Sunday, January 30, 2011

TV "Magic" Dog Training.

First I must say a few words.  This is going to be a long post.  It is also going to be a blunt post.   I hope you take the time to read it in it's entirety, as I'm writing this because I feel it needs to be said.  This is the reason for this blog.  It is a personal blog from my dog training points of view, which leaves it open for me to say things in a manner I may not say on other sites or in other places.  I'm not looking for people to debate what I'm about to say, so please refrain from debating this.  It's not written for open discussion for people to give me reasons to like or follow a certain famous, male TV dog trainer, I’ll refer to as “TVDT” from here on.  I don't like his training, period and I have very valid and good reasons not to.  My thoughts aren't going to change about it.  Ok.  That's said now here we go. . . 

If you read this and still do not agree with me that is completely fine but we may not be a match for each other regarding dog training and owner training.  I don't and won't use his methods or suggest that someone else should.

Okay . . . Now that I got that all out I'm going to tell you folks why I do not like TVDT and why I don't think anyone should follow his methods or try to do anything he does.  If you would like a dog that is well-trained, i.e.,  properly trained, with the science of dog training that deals with how to communicate and train dogs with what works from studies and science, then please read on.  

The sad truth is that dogs are still viewed as property by law.  Many laws are currently changing and evolving to include pets as more than just objects and property, but this is a slow process.  With this, the dog training industry is not regulated by any governing body or organization.  Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer, a "dog whisperer" or even a behaviorist if they really want to.  However, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist is actually a veterinarian that has gone on to study animal behavior (more than 8 years of education).  So while anyone can call themselves anything pertaining to dog training/behavior a true Animal Behaviorist has an extensive education  background (currently there are fewer than 50 Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists in the US). These sad facts put a real kink in things for good trainers and helps those that are poor trainers.  

The TVDT fans like to accuse all non-TVDT fans of being jealous and just wishing they were as rich and good as he is.  Of course I’m jealous, he’s rich.  I’m also jealous of Angelina Jolie, Oprah and a few other famous peeps.  I’d love to be rich and not be worried about finances.  However, I don’t talk badly of them because they don’t do things that directly impact someone or something I care about deeply in a negative way.  The facts are that dog trainers that dislike TVDT aren’t mumbling at his TV show because they are jealous, they truly see the problems he’s causing and misguided information he’s touting to dog owners that don’t know any better.  The truth is that, at least  for this non-TVDT fan, I wish he would become more educated and understand dogs and their language better.  There are bits and pieces of what he says that I do in fact agree with.   However, many things I don't and his methods I definitely don't agree with.

Let me talk about an episode I just saw last week, followed by a phone call from a client who has been following his methods (with disastrous results), which brought me to write this whole post. 

The episode had two German Shepherds who fought with each other when taken to daycare.  They apparently didn't fight at home.  When the woman got the dogs to the daycare and tried to get out of the car one dog would lay into the other.  They showed one of their fights on the show.  The dogs actually ripped into each other and one had massive puncture wounds on her face and had to have her muzzle shaved so they could clean the wounds.  There is red flag #1.  Why ask the client to put the dogs in a situation that you know would very likely cause them to fight?  That gives fighting dogs one more practice toward the whole "practice makes perfect" theory.  Both dogs had prong/pinch collars on them (whatever you want to call them).  The owner had one dog and TVDT had the other, the offender.  They were in the lobby of the daycare during the parts that I saw.  The lady had the dog on leash just standing there and TVDT came around and as soon as the dog looked at the other dog he'd jerk the leash, give it a collar correction and do his little "shhht" sound and snap his fingers.  He did that a few times.  Then he had the woman put her dog into a down position (dog lying down).  Then he took the other dog over and had him lie down about 2 feet from the other dog.  So they were then lying side by side.  One of the dogs clearly became incredibly stressed out.  He started whining and tried to move slowly away from the other dog.  He didn't try to get up and run,  he just simply scooted slightly to move away.  TVDT grabbed the leash and corrected the dog and said some spiel about how the dog has to learn to stay where he put him and he's boss and all that junk.  The dog became increasingly stressed, whined even louder and began panting and trying again to scoot out of the way.  More corrections, more of TVDT giving why he thinks this is good, etc.

So what's wrong with that, some of you may be wondering?  Well, a lot.  First if a dog is stressed and  you keep pushing and forcing it (especially with leash jerks!) to do something that it clearly is uncomfortable and stressed about;  you are not going to solve any issue at all.  Sure, for the TV show it will appear that the dogs are just peachy.  They can lie there together and not maim one another.  Let's fast forward to a week, or even the next day.  It won't last.  You cannot fight aggression with aggression and that dog was showing that he didn't want anything to do with the other dog.  He wanted to move away.  He wanted to retract.  Good boy, good dog!  What should  have happened was that he should have been praised and rewarded for moving away from the dog and not causing a confrontation.  He needed to be praised for choosing to remove himself.  If he chooses flight he's not choosing fight.  Also they didn't solve a thing. I would bet money on the fact that if you went there today the only way they can do anything is if they have those prong collars on and they still administer leash corrections.  It's punishment without teaching, there was no discipline.  Discipline teaches, punishment suppresses.  Suppressing means it's not gone just dormant . . . until it's not dormant.  And with punishment, when that sleeping giant becomes non-dormant (here being aggression) it's going to be nasty I can assure you!  That dog is going to do as much damage as possible because all it can think is--it didn't work last time and I may never get to do this again . . . so by golly this time I've got to make it count!

Punishment has the appearance of immediate results because of suppression.  While we as a society want everything to be immediate, some things are better off taking time.  Working through good dog training and long term results is one of those things that's better off done right, taking time, dedication and good discipline.

Those who have worked with me know I administer discipline.  But I do not advocate punishment.  There is a huge difference.  Often with punishment you will teach a dog to just avoid doing something in front of you, or rather that it’s just unsafe to do XYZ when you are around.  So you don’t actually teach the dog anything.  What should the dog do instead of XYZ?  The dog doesn’t know because you have only used punishment to try to extinguish a behavior without replacing it with a behavior that is desirable.  When you replace an undesirable behavior with a desirable one and also administering consequences for undesired behavior(s), you are using discipline.

I have never seen TVDT tell a dog "good boy!".  Of course you'll never see him give a reward of any kind--no food, no toys, no petting for doing something right.  He misses stress signals like an amateur (or a child!) would.  It's scary, really scary . . . and sad.  What's bad is that utilizing stress signals, reading them properly and responding to them properly can make a world of difference in a dog's training.  Ignoring these signals can mean escalated aggression or even a new behavior that comes up because another was being punished and no praise or rewards were given.

By nature dogs use stress/calming signals to avoid confrontation.  They are such social creatures that they do not purposely put themselves in a conflicting situation.  

I also find it odd and baffling that no one that is a fan of his finds it disturbing that he's working with hard cases of aggression but doesn't seem to know how to train a dog to sit or lie down on command.  That doesn't bother anyone?  Oh, right the normal response is, "he doesn't train dogs he rehabilitates them . . . "  Ok.  Let me make something very clear to those who aren't aware . . . It's going to be quite hard to impossible to successfully train a dog (or rehabilitate, whatever buzz word makes one feel better) if you can't teach commands to the dog and get owners to teach commands to their dog.  Saw an episode where he took some clients (the guy who wrote the book "Marley & Me") with their new Lab to a trainer so she could teach it to come when called.  I'm not kidding.  This was one of the episodes.  Not to mention I've never really seen him utilize commands with dogs.  I bet he has but he sure doesn't do it often.  How can a dog ever know what his owner wants if he never tells him?  It’s ludicrous to just assume a dog should “just know” or “do it because”.  Nothing in life works like that with any measurable success.

You have to have a dog that responds to you and  (at least) basic commands and foundation skills before you can truly change behavior of any kind at any level--if you want to have it last.

You can train a dog with a leash correction, or yelling, or intimidating but it won't get you too terribly far.  If you have the right dog, i.e., a dog that puts up with that kind of "training" the dog will either work out of fear or turn on you one day after coming to a breaking point.  And don't get too ahead of yourself, that could be 7 years down the road of a dog submissively doing as you request (or else!) and then one day --BAM! You're gonna get it, or someone in the dog's path at that moment is gonna get it.  And if you have the wrong dog, TVDT would label as "dominant" (he uses this label for absolutely everything of which 99% of it he's wrong), a dog that had a stronger personality and didn't take to punishment, you'd get bit faster than you could blink.  But sadly, that would lead to more punishment and so the vicious cycle would continue and no behavior would ever be changed; and these are the dogs that are often put down due to their escalated aggression (caused most often by poor training/handling).  Yes, there are dogs out there that are too aggressive to be helped (not often but there are.)  However, I'm only using the reference to what happens when you use punishment to try to "fix" aggression because it rarely, if ever, works.  

You can read a study done by the University of Pennsylvania.  “In a new, year-long University of Pennsylvania survey of dog owners who use confrontational or aversive methods to train aggressive pets, veterinary researchers have found that most of these animals will continue to be aggressive unless training techniques are modified. . . .”  Entire article found here.

I can also bash this type of training because I used to do it and I see why it doesn't work for long.  I started with my psychotic Beagle and felt magical.  He learned to sit, lie down and walk well on a leash with a choke chain.  I could give a slight little jerk and he'd do just as he was told.  But then there was the time when he bit my hand.  Puncture wound from front to back, that tooth went all the way in.  That dog had no trust for me.  He had no respect for me . . . unless he had a leash and collar on.  Oh yeah ,and he'd eat dogs up if given the chance too.  So I learned a better way and a way that I've now trained  hundreds and  hundreds of dogs with.  I've done this now for 12 years and not once have I administered a leash correction, or physical punishment, or even verbal punishment.  I've successfully trained my four dogs (the dogs I have the joy of living with now) without a single leash correction.  This includes a 120-lb Great Dane.  I throw that in there because some folks think if you own a big dog you need some special tools or to be a little more "stern" and that you definitely can't train it on leash without a prong collar--wrong!

A good dog trainer can train any dog with the proper skill set.  They don't need crazy collars and manhandling techniques to do it.

Not one of my dogs has been intimidated by me in order to do something.  All of my dogs do as I ask when I ask about 90% of the time.  The other 10% they are allowed to be dogs, as dogs should be.  Oh yeah and they sleep with me.  They also get kisses all day and love and pats and hugs from me.  All trained with food and toys.  I don't have to give them food for them to respond now, at least not every time.  They get it at random times or when they do a perfect recall off of a squirrel--they sure as heck get a good food treat for that!

Oh please . . . Don't think for one minute I'm trying to pass my dogs off as perfect.  Absolutely not.  They are dogs for goodness sake, and I'm human. They are compliant to the degree that I enjoy them immensely, and so can others.  I do not have little robot dogs.  I do not want robot dogs.  I want dogs that respond to me but enjoy it, that aren't a nuisance to others at anytime and that can be taken anywhere in public and act politely (read: that's not perfectly, it's politely).  I think more people need to aim for that goal.  It would be less stressful for both dog and owner.  And there would sure be a heck of a lot of well-trained dogs out there too!

One of my dogs gives off stress/appeasement/calming signals (there are many terms for the same thing) like a champ.  I can read him like a book. I use these signals quite a lot with aggression cases, as well with all of my dog training.  You've got to catch your dog doing something right . . . and tell him.  Don't get a big chip on your shoulder and say, "Oh he should do it because he knows he should. Why do I have to tell him good boy at this point?"  Because you do.  No you don't have to have a baggie of treats on you forever but you better well tell your dog until the day he dies that he's a good boy when he lies quietly on the rug, politely greets a guest, turns his head the other way when he sees another dog, choose to sit instead of jump . . . .  You have to tell a dog what he's doing right if you want him to make those decisions forever.  If you don't, if you only tell a dog when he's doing it wrong all you'll have is a dog making his own decisions, a dog that has no trust in you.  

Oh yeah . . . Remember the client I spoke about at the beginning of this article?  The one that called stating she was using TVDT’s methods with disastrous results?  Well I spoke with her today.  After using methods I told her to use and not using anymore of the forceful and aggressive techniques she was using her dog has stopped his aggressive behavior 100%.  She has not seen one shred of nastiness.  She said, “He’s actually been enjoyable and I’m not frustrated anymore! . . . Thank you so much for all that you did for me . . ."

So, don't think that there is anything magic about TV dog trainers or anything you see that seems to happen right away.  There is no such thing.  The truth is dogs have to be trained.  Training takes time and dedication.   Proper training takes a dog's lifetime.  I know I said it before, but my mentor always said--When do you know you can stop training your dog?  The answer is never.  You never stop training your dog. 

And I say . . . If you can't do it right then don't do it at all . . . it's better than doing it all wrong.  And if you feel the need to use punishment or TV trainer's methods/advice I strongly urge you to find a trainer and hire them.  Nothing takes the place of a professional in-person.  Even the TV shows tell you this . . . 

Got a problem or concern with your dog?  Let me know, we can work on it if you’re willing, able and ready to change your behavior as well . . . and learn a few things along the way!


  1. rah, Stacy! :-)
    clear, logical, factual. You rock!
    - terry

    terry pride, APDT-Aus, apdt#1827, CVA, TDF

  2. Great post Stacy! terry is right, you ROCK! I have lost a couple of clients because I disagreed with this "TVDT". Flooding doesn't work for aggression just like it doesn't work for fearful dogs!

  3. Excellent viewpoint - one that is shared by many of us ;o) Thanks for sharing!!

  4. If only I could edit like they do on T.V.

    Tricia Fagan

    Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed

    DogS Gone Good
    (713) 557-1949

  5. Thanks for writing this. Keep up the good writing!
    The more this information is discussed the more people will understand I hope, baby steps. One more thumbs up for positive training!

  6. Thank you. I wanted to weep when I saw the GSDs, clearly stressed and fearful, while TVDT blathered on about energy. Ugh.

    Great post and thanks again for your clarity . People always seem to get so angry if I say I disagree with his methods (it's like a cult or something!); maybe I can just refer them to this article instead.

  7. Great post, but I am sure I have seen an episode of him giving food treats, I think it was chicken. Seen very few of his programmes as I find them too disturbing to watch, but I'm pretty sure I saw one where he was giving rewards