Several well-intentioned readers have questioned me regarding publishing my book on the Communicative Approach to Training Theory.  And yes, I have interest from a small publisher on assembling what I’ve written into a book form.  However, for the foreseeable future, I don’t plan on doing anything about it.  My reason for this literary sloth became crystal clear to me when a reader of this blog messaged me with several questions.  Her inquiries revealed to me that she had a mis-understanding of what the Communicative Approach was intended to accomplish.  The exact details aren’t important at this point, but here’s why I’m not in a hurry to publish a book. 

Working from a blog-centered format, I was able to immediately respond to her and clarify several of her misinterpretations.  We had a wonderful conversation, and I believe that a friendship has been formed.  She is more comfortable continuing her chosen method of training, with the enhancement of “relationship-based” attitudes of the Communicative Approach.  If she had been working from a formal “Book”, or an “E-book” format, she would have gone away with an incomplete understanding.  I was able to help her immediately and with a personal touch.  Customer service is still King! 

  The other consideration that I have before me, is the inspiration I receive from my readers.  I sincerely feel that writing in a vacuum, without input from supporters and detractors, is egotism of the highest order.  And while I have a solidly formed outline for what I write, understanding of other opinions is important.  Understanding my readers is important.  When I take a controversial position, I’m better equipped to enter the fray of debate without being snarky or dogmatic.  That’s how you teach, and how you convince others, that you are worth reading.  I will always consider my Consumer here at “German Shepherd Adventures” ,   without compromising my beliefs.

I’m not going to reprint Ms. Clarkstons e-mail here, as it was quite lengthy, and some of it was superfluous to the subject at hand.  Our subsequent conversation was similar, in one respect:  It was absolutely riddled with the “scientific” vernacular of a particular style of training.  It required a very specific understanding of the vocabulary, and an in depth knowledge of the short-hand terminology used by adherents to “Operant Conditioning/Clicker” training.  Here is a short compendium of the words my new friend presented.

Variable ratio  –

Premack principle    –

(R+)   which means  Positive reinforcement

Rate of reinforcement


(P+) which means Positive punishment

(NRM)  which indicates No Reward Marker

(R-)  which means Negative reinforcement

(P-) which means  Negative punishment


Environmental reinforce

Differential reinforcement


Conditioned stimulus



Bridging stimulus

Conditioned punisher

“Wow,”  I thought as I read her e-mail, “So much technical hoo-ha to describe something which has a simple baseline to understand.”

Our conversation was equally strewn with the landmines of “Techno-E’s”, except that things were usually referred to in the vocal shorthand of the enlightened.  I’d repeatedly  heard references to (spelling here is phonetic, as I heard them) ” Are-Neg,” “Pee-Neg,”   “Are-Poz”,  “En-Are-Em”, “See-Stim” and a bunch of others that I allowed to dissipate into the ether.

After thoroughly examining the now hard copied e-mail, and engaging this nice lady in conversation for an hour, I stopped her and asked the simplest of questions.  “What are you trying to accomplish with your dog?”  Her reply was tentative and measured.

“I want him to be obedient, and protective of my family, respectful of our home.  I want a happy and eager dog…and I’m using all the latest science of behavioral studies to make him that way.”

“Okay, that’s a wonderful goal,” I replied.  “But why are you making it so hard on yourself, and complicated for Bruiser? (her dog)”

“What do you mean?” She asked, as though I had bitten a chicken’s head off in front of her.

“Well, you have such a technical program laid out here, that you’re forgetting to have a communicating relationship with the big-boy.  He’s a German Shepherd, and what he really wants is to play ball with you.  You spend all of HIS time, clicking at him, and looking for scientific support for what he’s doing, or NOT doing.  Understanding, and Listening to your dog tell you what makes him happy has to be done in Dog Language.  YOU have a great understanding of the language of Operant conditioning, but your dog doesn’t care.  Your timing is a bit off with him, and that creates problems, but what you really need is to start learning to incorporate a positive relationship with him, and assure him that you are trying to understand him,instead of insisting that he understand you.  That’s the trap of being insistent on using Operant Conditioning exclusively to train a dog…Unlike whales and dolphins, dogs live in our homes, with us.  That’s a next-level relationship, which has a far different responsibility.  To use your terminology, OC is a successful way to teach a dog various things you want him to do.  But it only scratches the surface of having a relationship that makes the dog comfortable in his own skin.  He wants to know that you are there to provide “leadership”, “protection” and “fulfillment”.  A Clicker cannot give those things.  When you depend on treats to insure your dogs compliance, you will eventually have to re-train him off some behavior.  When your dog recognizes your kind and gentle Leadership, he’ll make you the center of the galaxy.”

“I’m not quite sure I understand all that…the books I’ve read, and the seminars are more “science”.  I’m an RN, and I like  that type of precision.”

“Precision is great.  Keep using OC and you will have a precisely trained dog.  But there’s so much more that he wants and needs from you.  All of the fancy phrases and acronyms, and the jargon mean exactly “squat” to him.  They’re designed to impress other humans about your education and I.Q.  If you want to impress a Dog, prove to him that you can provide the Leadership that he instinctively looks for everyday.  What’s more, when you master the presence of being a leader, other people’s dogs will be drawn to you.  Especially if they are unbalanced by lack of leadership.  It’s not degrading to your dog, and he doesn’t feel abused.  You don’t beat him into following you, you prove to his brain that you will care him.  The Communicative Approach is an enhancement of your method, not a replacement for it.”

“That makes sense, because I’m convinced that  OC is the best method of training, but it is missing something that I can’t define…But it’s difficult to understand why “science” is’nt  the whole answer…and most Trainers are so supportive and convinced  of OC and clicker training.  They can’t all be wrong…”

“I never said they were wrong.  250 jumping whales can’t be wrong.   But they are incomplete.  Let me explain it this way:  If a human parent raised their children purely by scientific methods, ignoring “manners” , “social behaviors”, and the subtleties of everyday life, how would they turn out?  Like little, unfeeling robots.  They might be obedient, but they wouldn’t have any idea how to be “Likable”, they would lack the ability to be “nice” because science teaches survival of the fittest.  Get yours before somebody else does.  Which is kind of what we see today to a degree in people who were raised without the proper “Leadership”.  Permissiveness doesn’t create success.”

“Well, I hope you’ll help me understand how to train this to Bruiser.  It’s not as well laid out or defined as clicker training.”

“That’s the wrong approach.  Do you “Lead” people at your job?  You’re an RN in an Emergency Room…Do people recognize that you are there to help them, maybe even save their life?”

“If they don’t at first, they pick up on it fairly quickly…It’s an attitude I take when I’m doing my job.  I care about them, and I want to help them…”

“Did you learn THAT from a book?”

This finally set the siren off in her head.  “No…” she started slowly, “I’ve always just wanted to help in the best way I can…”

“Bingo! You understand the foundation of the Communicative Approach.  You can learn all the anatomy and physiology and chemistry and technical parts of medicine, how to help a person heal a sickness or wound.  But if you are an emotionless person, with terrible bedside manner, your patient will still not like you.  But a caring, comforting nurse, with little knowledge is still valuable.  Understanding that truth, a Caring, Comforting nurse with great technical knowledge is a treasure!!!  Be that “nurse” to your dog.”

That I understand…”

  1. tamandra says:

    I came across this blog from a link on another list, and also read several other posts. Interesting, that I’m conflicted, because I feel on the same page with most of what you are saying, but I do get my hackles up over Cesar’s philosophy. I suspected you must like him when I started to see his ‘buzzwords’ that I’ve grown a huge distaste for ha ha. It doesn’t make me want to run, but it does make me curious.

    I started off with my last GSD, almost 12 years ago, getting “religion” with the clicker crowd. I also felt something lacking, too. Who articulated it for me was Suzanne Clothier, whom I met at the APDT conference back when my guy was just 1. I read her book. Adore it and have read it numerous times. It speaks of leadership, protection, communication, all that…but without the over the top dominance crap that I loathe. I also did Schutzhund, trained with Mike Ellis and Ivan Balabanov. I also trained my dog as my Service dog, as I’m in a wheelchair. Sadly, he passed away from hemangio 3 months ago. So I’m embarking on a new journey with a new pup come January.

    My perception is that Cesar doesn’t practice leadership as much as he seems to bully dogs into submission. I don’t think dogs are waiting to take over as alpha if we don’t do as he teaches. I don’t think unless you have multiple dogs that worrying about being “pack leader” is necessary. I guess my idea of leadership is just a bit different. I’ve also wondered what the heck “balanced” means with a dog, too. If it’s being submissive, and calm all the time, not showing their personality, then it’s not for me. I have a very hard time seeing how CM is supposedly good at reading dogs. So yeah, I guess I have severe Cesar bias against him ha ha.

    But I had the most amazing relationship with my heart dog, the best communication. I will miss him forever.

    • Robert says:

      Tamandra, thanks for your post. Let me address your perceptions of this article. It’s obvious that you are somewhat biased against Cesar Millan, which is a result of being trained in Clicker Methodology. What you HAVE missed is a thorough reading of my blog. I have long preached against any single method being the ONLY method. Some of what Mr. Millan practices is wonderful, yes, but is it the ONLY method? No. Karen Pryor, the queen of the clicker, also has her good points. But, as I’ve said repeatedly, it has it’s gaps in fulfilling the dog. As for Suzanne Clothier, I am a great admirer of her material and mind-set. So much of her early work (The 7 C’s, Tracking Ghosts, and several other booklets) have gotten lost in time. They should be resurrected. She has a wonderful methodology and mindset that elevates the dog, and fulfills far more than just “Training” a dog. What I am espousing is NOT a Training method, but an adjunct to any Training method. Read without bias, as so many militant clicker trainers seem incapable of doing, you would see that any so-called “Buzzwords” that appear in my writing are there to strike a chord of familiarity with the reader. If any method is obsessed with “Jargon” or “buzzwords”, certainly you realize that it is Operant Conditioning/Clicker trainers. I am just as well versed in these buzzwords as I am other methods. Take the opportunity to read thru my blog, and you will see the reasons that I’ve developed over several years of handling dogs. I appreciate your readership!!!

  2. Dee Green says:

    This is the 1st article I’ve ever read that succinctly states what I try to communicate to people who tell me they only trust “science based” training. The whale & dolphin analogy is spot-on. They don’t sleep in our homes. They don’t deal with the vagaries of human emotion, moods, desires like our canine companions do. We don’t have to deal with them soiling the carpet after a particularly stressful day. There is simply no comparison between training an animal you only see in an artificial environment, and living with an animal in your own house.

    Thank you for this. I’d love to share it on my own blog, as a guest post, if you’d be so kind.

    • Robert says:

      Dee, please feel free to repost me as a guest writer! I’ve been lurking around your blog, and I’m thrilled to find another individual that is looking beyond the sciences!!! I’m not actually what I would call a “Trainer”, but rather, I’m a K-9 Handler that performs drug detection, search & rescue, and cadaver work. We are also schutzhund competitors and beside that, I JUST LOVE MY PUPPERS!!! If other officials make fun of me for that comment, well, I just introduce them to my boy “Hans”. LOL!!!
      I’m trying to find a button to subscribe to your blog, but haven’t found one yet…PLEASE browse thru my blog at your leisure! I’d love FEEDBACK from you, critique, suggestions, whatever!!!

      Robert Vaughan- German Shepherd Adventures- Columbus, Ohio 419-206-9315 GSA and Robert Vaughan are also found on Facebook!

      • Dee Green says:

        Thank you, Robert. I’ll post your guest piece as soon as I can.

        I began my career as a protection trainer for the very large operation in Texas, a couple of decades ago. I learned clicker training, too, because I wanted to experience it myself, and see where it might be useful (very helpful with blind dogs). I’ve studied every modern training approach from Turid Rugaas and Jean Donaldson to Patricia McConnel, Cesar Milan, and the one and only William Koehler. I don’t call myself a trainer, but a behavior therapist (the therapist part refers to the humans!).

        Today, I base my practice on relationship building between dog & human. Although I’m in Santa Monica, there’s nothing “New Age” about my approach. 🙂 It’s about understanding the dog’s (physical) language, the relationships dogs have with other dogs (that’s their culture), and teaching humans how to meet their dogs halfway in any endeavor.

        I am looking very forward to reading through your blog, and getting to know more about you and your business. Nothing like finding a kindred spirit in the world of dog behavior.

        Dee Green
        Canine Behavior Therapist
        Santa Monica, CA

      • Robert says:

        Dee, Anyone that can put the names William Koehler, Patricia McConnell, and Turid Raggas into their litany of influences, has certainly run the gamut of extremes!!! But this is what I’ve so often thought of as being well-rounded and understanding of the different mind-sets…
        It is interesting to me that Canine training, and Behavioral studies seem to go thru stages of absolutely GLACIAL progress, while one methodology seems to hold sway. But when change DOES occur, it happens quickly. I am involved in the Agility Sports currently, and Relationship based training is being focused on and developed, by several trainers with a view to bettering their programs. They seem to be ahead of the curve in these matters…
        I have forwarded your website to another trainer/behaviorist here in Central Ohio, by the name of Angie Ballman-Winters of Angie 4 Dogs. You and her are sympatico in your methods and thinking, and I know you will enjoy comparing websites and notes. Lets keep in touch, as I know I’m ALWAYS looking to learn something new!!!