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8 Reasons It’s Better to Be a Dog Now than 25 Years Ago
By the Numbers

Congratulate the canines in your household for showing up on earth at just the right time, because, compared to those who lived 25 years ago, today’s dogs have many advantages.

1. Coercion training has been largely replaced by kinder, gentler positive methods. While not everyone is training with modern techniques, the trend continues to gain momentum. It is more effective and better for the relationship between dogs and people to teach dogs what to do and then reinforce them for being right—with toys, treats, play or affection—than to issue commands and deliver a leash pop or a shock in response to an incorrect response.

2. Behaviorists abound to help people with their dogs’ issues. Twenty-five years ago, it was more common to euthanize dogs for problems such as aggression, destructive chewing or repetitive behaviors than it is today. Now, many of these concerns can be resolved by working with a qualified behaviorist.

3. Options are plentiful for dogs who suffer pain due to injuries, arthritis or other causes. Acupuncture, while an ancient art, is relatively new on the scene for canine pain management, and the multitude of massage techniques, including TTouch, means that many dogs are relieved of pain rather than living with it or suffering from the side effects of medications.

4. It’s easier to travel with dogs now. More hotels accept them, and riding in the car is safer due to the use of crates and canine seat belts. Fewer dogs are left at home during family vacations and outings, and fewer are sliding around in the backs of vehicles.

5. Walking on-leash is a part of life for most dogs, and compared with 25 years ago, there are more relatively humane and effective options. It’s hard to imagine a dog who wouldn’t prefer a Gentle Leader, Snoot Loop, Halti or SENSEation harness to the choke chains that once were common.

6. Canine play is considered important in ways that were unheard of years ago. Play is widely viewed as critical for developing and maintaining good relationships between people and dogs, and as a result, more than ever, dogs are having fun with their people on a regular basis, and playing with better toys. The toy options are dizzying; from Kongs and Chewbers to Dogzillas and Nina Ottosson’s puzzle toys—the world of dog toys has moved well beyond balls and sticks!

7. Dog-centered activities are more numerous now. Agility, flyball, herding, tracking, lure coursing, rally-O and training classes as diverse as basic obedience and even tricks and games are common, as are “dog camps,” places where people and their dogs can enjoy such activities in the company of the like-minded.

8. Compared with 25 years ago, dogs are welcome in more places. Many people take their dogs to work, and more shops and businesses are allowing dogs as guests. On a more fundamental level, more dogs are now living inside our homes rather than outside as before. This greater hospitality may stem from the biggest change of all over the last 25 years, which is that more than ever, dogs are now considered members of the family. The wholehearted inclusion of dogs in our families—a perspective once voiced only by the very brave or slightly quirky—has become a mainstream idea over the past quarter-century.

Then or now, perhaps one of the greatest things about being a dog is that the tendency to sit around with friends and bark about “the good old days” doesn’t exist. I like to think that for dogs, the “good old days” are happening right now.

This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 58: Feb/Mar 2010

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by Kristin | June 11 2010 |

Yeah... it seems like 25 years ago more dogs were properly trained since people weren't yet brainwashed to believe that it's abusive to correct a dog. Positive reinforcement is great when teaching a dog, but how do you proof a dog without using proper corrections? Do you really expect a dog with high prey drive to pass up a squirrel for a treat and a scratch behind the ear? Ridiculous. Food bribing, as is the norm for "training" today, does nothing to show dogs that there are consequences when they don't obey. Food bribing, doesn't work when the dog gets a higher reward from chasing an animal right into the middle of a street. A dog must be corrected if it's to learn proper obedience. Whether that requires a leash pop or even an electrical shock depends on the individual dog and the situation.

I also find Haltis and Gentle Leaders to be a waste of time. I own dogs not horses. Both products do nothing to address the issue as to why a dog pulls. Neither properly trains a dog as how to walk properly on a leash. Restraining a dog is not training him. I'd rather using a prong for a few days and revert back to a flat buckle collar for walks, because the dog has learned what is appropriate behavior. Many dog owners also aren't aware that there are many more dangers of using a Gentle Leader and a Halti than there are using a properly fitted prong collar: eye injuries, nerve and spinal injuries, irritated/bleeding skin, etc.

Submitted by Judi | July 8 2010 |

Hear! Hear! I so agree with you! Dogs are still animals; without being able to reason with them, it is important we make clear what we want. Properly applied corrections are much more humane than the constant nagging of a Gentle Leader or bribing with food. Dogs are smart - they know a bribe or easy way out when they see it. I've trained my terriers with E-collars and both are now free to run because when I call them they return. If they don't, a tone or quick jolt protects them from harm from vehicles and other dogs. Both will cheerfully heel off leash in very distracting situations. They are not fearful - they know and understand the parameters - and dogs LIKE that. It is how they live in their packs. Sorry.... I could go forever on this!

Submitted by Anonymous | January 9 2011 |

Prong collars do nothing to address the reason dogs pull either. Dogs pull because humans go with them when they do it. Simple as that. So, any device that you use is merely a substitute for proper training, which NEVER has to rely on pain. I think that it's disingenuous to suggest that a Halti isn't benign, and not be willing to accept that a shock isn't benign either. And, in the hands of someone who is of a "correction" mind set, it's a whole lot more dangerous than either a halter or a prong. You're worried about irritated skin??? Try putting a shock collar on a dog and having it malfunction!
It is NOT ridiculous for a prey driven dog to attend to its owner's cues, rather than chase prey. If that were not the case, then my Aussie would be chasing my horse around daily. In fact, she will lie down and wait on cue, and not go after him at all. She has never heard the word "no" and has never worn an e-collar. What she hears is "leave it" or "come" or some other cue that I have taught her, reinforcing her for distance, duration, and working under ever increasing levels of distraction. What did I use? A clicker. And, no, she doesn't need a treat every time I issue a cue (notice I don't even call them "commands" - she's a working partner, not a slave). Your position is outdated and ridiculous, and modern training is based just as much on science as punishment training is. It's just way more pleasant for the dog.

Submitted by Anonymous | March 24 2011 |

PRONG IS WRONG!!!! Would you like prongs around your neck, ouch!!!

Submitted by Anonymous | August 16 2011 |

Test a prong collar on your arm sometime. I'm getting the impression from your comment that you're one of the people who simply looks at them and deems them scary, mean-looking things that therefore must be all bad.

Dogs need corrections sometimes, and other times can go on reward-only training. It depends on the dog, its level of sensitivity, its drives. It depends on the trainer. The same exact methods will not work on all dogs. Therefore perhaps not all dogs will need corrections--but when training dogs for competition obedience, -intelligent- corrections are necessary for the majority of dogs.

Prong collars, however strange they may look, are not abusive when properly used. They give a quick correction that is controlled by the handler, and then it's over. They don't cut off the dog from breathing, they don't--especially in a dog with a thick coat--cause an injury unless they are improperly used.

The methods and equipment you use will depend upon your dog, your beliefs, and what you want out of your training. To condemn a tool as abusive is pointless, as a tool depends upon the hands in which it is used.

Otherwise--this is an upbeat article. I agree with most of it, although I do think that on the other hand some things have fallen behind from where they were even 12 years ago when I started working with dogs. For the most part, though, things have definitely moved forward, and this is a cool article. It's unfortunate that the shift in mindset that lays behind so much of this is far from universal in many parts of the world and even just the US.

Submitted by Anonymous | September 21 2011 |

Good god no kidding!! I cannot believe them prong collars are still on the market!!! Along with choker chains, shock collars, etc. What is wrong with people? Besides bad training and being uneducated regarding training a dog. Everyone should have to take a course with Patricia McConnell's principles and theories regarding training a dog and have to actually PASS it before they own a dog in my eyes. It's really no wonder why dogs don't bite us more often. It's no wonder why the shelters are always clogged up!

Submitted by Tracy | January 10 2011 |

If people really used prong collars for a few days and then reverted back to a flat collar maybe they wouldn't be so offensive. I have trained dogs using punitive methods (prong collars, choke chains, spray bottles) and using positive methods more recently. Positive is not permissive and teaches the dog what you want it to do instead of punishing it for not doing as told. I have found the positive methods to be much more effective and long lasting.

Submitted by Reliable, Safe,... | January 22 2011 |

I totally agree. I train at a place that uses prong collars, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I do not bribe my dog to do something. When he does it he gets a treat and a ton of praise. I did an attention and focus class today. My dog got a correction when he did the wrong thing, and a treat and ton of praise for paying attention. He gets a reward for doing it right and a correction for doing it wrong. Is that abuse? Then I guess so be it...but he will never leave me for a squirrel, another dog, a treat, or something he deems more important. Because I corrected him for the wrong thing, he will NEVER be hit by a car because he just had to run a few more steps. Because I AM the most important thing in his world. Know where I am, and listen when I tell you to do something. He is the happiest dog, and he loves to work. Each time I correct him he wants to work harder, and push harder. I do not believe in begging my dog to do something, sticking a treat in his face to get his attention, or ignoring him when he jumps on a 3 year old. I will give you a command once, and expect it to happen. If you jump, you will be corrected.

BUT the energy I give when I give a correction, is nothing to match that of the energy he gets when I give praise. I guarantee I give more treats, better treats, and more praise than any clicker trainer out there.

Just had to leave my 2 cents.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 16 2011 |

"I guarantee I give more treats, better treats, and more praise than any clicker trainer out there."

Issuing treats AND using corrections undermines the corrections and poisons the rewards. This isn't something someone made up one day, this is from research conducted worldwide by ethologists, behaviorists, and psychologists.

These people make up clicker trainers. People with Masters degrees and PhD's. Even if a SKILLED clicker trainer doesn't have these qualifications, they are being mentored or taught by someone who does. Guaranteed.

Submitted by Anonymous | January 22 2011 |

Personally, I love love love my prong. And so does my dog. When he sees it he wiggles. I train using tons of treats, and a well timed correction when necessary. When I teach him to do something, he gets a correction for doing it incorrectly, and treats and tons of praise when he does it right. I have tried several different training methods, from clicker training to choke collars. This is the only thing I have found to work for this particular dog. I have 4 dogs. 2 mini dachshunds that need no collar or leash, never have. They respond excellent to clicker training, and a firm no for doing something wrong. A basset/beagle, and a previously aggressive American bulldog mix. These two are at different stages in their training, but both were trained with a prong and pounds of cheese, hot dogs, and summer sausage. The Basset mix is CGC certified, and will walk off leash in any distraction, because I am a better reward than anything else. The Bulldog mix we have only had for about 2 months. She will sit, down come, look when I say her name, and does not pull on a leash. She is working on her off leash abilities, and has been doing excellent. Before this training she had been taken to a clicker trainer that said she needed to be euthanized. I was her foster and she was adopted 3 times and returned because of aggression. The last time she came back they almost euthanized her, but I said we would keep her. In 2 months she has come a LONG way, and couldn't have done that without good consequences and bad consequences for her actions. The dog determines the correction, tools used, level of praise...etc. I would not necessarily use the same exact methods for any 2 dogs.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 16 2011 |

It surprises me that so many comments are in favor of punitive methods, especially on such an upbeat article such as this one.

One commenter questioned, "...but how do you proof a dog without using proper corrections?" - I think that question points towards the issue here: the level of education on operant conditioning is not to the caliber it should be.

Mark and reward training is not bribery; in fact, it is critical that every person using the clicker/marker understands that no food presents itself before the click/mark. Bribery is when the "deal" is placed up front. Reward is when the payment is a result of the learner's action.

We all work within the same operant conditioning grid - I think many trainers forget that. Those of us who choose to use the positive reinforcement/negative punishment side of the house rather than positive punishment/negative reinforcement have a better understanding of the psychological fallout from poor corrections, etc.

PS - a dog can be conditioned to wag his tail at the site of the prong collar because it means he gets to go outside. It is fact that an organism will endure something unpleasant to get to something more pleasant. The cue means go outside. People who smoke grab their cigarettes before taking their dog out. If the dog wags his tail at the sight of the cigarettes, does that mean he likes cancer?

Submitted by Annia | December 18 2013 |

Great comment!It has surprised me that many readers of BARK have the mindset of 25 years ago and will not be enlightened!

Submitted by Laura Dorfman C... | May 31 2011 |

I was going to add a 9th reason why it's better now and that was 9. The food options are way better now for mealtime and interactive meals.
I am quite surprised at your readers and the quick response to excuse and almost glorify aversive training. Just very surprised, and a little disappointed also.

Submitted by Rachel Simpson | June 27 2011 |

Wow! I am really dismayed by the number of people posting here promoting aversive training techniques. It is really a shame how many of the "old-time" choke-chain trainers put down operant-conditioning techniques, when they do not fully understand how they work. One of the mantras of positive reinforcement training is "Positive is not Permissive." Positive techniques do not allow or encourage bad or unwanted behaviors. Parameters are set and adhered to. Dogs are not bribed, they are encouraged to think, through shaping. The best agility, obedience, rally, search & rescue, assistance, and therapy dogs are trained using positive reinforcement techniques. I really do not understand this idea of "proofing" a dog by setting him up to fail. Any well-trained dog (through positive reinforcement techniques) will stop and recall in any situation. Just yesterday, my puppy (on leash) flushed out a rabbit and my two older dogs took off after it. All I had to say was "Leave it" and they both stopped. I called them back and they came to me. Sure, they looked back in the direction the rabbit went a couple of times, but they came back to me.

Submitted by Nando | June 29 2011 |

Spain is slowly catching up

Submitted by Chris | July 27 2011 |

On the whole I agree .... but dogs have also lost something in the last 25 years and that is the freedom they had to just walk around without being locked into their yards. In a way I feel they have been turned into sometimes pampered slaves.In the city where I live, there is one holdout beach suburb where some dogs are allowed to freely wander - but even then the dog ranger comes around sometimes. A dog is a different species. Are we really looking after them properly when they are totally dependent on us for everything, even when and where they walk (usually with a collar and lead restricting them further). Wonder what Elizabeth Marshall thinks of all this.

Submitted by Dan Hagen | July 29 2011 |

Not if the dog is a Pit Bull type. For them it's much much worse...

Submitted by Anonymous | September 19 2011 |

Added to this list should be types of dog food. There is like a thousand different brands and types of dog food to choose from.

Submitted by artemisbow | November 7 2011 |

chain collars abusive? what the hell are people doing with them? i have always used a chain collar; a. love the way it hides into my dog's neck [GSD and GSD-mixes] b. doesnt matt or stain the fur. i cant believe that anyone still "hangs" their dog seriously? i still have the chain collars [all sizes] from my first dog and all my dogs use them [almost 50 years]. Because my boys go to doggie daycamp and boarding, and dog parks - for safety reasons they are required to wear flat collars-this regulation makes total sense to me - so now they have their "play date" collars which when they see me handle are thrilled to slip on.
As far as halti's go- i have seen them really assist some people with their pulling dogs- i prefer to use what we here in NYC call a crossing leash- a leash with 2 handles- one at 4/6 feet and another at 2 feet--when i train "heel" i use the 2 foot handle - it really makes it so much easier on many levels..
i too agree with the addition- higher quality dog food choices- but also in the past we used to go to the butcher and get the offal meats and cook them for our dogs..
with time come both positive and negative changes..

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