Thursday, June 25, 2009

Re: Dr Sophia yin on dog training

(note: the photo is Winnie before we took her home when she was super naughty and fluffy!) Not to put a point on disliking Cesar Millan, but one of our neighbors just walked by with her poor pit-bull mix doing full "dominance" training - that had just devolved into obvious physical abuse. I heard the dog crying and yelping about every 5 seconds from outside. It sounded like a broken car, but I looked out to see her taking about 5 steps with the dog on a super short leash, and when he would walk a bit forward (not healing I guess) she would yank on the leash as hard as she could which would often pull the dog up on two legs, yell at it "NO," and sometimes grab the dogs neck in a Cesar style "bite", causing the dog to scream. She had treat bag on her hip, but that was ignored. This continued the whole block, until they got to the grass and he went to the bathroom. The poor dog obviously had no idea what was wrong, what he was supposed to do, was extremely agitated and terrified.

Now Cesar Millan does not endorse that kind of training, he would say, and you can't account for everyone. But when you start off from the point where your main source of coercion is physical control of the animal, these are the kind of results you see in the public. I could tell that this woman was frustrated, and embarrassed by her pet because he was not being "perfect," and barks at other dogs. As a dog owner, I know that it can feel like a reflection on yourself when your dog does something embarrassing. So when Cesar says that these actions are an attempt to control/dominate you, that makes them both embarrassing and insulting, and anger is the immediate reaction. The absolute easiest thing to do is to then, is yank on the leash because you do get to control the animal in an immediate and visceral sense. And often you get your way quick, which feels good when you are angry, and you show other people you are taking action as well. And when people watch Cesar's TV shows and get the idea that not only is it the easiest thing do do, it is the right thing too! I believe this leads directly to what I saw outside. An angry woman, applying more and more physical pressure to an increasingly confused and frightened animal. Rather than teaching her pet to be good, she has the perfect training regime to make an animal fearful of her, other people, other dogs, kids, outside, or whatever. And when it is a dog a powerful as hers that is extremely dangerous.

But even for situations that are not nearly extreme as the woman outside, it is just not fun to be angry at your dog. Sometimes Winnie will refuse to go onto a patch of grass because it is wet, and she doesn't like the feeling. So she plants her feet and tries to pop out of her collar - which has worked once or twice! Sometimes I am in a hurry and perhaps in a bad mood, so I just simply drag her on because I can. She looks miserable, and I get more annoyed, and we both end up unhappy. Or when I am doing it the right way, I pretend like there is something really good on the grass, like bunnies or a stick. Now her attention is on that, and not the icky grass, and she goes running onto the grass and we play. She has fun, I have fun, and we both end up happy. The physical results are the same (she is on the grass) but with just physical control she is more unlikely to listen to me in the future, while when it is all a big game she wants to because it is fun.

By limiting dog behavior to basically "dominant" and "not-dominant" Cesar limits the reactions from dog owners to their dogs drastically. Far far more often than not, they are being motivated by something else that is perfectly dog-like and reasonable, just at the wrong time and place. But understanding those motivations can be difficult, and using rewards and games takes more time and effort than punishment and physical control. So in that sense, Cesar is a perfect product of what we all want to hear. Training your dog is easy, you just have to be in control. You have the leash after all.


Life in vet school said...

How do you pretend there's a bunny or a stick on the grass? Does Winnie know the words for those things and you ask her excitedly, "See the stick?!?" and she goes galloping in? Or do you stare fixedly at a spot until she wonders what's going on and goes to investigate? Or what? I'm curious about how this goes. :)

Chris Schommer said...

It does help that Winnie knows lots of words for the things she likes. Bunnies, mail, dinner, stick, park, car etc. She goes wild!

Anonymous said...

You might get a martingale style collar for her so she cannot slip away. She is just adorable!