Training: Unnatural & Cruel, Or Valuable Tool?

One of our rescue cats, Leon, showing off his 'high five'!
I've heard a few people in past saying things like they "don't believe in training", as they'd "rather the animal lives a natural life", so I thought I'd do a little blog post and share my thoughts. Firstly, with regards to training being 'unnatural'-unfortunately, our animals have been selectively bred by humans to make them look a certain way, they're living in our centrally heated homes, aren't having to hunt, etc, so there aren't many things about our animal's existences which are particularly 'natural'!

Training can be an incredibly powerful tool, and specifically talking about dogs, with the new dog control laws, if a member of the public feels the slightest bit threatened that your dog could potentially injure them, you could end up with a huge fine, prison (or both), you could be banned from owning an animal, and your dog could be destroyed. So, with that in mind, it is very important that we train our dogs how to behave and interact appropriately in our society.

With regards to training being potentially 'cruel'-if we're using force-free techniques, and positive reinforcement, working on our animal's own terms, allowing them to opt in and out, and listening to their needs, there shouldn't be anything cruel about it.

Training can be used to develop our animal's skills, and make every day tasks become a positive experience for them. As an example, many animals need their nails maintaining, and if they haven't been conditioned to accept that, it can be highly stressful for them (and you). A way to work on that, for the front feet, could be to start training a 'high five', to get them used to the contact, and used to giving their foot, and to gradually accept having their toes touched (always working in their own time).

There are many different types of training, which all have various different benefits. It can offer exercise and enrichment, help to build a stronger bond between you and your animal, and if you look at some types of training, such as 'Real Dog Yoga', it can teach dogs (and other animals) to become calm, to stretch their muscles, make them more body aware and coordinated, etc.

If one approach to training doesn't seem to work, it may be the case that the animal needs to work in a different way. For dogs, I would always recommend taking training classes with a professional trainer, if appropriate for them, and building a relationship with a local, force-free trainer and behaviourist, as it's so useful having their support, should you have any issues or need advice.

All in all, I think there are endless benefits to training with our animals!