Sorry Clicker Trainers…This was too far…

Posted: May 3, 2012 in Dog Training, Omorrow German Shepherds, Scent Worj, Uncategorized

I’m writing this tongue-in-cheek in small part.  The remaining part is righteous indignation fused with trying to achieve a middle ground where things are not so mutually exclusive as we are lead to believe.

Recently, you may have read a blog post authored by my friend Aimee, at “My Mega E Dog”  (This debate will NOT change my respect for her as a writer, trainer, or person!!)     She is a gifted writer, and very heartfelt in her belief in the clicker-training system.  That’s great, and I support her.  But a SINGLE sentence set me off…  I quote:

“Exercise, discipline, affection” is one of the saddest phrases I have ever heard.”

  I put it to every dog owner, handler, trainer, admirer, or whatever you consider yourself with dogs, that if you attempt to raise and give a dog a home without EXERCISE, without DISCIPLINE, and without AFFECTION being an integral part of your training, you will not only fail miserably, but you will have a dog that is unpredictable, untrained, and maybe even dangerous.

This is where the militancy of the Clicker-Trainers gets them in trouble.  They have a deep-rooted hatred for anything “Millan-esque”, and they reject every syllable of that method.  It’s time that they had those three words, and the phrase broken down and explained to them.  I won’t change any of those minds, but I can see to it that new dog owners will try to understand that Clicker training is NOT the end-all, be-all method.  It IS a good method, but Exercise, Discipline, and Affection must be wedded to it in an unbreakable bond.  These things are NOT mutually exclusive.

It’s important to note that these three traits are only properly used in that order. 1) Exercise  2) Discipline, and 3) Affection.    We cannot, and must not, anthropomorphize our dogs with the mistaken notion that Affection sways a dog into obedience and proper behavior, and is THE only trait required.

First, a breakdown of the individual words:


1) bodily or mental exertion, especially for the sake of training or improvement of health: Walking is good exercise.
  Your dog, whether Schit-zu, German Shepherd, or Bull Mastiff, is at least partially, an athlete.  In varying degrees admittedly, owing to breed, and physical structure, but an athlete nonetheless.  They are ANIMALS that need to move, run, play, hunt, wrestle, and otherwise use up energy.  Put any dog in a crate for 4 hours, and you will get a bored, crazy, ready-to-explode, animal.  The more athletically inclined a dog, the more corresponding exercise they will require on a daily basis.  Clicker Trainers do Exercise their dogs, mentally and physically, so there is no denying that Exercise is a vital part of their method.  Little more need be written about this.


1) activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training: A daily stint at the typewriter is excellent discipline for a writer.
2) behavior in accord with rules of conduct; behavior and order maintained by training and control: good discipline in an army.
3)a set or system of rules and regulations.
4)to train by instruction and exercise; drill.
5)to bring to a state of order and obedience by training and control.
DISCIPLINE is the quality that most annoys, disturbs, and otherwise pisses-off Clicker-trainers.  This is because they misunderstand, mis-interpret, or choose to ignore, what precisely real “Discipline” entails.  Reading the above abridged definitions of the root word, you will find no reference to inflicting pain, or causing trauma whether physical or mental.  Setting boundaries, understanding established rules, and following them is Discipline.  A dog cannot set his own rules, nor can he Discipline himself in a human world.  Discipline from his human, teaches him to not surf the kitchen counter for something to eat.  A dogs canine-inspired discipline says, “I must east, and I will go anywhere I must to do so…”   Therefore, to live with us, a dog must have, and be taught the Discipline of rules, boundaries, and limits.
   This Discipline does not involve pain, swatting, yelling, or shocking.  It can be taught with a clicker.  I implore you to use a “Positive re-enforcement” method of instilling discipline.  But please, establish Rules, Boundaries, and Limitations for your dog!!!  Understand Discipline for the meaning that is intended by those who use it.  Think of it as the  “Come, be my follower” method, not the “You are my slave, and will obey me regardless” method.
and finally:



fond attachment, devotion, or love: the affection of a parent for an only child.

emotion; feeling; sentiment: over and above our reason and affections.

Clicker Trainers have a very different view of what Affection means to a dog.  They tend to anthropomorphize, or give human qualities, to an animal. A dog, left on it’s own, can live wholly without affection, solitary, and satisfied to find something to eat. We, as humans, contrastingly need Affection, and we need to give it away.  I grant you, our dogs accept affection, and thrive upon it when offered in the proper context.  It is a bonding mechanism, and a wonderful one at that.  But to say that Affection should be the Top priority is truly not accurate.  To quote my esteemed colleague again from her post:

“Positive reinforcement training is all about putting affection and the bond between human and dog at the top of the list, not the bottom.”

This is how that might sound in the fantasy world of “Affection First”

“Fluffy, please don’t jump up on the kitchen counter and steal food.  I LOVE YOU so much…(Click)

“Don’t lunge at that nice little boy on the sidewalk…I will pet you and stroke you, and give you doggy treats!”(Click)

BOND and AFFECTION  are two separate things, but they are also symbiotic.  One does not exist without the other.  The above examples are perhaps somewhat over the top.  But it doesn’t cloud the issue.  Just being affectionate with your dog will not train it to obey, perform, or learn.  Affection is part of the reward for Obedience, Compliance, or Good Decisions.   Affection can take many forms, and I exhort you to use Affection freely and without restraint!!!  Every positive action my dogs take turns into a blessed Festivale of playing, rewarding, praising, and outright snackage!  But that Affection comes after the fact.  Because that’s how dogs think.

Hopefully, you’ve read ALL of this, and understand the intent.  Clicker Trainers use “Exercise, Discipline, and Affection” whether they like the quote, the source, or the idea or not.  Saying that “Exercise, Discipline, and Affection” is a “Sad” line of reasoning is misleading and indicative of bias of a personal nature toward an accomplished Dog Behaviorist.  From a purely human and humane standpoint, this trinity of behavior reinforcements is unparalleled, unsurpassed, and superior.  They can, are, and should be a part of every training methodology.  When proper intent is observed, they follow something very old but still considered, “The Golden Rule”.

“Also, just as YOU want men to do to YOU, do the same way to them.”     Luke 6: 31

Yeah, It’s the Word of God, and it applies in this instance to my dogs.  I treat them the way I want to be treated.

Whatever method you want to train in, and Clicker Training is a great one, don’t forget…Your Dogs Needs and Wants EXERCISE.  Your Dog Needs and Wants DISCIPLINE, Your dog will Thrive and Return AFFECTION.

  1. Georgana (Jan) Ford says:

    My impression is that Aimee, contradicts herself. Clicker training IS a form of discipline. I have rescued, reared and rehabilitated over 250 GSD’s in my rescue “career”. My rescue was FULL of dogs that did not receive exercise, discipline nor affection. Dogs are pack animals and as such, seek the approval of whomever, be it canine or human, it sees as the alpha. That is basic, inarguable fact. Do I condemn clicker training? Wholeheartedly, no! I believe it is a valuable training tool when combined with exercise and affection, HOWEVER, I do feel that the clicker training concept is very similar if not precisely the same as simply teaching my dog, “yes” and “no”. When they’re bad, I tell them “no”, when they do something well or proper, I praise with “yes”. Such as Milan does with his “tsch” and bump technique. I do have to say, that in my experience, my dogs respond much better after a playful romp/exercise session before a training session and I absolutely MUST have shown affection to gain their respect and desire to WANT to please me. I, myself, combine many different training methods, to combine into a program that works for me. I have alpha rolled particulary unruly dogs, which I know is a controversial and dangerous technique if not performed correctly. I also know that done correctly, it works. It worked for me. I am not a trained or licensed dog trainer but over 25 years, I know what consistently works for me and I assess each dog and use methods that also work for the both of us. My $.02.

    • Robert says:

      Thank you Georgana! Your insights are hard-earned by experience and hands on work!! I value readers such as you, and invite you to offer your words on anything you may read here!! After all, we’re all in a learning curve, and every trainer has SOMETHING to contribute!

  2. Kim Atwell says:

    Uh…I have never hung my dog, have never kicked my dog and (though it’s your weird reference and I’m sure not meant literally) have never forced my dog ‘at the barrel of the gun’. My dog HAS been grabbed by the scruff of the neck (in imitation of what his MOM would have done in the wild, and THAT can’t be argued) to show him that what he is doing was unacceptable. I’m not a Millan follower…I choose things that I learn from ALL methods including some marker training (now that he’s older, he didn’t respond to that at ALL when he was younger). Inferring that kicking and hanging a dog are part of Cesar Millan’s normal methods is assinine. If there have been incidents with extremely aggressive dogs where more than a ‘Hey now, stop that!’ and a leash correction were needed then I’d expect any human being (famous trainer or not) to do whatever is necessary to keep that dog from hurting someone. I am NOT a Cesar ‘follower’ but I’ve watched his show before and have used a few techniques when my 4 male dogs try to establish their ‘alpha’ role. If they see that I am in control, then they behave. Granted, I don’t have to do much more than give them a look or poke them in the shoulder or neck to show them that I say what they are doing is unacceptable. But I’m sure that in your book, I shouldn’t own dogs because touching them is just plain cruel.

  3. Clicker trainers see discipline for what it really is, an internal quality not something to be enforced through physical aggression. Unfortunately the D in EDA is really coercion and not discipline.

    • Robert says:

      You are INCREDIBLY mistaken, but the fact that Clicker trainers use EDA whether they like it or not cannot be dismissed. Any dismissal of EDA by them, cimes due to bias against Cesar Millan…

      • It’s really too bad that for the Millan followers discipline means at the barrel of the gun which is not discipline at all. Frankly I don’t know of any clicker trainers who include kicking or hanging their dogs as part of their displays of affection.

      • Robert says:

        Where was a gun mentioned? Or any other form of punitive action?

      • Punitive action is essential to anybody who uses Millan’s little phrase. It’s from a quote by Mao Zedong ” power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” that’s Millan’s discipline.

      • Robert says:

        Mao? Are you kidding me? You’re comparing Cesar Millan to Mao? You must be a Saul Alinsky disciple, invoking a mass-murderer and comparing him with a talented dog behaviorist. Did George Soros pay you to monitor Cesar Millan supporters?

      • ruling by force.. calling it something else.

  4. Deb Whitmore says:

    Just a point I’d like to underscore…..discipline and punishment are not one in the same.

    Robert , I couldn’t agree with you more and Kim, your discussion of an individualized approach makes makes so much sense. I believe that whenever we approach issues with “all or nothing ” thinking we rarely find our best solutions.

  5. Kim Atwell says:

    I have a dog that flat out did not like us when we got him. He didn’t want held and wanted to sit by himself or just hang out with our other dogs for the first 4 months of his life. We gave him structure, exercise, affection and discipline (does this mean I ‘whipped’ my dog? No. It means that when he did something wrong, I let him know it was wrong by getting his attention by being loud and in his face about it and there were times that a rolled up piece of newspaper swatted his rump, which always got MY attention as a kid.). When he did good, I rewarded and praised him. But Tuco had no affection for us and could not have cared less about forming a stronger bond. Tuco respected us when we showed him he was cared for, safe, had boundaries and was a part of our family (pack?). He was a spaz if he wasn’t exercised enough and was only calm and able to be worked with after that exercise. I’m very happy with who my dog is, but he was quite the biter when we first got him. And stayed that way til he was at least 4-5 mo old. Once he associated ‘biting’ with ‘playtime is over!’, he stopped. We had to give him consequences. And we tried the clickers – it didn’t work for me and Tuco til he was over a year old. I figured out the timing part but since he didn’t care about food rewards, training sessions with this method were (sorry) a pain in my ass because his reward of choice was a game of ‘stick’. It was time consuming. VERY time consuming and I never felt he associated the reward with the action because he’d just run with the stick for so long that he, in my opinion, forgot why he got the stick in the first place. I am happy that he does respond to food now and we can use a bit more of the clicker-type training. Tuco never ever does anything horribly bad now that he even needs reprimanded for (we occasionally have to correct the counter surfing…). He is a sweet boy who requires LOTS of exercise and love. When he attempts to dominate our terriers, he gets the poke to the neck and backs off. That’s the extent of his misbehaviors. And I love who he is now. With his strong will, I honestly don’t believe we would have been able to stop his biting any other way than to discipline him for it. That is just my opinion on MY situation. Everyone finds what works with their dog and goes with it. I will not force my opinion on anyone else or tell them their method is wrong. There are merits to most all training methods. I choose to pick the parts out that work for me.