Archive for the ‘Karen Pryor’ Category

Just as a sailboat needs wind to drive it forward, your dog needs motivation.  Much discussion of Drives takes place across the spectrum of canine training about what motivates a dog to certain behavior.  I am convinced that “Emotion”, from a canine point of view, is very powerful.  In relationship training, it is foundational.

If I intone the phrase “Calm and Assertive”, a certain group of people will abandon this post like it suddenly burst into flames. That would be singularly foolish on your part.   I promise not to use the phrase here at all. Besides, Cesar OWNS that phrase.   If you just put your “Cesar-bias” aside for a few moments, I know that we will find a common ground here.  I promise not to mock or condescend to Clickers at all.  I will, in fact, encourage you to continue using those methods, while improving your Doggish.  Remember, The Communicative Approach Theory & Training ,  is NOT a training method, but rather, a better way to implement your training method.  Okay?  Here goes…

I myself have struggled with  a calm manner.  I’m a pretty high energy person with a desire to make things happen as soon as I can. Very little patience for anything that happens slowly.  I have always prided myself on being “Highly Mobile” on a moments notice, and when that doesn’t happen…Well, I can be sort of…Crabby!  As I’ve worked with dogs, I’ve found that I’m similar to a very young, working, German Shepherd!

Humans are emotional beings.  We would be incomplete if we weren’t.  Without emotion, there would be no poetry, music, or art.  Granted, there would probably be no War, broken marriages/ families,  or other assorted poor decisions either.  But that just shows that there are emotions both pleasant and poisonous.

Part of the research on this post caused me to ask the questions, Can you be calm, when you are emotional?  Can you be emotional and calm at the same time??  Are calm and emotion mutually exclusive?  Some would even ask, “do dogs display emotion at all?”    Let’s begin there…

I have no doubt that dogs do exhibit and “feel” emotions.  Not, perhaps, in the same manner as humans though.  When I watch my two German Shepherds chasing each other around the training field with wild, reckless, abandon, I feel their “happiness”.   I make special effort to “Share” their emotion, by taking part in their celebration, offering them behavior that allows them to continue their games.  Positive “Energy” if you will.  I work at observing “emotional response” in the dogs, and then reciprocate that back to them.  It affects their sense of well-being, and helps us communicate with each other.  I’m telling them, in effect, “I understand what you are telling me, and I’m sharing it.”   The dogs are better behaved when we connect on an emotional level…

This is a daily exercise, and requires that you see thru your dogs eyes sympathetically.  And I know…it’s impossible to do that perfectly.  But you can learn to identify your dogs state of mind!  It’s similar to becoming engaged and eventually marrying another person.  You do everything in your power to learn about, and understand another person.  You learn what makes that person happy, sad, angry…the entire gamut of emotional feedback.  How do you do that?  Observation, conversation, and seeing them as themselves.  But it’s also quite defensible to say that our dogs are “aware” of our desires much of the time, even if they don’t necessarily try to fulfill them.  And I know that some of you will bolt away from this next statement, but as far as Pack Behavior is concerned, each and every member of a pack is sensitive to the current tide of emotion within said Pack.  That includes both two and four-legged members.  Don’t believe this to be true?  Find a place where  several dogs are together peacefully, and then introduce an unbalanced, or otherwise unsteady dog.  The reaction is immediate and undeniable.  Like it or not, you can see this easily if you watch an episode of “The Dog Whisperer” with Cesar Millan.  The Power of the Pack is something only the most biased individual can deny…(I know, you’re out there.  And no, the Earth is still NOT flat!)

Emotion, then, is a key to developing a Communicative relationship with your dog.  Always approach training, or socializing with an even temperament of your own.  If you feel frustration develop, or heightened excitement, take a minute and chill out.  Each of us will need to explore and develop our own individual means of “Calming” our human selves.  But it is important…

Other evidence of this emotional bond can be observed between dogs playing together…If they are on the same emotional level, you will observe harmony that resembles a huge flock of birds flying together.  Rolling, twisting, and diving, they never seem to run into each other…How?  It’s God-given in my opinion.  But when my dogs work together, it’s a sublime example of “oneness of mind.”  When I’m involved in it with them, it’s even better…I hope you achieve this with your dogs!

My advice is quite simple: Share emotion with your dog.  If you observe him gnawing on a nice meaty bone, express the the emotion that he is…”Is that bone goood???  Ooooh yummmmy! Thats a Goood Boy!!!!!”  It’s okay, in fact, it’s beneficial to include yourself in his pleasure.  Celebrate the fun of playing ball together.  Not including your dog in your activities is a sure fire way to frustrate your friend, (just examine a dog that suffers from Separation Anxiety) and it affects your relationship.   Go ahead, encourage your dog often and eagerly with words and tone that make him feel good about himself!  I have been able to observe the power of this supposition recently in training for Agility.  The most successful trainers are ridiculously happy while training, even if the dog is less than perfect.  The least successful are those that emotionally punishtheir dog if they missed a tunnel or jump the wrong bar.  “Stupid Dog!” they’ll spit, as though the mistake were the dogs fault.

In fact, and this is something I admire in the sport, bad language and yelling at the dog can result in points lost, or even disqualification of the team.  This is where Positive Attitude is of the highest value.  Be in the moment with your dog, and make it uplifting in dog terms!  Your assignment today, and for the rest of your time together is this:  Watch for your dogs emotional output, and support it!  We have all seen our dog SMILE about something, (Don’t deny it!)  When you do, smile WITH him!!!

Smokey is a story that proves positive emotion can save a dog’s life!!!





Honestly, I’m weary of this debate over Training Methods.  But every time I write about it, readership of GSA spikes dramatically.  I’m obviously addressing something that strikes a chord.  I’ve only had a sprinkling of negative comments, and a boatload of positives.  People want to be allowed the freedom to choose training methods without militancy, I guess.  The reason I wrote this post, was because I recently published my conclusion that Positive Reinforcement/Operant Conditioning was an “Incomplete” method on it’s own.  Two readers took great exception to this conclusion, and practically demanded explanation/clarification/ or retraction.  So, for the sake of the few, here’s how I’ve come to my conclusions.

In 1637, a mathematician named Pierre de Fermat was working on a very specialized theory involving algebraic constructs.  In a leading study of mathematics called Arithmetica   Fermat stumbled across a formula that caught his eye.  It sparked something in his thinking, and he scrawled in the book his thoughts.  He wrote, “Remarkable Proof…”, and started over 300 years of controversy and obsessive study.  Proof of what??  Ever since, a continuing series of” long-haired, lab rats” has pursued the final answer to that obscure question. (It was finally solved in 1995, but that’s another story)

I recently had my own “Fermats” type experience.  I didn’t grasp the significance at the outset, but it has now become crystal clear.   It all began at the Public Library.  I was reading a well known book by “Clicker-Training” guru, Karen Pryor.  Here’s the paragraph that I was reading, with an emboldened highlight of the operative phrase.

A few weeks later I fly to Indiana. At Wolf Park, Erich Klinghammer is eager to have me go into the pens and meet some wolves personally, to “experience their boisterousness.” This I am not willing to do. Klinghammer is six feet four with a big Germanic bass voice. He walks through the gate into the main pack’s enclosure and booms, “Good morning, wolves!” The wolves gather around him, waving their tails and jumping up to greet him: “Good morning, Dr. Klinghammer!” For me, I think it would be “Good morning, breakfast.”

Besides, I don’t need to be close to a wolf to work the training magic; in fact, both of us are safer and will feel better with a fence between us. This wonderful technology does not depend on my being able to impress or dominate the wolf. Nor does it depend on making friends first, or on having a “good relationship.” That’s often a happy outcome, but it’s not a requirement: the laws of reinforcement will get the job done.”-Karen Pryor

The interesting part of this excerpt was a comment that a reader of the book had scrawled into the margin.  It read:   “This woman really misses the point of having a dog!  Sounds like she’s tuning a piano, or de-fragging a harddrive…”

Hmmmm….  As I continued to peruse this copy of the  book, (I’ve read the book multiple times, but never saw this particular copy) there were other passages underlined and commented on.

… Now we have a new way of dealing with animals. Out of real science we’ve developed a training technology. It’s completely benign; punishment and force are never part of the learning system. And it produces real communication between two species.

Traditional animal training, the way it’s been practiced for millennia, relies largely on force, intimidation, and pain. While traditional trainers may also use praise and rewards, dominating the animal and obtaining control over its behavior are the main goals, and the main tools are fear and pain.-Karen Pryor

The superscription beside this paragraph, written in bold handwriting, said, “When Science is employed in it’s purest form, the sentient being,( in this case, “Dog”) is ignored wholesale.”

I agree.  I have called Positive Reinforcement/Operant Conditioning “Incomplete”  because it is thought of proudly as “Science”, THE only method that is proper. Many of  it’s practitioners preach the gospel of having degree’s and higher education.  Dog trainers/behaviorist without such educational assertions  in choo-choo train fashion behind their names, are scoffed at, and put aside as “Uneducated”.  When examined with a unjaundiced eye, you can find any number of “Science” projects that eliminated the “Sentient Being” from the equations entirely.  I wonder if Robert Oppenheimer ever came home at the end of a workday and said to his wife, “Hi Honey! I’m Home!  Today I created a terrible weapon that could be used to incinerate a 100,00o,000 at the same time!  How was your day?”  Probably not.  It was pure science.  Without consideration of the consequences to the people of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, Japan.

Aristotle, one of our first pure “Scientists” postulated the Spontaneous Generation Theory which stated that life could spring forth from nothing.  That would certainly free mankind from any responsibility for his actions, wouldn’t it?  Pure Science.

One of the oldest and most controversial theories in psychology and  philosophy is the theory of the blank slate, or tabula rasa, which argues that  people are born with no built-in personality traits or proclivities.. The idea  found its  most famous expression in psychology in the ideas of Sigmund Freud,  whose  theories of the unconscious stressed that the elemental aspects of an  individual’s personality were constructed by their earliest childhood  experiences.

While there’s little doubt that a person’s experiences and learned behaviors  have a huge impact on their disposition, it is also now widely accepted that  genes and other family traits inherited from birth, along with certain innate  instincts, also play a crucial role. This was only proven after years of study  that covered the ways in which similar gestures like smiling and certain  features of language could be found throughout the world in radically different  cultures. Meanwhile, studies of adopted children and twins raised in separate  families have come to similar conclusions about the ways certain traits can  exist from birth.  Pure Science.  Again, completely wrong, but accepted as gospel by those with “Higher Education”.

When you reduce anything to “Pure Science”, you lose the wonderful chaos that is contained within all living, sentient creatures.  And I’m NOT anthropomorphizing our dogs either.  I have rejected the notion that dogs are little people in dog suits.  Dogs are dogs, and humans are humans.  They are different from one another.  But when a “Happy Dog” is, as Pryor words it, “Nor does it (Positive Reinforcement training. Italics minedepend on making friends first, or on having a “good relationship.” That’s often a happy outcome, but it’s not a requirement…”   Then, pure science has taken over, and will ultimately be found wanting.

The lost equation is this: Build a relationship with the sentient, intelligent, and loving being that your dog was created to be.  The science that supports Positive Reinforcement is a wonderful tool that belongs in a trainers bag of tools…Along with many other methods that fit a particular dog during its training.  Don’t be so impressed with any one human that espouses one method as “The end all, be all” method that stops learning, growing and expanding your own knowledge.  Glean from all methods.  Don’t waste your time bickering and whining because someone says something you don’t happen to agree with in the dog training arena.  And above all else…

Let me emphasize that properly…Above All Else, put your dogs happiness and well-being above your methodology.  Too many dogs become robots, stressed and unfulfilled by owners/trainers that force the dog into the currently accepted mold of an industry.  Be your dogs best buddy everyday, and he or she will reward you by being the best dog in the world.

I had the temerity and largess to believe that writing about the Communicative Approach to Training Theory would be simple.  Repeat, “had”.  I no longer  entertain such a delusion.   The approach itself seems simple to me, emphasizing relationship and observation in whatever training method you choose.  But when I began my post entitled, “Communicating with Calming”, things got complicated. Small details, needing explanation, were tumbling out like ball-bearings from a carelessly bumped Big Gulp cup.  What to do, what to do…

  You will get to read that post about being “Calm during Training”, (Warning Cesar Bashers: I’m going to discuss your Energy.)  But, I’m adding a pre-amble to it.  The two biggest subjects involve “Engagement with your Dog” (discussed here), and “Fear and Communication. (Still in development).  Let’s get started…

“You HAVE my attention…”

Having been married for a bit more than 25 years, I will occasionally fall victim to holding conversations with my dear wife that I’m not really engaged in.  They may, or may not sound something like this:

“This room needs a makeover.  A bit more color, maybe a new couch.  What do you think of a splash of Aqua?” CarolAnn will ask.

“Mmmmmm…that would be fine.” I’ll mumble.

” We should paint before winter too…”

” Okay…Where’s my laptop?”

” Did you hear what I said?

“”Uh, yeah…I’d love to go have Chicken wings later.”

“You didn’t hear me!  I didn’t mention Chicken Wings…”

“I think the batteries in this remote must be dying…”

“I’m going to Home Depot…”

“Why are you going to  Home Depot?”

By the way gentleman, if this has happened to you, I recommend wearing a helmet.  Full- time…

If you and your dog have a system of communication that approaches this level, you need help.  No, you need a hamster.   But,  I’ve seen this happen to some very fine Canine/Handler teams in the field and in competition.  Both individuals would have momentary lapses in communication, and one or the other would stall.  In the least of circumstances, points are lost.  In the worst case, the scent of the missing would be lost.  Then both parties become frustrated, confused, or even angry.  That emotional trinity is a sure-fire way to cause problems.  This is why Focus and Engagement,are absolutely necessary for the Communicative Approach.

Engagement first came to my attention early in my training with Hans.  We were working with Mr. Corey Dewberry of Columbus, Ohio.  Corey is a trainer that works with family pets, Schutzhund competitors, and the Protection Sports Association.  He has a lengthy resume’ with Law Enforcement K-9’s as well.  In his training, he pays close attention to reading the dogs reactions, body-language, and eye-contact.  He pointed out every flick of an ear, blink of an eye, tongue flick…I promise you, when we were well along, my dog could stay focused on me no matter what crossed his path.  Food, toys, cats, other dogs, loud noises, fire trucks with sirens blazing, whatever.  Corey was, and is, a master of “Engagement” with dogs.  I took his philosophy to heart, and am glad I did.

So, how do you achieve and build “engagement”?  Put in its simplest form, you must find what motivates your dogs attention above all other things.  One necessary point, is that I have always dealt with Working Dogs.  Dogs bred to Play drive, or Prey drive before Food Drive.  If one of Hans’ toys appears, or he smells it, nothing else matters to him.  He will go into his Sit/Stay, and be anchored until I produce that toy.  His eyes never leave mine.  You could march a sizable High School band between us, and he would remain laser-locked on me.  I’ve tested this statement on the field we practice on, which happens to be a practice field for our local High School.  That’s Hansie’s motivator.  You will need to find out what gets your dogs attention.  In the case of a working/competition dog, I would recommend not using food as motivator, as a ball or toy doesn’t include the need to chew and swallow the treat before he complies.  I also will not use a clicker, because I’m trying to build a “Drive”, rather than a “Programmed Response”.  Drive produces an  “emotional” response from the dog, while a Programmed response is just a reaction from a robot.  (Let the Clicker trainers start their protesting now.  Sorry gang, you’re training robots.  I have more on this “Programmed Response” in a pending post.)

Now then, it is necessary for me to explain something else.  In my own training regimen, I allow something else that some will say goes against common practice in the realm of Pet Dog training.  In real-world trailing/tracking  We want our dog to show his drive and excitement to work or play.  This is why I don’t prevent my dogs from getting excited at play or training time.  When we arrive at the training field, my dog is whining, barking, and ready to burst into action.  In schutzhund, before starting on a track exercise, handlers usually put their dog into a “Down/Stay”.  This  retards  the dogs enthusiasm, and in the real world, I want him busting to go…My dog is demonstrating, communicating to me, that he  wants, really wants,to do what I’m asking of him.  When a dog is able to do what he wants to do, he will do it well, and he’ll do it all day!  This does not mean that we don’t practice our best Canine Good Citizen behavior and training when we are in public.  It just means that I allow my dog to communicate to me that he’s overjoyed at our play time.  At this level of excitement, he is thoroughly engaged with me and the training to come.  Nothing else matters to him.  While on the field, Hans will watch my every move from his down/stay position.  His ears will be pricked forward toward me, his eyes shooting laser-like into mine from as far away as I need.  I wondered if his attention was mine, or if it belongs to the toy I am carrying.  To test this, I drop the ball quite dramatically and keep moving.  Those almond-colored eyes remain on me.  Success!!!  Another example of focus happened a few weeks ago…We were doing our exercises at a field which borders Walnut Creek.  We were practicing Focus, using his Avery Float toy.  His only responsibility  is to sit and watch me, until I release him.  We were 50 yards apart, determined by the lines painted on the field.  To my shock, (and moments later, Delight)  a large Whitetail Buck sporting 8 gleaming points, emerged from the woods edge and ran between us.  Hans had no reaction to the deer at all.  I, on the other hand, picked my lower jaw off the ground, and thought, “The things you see when you don’t have a gun…!”  I gave Hansie the toy and we celebrated.

  I don’t tell this story to brag about my training philosophy, because I can’t say that it was designed to accomplish this type of focus.  C.A.T.T. has developed organically, naturally.  I’ve made plenty of errors, but I’m beginning to identify them, and eliminate them.  I’ve concentrated on the relationship that Hans and I share, because I’m just crazy about him.  We are together everyday, and do everything together.  That’s a key to having engagement…but what if you don’t have that luxury of 24/7/365 training?  You can still do it! 

  In  observation of obedience trials, schutzhund, and even Agility competitions, you will almost always see a dog that loses concentration and focus.  An otherwise very fast Agility dog will miss a cue and hurdle the wrong bar or enter the tunnels in reverse of direction.  An obedience dog will hesitate, taking away the expected precision.  This is usually caused by loss of Focus from both handler and dog.  Now, ask yourself, “How often do I train with my dog?”  Many training books say that any more than an hour at a time is unsustainable.  I agree with that statement when using a specifically disciplined “Method”.  Dogs attention span can fade away in a short time if they are bored.  The wonderful thing about utilizing the Communicative Approach to your  prefered training method is that you are “Teaching” constantly.  You, as Handler, are Learning constantly.  Discipline is CONSTANT, in that your dog never takes his eyes off you.  YOU are the most important thing in the world to him.  How do you earn this focus from your dog, even if your time together is limited?

  When you are  with your dog, BE with your dog.  Allow him to share in your activity whenever possible, and DO something.  If you waste hours watching television or sitting at a computer screen, you will become boring very quickly.  I combat long hours sitting here writing, by keeping the dog’s brain occupied with “Searches” thru the house and yard.  I will give specific commands for specific items.  My keys, my cell-phone, socks, a ball, whatever.  We keep things spread all over the property for just this reason.  Yes, it’s a lot of work, and constant preparation.  It takes forethought on your part.  But the dog will ALWAYS be engaged with you until he’s so exhausted he falls over asleep, or retreats to his crate.  Believe me, he’ll communicate to you when he’s tired! 

How else do you maximize your time together?  Ask yourself, where does my dog sleep?  In the garage or kennel, away from you, the Center of the World?  Locked in a room alone?  I understand that many don’t allow their “dog” on the bed.  But, if you are trying to train a “Partner”, let your dog be a part of your “nest”.  You will quickly learn your dogs habits, as well as what comforts him.  A small request for a scritch on his fuzzy neck at 2:30 AM will seal a bond of trust and dependence when you fulfill it.  He will know that you are there, and that you will be there.  Think of how to be together everywhere…Don’t build this relationship by teaching undesirable qualities, like begging at the dinner table, but do allow your dog to be within view of you, and reward his courteous behavior. 

  There…I’ve written 1704 words on building Engagement.  It’s a long-winded way to say, “Be With Your Dog.  Play With Your Dog.  Eat With Your Dog, Sleep With Your Dog, Let Your Dog Be With You.”      It takes time, and effort.  Don’t think of your dog as a tool, to be used, put away, and taken out only when needed. 

  Your closeness will make actual training time more enjoyable and effective.  Your dog will want to do what you are teaching, and you will see it in his eyes. 

  Actually, this advice sounds like a good way to build a marriage as well…Give it a try.  I know I’m going too.  Hey Hon’?  What color are you thinking of for the kitchen??

Today I was summarily removed from a Closed Group on Facebook, by it’s administrator.  It’s a very small group of about 35 people, espousing the techniques of Clickers and Operant Conditioning.  It’s an active group, with lots of video and instruction.  It is a group that I have enjoyed watching, and learning from.  The group does a good job of helping and answering the questions of the group members.  The owner of the group is an intelligent and well-spoken person, with a growing and successful business.

So why was I given a one way ticket out of town?  And why am I airing this dirty laundry here?  Both good questions, deserving an answer.

First, I’m not going to air any dirty laundry.  It is perfectly within the domain of a group to allow or disallow any one as a member.  Period. End of discussion.

But the other question plays into a mind set of Learning, and a subject discussed on this blog before.  A mind set that I encourage everyone to adopt and use to create something uniquely yours.

People that question everything are inherently better educated than those who learn by rote or imitation.  I have found that those who focus on who has this “Degree” or that “Degree” are quite dismissive of those who have only “Years of Experience” to hang on their wall, or wash out of their clothes.  Choosing between “Higher Education” and “Experience” is a no-brainer in something like dog-training. I’ll take the word of experience every time.

Tackling a discipline such as Dog-Training, (Yes, it’s a Discipline.) should be an individual pursuit for every trainer, and every dog.  No two of either species are exactly the same, and therefore have different individual needs.  I encourage every single one of my readers to question everything you read here, and everywhere else.  Find what works best for you, and your dog.  Do so without fear of being chastised, mocked, or otherwise removed.  That MAY require staying off of social media, or at least posting very carefully…

Dog training should be about The Dog, not the “Scientific Method” of the trainer.  And this is where I feel that “Operant Conditioning” and/or Clicker training” is not the complete answer.  It relies too much on the Human-factor to deliver a stimulus to the dog performing natural behavior.  Operant conditioning was developed to train Sea-Mammals to perform stunts on cue.  I cannot fathom that these large, intelligent creatures have any desire to live among humans, have a relationship with them, or love them.  They are in fact, better off living in the deep-blue where-in they were placed.  Dogs were meant to be with humans.  The facts (and, oh yeah…the daily news!) seem to indicate that even a “trained” Orca will still kill a human trainer as nothing more than a finless snack.  Using the same techniques with canines, who seem to have a symbiotic relationship with humans, badly short-changes the dog as an intelligent creature.  Yes, Operant Conditioning, and even the annoying ‘snap-snap-snap’ of a clicking-device are successful ways to “shape” or “train” a dogs behavior.  “Marker Training” has wonderful results as well.    BUT THEY ARE NOT the End-All-Be-All of dog training.  But ANY training method that cannot stand up and survive being questioned, is not a good method.  Can’t Clicker-Training find a voice that will reasonably discuss the positive and negative aspects of the  practice?  Such discussion is rarely, if ever accepted by it’s practioners.  Many aspects of it are defensible, and even practical.  But it’s not successfully engaged in by those who have accepted it without question.  The only way to defend O.C/Clicker-training is to shut down those voices that WOULD question it.

This will not end the controversy  in dog training.  Both sides have dug in, and some have barricaded themselves in with books about the “Science” of dog behavior, or the “Spiritual” side of dog training.  My wish for the future of our canines, is this:  Be Open-minded to all types of training.  Train Yourself to the methods you choose when working and communicating with your dog.  If the trainer doesn’t understand his method, then the dog is certainly not going to understand it.

That’s probably the biggest reason for the “Xenophobic” attitude of some Clicker – Trainers.  I don’t believe that they truly understand the mind of a dog.  They refuse to see the dog as a thinking creature.  They don’t attempt to understand the native and natural “language” of a dog.  Therefore the methodology is INCOMPLETE,        *NOT *         WRONG!!!   Just, unfinished to this point.  I encourage clicker trainers to keep working on your research and make it everything it can be.  The research isn’t finished.  IN ANY METHOD.

There…I’ve finally put into words why I feel about Operant Conditioning/Clicker training the way I do.  It’s simply “Incomplete”.  I’ve not expressed that before out of respect for people that follow the method religiously. People I generally respect.  The part they miss is to Keep-Going, BEYOND what Operant conditioning can do!!! 

THAT is the only way that we can arrive at something better.  Allowing our experience to wed together things that seem disparate.  Calling each other names, mocking terminology and just generally being ornery will do nothing for the dogs.  Shutting down the voices of those who question or express something beyond dogma (LOL!) is not the answer.  That’s what the group in question did.   Refusing to allow, accept, or build understanding between the camps will surely cause good people to abandon ANY training because they are afraid to choose either.

Therefore, It will be my goal to continue to listen to every well-reasoned method.  I will question, and Call-into question, all of it.  I May get kicked out of a group or two, but I know I’ll be doing whats best for MY dogs.

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.