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Water Balloons & Squirt Bottles: NEVER a good option for dog training!

April 3, 2009

My new round of Canine College just started this past week over at Ventura College Community Education. As much as I hate to brag, it is truly a great group!!! Wait wait wait, let me clarify. So have all the other groups. I just get SO excited each time a new group starts at VC or at my inquisitive canine studio. It’s like it’s the first time, each and every time. I guess I’m just like a dog myself in this respect – isn’t that the way our pet dogs act whenever we come home after being gone for a long time?

Anyway, one reason I was just SO thrilled was because of the human students paying attention to what I was saying – I could tell learning was taking place because their behavior changed! HA! And so did their dogs behavior! Learning going on all around – just lovely!

At first people were telling their dogs multiple times to be quiet – but the dogs continued to bark, and the humans got frustrated. Then I went through what the class was about, what I wanted from them – my “What This Class Is” list, which included:

  • Having students focus on what all they wanted from their dogs!
  • Rewarding behaviors they like using food, petting, praise, play – anything to acknowledge what their dog did was what they wanted.
  • Realistic expectations!
  • What their dogs knew at this time versus what they’ll know by the end of the class.
  • And the ever important “Barking Protocol” that I have as part of all of my dog training classes and workshops… not the dog socials though, because that is more like a playground…

Once everyone was “rewarding quiet”, and the dogs were minding their manners, the humans started to engage and ask questions!!! I LOVE questions! I mean, that is one reason I love writing my Noozhawk advice column, right? Not because I want to sit at a computer all day, or hear myself “speak” – I want to help empower dog owners to create better relationships with their dogs!

Okay, so one of these great questions was about a certain training technique that this person had heard about, and was wondering what my thoughts were about it. I’ve heard about it too. As a matter of fact it was one of the old fashioned training techniques I had learned as a new dog owner. It never made sense to me then, and it certainly doesn’t make sense now. I’ve gone as far as to have it in my policies that it is not allowed – we don’t use this coercive training technique at the inquisitive canine. What am I talking about you ask? Squirt bottles!

This great student was brave enough to ask: “Joan, what are your feelings about using squirt bottles to train dogs?” She hadn’t done it herself, but she had heard about it from another trainer – along with a few other aversive methods.

After establishing how the squirt bottle was intended to be used, this is what I said.

  • First I encouraged her to answer her own question: “How would the dog learn what you wanted him to do?”
  • If I were teaching you how to knit, and every time you did something “wrong” I was to squirt you with water, would you learn what to do? Or would you just end up being afraid of knitting and afraid of me?
  • Would you ever be able to figure out what behavior I wanted? Or would you just learn to avoid doing anything, for fear of “doing something wrong” or being squirt in the face?

She knew in her heart it was the wrong thing to do – she just wanted to reassure herself. Plus she helped clear matters up for others as well – this is a very popular technique still used today, so I’m sure other students were wondering the same thing.

Another disturbing technique was just mentioned on one of my “group” lists. They were talking about how a franchise group of dog training “professionals” is now recommending throwing water balloons at dogs who are “misbehaving”! Wow, there are just so many things wrong with that. Talk about aversive! This is not fun and games for a dog – they can’t throw one back, right? And isn’t the humans own underlying motivation out of anger and frustration? Talk about poor coping skills!

Again, I ask, shouldn’t we just stick with teaching dogs what we want in a way they understand and enjoy? And then acknowledge them in a happy, healthy, fun way when they do? Let’s leave the water balloon fights to us humans on a hot summer day…shall we?


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