Dog Training Nonsense Promoted by Ignorant Media

I teach parents how to stop dog barking regularly. So when a colleague sent me an article about how to stop my dog from barking and why dogs bark written by Stanley Coren of Psychology Today, I was shocked at the author’s awful, antiquated dog training advice. The article covered a great topic that many people face, yet failed to deliver any updated scientific advice and actually spewed some pretty outdated, dullard information instead.  This is not the first time Coren has shown a superficial, ignorance of a topic and has been way off-the-mark as he was with his recently poorly researched and myopic article about “Pit Bulls”.

Professional Dog Training and Behavior Advice

A core tenant in medicine is to diagnose, recommend, and refer when a case or subject is outside of my expertise. I do not give medical advice simply because that is not what I am formally trained nor specialized in. Others should heed that advice and not opine definitively about areas outside of their expertise.

Certified Dog Behavior Consultants (CDBC) and Certified Professional Dog Trainers (CPDT’s) teach pet parents how to stop their dogs from excessive barking. I inform clients the correct and incorrect way about going about stopping dogs from barking through desensitization and counterconditioning (D/CC) in conjunction with basic obedience training and an in-depth understanding of the context-specific circumstances.

Unfortunately, Coren’s methods are not only incorrect and severely outdated, but they also contrast and are paradoxical to his previous arguments and are just plain silly. It may help to read Coren’s nonsensical article posted at the bottom of this post before moving along.1

Coren instructs people to watch wild canines to learn how to handle “inappropriate” domesticated dog behavior, such as barking.  Coren suggests that “Humans can mimic this behavior to stop barking.” Deriving how a human should act with their pets by how wolves act with their pups is just plain naïve and unfounded.

For the same reason that the American Veterinarian Society of Animal Behaviorists (AVSAB) and other Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB) do not recommend mimicking (captive or otherwise) wolves or wild canids in a show of dominance (dominance theory,) stair downs, alpha roles, eating first, or sleeping in an elevated position is the same reason mimicking a wild canine mothers’ interactions with her puppy to quell barking is equally ridiculous.

Further, his promulgation of the term “pack leader,” “leader of the pack,” “master” and comparison to wild canines (and wolves) is utterly ridiculous as pointed out by Marc Bekoff Ph.D., Dr. Karen Overall, Mark Derr, David Mech Ph.D. and Alexandra Horowitz Ph.D. in her book “Inside of a Dog” on page 57- 63. Dog’s are no longer thought of or referred to by scientists as “Alpha”, and it is equally outdated to refer to pet parents as “masters” or “leaders of the pack.” Dogs are not pack animals and the correct way behaviorists and trainers who understand the family dynamic of these rich social beings to define and label a dog “owner” is as a pet parent or guardian.

Barking is often a complex contextual behavior done for some of the following reasons:

  • To ease nerves
  • Out of fear
  • Territorial
  • Learned/reinforced behaviors
  • Genetics
  • Dog aggression
  • Change in environment
  • Attention seeking
  • A displacement behavior
  • Simply because it is fun or self-reinforcing

Coren’s outdated and dumbed-down crude explanations of the relationship between a domesticated family pet dog and drawing behavior parallels to wild canines and wolves have been spoken about ad nauseam and have proven more harm than help concerning how people should relate to domesticated canids. Words such as “pack leader” and “master” show a cursory, overly simplistic understanding of the dynamic intricacies in relationships between canine and human, behavior, and obedience training.

Dogs are not carnivores, pack animals, or wolves. Being the dog’s “master” and “the leader of the pack” is as outdated as his dog training and behavior modification advice. It sounds as if Coren has been taught by uneducated Television Reality show hosts. Drawing behavior parallels and concocting advice on how to interact with your domesticated pet dog from captive or wild canids or wolves is incorrect and ill-advised.  Research shows that behavior comparisons are moot, overly anthropomorphic, inappropriate, and inaccurate.

There are many contradictions strewn throughout his article, but here is one I find particularly humorous and paradoxical: on the one hand he mentions, saying “no” or “stop” to a dog barking is a “bad move,” yet saying “quiet” while forcefully holding the dog’s snout down and pulling up on the collar (effectively choking the dog “softly”) is correct and the solution to a dog’s public barking. This inconsistency explicitly implies the alpha, dominance theory in full force. But they are BOTH punishments.

The sad advice continues as he states when you say a “loud no” it sounds like a dog bark to your dog.  What?! And goes on to advocate “commanding a dog dozens of times at a lower tone” (that must not sound like a dog bark to Coren) and promoting “a softer forcing of the dog’s mouth shut” is the correct way to handle a dog behavior problem. Essentially arguing in degrees but decrying absolutes. According to Coren a punisher/aversive degree louder or harder is just horribly wrong but quieter and softer is just right and how to do it. All are equally absurd, ineffective, and unnecessary.

Dogs Are Individuals

Each dog is an individual, and therefore each case is contextual and situational. It is impossible to give across-the-board behavioral advice about any dog behavior, yet teaching a dog what you want from them through obedience training in conjunction with understanding WHY your dog is barking and moving further away from the antecedent that may be arousing your pup is a good start.

A standard counterconditioning and desensitization strategy in conjunction with an understanding of ethology and obedience training would help stop a dog from barking and more importantly stop a dog from wanting to bark while teaching them an alternative behavior such as, “Quiet”. Other methods to help prevent your dog from barking are to ask your dog for an incompatible behavior, teach your dog the “quiet” cue, and use positive reinforcement and negative punishment (ignoring the barking.)

Find yourself an educated force-free behaviorist who actually works daily with modifying dog behaviors. And stay away from laymen with Ph.D.’s (doctors of philosophy, principles, theory, and concepts, not practicality or reality) that sit in ivory towers without much practical or in this case scientific research to back up their claims.