If you want to start a fight with dog trainers, just give your opinion which method  of training is “Best”.  I promise you acrimony, pity, insults, and passive/aggressive attacks from EVERY  methods camp.  Usually from a tiny, vocal, minority.  Argue against any method, and you will reach DEF-CON 4 in short order.

I have written a post that will be controversial with canine community members that read it.  That realization is cause for sadness and deep disappointment for me, but that possibility goes right to the heart of why I wrote what follows. Actually, read without bias, you will find that TRAINING is NOT the point here, but rather the WAY it is presented to the public.   In point of fact, I have sat on this piece for several months, not wanting to make anyone feel as though I was attacking deeply held beliefs.  Attack was never my intention.  I am, truly, trying to find a common thread that might bring different philosophies together.  There is something to be learned in each method.

The editing that has occurred here has been brutal, but ultimately cathartic for me.  It helped me refine my own methodology, and look past a wall of Opinion.  I thought I had finally found a way to unite several disparate camps.  Unfortunately, when the smoke cleared, I was confronted by another wall.  This was not my Wall.  It was built by others, and a small, passionately vocal, group is still fortifying this wall.  Some in this group question my objectivity (which I maintain, despite popular notion) on this subject. 

My only request is that before you ignore me, “unfriend” me, or fill my comment box with malignant ire, read the post in its entirety.  You will find that this is not a post recommending one dog-training method over another.  Rather, it has become an essay pointing out the bottomless chasm of ridiculous and impotent arguments among dog trainers, and by extension, the entire society in which we currently live.

Zeitgeist translates loosely into the “Spirit of the Times”, and makes reference to the attitude that prevails in any given group at any given time.  In the past several years, a definite “Zeitgeist”, has wound it’s way into a collective of individuals that train dogs.  Truth be told, there is more than one such collective, each with its own particular zeitgeist.  That is my subject.

I have been an admirer of Mr. Cesar Millan, a.k.a. The Dog Whisperer, for several years.  (Some of you just bolted for the nearest exit, I know.)  During my early times with dogs, I have also been very interested in a training system known as Operant Conditioning, or “Clicker Training”.  The main source of contemporary training in this highly successful method, is a talented woman by the name of Karen Pryor. (Some of our runaways just peeked back around the door to see if  I’ve come to my senses)

Please note, that I manage to admire both individuals.  That admiration took a torpedo in the waterline recently, and it lead me to finish this piece.  I have always been an equal opportunity type, and I employ facets of each of these systems in my personal training.  I also use other methods beyond them.  Each dog is different, and responds in it’s own way to each stimuli.  I use that which produces the best result with that individual dog.

This last week, my wife and I enjoyed attending Cesar Millans speaking tour in Columbus, Ohio.  Mr. Millan is engaging, entertaining, and informative without being preachy, or criticizing those who dislike him and his methods. ( In stark contrast to his  detractors.)  And they are legion…Anyway, I casually mentioned that we would be seeing his show on one of the social media outlets, and the response shocked me.  “How can go see a show that teaches such brutality with dogs?!!!”    “I have no respect for any Trainer that employs his methods!”  I have many more, but these two pretty well sum up the list.  Some of them attack Millan’s personality, while others stick to his methods.  Still others take laser aim at his lack of Educational Degrees or Certificates of Expertise.  I knew that Cesar is, unfortunately, a polarizing figure in the canine training world. Some time ago, you were forced to choose your allegiance to either him or Victoria Stillwell, another television dog trainer/behaviorist.  You couldn’t possibly admire both simultaneously, simply out-of-the-question.

Normally I would treat such e-mails with the uninterested disdain that they so richly deserve, but I was curious.  Who were these people  gradually filling my message box with spit and vitriol because I was going to see Cesar Millan.  So I began to click on some of the names, and I found a common thread.  But I’ll get to that momentarily…

Whenever I take to the training field, I observe my dogs intently.  I’ve gotten quite good at it, if I say so myself.  This is a vital activity when running a track, or a scent target.  Very subtle changes in the dogs behavior are like an open book to me,  making me put aside my own opinion to follow the dogs input.  The dog is almost always right.  I’ve learned to trust him.  The point is this:  We learned this skill from 5 different trainers, all of whom used very different methodology.  We have gleaned the very best from some of the very best.  All are fine trainers.  Each of them disagree with the others over small minutiae, (Using bait, Not using bait, using toys, etc etc.)  Such is the way of Dog Trainers, unfortunately.  But these Trainers also took small details from others and found that they also had merit.  None of these trainers utilized Operant Conditioning, or “Clicker Training”, and that becomes important to this story right now.  I discovered Karen Pryors first book in the public library.  I read that book.  I found that book interesting.  I realized that the method had tremendous application, especially in the teaching of Obedience.  At first, I utilized a little pink clicker, and it worked just fine.  But part of my training program involves long distance separation of myself and the dog.  In a loud environment, such as would occur at most disaster sites, I realized that the clicker was useless.  I began to use hand signals with great success!  But “Marker Training” settled into my program comfortably.  It became a “Part” of what I was training with…I found clicker training to have no application in Tracking/Apprehension, or Protection work. I was also developing something else in my mind, and thought that Operant Conditioning methods were lacking something I desired, namely, developing a Relationship with my dog.  But that was fine, as there were other methods.  I am an objective individual, and completely pragmatic in everything I undertake.  Do the job Well, and use the best method for completing the job.  And I always follow (to the best of my ability)  the example of my favorite person, Jesus Christ.  (Don’t run away, this won’t hurt you)  Which means I practice the spirit of, Love, Joy, Peace, Long-suffering, Kindness, Goodness, Faith, Mildness, and Self-control .  Translation:  I NEVER CAUSE MY DOGS PAIN IN ANY WAY!

I offer this short description to those of you will say, “He has never tried OC training, and has no knowledge or training with it!  He’s been drinking Cesar Millans Kool-Aid for too long…”   I am not only familiar with Operant Conditioning Training, I also use it.  But it has limitations that cannot be overcome.

  This then, leads me back to the discovery I made regarding those who, in large part, beat Cesar Millan up verbally every chance they get.  Using the flyer that they printed, for the purpose of their  peaceful “Protest”, I checked the names of the trainers that they were recommending.  Here is the flyer:   It’s not very legible in this format, but I offer it as proof that I read it.

To a  Person, everyone of these trainers is a “Clicker Trainer”.  And this is the point where I piss off Operant Conditioning trainers everywhere.

Flyer from Cesar Millan protesters.

My main question to Clicker trainers is this:  “Why do most (can’t generalize here) practioners of this method insist that it is THE ONLY method that deserves to be utilized by dog owners?” I found the Facebook page of a group calling themselves “Protest Cesar Millan in Columbus, Ohio”, where my point is further made. (Their URL includes the phrase,” go away Cesar”)  Here are some of the quotes as cut and pasted from that site prior to the show:  I have edited out last names.     _______________________________________________________________Protest Cesar Millan February 4th Columbus, OHUmm, I forget what Liz and Jen said, they can say, but I (Monica) said that I would like to ask him how he can keep his stance on his views while science and people with actual degrees in the field have disproven his methods. Then she was like, hmm, that brings up a good point, degrees. What do you have? So I told her about my bachelors and KPA and then she asked about Karen Pryor. So I told her about her. I did make sure to start with, I know Cesar loves his dogs or he wouldn’t be doing this.Wendy Sounds to me like he is getting scared.I do hope he changes his ways.I think he must be the most disliked person in the USA.No dog deserves him or his training methods.How the Juggernaut BeganMillan received no formal training; he is a noncertified, self-taught expert. This real-world learning began when he was a kid in Mexico and was known as “the dog boy” because he had a natural touch. Later, in the United States, he worked with aggressive dogs as part of a grooming business. He then created a canine academy, which attracted some high-profile clients.

January 16, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Of course there’s not just one way. There are many methods and techniques. But they are only valid if they are built on the science of behavioral modification and learning theory.

Millan bases what he does on mythology and makes it up as he goes along. It’s a TV show, folks. If one were to try to televise one of the correct, scientifically based, humane, effective ways to deal with aggression, people would fall asleep or turn the channel. It’s not exciting, it’s not sexy. Millan is not about dog training. He’s about exploitation for the purpose of fame and fortune.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

You get the gist from these few comments.  This is where I put together the Zeitgeist of the year 2012 in this country, as designed by the current political system we are enduring.  I define it,   for these purposes, as the “I’m smarter and more educated than you are, so shut up and do it my way. If you don’t like my way, I’ll find a way to get around you, and force you to do it my way.”

The insistent, and cloying, reminders of the collected College Degrees and Training Certificates Acronyms are at best rude.  At worst, they smack of insult and Class warfare.  A lesser wordsmith might say, “Snotty”.  The assumption that only people who are suitably degreed, seem to understand why OC is so important.  They also assume that those of us who don’t support their position are uneducated, and need to be re-educated.  (“Let’s set up a camp outside of town and..oops,Don’t get me wrong, not all of them are so brazen that they attempt to shout you down.)  Rather they employ a Passive/Aggressive approach,  “That poor person…he needs our help.  I feel SO bad for his dogs being trained with brutal shushing techniques…”

Cesar Millan has no such degrees, and whether or not he is a dues paying member of any of the current Trainers Organizations in vogue, I do not know.  He does, however, have many years of practical experience, and observation of his subjects.  If you have to choose between a very young Heart surgeon, just out of residency, full of himself and his advanced degree and a 30 veteran of the operating room that has instinct honed to a fine edge, which do you want operating on you?  Experience is very important.  The wisest canine person I know, has no Degree in dog behavior, but can lead a pack of 15 German Shepherds off-leash, and they look on her as the Leader.  They are well-behaved, obedient, and happy as a dog can hope to be.  She has been doing this for 30 or 40 years…

Also, the implication that non-practioners of Clicker training, are without education is pure hokum, and just wrong.  Look back at this quote above:      I would like to ask him how he can keep his stance on his views while science and people with actual degrees in the field have disproven his methods. Then she was like, hmm, that brings up a good point, degrees. What do you have? So I told her about my bachelors and KPA and then she asked about Karen Pryor. So I told her about her. I did make sure to start with, I know Cesar loves his dogs or he wouldn’t be doing this.Wendy Sounds to me like he is getting scared.I do hope he changes his ways.I think he must be the most disliked person in the USA.No dog deserves him or his training methods.How the Juggernaut BeganMillan received no formal training; he is an uncertified, self-taught expert

   My next question to this group is:  Why does Mr. Millan so intimidate your stance that you back into a corner and strike out at him personally?  Is he taking business away from your facility?  Do his speaking engagements cause people to say “I would never try Clicker Training!”         NO, he does not.  In fact, Mr. Millan doesn’t care which method of training that you utilize, as long as you DO!!!     Again, to use the simpler vernacular, “You catch more flies with honey.”        You will be doing the world of Operant Conditioning/Clicker Training a world of good , by demonstrating Clicker Training at every opportunity in a positive manner.  You insist that your training is purely positive, why doesn’t your Public Relations dept. follow suit?     This is what really set off this post.  Some of you have become known not as “Clicker Trainers”, but as the “Anti-Cesars”.  Is that anyway to reach the public?  I suppose in these politically correct times, with their horrendous continual political campaigns, NEGATIVITY is viewed as more effective, (and powerful) than quietly proving what you know to be true.  Operant conditioning IS a wonderful method, being given a black eye by a small minority.  I thought of writing Karen Pryor a letter.  It would start like this:

Dear Karen Pryor,

   Thank you for your years of hard research and efforts.  You are helping people and dogs everywhere.  But you should be aware that a small cross-section of adherents to your methods are representing you in a very negative way…A way that I don’t believe you would approve of, or even conceived.

I’ve reprinted here a miniscule sampling of what I’ve read on the internet, emanating from clicker training chat rooms, websites, and other authority types.  Prove it to yourself.  Type “Anti-Cesar Millan” or “Clicker Training is the Best” or a derivative into Google.  You can read this drivel for the next month non-stop!

My last request is this:  Please stop using the negative methods of promoting Operant conditioning.  YOU are making it more difficult for ME to convince people of its effectiveness.

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Comments
  1. Regardless of what any one person would say, I believe Cesar Milan has a God-given gift with dogs. His methods minister to the entire dog- discipline, exercise, affection and takes all the animals needs into consideration. Can’t argue with success. Not to say other methods aren’t successful, but I will always remain a loyal fan of his.