Monday, 29 October 2012

Cesar Milan - Why I Don't Like What He Does

Yeah - I don't like what he does. Really don't like it.

You might have read a lot of blogs on this topic lately, but I think it is important that if we feel strongly about what Cesar does, we talk about it.

Before I get started I need to make this clear - these are MY opinions, they are formulated from 17 years of reading every text I can find on dogs, and dog behavior. Learning from every single person I can find (and to date that list is in the hundreds!), preferably in person but also via books, research articles and webinars.

Finally, those 17 years have been spent with a variety of dogs, some of them my own, some of them other peoples. Some rescues, some bought from really brilliant breeders, some of them supposedly 'easy' breeds and some really really tough ones - some had really simple problems that just vanished when the dog was offered an appropriate lifestyle - some had some VERY dangerous behaviours indeed.

I cannot and do not pretend to be qualified nor an expert - I am learning, I know a lot but there is always more to discover.

Cesar on the other hand does indeed make himself out to be an expert, and the evidence to date shows he is neither qualified,  nor apparently interested in learning anything that disagrees with his current ideas.
I think that is a huge shame.

So - here we go - Why I don't like, what he does.

He justifies his methods as being necessary because a particular behaviour is so extreme.

I cannot deny that IF I had a dog trying to rip my arm off, I might very well shove it off or handle it roughly, I don't think there is a person out there who would be able to respond to a full on attack in any other way.

But here is deception number 1, because Cesar has started with an extreme behaviour. In fact there is video evidence to suggest that he creates that extreme behaviour by using another dog to provoke it. He effectively sets up the dog he is filming, to behave in as extreme a way as is possible.

By doing this he implies that it is necessary to force a dog to confront something that triggers an extreme reaction.

In fact, it is not only not necessary, it is dangerous to do this. No reputable, sensible, or qualified behaviourist or trainer would do this for those reasons.

It is the canine equivalent of you taking a child and pushing him into traffic, so that you can shout at him and smack him to show that running into traffic is dangerous. You just would not do that!

But he has to use harsh methods to get through to a dog in an extreme situation... you couldn't snap a dog out of an aggressive lunging fit with treats!

Do you know why you can't distract a dog lunging and displaying aggression to another dog just using treats?

It is because stress and fear (and fear causes stress), shuts down the part of the brain that can identify and accept rewards, particularly food. This is a mechanism that is necessary for us all, it keeps us all alive.
Imagine if your brain allowed you to stop thinking about the dangers of running away from a hunting lion, because you had seen a tree full of delicious fruits? Humans would not have evolved, we would have all been lion food!

Going back to the lunging and aggressive dog, triggered by the sight of another dog - sure, that is an extreme situation and one you do not want to occur. But WHY is it occurring, what does the dog want to happen?
He might want to go over and beat that dog up, even kill it, but WHY does he want that... the answer is fear.
Because he perceives the other dog as a danger, that's all he is focused on. He isn't able to switch his fear off, and he is a dog, he cannot rationalise that actually, that dog won't get him, his fear is not justified. So he reacts.

There is no point in waving cookies at him, and equally there is no point in telling him off - if he hears you he is as likely to think you are backing him up as he is to think you are telling him off. IF he understands that you are telling him off, he is going to associate that with the sight of the other dog. So now other dogs = get yelled at by your human!

Cesars answer to this problem is to use sufficient pain and fear associated with HIM, that the dog DARE not react to the thing that intially caused the reaction.  But the dog cannot learn a good lesson here, only a bad one - he cannot learn that the other dog is not going to hurt him and that his fear is not justified, because he is now too stressed to do so, due to his fear of the handler applying pain or psychological threats.

So how does the positive trainer fix this, if cookies won't work.

The answer is so simple you will kick yourself. Seriously. It's also the reason Cesar won't use it.

You avoid getting so close to the trigger (in this case another dog), so that the aggressive reaction never happens.

But that hasn't fixed the behavior, and I can't avoid all other dogs forever!

No you can't, but the first stage is to reduce the dogs stress so that he can learn what you DO want from him. If you keep putting him in a position where he feels like he has to react, he will just get better and better at reacting - as the saying goes 'practice makes perfect'.

Once you have got the hang of avoiding other dogs - which means turning around and going the other way, picking quieter routes or quieter times of day, stepping behind parked cars or hedges to block your dogs view - ie,  nothing difficult and nothing you are not capable of doing (no magic here!)...

Then you start to work on changing your dogs emotional reaction to the trigger - and that you CAN do with cookies!

The hard part here is figuring out how far away another dog has to be, before your dog can see it but not react. Its hard because other dogs are generally moving, and other owners will often move towards you when you tell them not to, but stick at it. With enough repetitions of 'other dog = get a cookie', and enough practice at avoiding the interactions your dog cannot yet handle, you will make progress.

This is called counter conditioning - please note, you don't have to use cookies.  You should use whatever it is your dog likes best, and thats something he gets to decide, not you.

But Cesars method works really quickly, yours sounds like it will take ages!

Cesars methods APPEAR to work quickly - with him holding the leash. But to keep up that level of control, he has to continually remind the dog that he is scary, that he is to be feared.

Is that really the relationship you want with your dog? To constantly remind him he must fear you above all else?

Because if you choose his way, that is necessary and if you don't keep that up, your dogs behaviour will get worse. In fact even if you DO keep it up, since Cesar's method hasn't considered the underlying cause of the behaviour (ie, the dog was fearful), it is just a sticking plaster over a festering wound - still there, still going to cause trouble but now its going to be a long term bone infection rather than a sore wound...

My way (and lets be clear here, my way is no more my way than Cesar's is his, both camps have been around a long long time) means that whilst you won't be walking your dog in the dog park or at a busy dog show any time soon, your dog is happy, your dog is relaxing, your dog is enjoying his time with you and the bond between you is becoming better and better.

Your dog is learning to trust you, and with trust comes respect - something I note Cesar talks about a lot, but he doesn't appear to understand that respect is earned, not taken or forced.

Cesar works with dogs that would otherwise end up euthanised.

So do a lot of trainers and behaviourists - but then, a lot of dogs are threatened with euthanasia, and indeed, end up euthanised, because their owners don't know what to do, not because their problems are really serious.

People regularly ask vets to euthanise perfectly healthy dogs because they have made a face at the kids, nipped someone, won't come back when off the lead, haven't learned toilet training, steal food... I could go on and on.

The number of times I have heard of people having dogs euthanised because they want to go on holiday and cannot find a kennel or dog sitter to take them is astonishing.

The fact that an owner threatens to euthanise the dog does not in any way denote the seriousness of the dogs problem behaviour!

Ok, but he deals with serious aggression problems that other people cannot fix! 

Says who? Cesar? You?

There are thousands of trainers and behaviourists around the world dealing with really extreme behaviour problems, particularly serious aggression problems, using positive reinforcement training.

They may not have a TV show, but actually, not everyone wants a TV show (I know, it's really hard to believe, but not everyone does!). But that doesn't mean they are not out there, doing the work.

Sometimes the owners that appear on his show (and indeed owners who appear on other TV shows) will say that they have 'tried everything' and that 'nothing has worked', but we don't get an in depth analysis on actually what they have done, who they saw, how they implemented it.

Very often the case actually is that they have been annoyed by the problem for a long time, they have done very little about it other than stick a shock collar or a prong collar on the dog, or say, incarcerate it in the garage for the rest of its life.
In some cases they have contacted a trainer who has either given them great advice but they have not done the work (because it has not produced an instantly brilliant, cured, dog), or they have gotten a bad trainer whose advice as not helped either.

Some people have such a great desire to be on TV that they will quit working with a trainer who IS actually getting results because they want to be famous. Some people are so keen to be on TV that they will lie to get there.

I can assure you though, there are myriad trainers and behaviorists around the world, regularly dealing with dogs who have bitten people, dogs who lunge at other dogs, dogs who can't walk on shiny floors, dogs who can't go upstairs, dogs who guard food or toys, dogs who are scared of skateboards/motorbikes/cars.... even dogs who have killed people.

They are out there, working hard, and doing a great job.

But Cesar works with tough breeds, reward based training is only good for soft breeds!

If you mean that dogs like Pitbulls, Bull Terriers, Staffies, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Mastiffs.. etc, are 'tough' breeds, you are really quite wrong.

Some of those breeds are extremely intelligent and quick to learn, and if you understand them and how they learn, are very easy to train.

All those breeds (including Pitbulls and pitbull types, because whilst illegal in the UK, they can be exempted) are breeds positive trainers deal with regularly without any need to resort to punishment based tactics.

Reward based training is used on other animals too, for example killer whales, dolphins, rhinos and elephants.

It is not just used to teach amusing tricks, but to teach complex behaviors that humans rely on to save lives - for example, SAR dogs, drugs and bomb detection dogs, guide dogs, canine assistants for disabled people.
One of the most amazing uses is teaching Gambian Pouched Rats to detect and indicate landmines, or how about teaching a gorilla to back up onto a needle for an injection. That means teaching a huge animal capable of more dangerous and violent behavior than any dog you have ever seen, to do something unpleasant and painful, for a reward!

But Cesar isn't a trainer, he is a psychologist, he rehabilitates dogs!

Cesar may say he is a psychologist, but that doesn't make it true. He holds no recognised qualifications in psychology of any kind.

If I call myself a dog psychologist, will you believe me more? I could, even though like Cesar, I have no formal qualifications in psychology.

Whether he rehabilitates dogs or not is a matter of opinion - I would like to see the true figures for dogs he has actually cured, long term. But there aren't any - because Cesar makes the clients and owners that go on his show sign a disclaimer that prevents them talking about it.

Why would he do that if his methods were sure to work, and had no nasty side effects?

You shouldn't question Cesar's methods...

Why not?

It isn't rude to question why someone believes what they believe or chooses to use the methods they use.

If I approached Dr Ian Dunbar, or Victoria Stilwell, or Grisha Stewart, or Karen Pryor, or Jean Donaldson or... many, hundreds of other trainers, behaviourists, authors on the topic of dog behaviour and training, and I questioned them as to why they use the methods they use, why they prefer them over other methods..

I can state quite categorically that every single one of those people would be happy to answer my questions (in fact, several on that list have!).

They would be perfectly happy to answer the questions, they would be able to provide useful answers to them, with evidence and examples to back them up.

Not only that but every single one of those people I list and all the others I haven't listed ,would be willing to listen to other peoples ideas, MY ideas even, and to learn more if they come across something new, or a new way of looking at something old.

Questioning ideas and theories, discussing them with others in your field, being open to new ideas and new learning - these are all part of being a professional, in any sphere at all.

Only someone who has something to hide, would react in a hostile manner to being questioned.

Well, Cesar has done lots of work for charity, and he tells people to treat their dogs like dogs, and to walk them...

Doing good works, and making sense sometimes, does not mean that everything he does is good.

Jimmy Savile did some good works, he raised money for charity... but he also molested children.

Does the fact that he raised money for charity mean that molesting children is ok? Of course it doesn't!

Cesar does talk some sense, and you know what - all the great trainers and behaviourists out there do the same. They will also remind people that dogs are dogs, not furry toys or fashion accessories. They will tell them to walk their dogs, give their dogs boundaries, provide them appropriate outlets for their breed traits..

Most of the trainers I know have done some work for charity somewhere along the line - of course it IS easier to give away millions if you have millions, but they don't need to promote their charity work, because they are not supporting a massive celebrity image..

But Cesar fixes dangerous behaviour...

No. No he doesn't.

Cesar will, temporarily at least, stop a dogs behaviour from appearing dangerous.

He will take away the signs that a dog is fearful, aggressive, whatever - that doesn't mean he has fixed the problem, because those signs are a symptom of something else. And no, they are not a symptom of dominance, dominance the way Cesar means, does not exist. Its a neat explanation for a lot of things but it is not in fact the reason.

Cesar suppresses behavior. If a dog is growling, he will stop it. If a dog is lunging and trying to bite he will stop it.

But he never addresses the real cause of the behaviour, though occasionally he does acknowledge it, he won't teach your dog aggressive dog to actively like the presence of other dogs. He will just teach them to shuttup about disliking them.

That isn't a fix for the problem, the problem still exists, but now it exists silently.

Doesn't it occur to  you that this is more dangerous?

A growling dog is obviously a risk, you don't approach it. A lunging snapping dog is clearly a risk, don't approach it.

A silent dog, with still behavior - how do you know if that dog is a risk or not?

Sure, we need to make sure our dogs are safe around children, that they can eat their food without feeling the need to bite someone  nearby, that they can visit the vets or walk the streets without lunging aggressively.

But Cesar doesn't teach that - he will teach you how to stop your dog expressing how he feels, and that puts people at a huge risk!

All those stories about dogs who 'just turned' or 'he bit out of nowhere' or 'he attacked unprovoked' - do you know, 99% of those dogs had been punished for growling or snapping.

Which just taught them 'don't growl or snap' - it did NOT teach them ' someone walking by your food bowl is fine'.

Positive reinforcement can teach your dog that situations that previously caused him to use aggression are now fine. You CAN take a food aggressive dog and within a week or two, have a dog who actively welcomes people approaching whilst he is eating.

But Cesar has a natural way with dogs...

There are some people who are more naturally able to get what they want out of animals - sure, but that does not mean anyone, ever, is born knowing everything about them.

What's more, some of those people get their own way with animals by being kind, by setting animals up so that they do what is desired without even realising anyone is manipulating their behavior.

Some people achieve it by using domineering body language and effectively, threatening and bullying their way through.

Cesar, in my opinion, is the latter.

His body language is very very threatening and confrontational. He stares, hard, he has a stiff posture and stands over the dog on many occasions. Dogs find this extremely uncomfortable, and they give him body language that says 'please, I don't want this, please stop' and he ignores that.

I don't know if he sees it or not, I think sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn't - but whatever, what he says and the way he then describes what the dog is saying is misleading at best and an outright lie at worst.

He describes dogs as being 'calm submissive' when he has pinned them down, but in fact they are nothing like calm, they are terrified. Look into their eyes, look at the tension in their faces, their ears, watch them pee themselves in some cases.

Does that really look calm to you?

Sometimes he will battle with a dog on the lead and you will get to a point where things pause and the dog goes still, and I have seen at least two occasions where Cesar has said the dog has calmed down and yet I can see huge tension and stress, and the dog is waiting for what will happen next.
On both those occasions (one being the Holly video), I could clearly see that the next time Cesar moved toward the dog, he would get bitten.

Guess what, both times I was right.

If you doubt that body language is as powerful as I am saying, please, do this little experiment with someone you know well.

Stand in front of them and stare into their eyes a little longer than is comfortable. Stare hard, and step in a few cm too close.

What is their reaction? I will bet you they step back, they try to look away if they cannot step back, they will look slightly uncomfortable.

Now think back, have you ever had a situation where someone you DIDN'T know or trust did that to you, stepped in too close, leaned over you, stared for a bit too long - horrible isn't it. And its horrible even though the chances are, that person meant you no real harm at all.

Now imagine that you have reason to believe that person DOES mean to do you harm - how calm do you feel?

So you really don't like his methods...

Cesar's methods are outdated, they are based on positive punishment which requires the owner to set the dog up to fail repeatedly so that they can 'correct', ie, punish, that behaviour.

This puts the owner and dog in conflict with one another much of the time - is that the relationship you wanted when you bought a dog?

Punishments can only be effective if they are delivered immediately the behaviour occurs and if the subject can immediately associate them with the behavior that was 'wrong'.

Much of the time, this just isn't the case. Cesar uses punishment and force in ways dogs cannot figure out, which means they are at risk of making the wrong associations.

Imagine a dog, shocked with a shock collar for barking at other dogs. What if that dog doesn't associate it with barking, but with 'other dogs' - if he associates pain with other dogs, won't that make him dislike them MORE?

The fact is, dog training and dog behaviour has moved on - the methods Cesar advocates were outdated 40 years ago.

You may say that Cesar grew up in a poor country and without an education - I say this is no excuse. He has the money now to access all the very latest information. If he truly wanted the best for dogs, as opposed to truly wanting the best for his bank balance, Cesar could learn, educate himself properly, and use the methods that science has proven over and over and over, are more effective, safer and kinder.






Jo Law said...

I've hurt my neck from nodding reading that!

Ems said...

LOL, sorry!

Rebecca Heyworth said...

Fab article and of course I agree with absolutely every single thing you say. It is most disturbing that people want to treat their dogs like this in the first place and this I see as the greater sickness. We all need to treat our fellow creatures as just that. These methods are outdated and barbaric and society should put an end to them once and for all. Down with Cesar

Anonymous said...

Bravo!! Absolutely brililant!

Sanna, Finland said...

This is brilliant! I agree with every word :)

Anonymous said...

Brilliant, agreed with everything wholeheartedly

Kirsten Rose CBCC-KA said...

Well written article.

Kate Williams MRCVS said...

Excellent article, really articulate and I so agree with what you're saying. Brilliant! Will now spread to all I can!

Tottie Limejuice said...

Really excellent article, many congratulations. I'm not a dog expert, had them for 40 years, including some difficult ones, like you, read everything I can to keep up to date.

But I am a journalist and have said before, as you touched on, where are these trainers who have tried and failed with these so-called death's door dogs? For his own PR machine, I would have expected them to be "outed" to say yes, I couldn't do anything with that dog, what CM has done is a miracle. I've asked often to see some evidence that they exist - I remember a woman with a Dobe, I think, which hated the cat (fine, so keep them in separate rooms - problem solved) and I think she said she'd tried 3 other trainers. So who were they, why has no-one found them?

Another thing I've asked on various postings full of the rabid ravings of CM fans is could someone please point me at any photo of CM with a dog or dogs where the dog looks relaxed and happy to be in his company. BUT because I'm a picky journalist who likes to deal in fact, I would like them to get the opinion of a qualified dog behaviour expert, of their choice, to analyse the photo to tell us what we are seeing. As I, for one, have not yet seen this in any of his pictures.

I haven't seen his programmes, don't have the right TV channels, but have watched all I can of him on YouTube and know his methods would be disastrous for my current reactive rescue collie because his aggression really is fear, pure and simple.

Again congratulations on a truly excellent post.

Awesome Dogs said...

I felt like I was reading a social media discussion. It's the same points over and over - and no one reads the answers. So they keep saying the same things over and over.
Thanks for putting it in a blog.
We should ALWAYS question everything. Questioning is never bad. Someone who has nothing to hide, will be able to rebutt using more than sales/PR/marketing.

Karen May said...

Terrific write up! Thanks for addressing all the issues so clearly.

Karen May said...

Terrific write up! Thanks for addressing all the issues so clearly.

Karen May said...

Terrific write up! Thanks for addressing all the issues so clearly.

Karen May said...

Terrific write up! Thanks for addressing all the issues so clearly.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, very well said!

Anonymous said...

I agreed with your overall argument, but there's one aspect of it I had trouble with. My sense is that dogs don't always bark at other dogs out of fear. I've been working hard with my dog on being calm around other dogs using the positive methods you describe here, but my sense is that she barks not because she's afraid but because she wants to play. And unfortunately, she feels like a good fight is really fun -- even if she and the other dog get injured. The body language that I see in her is a wagging tail and high ears. She's excited and wound up: "Hey, there's a dog! Maybe I can play with him! The play might even turn really rough, i.e., it'll be a fight -- oh boy!"

My approach to that is just to try to essentially get her out of that habit and teach her other ways of responding. But that's different from teaching her that other dogs aren't scary, because I don't think she thinks that.

In fact, I'm not using punishment with her, but it seems to me that it wouldn't be completely inappropriate in this sort of situation. I mean, if she sees another dog and thinks, "I'd love to start playing and maybe even fighting with that dog, but I know I'll get in trouble if I do, and furthermore, I've been taught this other way of responding and if I do that I'll feel connected to my person and get some treats, so I guess I'll restrain myself," well, that sounds pretty good to me. And frankly, I wonder if that wouldn't speed this process enormously and reduce the stress both I and my dog feel around it.

Honestly, it feels a bit scary to even mention that possibility, because I expect that I'll get accused of being a dog abuser to suggest that positive punishment could ever be helpful. I certainly may be wrong about that, but I do think I'm a thoughtful person even though I don't have all the answers, and it's hard to feel like sharing my honest thoughts may subject me to such accusations. The polarization and intensity around all this doesn't help either side, and it certainly doesn't help those of us who don't think we know and are just trying to figure it all out. That's not a criticism of your piece, which is well-reasoned, just a comment on the culture overall.

Anonymous said...

The way dog bites sky-rocketed after the airing of his show in the US really should speak for itself. Didn't the numbers more than triple themselves in the first season alone. A stellar review of his methods.

Anonymous said...

To the lady with the excited dog, you should be doing positive things that promote calmness in the dog. Instead of punishing the excitement take active steps in preventing it. Exercise your dog before under taking training sessions with other dogs. No a ten minute walk doesn't count, I mean to the point your dog is like "may I go home and lie down now?" For a Pekingese that might be ten minutes for a lab it might be three or more hours. A tired dog with the endorphins from working out is way less likely to have the excitement/prey drive response to other dogs. Then use a clicker or other bridge signal to mark exact calm behaviors while ignoring or quitting with excited ones. The calmer u are the more clicks/treats and closer you get to the dog. If you act like a idiot u get no treats and u go back inside (where it's boring). Learn to read body language and look for calming signals (ANYTHING) and reward those, don't wait for it to be perfectly calm because you may not get that right away. Good Luck, your dog may never be able to safely play with other hard playing dogs or go to a chaotic dog park, but maybe with work it can play with a few hand-picked calm dogs. The fact is, that punishment really isn't that successful or helpful. Dogs have been bred for high drive (what we precieve as excitement or aggression) and it's innate in them. Does punishing a habitual addict make them any less likely to re-use? They have to be detoxed, taught more effective coping strategies and even then they will always have a higher likely-hood of offending, it's who they are. It doesn't mean they aren't wonderful amazing people, it's only one facet of them, just like high drive dogs aren't any less wonderful. You as an owner just have to know that about the dog you have chosen to love and do things that help them cope with that side of themselves.

Ems said...

For Anon commenter who said

" My sense is that dogs don't always bark at other dogs out of fear."

Absolutely, they don't - sometimes its frustration, excitement, barking is also enjoyable and can be a 'thing to do when I don't know what else to do', I think often its an alert, 'Hey, did YOU see that.. I see, it, do you see it, do ya do ya?'...

BUT - we can only ever guess, they might be super educated guesses, very often they will be...

Since I (and hopefully all other positive trainers) work with the ethos of 'do no harm' I have to take the safest guess/assumption possible.. the one that, if I am wrong, I will do no harm..

If I guess frustration, and I am wrong - I might do harm. If I guess excitement or alert or the sheer joy of barking, and I am wrong.. I might do harm..

If I guess fear and I am wrong - what harm can I really do? Things take a little longer?

SO yep, it isn't always fear, but fear is the safest bet, as until we can actually communicate telepathically with our dogs, or get them to learn to speak, we will always be guessing.

The treatment might actually be the same no matter what the cause is, but if you assume fear,you keep things safer.

It is particularly important with treating OTHER peoples dogs, dogs you don't know so well, and also there are a lot of dogs out there that can look INCREDIBLY confident, and still have the problem rooted in fear (terriers for example, much more likely to launch an aggressive display, chase things off approach something to drive it away, when they are scared!).

So even if it just changes YOUR attitude and not the actual behaviour modification program, thinking 'fear' is the safest bet - you just react differently, emotionally, when you think 'fear' rather than 'has no self control'...

Mattiz said...

Great article brilliantly put over

Anonymous said...

>If I guess fear and I am wrong - what harm can I really do? Things take a little longer?

This is not as benign as it sounds. People have full lives, and only so much time they can devote to dog training. Particularly when the training requires setting up situations that the dog can handle, or constant attention anytime the dog is with you -- there's only so much of that energy that ordinary folks have.

I'm completely convinced that positive approaches are very powerful, and that they're the place to start. But I'm not (yet) convinced that they're the only approach that should ever be used, or certainly that any other approach is abusive. That's, of course, going beyond the specific argument being made here -- that Cesar Milan's methods aren't the best -- but it does seem like it's lurking in the background.

Anonymous said...

In particular, I feel like the effectiveness of positive techniques is oversold, and amateur dog trainers are promised results that are difficult to achieve. For example, I've been told by positive trainers that I'm responsible to teach my dog a bullet-proof recall. And I've put a huge amount of work into doing so, building up in stages, practicing in situations where she'll succeed. But the recall I've got is far from bullet-proof. She'll come, quickly, as long as the distractions aren't too great. But if she smells an animal or something, she's off.

Now, I have a pretty clear sense of how to keep working on this with her, but honestly, I'm not sure whether it's worth the effort. The best approach I've come up with is to walk her on leash and to only let her off for short periods, short enough that she stays focused on me the whole time, and drill recalls. I think that if I did this every walk for a few weeks or months, we might get to the point where she reliably came to me whenever I called her. Maybe. But in the meantime, she wouldn't get much chance to really blow off steam and be autonomous, and she'd be a less happy dog. And frankly, I don't know how long it would take. Might take years. She and I might be happier settling for what we've got -- a better recall than most dogs have, but far from bullet-proof. I've put so much effort in that I hate to give up on it, but I'm not sure that with this particular dog, and the amount of time and energy and skills I have, that I'm going to get there.

And, I'd add, I've been willing to invest a heck of a lot more time and energy than most dog owners would. I've hired professional trainers, read quite a few books, I'm here on this blog.

Or here's another example. I've worked on LLW with my dog tirelessly for 2.5 years using positive methods, never letting her pull. And, well, she's OK. Frankly, she's not nearly as good as my previous dog, with whom I used leash pops. This is after hours and hours and hours and hours of drilling. She'll be pretty good if my attention is totally on her, but if it's not, she slowly wanders ahead, not pulling hard, but tightening the leash. This is another case where, well, what should the standards be? Maybe I should just settle for less and be happy with that.

But also, I've found that if I pull her back my side rather ungently and talk to her sternly a couple of times early on, she's a thousand times more focused after that and does a much better job. Is that abuse? Frankly, it works a thousand times better than a million treats. I've been told so much that I shouldn't do that kind of thing that I don't do it that much, but I wonder if both she and I might not be a whole lot happier if I just committed to doing that early on in a walk when she's unfocused.

Ems said...

For the last two anonymous posters...

Firstly - time. Honestly, if people haven't the time, should they have a dog?

More and more I find that problems are created by people cramming a dog into their lives that they actually don't have time for - and then those problems can't be fixed because the people don't have time.

You have to ask, is 'I don't have the time' really an acceptable justification for 'so I will risk my dogs health/mental well being/ fall out that may affect my dog, my family and strangers by using a positive punishment based method.'

I don't think it is, but then, I wouldn't would I.

Anon poster 2 -

One of the first things I discuss with a client is their expectations, and we balance those against what is actually fair and realistic depending on the dog, their home, their lifestyle and abilities.

I do agree that every owner has the responsibility to attempt to teach a reliable recall - I don't agree that every dog is capable of learning one (and those that won't learn one with positive methods are highly unlikely to learn one with positive punishment either though that could easily lull the owner into a false sense of security!).

I frequently see people walking their dogs off lead and without a leash on their person even, and if I can, I have asked them how they teach their dog to stay with them and not vanish off.

One or two have said they are really careful about where they walk their dog - but a shocking majority of them have said 'well if he runs over a road and gets hit by a car, he will learn then' - and a really shocking majority of these people HAVE had dogs vanish or be killed and have gone through a lot of dogs this way. They seem to accept this risk and find that normal.

I find it abhorrent.

My personal take on positive training is not just teaching behaviours and making them as bombproof as possible.

It is about learning your dog, your environment and how you manage the interaction between the two.

If you can identify where is safe to let your dog off, what your dog can handle off lead, what things might distract your dog, and you can recall your dog most of the time - you are doing a good job. You have a level of awareness that a huge number of dog owners don't possess, and your dog is safe because of it.

As far as the loose leash walking goes - how have you taught that, and can you not think of a positive way of getting your dogs focus at the start of a walk other than using a leash pop or some stern words? I am sure you can!

Otherwise, look at methods designed to build up the duration of a behaviour such as 300 peck, and teaching longer duration behaviours in other aspects of your dogs life may help too there, if she learns in multiple contexts that she has to do a thing for x amount of time without being constantly reminded, eventually it will help her generalise this to all things (you will still have to practice it though).

Final though on that - are you being boring and dawdling along ignoring her - if you ARE then that probably explains why she is forging ahead after a while.

Anonymous said...

>Honestly, if people haven't the time, should they have a dog?

This is the kind of thing that's upsetting. I think it's perfectly reasonable for people to have limits on how much time they're willing to spend training their dogs. It shouldn't be zero, but it's also not infinite. My experience -- and perhaps this is because I'm not doing it right, but I've put an awful lot of work into figuring it out -- is that the time necessary for much of the advice I've read to work is extremely large. Even bringing up the issue means that you're told that you shouldn't own a dog at all.

Ems said...

Anon - do you disagree that it is a valid question though?

I am not for a second suggesting that you haven't time for your dog - you have put in a lot of work and that shows you DO have a great deal of time.

However I deal with people on almost a daily basis who actually do expect to shoe-horn their dog into less than an hour a day, and on top of that are not willing to make any compromises or sacrifices in their ideal lifestyle, for their dogs benefit, and/or will not consider that their expectations are realistic or fair.

Should everyone be able to have any dog, no matter what the time/energy/effort requirements are, and then say 'well I don't have the time, so I demand my dog take less time and if it won't I'll use harsh, aversive methods'..

Is it acceptable that the payoff might be that their dog learns to heel quick with leash pops, but in a few years has a collapsed trachea (much more easily done than you might expect!).. time was saved.. but the dog was injured.
I don't think so.

How much time a particular method takes depends on a lot of things.

How long the problem behaviour has been occurring.

How ingrained that behaviour has become due to failed training, variable scale of reward for it..

What other problems or day to day issues are compounding the problem behavior - for example, a reactive dog on the leash might ALSO be stressing himself out watching things go by his front window or out in a front yard unsupervised, barking at them all day..

What the bond between owner and dog is like.

How consistent the owner is when working on the issue.

How much time the owner will dedicate to solving the problem.

Time actually comes last there - there are lots and lots of other things to consider which is why with a client I want to know EVERYTHING about that dogs life, from where he sleeps, to what he eats, to how often he shits and what his favourite place is to sleep.

Then I can take a holistic approach, and people are often surprised that things like, preventing a dog from staring out of a window with a 'busy' view, feeding from a food dispensing toy or a food maze bowl rather than a normal bowl, can actually have a relevance to a reactive on leash problem.

If you are anywhere near the West Midlands, I would happily offer you a free consult, as I suspect you do only need a few simple tweaks to what you are doing, to fix the problem.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the offer, Ems, that's really generous. Unfortunately, I'm too far away.

I think it's a legitimate point that people need to be willing to spend time training their dogs, and that expecting that a few unthinking leash pops will produce a trained dog is ridiculous. But I also think my point, which your question was apparently arguing against, is legitimate too: The amount of time that different methods take is important, because most people don't have arbitrarily large amounts of time to spend training their dogs. And in my experience, even the most basic behavior of LLW takes an almost unbelievable amount of time and energy.

The worst part is the attention, honestly. I can't take my dog for a walk on leash with someone else and pay attention to my conversation primarily. That's after two and a half years of very consistent effort. The only way I can prevent her from pulling is to have most of my attention on her. I don't feel like that's an acceptable outcome, particularly after hours and hours and hours and hours of work, and setting up training situations, and working on it both on regular walks and during set-aside training times. If someone who's put as much time and thought and effort into it as I have is getting those kinds of results, well, I can really see why someone would decide to use leash pops -- as I do occasionally. Again, that may well be because I'm doing it wrong (and if I were in your area, I really would take you up on your offer), but that doesn't really undo my point.

Elisabeth-MR said...

An EXCELLENT article! Should be shared and spread all over the world! /Elisabeth (Sweden)

Ems said...

Anon, sorry I've been caught up with my dogs freaking about fireworks (we WERE ok.. up until about day 9 of fireworks EVERY night)...

Shame you are too far away - any chance someone can film you and you can show me via youtube.

Really, loose leash walking should not take that long or yes, I could quite see why people go for other methods.

I think the longest, hardest dog I had to deal with was a lab/mastiff/staffie x who was huge AND had spent three years with an owner who could not be consistent with him at all. He had taught this dog that his job was to plough along, ignore the dead weight on the end of the leash. Ignore the pain coming from a headcollar, harness or choke chain, ignore all shouting or jerking on the leash, and if you see something interesting, lunge hard and send the handler flying (ideally under a bus)...

That one took 3 weeks, to figure out that he couldn't pull me off my feet (theres some pluses to being a fatty!), I was worth paying attention to, and that pressure on the lead got him nowhere.

The problem was of course his owner was not capable (mental health problems) of the required level of consistency and in the end decided he had better rehome the dog to someone who could because their relationship degenerated into him constantly shouting at the dog and the dog ignoring him. The right decision I think!

Anyway, if you like, get someone to film some clips of the problem (you can put things on youtube without making them public for all to see) and I'll take a look. Erm, what breed/breed mix is your dog?

Anonymous said...

I have been reading many discussions of CM, and what I have found is that most of his critics do not understand or even know about his philosophy and methods, but are just working off of what they have heard from other of his critics. He does not advocate abusive behavior towards dogs. He always stresses respect for dogs. He does not yell at them or hit them.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ems said...

Last anon - you need to read the blog again.

Just because Cesar says he respects dogs does not mean that this is true. Of course he may be telling the truth as far as he is concerned, as he may believe what he is saying, but I genuinely don't believe it.

I am well aware of his philosophy, much of which he has cribbed from the likes of the Monks of New Skete and Koehler, and his training practice and I have to respectfully disagree with you - in my opinion he does abuse dogs. He uses methods he knows are going to cause fear and/or pain, he is aware there are alternatives, he is aware that those alternatives are effective, and yet he chooses to do what he does anyway. In my book, thats abusive and its cruel.