The Missing Element in Training

Since my post about Cesar Milan a while ago, and the comments I received on it, I wanted to post again. Not about Cesar… really. But about one of the comments (maybe more than one of them).

Someone said that Cesar is more a dog psychologist than a dog trainer. I have said, for as long as I have been around dogs… okay for as long as I’ve been around dogs as an adult.. since my early 20s, that whenever I am with a dog, I am training that dog. And from what I understood, it seems a number of people believe that dog training and dog psychology are mutually exclusive.

I beg to disagree. I think that they are intertwined. So much so that you cannot have one without the other when you are dealing with dogs.

Sure you can teach a dog to sit, down, stay, heel… you can teach a dog obedience, agility, flyball, herding, tracking… and any of the other dog sports out there. And this is all training. However, if you want to really have a good working relationship with your dog, and you want a dog that performs well and likes to work, you have to understand that dog’s behavior. The dog’s psychology.

On the other hand, you can understand a dog’s behavior up the wazoo, but in order to get a well mannered dog, either a house companion or a working dog, you have to incorporate training into the interaction you have with the dog.

I have done agility for over four years now. I am just barely starting to do serious obedience training. If you have followed my training with Chase, my border collie, you’ll know all about the trials and tribulations I’ve had with him. He knows all the agility contacts. He knows his job. He knows how to jump and how to weave and how to run through a tunnel (he especially knows how to ignore me completely and head for the tunnel all the way on the other end of the course). But a very huge piece of his ‘training’ was missing. And that was the behavioral part. Knowing why he does what he does… his drive, his motivation. Knowing that he lacked drive shaping and focus, and that he has a high sex drive, these things are critical when training him.

It seems to me that many, many people in competition events nowadays don’t understand the behavioral aspect of training. Understanding your dog, your individual companion and partner, is critical to the training experience. Having a dog that can think, and listen to you, and focus on his job.. these things are so important that I cannot express it in words. Without the behavior piece with Chase, without understanding his psychology, we never would have restarted our forward progress in dog training. Even in socialization, as he tends to not be good with some other dogs.

So really, to say that Cesar is a dog psychologist and not a dog trainer is something I disagree with. I believe he is both. I still don’t like his methods, though.

I look at dogs completely differently than I did only a year ago. Instead of just looking at their training I look at what their person has done, or hasn’t done, to shape their behavior, too. It’s fascinating. I love it. I want to spend more time doing it. Maybe after I retire I will be able to.

I want my dogs to have every opportunity to succeed. And, of course, I want to succeed, too. And now I have many more tools with which I can do this. And it’s fun!

My Take on Cesar Millan

Okay I finally had to do it. All the controversy about Cesar Millan and I had never seen his show. I don’t have the National Geographic Channel so I rented some of his shows on Netflix to see what I thought. I only got one DVD, which is fine, and I’ve watched about 3 of the episodes so far.

Can I form a full opinion on watching only 3 episodes? Well, maybe not, but already I think I have a good general idea.

What I liked

He is a very strong personality and he is a natural leader with the dogs. Dog respect him immediately and he probably gives off very strong energy so he can take charge with the dogs. This is great for him and it really works well with dogs. I agree that all dogs need to have a firm, benevolent leader to lead the pack.

What I didn’t like

I don’t think that what he shows on TV is really a good thing for the average general public dog guardian. Many, many people don’t have that strong of a personality as he does. Personally, and I’m not bragging I’m just being honest, I have a good strong personality with dogs. I am a good leader and dogs respect me.

Would I take a dog for a walk that has a history of biting his person? Um, no. Not without a muzzle. Would I try to take a bone, or anything, away from a Vizsla who is growling and lunging to resource guard? Again no, not without a muzzle. And I do not think any regular dog guardian should be doing anything like that. It is most likely they will get bitten. Heck, Cesar got bitten on the show.

And there was the lady with the lab/pit mix who, when she took the dog on a walk, he would bark and lunge and go into a frenzy when another dog came by. And he bit her multiple times and punctured her and drew blood. This dog, for Cesar, was okay.. but still nervous. And even after Cesar left she could not walk the dog, because she was afraid of her own dog.

What Cesar Millan doesn’t do is address the deep down issues the dog has. He doesn’t get into the dog’s personality or behavior. He doesn’t try to work through these issues with loving, firm support. I see and understand how some critics have said he sets dog training back 100 years. Sure you can thrust a dog onto a shiny floor and make them walk on it until they just do it. But why not gain that dogs trust at the same time by approaching the floor, and clicking and treating the dog when he gets nearer the floor? Why not boost this dog’s confidence and teach this dog, a Great Dane, to trust the people’s guidance and make good decisions? That poor Dane was terrified, you could see the stress drool coming out of his mouth. I would so have preferred that situation to have included slow progress with a clicker and food rewards. Even after the dog went onto the floor by himself, he still looked nervous.

I don’t want a nervous dog. I want a happy dog that has confidence in my leadership and works for me because we are a good team, and we are figuring each other out and we have a good connection and we are having fun!

I didn’t see that at all in the episodes I watched.

The sad thing is, of course, that these people let these dogs get to this point in the first place. The Viszla (who was bred in Utah no less) went to live with her family at 8 weeks old. Why on earth is a puppy learning to be fearful, learning to be a resource guarder? Did they not read any puppy books? Did they not follow the three most important rules of puppies… socialize, socialize, socialzie? I guess not. That entire situation was avoidable. They created the Vizsla’s fears, and reinforced them along the way. It’s a very sad situation to see.

The rescue dogs, of course, are always a challenge because of the baggage they bring with them. But still, for the lab/pit mix the lady couldn’t walk without him flipping out, I would recommend her to read Fiesty Fido, teach the dog the look, and some calming behaviors, perhaps TTouch, and work that way instead of forcing the dog into situations where he is uncomfortable, which may aggravate the whole issue.

Anyway… that’s my soapbox rant for the day!

A Positive Training TV Show

There’s a lot of news and hype about Cesar Millan and his dog training methods. Some people love him. Some people hate him. I have never watched him because I don’t have the channel he is on… isn’t it the National Geographic Channel or something? I don’t even know for sure. But I hang out in positive dog training circles with people who support and use clicker training and positive methods, and my friends in these circles do not like him, and so I tend to sway toward the side that I don’t like him, either. I trust the opinions of my friends.

I recently got Animal Planet on my Dish Network. And I’ve been watching Victoria Stilwell on her show It’s me or the dog. And I haven’t heard much about her from my friends, but so far I really like her. I went to her website, too, and read her bio, and she does train with positive methods and she has helped out the ASPA and she is a member of the APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers). These are good signs.

The show is short, only 30 minutes, and I’m sure there are a ton of things going on, a ton of time being spent, that we can’t see in 30 minutes. But I really enjoy her innovative and creative methods of training. She doesn’t use crates, which I think is odd because I use them a lot, but she really has some great ideas about how to be a leader and have dogs behave.

So I recommend her show. Have you watched it? What do you think? Do you like Cesar or not? Just curious.