoned by the positive and force free school of thought to the point of being a taboo? This reminds me of just how open minded these science-based folks were when I argued against neutering, or letting the dog play tug and ALWAYS winning. So while my ideas of when and how to correct a dog differ from any other method (as per my Pavlov articles), and while it’s important to realize that it’s always possible to abuse any piece of equipment or approach, I do believe that it is okay to “correct” a dog after a proper foundation is laid and that a correction need not be aversive and neither does it have to shut a dog down. However let me go a little father and say that sometimes it is appropriate to SHUT A CRAZY DOG DOWN. This doesn’t mean that this should be a systemic approach, but when one is dealing with primordial instinct in tight spaces sometimes one’s options are limited and we need not accept the methodological straightjacket the force-free school is intent on shackling the dog training community within.
What would a Dental transparency challenge look like? Well, I go to an excellent Dentist and he always uses the least intrusive method for any given procedure. But does he sometimes use a very intrusive method with razor sharp implements wherein one slip of the hand could do severe danger? Yes, unfortunately given my oral history, often (but fortunately and lately thanks to him, not so much). Have I ever had a dental procedure that rocked my skull and body with pain for days after the novocaine wore off? Yes, that was the time I had four wisdom teeth pulled. Did I voluntarily choose to have these procedures done to me? Yes. But did my son at age 5 choose to have his impacted tooth pulled out with what was basically a fancy pair of pliers after highly skilled dental finesse couldn’t get the job done? No he did not choose that to be done to him. Of course now with a mouth full of healthy teeth he’s glad we did.
All the good trainers I know always choose the least intrusive method when doing so is the right approach. (And how is it again that neutering, doggy prozac and jaw cuff devices are non-intrusive?) In the interest of total transparency the real question that should have been asked is can we ever really and truly control the environment? What happens when despite our best management techniques and the best-laid plans the negative realities of life on planet earth INTRUDE ON US?
What’s pernicious about this challenge is the saccharine view of the dog’s mind it presents; the idea that all a dog wants to do is maximize pleasure and minimize pain. This doesn’t articulate or encapsulate the canine mind, it neuters it. In my reading of animal nature, the human animal included, the Negative (Predatory Aspect) is the kernel around which an animal’s view of reality is constructed, and therefore it proves to be the basis of trust, not the positive.
The positives of life are meant to be taken for granted (this is why I say it takes a million yeses to get to the first NO). For example, when we drive a car we take the positives as a given: the road goes where the map says it goes, there’s gas, food and lodging along the way if we want it. Whereas it’s the negative that defines our driving mind’s construct of reality, Where’s the erratic driver, will a deer jump out, will there be a child playing in the middle of the road around the next bend, and most especially, where’s the trooper running radar? Mastering the negative is how we derive our sense of confidence, autonomy, the feeling that we can go wherever we want to go and are in control of our vehicle and what’s going on around us. And as a passenger it’s our confidence in the drivers‘ capacity to handle the negative that allows us to extend to them our trust in kind. Their positivity doesn’t factor in one iota to that formulation.
It’s not coincidental that the rise in positive and hyper-motivation training methodologies parallels the incredible rise of aggression and phobias in the modern dog. This is because one cannot control the environment and if you don’t know where the predator is, then the predator can be anywhere and everywhere. The reality of life on earth is that confronting the negative and mastering stress is the key to feeling safe and so that one can with a care free heart pursue the simple pleasures and confidently tackle the complex issues of life’s “persistent problems.”