Thursday, February 24

How Dumb is the Dog Trainer?

Welcome to a Social Media Event in the Dog Training World.
It's scary.
And, in fact, it's pretty fragging brave. (That was my attempt at not swearing today. I don't know that that actually counts. What do you think?)

Enter in a few kids - adults, I mean - at a "round table," having a doggy discussion with the public.


First, it's a marketing gimmick - everyone has pamphlets and smiles plastered on their faces. Kind of makes me want to throw up - the fake smiles, I mean.

We have vets, dog trainers, groomers, daycare people, and the like. You also have "positive" or Truly Dog Friendly people and traditional trainers. 

Does anyone else see this going south? And fast? 
Like really fast?

It's an entire event, laid out before the public, of trainers undermining each other.
In front of a crowd.
And cameras..

Pause the event for a sec, here.

Ever been to a seminar with positive dog trainers?
Worst flipping atmosphere I've ever had the misfortune of being part of. Really.
There's a niche within a niche in dog training, brought to the forefront during social gatherings.
And it doesn't make you look good, guys.

So, this niche.
This niche is the Truly Dog Friendly folks, and people like they. (Yes, that is proper grammar. If I say "people like them" it means that people think they're cool, and that's not what I'm trying to say.)
They center themselves in the middle of the room, chatting amiably... with anyone who agrees with them.
Don't agree with absolutely every morsel that the Queen Bee at the center of the center does?
Don't approach.
I repeat: Do NOT approach.

And don't you dare have your own ideas or opinions about dog training.
You try and present rationality (or what you think of as rationality) to that crowd...
...Well, you'd have better luck trying to break a brick wall with your face.

It gets worse.
There are a lot of dog trainers in this world, but there aren't a lot of dog trainers who ...
...Okay, whatever... I'll be the one to say it.
There aren't a lot of dog trainers who know their ass from a hole in the ground.
Sure, they can train a dog, and they can even train you to train your dog.
They know next to nothing about operant conditioning. (Come the eff on, people. "I don't use positive punishment." Really? Ever said "No" to your dog? Application. Of. An. Aversive. IE: Positive Punishment.)

Here's the deal: I can make, fix, and build cars. 
That doesn't make me an ASE Certified Mechanic, the same way that being a certified mechanic doesn't necessarily mean you can fix cars.

And what really gets me is when people memorize this shit. That's the latter of the mechanic metaphor. 

Example: Negative Reinforcement = delaying of a punisher. 

This threw some people right off their game when it was posted on some CPDT-prep group on Yahoo, and no, I'm not linking you to it. I wouldn't waste my time.

Point: If the people who threw such a hissy fit had bothered to learn - NOT MEMORIZE - what R- is, they would have nodded their heads and said, "What an interesting way to define it."

So, here you have dog trainers - PROFESSIONAL dog trainers - who memorized a bunch of shit for their tests, passed, and now believe that their credo is the Word.


And it's not that I disagree with their credo, though now if you're still reading this, you're probably too pissed off to care whether or not I agree with it. 

The thing that will get my goat every time is this: When you join the religious faction of positive dog training, you close yourself off to any other ideas. 

And even if you were to say, listen to another idea, you're going to be ostracized by your own little "community." Don't believe me? 
The APDT routinely tries to kick people who don't agree with their credo off the board.
Still don't believe me?
Ask Ian Dunbar, who founded the damn thing. It's him that they keep trying to boot out.
Mostly because he points out that they don't know learning theory, and that it's all but useless.
And they just don't want to hear that.

Put it to you this way: I am a "By any and whatever means necessary" type of trainer. I'll spend 700$/mo on medication, holistic food, and behavior modification if I believe that's the way to go. On that same note, if I truly thought the best way was to put a shock collar on the dog, turn it all the way up and hold the button until the dog was incapacitated, I'd do it.

With the latter, you will never find me pre-planning that situation, because there is always a better way. 

(Although, I used the latter example because I've done it. Repeat: I've done it. As a positive - well, cross-over - trainer. Of course, the couple already had the collar turned all the way up and on the dog, and it was either drop the dog or offer my condolences to the family after he ripped out their three-year-old's throat while I stood there and did nothing about it.)


So, I'm a crazy, open-minded, cross-over trainer who hasn't crossed all the way over.

And I'm sitting at a round table discussion with a bunch of trainers who are all trying to puff themselves up on their religious credo.

Can I...

Can I just get to the point?

When you're in the midst of a public event, trying to undermine everyone else because you're credo is correct and everyone else is misinformed... 

You aren't impressing anyone except yourself. And if you're attending a public event to impress yourself, there's a problem.

Self-deceptive enhancement is only enhancing when you're talking to yourself, standing in front of a mirror. Not so great when there are cameras and media personnel, all looking at each other like, "You've got to be &*^&ing joking."

If you're a good dog trainer, people will come to you - through word of mouth as much as anything else. It won't matter what your credo is, or how you explain yourself. 
You wouldn't treat a client who came in with different opinions like you do trainers who have different opinions. So stop treating other people, who have different opinions like inferior beings.
My point: Get the eff off of your high horse. Please.

Oh, and the traditional trainer?
Oops for him. After he explained that his shock collar was "a muscle stimulator" (duh) that "didn't hurt at all" (yeah, okay, sure...) he said that his dog was happy and confident, and then went on to redefine what another trainer said about stress signals, just to prove his point further.
If his dog was stressed, he'd be yawning, licking his lips, and tense.

His dog's tail carriage was low, his body tensed while he scanned constantly, licking his lips and yawning repeatedly.

I've got to say it. At least when I trained traditionally, I didn't give some bullshit speech about how it "didn't hurt." I said, "Yeah, it hurts like hell; that's the point." 

And then I learned that it's just more fun to train without it.
And my dogs love me more.

The End?
Feel free to scream, insult, curse, call me an idiot, etc.
And, just to add insult to injury, I'm not going to reject you or your views/opinions/beliefs just because mine are different.


  1. Hi--interesting POV, and I can understand where you're coming from. I just don't agree that it's this black and white in the dog training world. I've been to training meetings/seminars, etc. where it's not like this, so I'm sorry you didn't have a good experience! There's a lot of science involved in good dog training, IMHO. Anyway, thanks for opening a vein about the topic!

  2. Neat article! As a hobby trainer (just training my own dog's and fosters if I have them), I may not get it completely. That being said, I am on an email list and the value of it is steadily decreasing because people can't just agree to disagree or stop throwing red herring at anyone who disagrees with them.

    To Hilary: I absolutely agree that there is a science to good dog training. But P+ and R- also fit within that window of "science", and people often either don't know that or choose to ignore it. -P is still punishment. Still scientific. The scientific card is hard to play...because many traditional trainers are using just as scientific methods as cross over or "humane" trainers.

    That all being said, I mainly use R+ in working with dogs, along with verbal corrections and interruptions and NRM (all P+), removing rewards (P-), as well as extinction, which doesn't really fit into a quadrant. At this point I have never used R-, but I'm not going to trap myself into a corner and say I never will because I don't know. My definitions are vague, please forgive me.

    I really liked this article (and the guest blog on Canis Blogus of a similar subject). Keep the alternative content coming!!

  3. @Hilary.
    I go for the in-your-face way of presenting any viewpoint, regardless of whether or not it seems black and white. Dog training isn't, and neither are dog trainers. I presented it that way to point out the extremes, and because being politically correct and overly diplomatic would undermine the point.
    As for the seminars/meetings... I honestly wish I could agree with you. It may be my area of the world, but from everything I've seen/heard, different views and ideas do not go over well, and people are shunned if they don't fit in with the crowd.
    Now, don't get me wrong. The people are nice, but that's beside the point.

    Science in dog training - there is some good stuff to be found in doggy training science, and I think it helps make a person well-rounded to know and understand some of the jargon.
    But... most 13 year olds I know are just as good at training dogs and coaching people as those who are well-versed in learning theory... (Not that I'd have them handling behavior problems...)

    Thanks for the comment. I agree with everything except the seminar, but I think that has more to do with the fact that I'm programmed to notice things like that. =]

  4. @Ashley
    No doubt - we can be quite ridiculous about our beliefs and values.
    Hilary is actually quite a sport, as a cross-over trainer who is positive now.
    When we talk dog training, unfortunately, we're talking something that we hold very dear to our hearts - it's an intrinsic part of programming and core belief system.
    If you tell a person - trainer or not - that they're "wrong," it's kind of like telling a religious person that God doesn't exist.
    IE: Not gonna go over well.
    Unfortunately, that enters into the science and contaminates the hell out of everything. It adds an emotional side that makes it so much harder to be open minded.

    Thanks for the comment and I'm glad you like the article =]

  5. I agree that emotions are tied into dog training methods. I also do think science has a lot to say, whether you agree or not. P+ is definitely in science. I belong to several different trainer organizations, some to see what is going on in the aversive world, and some to see what's happening in the purely positive world. There are passionate trainers on both ends. I pick what works best for the dogs I train, what I believe gets the best results. I don't like pain; I prefer positive, humane training. You are all of course welcome to express viewpoints, as that opens up discussion! What a concept, right? :) Julie, it's so unfortunate that you were shunned at a meeting of professionals, but I know that there are snobs and closed-minded groups in every organization.

  6. But ma, what if I am the one who is right all the time? LOL

  7. Your explanation about the use of 'they' instead lf 'them' cracked me up. Little wink back to a comment you wrote on my blog: you're an uber geek (and that's the greatest compliment, it means you're worthy of my geeky dinner 'parties'!).

    About the article: gripping stuff, you've done it again. You brave woman, you.

    The repetition of ill-understood concepts, their twisting to fit one's point, the holier-than-thou'ism... All too familiar.

    I am subscribing to a couple of professional dog training magazines, and I often have to stop reading as yet another idol with undeserved glory writes more non-sense to support the latest en-vogue position.

    I would love to hear of a serious qualification that gives its students an unbiased perspective on the various theories of animal learning, dog behaviour, dog psycho-pathologies, the dog's ancestral history (no, the grey wolf is NOT the dog's ancestor and the dog is not a glorified grey wolf and even if it was, we don't know much about wolves anyway, definitely nothing about packs, etc.).

    I would love to know that the holder of that qualification understands about these essential tennets, rather than repeats what the idolised founder of the training school where they take their qualifications happens to believe in. I've done 2 qualifications here in the Netherlands and I have lived this phenomenon first hand: you get nothing short of bullied for having a slightly different view that the chants of the 'lead trainer'.

    Political tensions in the profession are so high that you are pressured into labelling yourself. So I have labelled myself in the positive camp, as that best describes my views lacking a better word (customeres get explicitly warned against trainers advertising themselves as 'mixed'). But I am more and more uncomfortable with many of the tennets that come with positive training.

    Not in the least is the unrealistic demonisation of anything ressembling punishment.

    So, in my view, the main issue is in the need to choose a camp, to label ourselves, which in turns pushes us to hold increasingly extreme view, with the crowd of follows goading each other into a near witch-hunt.

    I understand this need, so the public can broadly categorise dog trainers on a continuum of how much they use (positive) punishment in their methods. One end being the kicking, hanging, slapping trainer, and the other would be the trainer who scolds you (positive punishment to the owner seems OK) for saying 'no' to your dog.

    Why do we insist on taking such extreme positions. The truth is very very very rarely found in extremes.

  8. P.S. I love Ashley's comment. In particular, she astutely observes that 'it doesn't all fit in a quadrant', which it really doens't.

  9. @Hilary

    Science has a lot to say, you're right! Problem is that it gets ignored or misinterpreted.

    ...I'm quiet at seminars. I've never been a social butterfly, and networking/marketing is not my department within the company, so I don't have to worry about it.
    I go to listen to the speaker - LISTEN and not judge - and then analyze and think about it later.
    I've never talked to anyone, partly because I'm not interested and partly because I can't stand the attitude.
    You'll have to attend a seminar someday on this side of the country, I think you'll find it much different than you're used to.

    Anyway, thanks for all the comments, and sorry for the delayed reply!!

  10. @ Laure-Anne

    It gets ridiculous at a point, doesn't it? Don't get me wrong, Hilary is so right in pointing out that there is that sort of thing in all walks of life - there will always be snobs and cliques.

    Yeah, I'd love to have a school for dog trainers where the view is unbiased and the trainees are taught to have open, malleable minds, and then they can choose the training methods that they truly believe are the best for the dog and the handler without judgement.

    ...It'll probably never happen.

    In any case, I've always thought that having a TV show called "So You Think You're a Dog Trainer" would be entertaining. Throw in some R+ and some P+ trainers ... in the same room... and the ratings would go through the roof. lmao.

    I love Ashely's comment, too.

    Learning theory and all it encompasses happens in a vacuum, but reality doesn't. Science gives you a knowledge base, but there are always other factors...and... Well, you know the rest.

    TY for the comments. I love them!! !=D I'm so glad you agree. lol

  11. Very well put: "learning theory happens in a vaccuum, reality doesn't". The problem is that some trainers see this as a valid argument to not bother learning the theory at all.