Dog Training in Los Angeles and Behavior Modification: Case Study
A day in the life of a dog trainer and how I know positive reinforcement dog training is the most effective and humane way of training and behavior modification. (Names have been changed for the privacy of my client)
I was finishing a consultation at a client’s home when I ran into a very nice lady and her Pekingese dog, Bella, out for a walk. I commented on how gorgeous her pup was if I may pet her. The lady informed me not to come near her because dog was very aggressive and would bite! I looked at her, then the dog, and back to her thinking, huh! Are you kidding me? As one of less than 200 Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) worldwide, and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) for over 25 years, I have been faced with this situation many times before: this was a classic fearful dog that was sadly misunderstood by whatever “professional” who tried to help in the past. After some time, I assured the lady that Bella was not aggressive and I wanted to prove that to her. With much reluctance, she finally agreed to set up an appointment with me at Fun Paw Care. I learned the lady adopted Bella to save her life because she was set to be killed at the recommendation of her veterinarian and previous traditional dog “trainers” who deemed her too aggressive and dangerous. I was in shock, disbelief, and disgusted but I knew I could help save a life and a relationship!
As are many of my clients who have received misinformation, Bella’s owner tentatively scheduled my help as yet another dog training behavior specialist. I too would be hesitant if I had hired one, two or even more dog “trainers” in the past with little success. After spending thousands of dollars and having several uneducated traditional “trainers” practicing uneducated, dominance theory, force and intimidation, both animals (human and nonhuman) were wary of anyone’s ability to help. It is unfathomable to me that a beautiful, friendly dog was labeled as aggressive, helpless, and thereby given a death sentence, yet this happens every day.
In addition to my intake forms, during my initial consultation, I gathered information about Bella, her experiences and “aggressive” behavior. The parent proceeded to describe the most ridiculous and disturbing dog training experience. After one traditional “trainer” came over, failed and deemed the dog aggressive and beyond help, a team of two traditional dog “trainers” (yes two!), who were recommended by her ignorant veterinarian, came over-equipped for battle, toting tennis rackets, choke chains, a shock collar, long pants, long sleeve thick shirts, and gloves. Need I mention this battle was with a scared, ten-pound fluff ball?
Without ever vetting the client, analyzing pre-client questioners, nor doing any due diligence or behavioral analysis whatsoever, they rushed in, told the owner not to speak as they tried to “rehabilitate her” as they saw on the reality television show the “Dog Whisperer”. They were trying to submit this poor little scared little dog that could barely walk (due to some health issues). They backed Bella into a corner brandishing their tennis rackets, threw a choke chain on her (a brachycephalic breed who could barely breathe on her own) scaring the #@$ out of her and dragging her around trying to make her submit to them by holding her down (alpha role). They then proceeded to advocate dominance theory, telling the owner that she must make her submit, in order to gain respect, leadership, and dignity. They went on to tell her that she must be the pack leader and always walk in front of Bella, in and out of each doorway, not let her get in front when walking on the leash, ever, and to eat first and not let her achieve dominance by getting on the couch and the bed. They also instructed the pet parent to pop the leash as they euphemistically called a “correction” or to poke two fingers into the soft part of her neck or rib cage to remind her who is boss or to get her attention. This type of gestapo, hogwash abuse, was how people trained many decades ago before they had a clue about canine cognition, ethology and the most effective and humane treatment of animals. Training in this way is akin to getting a lobotomy for a common headache.
I was so sick to my stomach I literally wanted to throw up when I heard this story. It is the height of negligence, irresponsibility and shame to do more harm than good especially when there is another’s life on the line.
The argument of traditional vs. positive reinforcement dog training is moot, does it really matter which method works better? Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment and placate Machiavellian, Cesar Millan dog training intransigent, ignoramuses and just pretend that traditional dog “training” worked the same or even better than positive reinforcement dog training. Of course, that is patently false and has been repudiated by decades of scientific and behavioral research but for argument sake let’s entertain this notion. The real question becomes at what expense are you willing to achieve “results” from your dog? What is the fallout? The expense is stress, poor health, lack of trust and a diminished relationship between you and your dog. Whether you agree or not with the views stated herein, the two things that you should take away from this article are: Expediency should never trump the humane treatment and welfare of your dog and it is never OK to abuse an individual in the name of training!
Bella was probably the easiest case I have ever worked on. In one session, yes one session, any competent CDBC, and CPDT, with a background in canine ethology, psychology, cognitive ethology, dog training, evolution, physiology, neurobiology, sociology, learning theory, and animal husbandry would have been able to save this poor family thousands of dollars and a friendly dog’s life!! With some very simple understanding of desensitization and counterconditioning (D/CC) combined with non-confrontational interactions, a handful of juicy treats and lots of positive reinforcement this dog would have been fine years ago. She was as aggressive as a ladybug.
Traditional dog “training” is a euphemism for aversion, punitive, coercive, force-based or a yank and crank style. It is also practiced by “trainers” that do not believe in education or science as there are a plethora of scientific studies to go along with why positive reinforcement is more effective and builds a stronger bond with your pet. Please note “Modern based training” sounds very new age like or not real, it should preferably be referred to as the science of dog training or science-based dog training. Otherwise known as educated dog training, practicing and studying ethology, psychology, cognitive ethology, dog training, evolution, physiology, neurobiology, sociology, learning theory, and animal husbandry. The statement “Celebrity trainer Cesar the Dog Whisperer” should read, reality television show host. He does little by the way of dog “training”. Unless you consider flooding, learned helplessness, alpha rolls, dominance theory, forcing or scaring the daylights out of dogs, “training”? Forceful, traditional, punitive trainers were very cutting edge in the 1940s. Modern based trainer through the advent of education and scientific studies, understand the most effective and efficient ways of modifying behavior and training a dog while increasing the bond and love between a guardian and pet. Punitive trainers do not accomplish this, are very confrontational, stressful and their practices are inefficient, inhumane and not founded by science. It would be helpful if CPDT’s and CDBC’s took more of a concrete, stance and really voiced their opinions more bluntly to try and rid the industry of traditional style “trainers” for the benefit of pets and their guardians. It is very sad that here in Miami many of the veterinarians are not only clueless as to positive reinforcement and the benefits but are actively advertising and displaying aversive, force-based trainers in their practices. We try to educate them and the public daily.
I am very grateful that I gained the trust of a complete stranger on the street and was allowed into their lives to help. In fact, as I write this post, fluff ball Bella is snoring away in my lap, blissfully dreaming and happy to be alive (her parents are out of town). Unfortunately, I am not always this lucky and granted the opportunity to help, and it pains me to think of the countless dogs and families that are traumatized by ignorance and traditional dog “trainers”.
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