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Dog Trainers Playing in the Sandbox

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The dog training industry is not regulated in any way, so currently, anyone who wants to call themselves a trainer and hang out a shingle can do so (which is why I wrote a previous blog post on how to find the right trainer).

Sadly, even if the industry were regulated tomorrow, there would likely be a grandfather clause which would allow anyone currently practicing dog training to continue doing so.  So, consumers would still not be protected against those who have insufficient skills, no background in behavioral science, or who use force in training dogs.

On the Internet, there are many dog-related forums, blogs, and Facebook groups.  These groups are populated by everyone from average pet owners to nationally known trainers and everyone in between, including some of those force trainer people who would get grandfathered, much to my chagrin.  Just as with any other subject matter, there are as many opinions on those groups as there are…well, you get it.  Arguments ensue over almost everything. Should you feed raw food or kibble?  Should you train using food as a reinforcement or not?  Should you crate your dog or not?  Should you spay or neuter your dog, and at what age?  Should we identify the quadrant of operant conditioning that we are using or abandon thinking about quadrants altogether (I don’t think we should – I want to use the quadrants that are force free whenever I can)?

These issues, if you look at the rancor they cause, are akin to the ones that cause nations to go to war.  They involve “no compromise” types of choices. Pro choice or pro life?  Gay marriage OK or not OK?  Republican or Democrat? Dog aficionados are just NOT going to agree on some matters.

The problem isn’t the disagreements.  Most adults can handle disagreement or debate, and they can even handle the tough debates.  What is disconcerting, however, is the departure from debate into tantrums.  It represents devolution, if you will, to a form of benign or not so benign name calling that is designed to deflect any attempt at pressing for answers to hard questions, so that people can hide from uncomfortable scrutiny. I’ve been called everything from “cookie tosser” (I like that one) to “queen of mean” to “crone” and everything in between. People have suggested to others that they rant privately about people like me because we are just so mean. The word “mean” is now tossed into the mix any time someone loses the ability to debate using facts and citations, versus “my way or the highway.”

If we are to elevate the profession of dog training, we must go beyond doing what is effective, and move toward doing what is effective AND ethical. We must treat dogs the way we would want to be treated if we were the dogs. It is our obligation, as force free trainers, to expose practices that cannot be supported with research, ethics, experience, and efficacy.

Elie Weisel once said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Many dogs lead lives that are not ideal, where even supposedly loving owners cannot see the fear or distrust in them. Sometimes, knowing that requires turning the other cheek when someone elects to call you a “hater” because you disagree. It requires you to smile to yourself when you find out that someone has encouraged ranting about you on some closed clique or Facebook group, or even on an open one. If no one hates you, you’ve probably never stood up for a difficult or unpopular position in your life.

Remember, it is not MEAN to ask for evidence, to question why a practitioner wants to do something to YOUR dog, or to stand up for the oppressed, the weak, the defenseless, or the misunderstood.

“Being ‘nice’ doesn’t convince someone who doesn’t want to be convinced. And being ‘mean’ doesn’t impede someone who wants to learn.” –Melissa McEwan

So, stop telling me to be nice every time I give you information. Stop telling me to be nice when you are frustrated by your own misunderstanding of an issue that I’m trying my best to explain in scientifically accepted language (in order to level the playing field so ALL can understand), and stop telling me to be nice because I refuse to drink the guru-of-the-week’s Kool-aid. I’m not being mean, just persistent.

I haven’t called you any names, or told you you’re stupid (even when I think you are), and I haven’t called you incapable of learning. I’ve simply given you an opinion, hopefully with some reasoning behind it. Put on your big boy or big girl pants and engage in adult debate, if you can. But, if you can’t, stop ranting about the meanies and go do some more research so that you can enter the debate constructively. Either that or, if you are going to run away on every Facebook page or Yahoo group from the hard questions posed to you, stay gone and let the rest of us learn together.

Threshold Roulette or Choice?

Threshold Roulette or Choice?.

Cesar Millan training methods can lead to dog abuse

Originally posted on Dog Connect:

Monday evening, September 9, 2013. Pictures of a woman jerking, kicking and dragging three dogs behind her made the round on Facebook. Not much was known. KTVU report Amber Lee posted a picture on Twitter. Shortly after KTVU showed the whole footage: http://www.ktvu.com/news/news/crime-law/sj-dog-abuse/nZrd6/.

My first response was “boil in oil”! How can someone treat their dogs like that? The body language these three dogs provide to us is clear. Their bodies are crouched, their tails are all down, their ears back and they go into a dead stop every few steps. They are moving slowly and at a great distance behind her. This is not behavior that happy dogs provide us when enjoying a walk with their handler. These are dogs that appear afraid.

I watch the woman continuously correct the dogs. Jerking the leash and kicking the dogs. Methods promoted on National Geographic through the infamous Dog Whisperer…

View original 493 more words

Please Stop Breeding Your Pet Dog

Please Stop Breeding Your Pet Dog.

Let the Dog Decide

a cautionary letter

a cautionary letter.

Finding the Right Dog Trainer – Harder Than You Think

Here’s some advice from Jean Donaldson on how to choose a dog trainer.  After her suggestions, I’m going to take the liberty of telling you how I would want her questions to be answered if I were going to try to find a trainer for my own dog.  You may not realize it, but trainers do, from time to time, attend one another’s classes, participate in working seminars, or take classes from trainers who are experts in dog sports or aspects of training that we are not expert in.  As an example, I can lay a simple track and have my dog follow it for fun, but I certainly am not an expert in lost person behavior or variable surface tracking!  So, if I wanted to know more about scent work of that kind, I might take my dog and go to classes with someone who does.  Anyway, back to the topic at hand – how does the average pet owner find a trainer?  (Jean’s comments are in bold font.  My comments are italicized.)

The animal training industry is completely unregulated and anyone can call themselves an animal behavior professional in spite of having no formal education or qualifications. So what can consumers do to protect themselves?

1. Ask for formal education and credentials.  
It’s important that a dog trainer gets an education in the science of how dogs learn.  If the trainer has a degree in a behavioral science, has taken classes in psychology, motivation, or learning theory, or has had exposure to these concepts via a school such as the Academy for Dog Trainers, Karen Pryor Academy, Companion Animal Sciences Institute, etc., that’s good indication that the person is interested in legitimate science, and not the “voodoo” that many people spout about their dog training abilities, as if those somehow came from osmosis or from the vapors somewhere.  Beware of any schools that still tout “dominance theory” or suggest the use of shock collars.*

2. Ask for continuing education involvement.
There are now many opportunities for dog trainers to receive continuing education, both in person and online.  If the person has done this, they ought to be able to tell you through what organization, the name of the presenter, and the topics presented.  More importantly, you should get a sense that they enjoy keeping up with the latest studies and they will not be afraid to alter their opinions based upon valid research.  For example, one of the pre-eminent authorities on wolf biology, Dr. David L. Mech, who originally coined the term “alpha” has recanted the original implication of the term because new research shows that it is inaccurate.  Hear him tell it in his own words: 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNtFgdwTsbU.
Good trainers are always trying to learn more themselves!  “I’ve been training for twenty years.” is NOT a credential.  It’s also quite possible for a trainer to have been doing it wrong for twenty years, or at least not as humanely as they could have!


3. Ask for scientific evidence supporting any claims about behavior.
Behavior modification occurs because of two types of learning, operant and respondent.  In simple terms, operant conditioning takes place in a three part contingency.  There is an antecedent, a behavior that the dog performs, and a consequence.  So, this is the learning that takes place, for example, when we teach a dog to “sit.”
In respondent learning, there is only a two part contingency.  The dog learns, “If this happens, then that happens,”  This is the type of learning that changes a dog’s emotional response to something.  This takes place, for example, when we rattle the lid to the cookie jar and suddenly the dog comes to the kitchen.  He has learned that the noisy lid predicts that you will pull out a cookie for him.
A trainer should be able to tell you about these things.  The quadrants of operant conditioning, and the process of desensitization and counter-conditioning should be as familiar to the trainer as the tools of your own trade are to you!

4. Ask what actual physical events will be used to motivate your animal (keep asking if you receive obfuscating answers such as “energy,” “leadership,” “status” or “dominance”).** For example, ask, “What exactly will happen to my dog if he gets it right? And what exactly will happen to my dog if he gets it wrong?”


In good science-based classes, a dog that gets it right is going to hear a marker word or sound, and then receive a reinforcement (food, toy, privilege…)  For example, trainer enters the room and asks the dog to sit for greeting.  Dog sits.  Trainer reinforces the dog with a click/treat.


A dog that gets it wrong in a good training class will not be called stubborn, willful or stupid, he’ll simply get no reinforcement, or he’ll have a privilege withdrawn, and be given another opportunity to get it right.  Example: Trainer walks in and dog jumps on trainer.  Trainer withdraws all attention and turns away.  Once the dog is on the floor, trainer returns and reinforces the dog for having his feet on the floor.  Trainer gradually lengthens the time the dog’s feet are on the floor before giving the reinforcement.  After a while, the dog needs only occasional reinforcement for keeping all four feet on the floor.

No physical punishment should occur.  No choke collars, no prong collars, no shock collars. 
http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/chokeandprongcollarpositionstatement
http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/shockcollars

5. Ask what side effects each procedure has. Fear is a particularly concerning side effect as it is difficult to undo.
No trainer worth his or her salt wants to add to a dog’s problems.  That’s why an understanding of the science is so important.  Aggression, learned helplessness, fear, are all to be avoided, but they are easily installed in dogs by those who persist in using aggressive or confrontational training.  Here’s an example of Dr. Sophia Yin using science (counter-conditioning) to change a Jack Russell Terrier’s mind about how he feels about air being blown in his face.  Before: Can you imagine a child exhaling while laying on a couch near this dog???  After: He’s changing his mind!: 
http://drsophiayin.com/resources/video_full/counter-conditioning_a_dog_to_blowing_in_face
Had Dr. Yin punished the dog, he might have stopped the growling temporarily, but the dog’s dislike for air in his face would still have been there.  In this training, the dog actually learns to LIKE having air on his face!

6. If you feel at all uncomfortable, don’t be bullied: get another opinion.
Places where you can seek help:
http://www.dacvb. 
http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/

You are entitled to full information before consenting to any training or behavior modification procedure.
~ Jean Donaldson

“Until these devices are illegal, consumers must protect themselves and their dogs by looking beyond the marketing messages of those who profit from their sale and use. It is not necessary to use electric shock to change behavior. It is not necessary in humans, in zoo species, in marine mammals or in dogs.”
~Jean Donaldson

“Absolutely, without exception, I oppose, will not recommend, and generally spend large amounts of time telling people why I oppose the use of shock collars, prong collars,
choke collars, and any other type of device that is rooted in an adversarial, confrontational interaction with the dog.”
~Karen Overall, MA, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVB, CAAB

** http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/DominanceTheoryPositionStatement

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