Beware! The Misguided, The New-Agers, The Scammers!
I’ve been meaning to do a blog post about this subject for a while now. And I’m finally getting to it. In the dog training world, there’s a lot of myths and scams. In this article I want to address some of the most common, and share some of my personal experiences with the misguided, the new-agers, and the scammers, who are spreading misinformation and flat out lies, either knowingly for money and fame, or unknowingly out of shear ignorance and laziness.
The first thing we need to establish is that there is NO SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH BEING DONE ON SPECIFIC DOG TRAINING TECHNIQUES, PERIOD! Those who claim to use science based training, and I am one of them, simply mean that we are using training methods BASED ON established, empirical science about dog behavior, language, and biology. But no one can claim a specific training technique has been scientifically evaluated. Maybe one day we’ll have that research, I very much hope so, but not today folks, sorry.
That said, we do know that punishment, negative corrections, and the like only work because they instill fear and stress in the dog (and humans and other animals), which create other issues either immediately or down the road. Positive reinforcement and rewards teach a dog to be happy to do something, and that has been proven in all animals, including humans and dogs, to instill new behaviors and learning that is much more solidly engrained.
E-collars, prong collars, martingale collars, all horrible, old fashioned, outdated, and you get better results learning to communicate with the dog. Communication is the key. Plus, all of those can very, very EASILY HARM A DOG if not used very, very carefully. Trust me, I used to use them, I know first hand. I’ve seen much more seasoned trainers than I hurt dogs unintentionally with them, too. There are better, more efficient ways so train a dog. In this day and age these devises are, IMHO, only used by the lazy, the ignorant, or those who don’t care about the dog’s safety and wellbeing.
Now on to actual training programs for sale online. Many of them are legit, sound, and use empirically established good training techniques. But be aware that there are folks who take what are modern, common training techniques, and put some bullshit spin on them, and call them their own. Plus the programs that are based on misleading and incorrect interpretation of unrelated scientific studies, and/or just plain made-up new-age BS. I have personal experience with some, and I’ll share three of those here. I’m not using actual names, but I am being honest about my own first hand experiences of these.
“Om-Shanti-Om Technique” (not their real name) folks use an age old, unremarkable psychology technique of just sitting quietly with a troubled subject, until they get used to having you around, and end up trusting you. I learned this in Psych 101 in college. They combine it with mindfulness meditation stuff (which I also teach) and make it out to be magical and uniquely their own. I’ve know animal handlers who’ve used this technique long before these guys ever registered a trademark. But they charge a TON of money, and stretch the training out for a couple of months, in order to teach you what I am willing to show you for free in 10 minutes.
“We-Are-Better-Than-You Trainers” (not their real name) offer legit training at first, which is actually wrapped up in three very affordable books I highly recommend. But after that the bulk of the program is a rip off. There are several folks around the globe who have spent enough time observing dogs to see they have a non-verbal language, and have deciphered much of that language. But these guys claim to be the only ones to have actually done this, or that they did it first (Dick Russell locally here in Baton Rouge, LA did it before them, but wasn’t the first or only, either). The certification courses they offer, based on my own personal experiences with them, are IMHO way over prices, short on content, you get no reference materials or PDFs like in all other legit programs, and the feedback on your homework assignments comes from a dozen student teachers who contradict each other often.
But my biggest issue with “We-Are-Better-Than-You Trainers” and others like them is that they claim trained and experienced licensed veterinarian doctors don’t know what they’re doing. In my long life I’ve learned that the minute someone claims a medical professional does’t know what they’re talking about, that’s a HUGE RED FLAG! If someone claims to know more than your dog’s vet, RUN AWAY, RUN AWAY!
Another program claimed things like never teach a dog to do “xyz” because it causes myopathy problems, to which I again call BS, after consulting three vets and several other trainers. The program’s evidence for this was a theory with no logical or medical foundation. But it was a great sales pitch! Problem is, that’s all it was, all bark, no real bit.
I took part in another program that used the study of domestic dogs living feral as an example of a domestic dog’s “natural environment.” I call bullshit! Domestic dogs are bred to be reliant on humans, to start with, not survive on their own. Not to mention that those feral dogs live very short lives, have no medical care, horrible diets, and are not what a domestic dog should be at all!
A legit dog training program for dog trainers should be recognized by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers nor the Canadian Association of Professional Dog Trainers. So if you’re going to be a trainer in the USA or Canada, go with a course that is recognized by these professional organizations.
“Circus Dogs” (not their real name) offer dog training techniques that require you to be young, thin, athletic, otherwise you won’t be able to physically do what they’re selling. And all they’re doing is making these highly athletic and very emotionally charged games for established training techniques that work just fine without the crazy circus theatrics. I’m sorry, I want a calm dog. I don’t want to have to do jumping jacks for my dog to recall or sit. And nothing they do is new or different. They just amp it all up with high energy calisthenics. I’ve read their book, watched several of their videos, and I’ve asked them questions to which I got very empty and disappointing answers. Be wary of fancy theatrics or anyone claiming their technique is different and better than anyone else’s.
Off-leash distance trainers, OMG, let me get into this for a moment. For the most part (I’ve found a few who use humane techniques) they use e-collars, which is ridiculous, outdated, and not good for the dogs in any way, shape, or form. I have taught several dogs off-leash distance obedience, using a 100’ and a 50’ leash just fine. Nor did my training require the need for my client’s dog living with me for 2 weeks. Way cheaper, faster, more humane. E-collars, prong collars, and martingales should be illegal, period. Plus, I’ve yet to meet an off-leash distance obedience trainer using e-collars that was certified for Pet First-Aid & CPR (which I am certified to teach). WTF? Seriously? All pet professionals should be certified, for sure! Especially using dangerous equipment with pets!
Good trainers will support what your veterinarian doctor tells you. Good trainers do not claim to have the only keys to the universe that exist. Good trainers get along with other trainers. Good trainers have gone through an properly recognized dog trainer program (I’ve been through ABC and now going through CATCH). Good trainers don’t use negative, punishing, frustrating techniques. Good trainers are always studying and keeping up with the latest information. So find a good trainer, don’t get sucked into the online razzle-dazzle, fireworks, mystic halo over the guru programs that are just a load of crock.
The bottom line is: Legitimate, effective dog training is not difficult, but requires some time and effort. It uses food at first and weans off of it. It uses high praise, not corrections. And it teaches you a dog’s body and vocal language. Our dogs are family, they live in the house with us, they are emotional and intelligent beings who rely on us to care for them and protect them. OUR DOGS ARE FAMILY! Treat them as such, and you’ll be fine.