There is an international dog training dispute going on that has been rumbling away in the background of the canine community for years. If you work in the canine industry or just really love dogs, there is a chance you watch some form of dog themed TV show, as more and more documentaries, welfare series and training reality shows hit our screens.
So what the real arguments revolve around is the difference in ethical opinion between the use of positive and negative reinforcement methods in dog training.
1)Positive reinforcement is the training of specific behaviours through rewarding the desired action.
2) Negative reinforcement is the training of behaviours through making an undesirable behaviour ‘uncomfortable’ or through a form of punishment.
Now personally as a dog trainer, i have watched both Animal Planet’s “The Dog Whisperer” and Channel 4’s “It’s Me or the Dog” observing the common but effective methods utilised by both trainers. Now many trainers out there are just as good as those who have their own TV shows, but the effectiveness of any tool or method is the way in which it is carried out, this is where most dog owners find themselves dumbfounded as they copy these TV techniques and yet still fail to see any improvement in their dog’s behaviour. Any form of training strategy, if done incorrectly, can cause more damage than good.
Cesar Millan is often trashed in the canine world as intimidating with a style of training and thinking from cave man days. His dominant methods of becoming the ‘pack leader’ are labelled as old school and his frequent use of the ‘touch’ is thought of as abusive. His steps of often triggering the behaviour that requires rehabilitating can be perceived as over bearing and almost in the dogs face. He is seen as a trainer who uses negative reinforcement by forcing the dogs to become submissive.
Victoria Stilwell uses positive reinforcement through and through with clicker training, treats, toy drive, distraction and other such techniques. Since moving to the USA she has become involved with other dog TV and media such as USA Dogs, America’s Greatest Dog and of course It’s Me or the Dog USA. Positive training method use is her mission in life with her website even being http://www.positively.com. However, the case studies that Victoria publicly handles could arguably be called less severe in comparison to Cesar and on frequent occasions i have felt she could have assessed the family and owners more thoroughly and done more to change the human’s behaviour to make more of positive impact on the dogs training. I also feel that perhaps as we have seen no evidence yet, she would not be able to rehabilitate a human aggressive dog.
As a private and rescue dog trainer what do i think?
I see every kind of behavioural issue from simple lead pulling on a walk and jumping up to severe fear trauma, dog and people aggression. I find that in most cases, the root problem is fear, insecurity or learnt behaviour. The psychology of a dog versus dog training is where i find these lines can cross when rehabilitating a dog, because a dog’s basic psychology comes down to pack hierarchy and instinct. In severe cases where for example a dog has become human aggressive and a trainer must gain this dog’s trust and respect to begin to work with it, i feel some of Cesar’s alpha tactics could have the upper hand. Whilst i would always try to sit next to the dog (with a form of barrier of course) and allow the dog to go nuts and then over time calm down as it becomes habituated to me, there are some dogs that just won’t quit or there is no barrier and pen available. In this instance a completely dominant attitude and the approach to follow the dog until it submits is actually very useful and effective. I also feel that the “touch” that is most widely discussed and debated, is only used in situations where the dog is the one first willing to “touch” you, or to put it less subtly, bite. In this case we should look back the dog as an 8 week old puppy, developing its social skills amongst it’s litter mates, playing rough and boisterous. Puppies will bite each other with more malice and a different energy when a sibling causes genuine pain and injury during play to correct them that “this bite was too hard”. By a small sharp touch to the neck and shoulder joint, you are not hurting your dog anymore than a poke to snap their brain from an instinctive train of thought back to reality and inform them that their behaviour is too aggressive. This is not hitting, kicking, beating or smacking a dog, these are abuse. This is synthesising a natural correction in the canine world.
Calm and confident energy that releases a leadership role or alpha male, but can be difficult for owners to understand and recreate within themselves.
Not allowing your dog to lead in front on walks or through entry ways.
Ensuring a dog is always invited onto the furniture oppose to when it wishes
His thought process of nose-eyes-ears to appreciate how your dog is perceiving you
His skills of observing and reading a dog’s body language to know when to correct or treat or sit back
Small touch/poke to snap the brain from instinctive thinking in more serious situations such as food or dog aggression.
No touch, no talk, no eye contact to almost immediately resolve bad behaviour with guests.
Use of other dogs or a whole pack to rehabilitate and build confidence, “Power of the Pack.
Food, toy, attention and fuss based rewarding
Fabulous clicker training
Her skills of owner interaction, explanations and education
Experienced and perfected timing of rewards
Application of consistency, patience and routine
Use of activities to build confidence
Use of techniques and tools that with practice anyone can mirror.
As a dog trainer for the every day owner; i feel that Victoria Stilwell wins the debate here, she has a more approachable persona and better skills at explaining how she does things and really educating owners. She instils a new way of thinking within the household and highlights the importance of consistency whilst using tools that can cause minimal damage whilst owners get to grips with the technique. Her methods can be learnt by anyone who really wants to train their dog with ease where as Cesar’s energy cannot be replicated so easily and once back in the owners presence it is often the case that the dog reverts back to it’s old negative behaviours. However it should be noted that when Cesar does make an effort with the owners themselves to teach them how to properly utilise his methods, he can really make a significant difference in that human’s overall confidence and life attitude.
Cesar fascinates me and will always have my support because of his deep understanding of canine psychology and his learnt connection with dogs. His ability to accurately read a dogs body language and to adjust his own so as to carry out a silent conversation is amazing and can have such positive effects on those dogs that are shut down or are on a completely basic level of social skills. It cannot be said at all that Cesar Millan is in anyway cruel, although he may appear forceful and not be to everyone’s liking. Cesar is simply adapting techniques that canines would show every day in a pack in the wild or with their mother and litter mates, so that he may connect with and utilise the natural behaviour instincts and canine psychology to make the greatest impact in each rehabilitation he embarks upon. His methods if performed incorrectly, (as has been done by many wanna-be trainers), could be seen as cruel and abuse but this is because ignorant people confuse the difference between the dog being responsive due to fear or due to respect…
Each dog training endeavour can only be successful if the owners put in the work with patience, persistence, positivity, consistency, calm and basic canine knowledge. In other words; if the owner doesn’t put the work in each and every day, you can’t expect a trainer to make miracles happen. Although you would probably liken my sessions more to that of something Victoria might take part in, it must be noted that in situations where i see an extremely aggressive dog or a dog particularly difficult to understand the root cause, i always think, “Cesar would be able to fix that case…”.
I offer dog training one to one sessions across Coventry and the West Midlands, UK at £20 per session plus £10 travel charge to some outer areas. To book a private session with me or to support the rescue work we carry out please visit: http://www.broken-souls-rescue.org