Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Surprisingly, Photos of Animal Neglect Accomplish Nothing

Yet another picture of suffering dogs is doing the rounds in dog training groups, reigniting the debate about whether any particular training method is more or less ethical than any other. This particular picture (below - TW: animal abuse) is claiming to illustrate that any training tool has the potential to cause harm, and therefore no training tool is inherently unethical. 

Although it was widely touted as "proving" that there's no difference between clicker training and e collar training, in fact this picture doesn�t further anyone�s position in the training wars, because the kinds of harm that are being shown are not the intended consequences of using any of the tools. Such injuries wouldn't be acceptable to the vast majority of human beings, let alone dog trainers, regardless of their stance on training methods. The pictures show neglect, not training. Pretending that using an e-collar means you�re okay with the picture on the left is just as wrong as pretending that using a clicker means you�re okay with the picture on the right. The picture illustrates nothing at all about the ethics of one method of training over another, only that people can be cruel and thoughtless. Quelle surprise.

But at the same time, the picture doesn't show what balanced trainers want either - that any object can harm a dog and therefore there's no difference between punishment and reward based training. Some objects, like prongs, are designed to cause aversive sensations to dogs, whereas flat collars, harnesses and treats are not, even though all of them can cause suffering in the right circumstances. Showing up with a machete to a party isn't morally the same as showing up with a bottle of champagne, even though both can kill. The risk of obesity as an unintended side effect is not the same as deliberately inducing pain and fear - read more about why this is here.  Again, all the picture shows is that neglect is bad; no more, no less. 

Really, the training wars is about the methods trainers choose, not the tools they use to execute the training. Nobody wins when one group of trainers tries to make out like others are tacitly condoning neglect. There are better ways to have this debate than demonizing one another.  

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