I’m not talking about the Queen song.
I’m talking about the pressure we put on dogs to train them.
And…. We all do it. Not just the guy with the alpha rolls and prong collars.
Yes. You do it too. With your haltis and front clip harnesses.
Oh, you don’t use those. You only use clickers and cookies. Guess what sweet pea…… You use pressure.
All training is done through pressure. It is impossible to effect another beings decisions without it.
Here are the pressures in training:
1: Physical Pressure
2: Spatial Pressure
3: Social Pressure
4: Resource Pressure
Physical pressure: Now, this is the easiest for people to grasp. There’s the physical force. The old Alpha Roll/Pin. Of course that makes you feel like way more of an asshole than just picking your dog up to move them to a different part of the couch. But, they are both you imposing your will physically in a moment where you are unable to affect them in any other way. They are both high levels of physical pressure.
Then, we get into the more subtle levels of physical pressure, that aren’t meant to make something happen, but are an attempt to effect their choices. If you use the old rolled up newspaper to stop barking. If you use a Prong collar to stop pulling. An Invisible Fence. All these are obviously all physical pressures. But…. They also all have a icky vibe.
However, there are a lot of them that feel less shitty to us. But are essentially the same method. Things like Haltis, and No Pull harnesses. They are the same concept as a Prong. They are causing a physical sensation the dog doesn’t enjoy, and behavior changes due to the input. That’s physical pressure.
You can get even more subtle than that. If you gently push your dogs butt down to get “Sit”. If you use a leash to AT ALL influence directional choices. These are also physical pressures.
Spatial Pressure: Spatial pressure is a lot more subtle. But… It is the the implication of impending physical pressure. In the continuum of dog language, Spatial pressure is only one stage before “touching” begins. Now, spatial pressure is often associated with harder more physical trainers, and is poo pooed on by the the “purely positive” folk. But, again…. I argue that we all use it. Just at various levels of intent, and degree. A lot of people have the, “I’ll beat your ass” vibe when they move towards their dog to correct. Some are doing it intentionally, and some have no idea they are doing it. But whether they intended to or not….. That’s how the dog understood it. And it’s pressure. Sometimes, a LOT of pressure. Honestly… I think spatial pressure can be much more stressful than physical pressure! Man, if you told me I could either get punched in the face or wait a week to find out what punishment I may or may not get for something… I’d way rather take the hit. Expectation of a bad thing is a ton more stressful than actually experiencing the thing. So spatial pressure is inducing the expectation of impending physical pressure. It’s a psych game.
Now, I’m not saying it’s bad. I use it. Hell everyone does. And before you say you’re above such Neanderthal tactics, I’ll ask you this: Have you ever given your dog a stern look? Yep….. Spatial pressure. It can be that subtle. I tell people when I’m coaching them, to “Imagine you have a spotlight in your chest and another in your eyes.” Then I can yell at them “Too much pressure…. Turn it off” and they will know what I mean. If you look at a lot of the “calming signals” out there, they are subtle ways of adjusting these spotlights. Oblique approaches (chest light). Avoiding eye contact (eye light). Look aways (eye light). Displacement sniffing/scratching (both). Calming signals, are just ways of manufacturing enough releases of spatial pressures that the second party doesn’t get the wrong idea. That’s how powerful spatial pressure can be.
Here’s what the famous dogman Dick Russell had to say about the power of spatial pressure.
So…. You can’t control something you aren’t aware of. Now you understand it. So maybe you can use it more skillfully. And by that I mean less of it.
We all use physical and spatial pressure. No question. Where we vary is in the intent, and degree of pressure, and the ability to use them skillfully and subtly enough to be able to use them a sparingly as possible…….
Now, of the above 4 pressures, these are the two thought of as actual “pressure”.
People don’t think of praise and food, as pressure. But, don’t worry. I’ll explain how they are.