Monday, December 8, 2008

A Kinder, Gentler World...

I have long been an advocate of positive training. Like so many people, I'm what is known as a "cross-over" trainer. We learned the old aversive methods and I disliked them intensely even then. I loathed the sight of a choke collar. And with good cause. The name itself explains it. And I have to wonder: what part of choke don't people understand? Oh, sure, aversive trainers use words like "pop," as if it were an insignificant movement by the human. It is not insignificant. They call it a "training collar." Another name doesn't change it. And alpha rolls are not a means of communication between dogs and owners; they are a good way to get bitten. It's rather like sitting up and begging to be bitten. Humans are not dogs and vice versa. Aversives might work in the short term but aggression begets aggression and sooner or later, those methods will backfire. They will surely damage the human-animal bond. What good is a relationship that's built on fear?

Old-fashioned trainers talk about "dominance." Are they so insecure that they feel they have to be "dominant" over an animal? If you watch that sort of "training" on videotape or television, turn off the sound and watch the dog. What do you see? The answer is fear. And fear is not a good foundation for a relationship with a living, breathing, sentient being. Practicing 30 year old training methodologies, or going to a trainer who does, is pretty much like taking your dog to a veterinarian who practices 30 year old medical methodologies. Why would you want to do that?

I'm very pleased to say that I'm not alone in believing that operant conditioning (clicker training), or lure and reward based methods, are far better and create a strong bond. There are many trainers, behaviorists, and behavior consultants who also strongly believe this, and seeing is believing. Dogs with positive training are competing in all canine sports and doing well at the highest levels. Even more importantly: they're living in homes as beloved family members with a very tightly shared bond and it certainly wasn't fear that led them there.

It is important to note that the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) recently released a position statement titled, "The Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals." ( The paper can be downloaded in .pdf form from their website. I strongly urge you to read this position statement and point others in its direction as well.

"I sing for the animals..,." Teton Sioux. They did. We should, too. We must speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. When we bring them into our homes, when we see them with their owners, we must give them voice. We must not allow the misguided "training" that is tantamount to abuse.

There are those who insist the old methods are the only way. How sad that they will not acknowledge that it isn't true, will not even try another way, that they are so stuck in the past that they cannot see the present, let alone the future. Positive training is so simple that even a child can do it. It opens up a line of communication between the four-legged companion and his or her human family and helps create a loving, lasting bond. Isn't that what we want?

There are many places where you can find positive training as well as behavior consultants practicing positive training methodologies. A good place to start learning about positive training is Karen Pryor's website ( where you will find resources including a listing of trainers who use operant conditioning.

If you have problems, you can find Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorists who can help you. The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists ( has an online presence. Your veterinarian can refer you to a Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist if there's one in your area. There are Applied Animal Behaviorists ( and there are Certified Animal Behavior Consultants certified by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (

There is nothing better than building a bond of trust. And, yes, you can solve behavior problems using positive methods. I filled a book ("Rover, Get Off Her Leg!") with positive ways to solve problems. Emma Parsons wrote a wonderful book, "Click to Calm," on solving dog aggression problems with positive methods. Those are only two of many books and DVDs available to help people and their dogs.

Do yourself, and your dog, a favor and, as the classic song title proclaimed, "Accentuate the Positive."


snickdog said...

Thanks so much for posting this, Darlene -- so many folks read your blog, this is such a big help in getting the word out about this very important Position Statement.

I am constantly surprised by how many people (clients and others I see with their dogs on the street) still buy in to this 'fairy tale' (using the term 'myth' doesn't seem to help, so I think I'm going to call it a 'fairy tale' from now on VBG). A good part of it is due to certain TV shows that 'glorify' it (for lack of a better word).

As homework, I give some of my clients a couple of 'cheat sheets' on dog body language, and tell them to watch the show -- NO sound -- and let me know what the dog is telling the star and owners. They have to note the situation, what the star is doing, and how the dog is reacting. I have found this to be a very important exercise,as research shows that when we HEAR someone talking about what we are SEEING, it changes our perception of what's really happening. Here's a couple of links to share with your clients and readers, outlining canine body language:

Thanks again, Darlene!!

Anonymous said...

I've been in the field a long time and guess you could call me a cross over trainer--although my professional training involved working with wild animals--and you don't put a choke chain onto a lion or elephant!

Recently I interviewed Karen Pryor about her new animal training academy and also blogged about a new study released that compared learning differences between using a voice marker or a clicker (another type of marker).

I've attached the link to my name--think you are your readers might like to read it!

Genny said...

I loved this article so much. I'm still so shocked when I read articles that talk about dominance or being alpha. I would have thought that with everything we have learned over the centuries, we would have also learned that forcing any being into submission is not the way to build any kind of relationship. This was wonderful.