So, if you’ve followed any of the Cesar Milan debate, then you’ll realize that he is under investigation for animal cruelty (a felony) following his pig killer episode. And this is excellent. People are finally paying attention to how horrible and how detrimental his methods can be. I won’t go into too much detail (mainly because the Internet is already beating this like a dead horse), other than link you to this fabulous article that I enjoyed on the topic (and trust me, I read several).
I, too, did write my own view on Cesar last week that was pretty well received by people who understand his methods are dangerous, and that his methodology is outdated. But now, let me go one step further and share with you exactly how this is impacting me and all of the other positive reinforcement trainers out there.
A few months ago, I learned the hard, in-your-face way that you can’t save them all.
A family signed up their teeny tiny (less than 10lb) 14 week-old puppy for private puppy lessons with me. I was thinking “Woohoo, puppy private lessons are easy and fun!” Their first lesson was pretty easy, and we just went through the basics of sit, down, stay, and recall. The second lesson one of the first questions I got was, “But how do we make him do it without treats? We don’t want to use so many treats.” This has become easily my biggest pet peeve. (And I will write a whole other post on why you need to use treats and to *gasp* be liberal with your treats and how that pays off in the long run.) I said in my standard, pretty smartass reply, “Do you go to work for free?” (Although I think I might steal my new reply from the incredimal Nando Brown – see what I did there? – who says something along the lines of “If it’s good enough and works for bears and cheetahs and lions and whales, then I’m pretty sure it’s good for dogs” for clickers and treats). So, they came for the third lesson. At this point, this puppy is pretty quick and smart and has all the basic behaviors down. But, they mention that they don’t want to risk the puppy running down the driveway chasing after a delivery truck, which could, of course, potentially kill him. (Because it had already happened, and the delivery truck driver had to bring him back a few times.) My jaw dropped to the ground. I reiterated that he is only 16 weeks old at this time, and that management needs to be their best friend right now but that eventually we can work more on recall and boundary training and going to a safe spot when he hears any visitors.
Unfortunately, they called the other trainer I work with and questioned the use of treats and my methods. Of course, the other trainer supported and even repeated everything I had already said. She tried every compromise she could to keep them, even offered to instruct their private lessons herself. But, they declined. They said, “We just don’t think this is the kind of training we’re looking for.” (They did mention they always had well-trained hunting Labs in the past.)
It kills me to think of a shock collar on that tiny less than 10lb puppy who was just an itty bitty baby. I don’t know for a fact that’s what they chose instead, but that’s what I suspect. I also suspect that’s how they trained their previous “amazing” hunting Labs (because, unfortunately, that’s the norm with hunting dogs).
But I learned that day that you can’t save them all. I tried my best to explain my reasoning and methodology and the science behind it. I even discussed why I don’t use aversives and mentioned some studies that show the fallout of shock collars. The other trainer did the same.
But you just can’t save them all.
Then, on top of it to boot, recently, someone in the veterinary/animal care field told me that she sent away her dog to a 5 week long board and train program to make him stop cowering and shaking and being timid and fearful at shows in front of Judges. She wants this dog to be a show dog, come high or hell water, but he is quite honestly afraid of life. So, instead of taking the 10+ weeks it would take her to desensitize, counter condition, and work on socialization, she thought it was better to pay to get it done in one go round at the 5 week long camp. Again, I don’t know for a fact that they’re using shock collars, but I highly suspect it. And, this is a person who I’ve discussed training with fairly in depth and have shared some of my setbacks and successes of Buster.
I wish there was something I can do to keep a shock collar off a 10lb puppy. I wish there was something I could do to prevent flooding an unstable, scared dog and using a shock to “make the dog get over it,” when this dog is scared of leaves falling (…that is not an exaggeration).
So, in par with my previous posts, I wish Cesar wasn’t popular and wasn’t the main dog training show on TV, but I’m glad he finally made such a fool of himself that the whole world finally recognized the dangerousness. I wish positive reinforcement training was the norm.
I don’t know how to change people’s mind. I don’t know how to smack sense into them that they should believe scientific studies that prove dominance and pack theory is debunked. I don’t know how to make them think that working for a treat isn’t such a bad thing, and that heck, giving your puppy tons of treats all the time isn’t a bad thing. I don’t know how to make the lightbulb go on for people to realize it’s the equivalent of them not going to work for free. I don’t know how to get people to think that shocking a scared animal will likely make it more aggressive; it makes so much sense in my brain, and I just don’t get why it doesn’t in theirs.
So here’s to continuing the hope that one day people will learn. One day we will do better for our poor dogs that we force to live with us and tolerate us and expect to be perfect angels even when we screw up. Until then, I guess I’ll just keep writing and trying to figure out a way to change people’s minds.