Monday, August 18, 2014

No, I don't think that's the right book for your puppy

At the library, I have an awkward problem sometimes. A person who's gotten a puppy or a new-to-them dog comes in looking for dog training books. Oh good, right? My favorite topic! (well, one of)

Not so good: the only dog trainer they've ever heard of is Cesar Millan.

I've given my opinions on Mr. Millan's methods before. And yes, I have read his show, and have read a bunch of his books. If I'm going to be opinionated about something, I prefer not to be factually inaccurate. And his methods, in practice, do not mesh well with mine.


Now, it might come as a shock to you that literally anybody can call themselves a dog trainer, and go into said profession, without proof of their education or experience. It's pretty much as easy as starting a dog blog on which you hold forth with your opinions and tips on dog training (see what I did there?)



That I know of (perhaps it's changed in the interim?), Cesar Millan does not have a formal education with regards to animal behavioral sciences. He grew up on a farm with a tremendous amount of dogs. He came to America and worked as a dog groomer (I'm not sure he got the dog grooming education either?) and now he's got the "Dog Psychology Center", he's got a television show, lots of books, I'm sure some manner of merchandise, corporate sponsorship, etc. etc. Kind of a nice Horatio Alger story, really. He had a vision, came to America, and built himself up from nothing.

The American Dream aside, I would not let that man handle my dog. I don't want anybody kicking her (sorry, "tapping") in the side or stomach. I don't want anybody making their hand into a "dog mouth" to correct her on the scruff of the neck "like another dog would". I don't want to jerk on her leash (and she is never on a slip lead). And I don't want to tell people who have just gotten a brand new puppy "Yes, go get those books." I'm not always the kindest and most patient, but I try. I want Elka to learn and be happy, not listen because she's afraid of what I might do next. I don't want to make my dog feel as though she has to defend herself against me.

I mean, I tell them where the section is. The dog training books are all going to be together. But I try to, politely, say "I find I prefer The Puppy Primer by Patricia McConnell, phd. She also wrote The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs, which is a fabulous book, though not strictly a training book. She's a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist."  Or, we've got Dr. Ian Dunbar's Before and After Getting Your Puppy: The Positive Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy, and Well-Behaved Dog. Or, we've got Pamela Dennison's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Positive Dog Training; she wrote Bringing Light to Shadow, which I reviewed here, about rehabbing a human aggressive and very fearful border collie, using positive training methods. Yes, a "red zone" dog (to use the lingo), who now has his Canine Good Citizen title and some Rally ones as well. All without Alpha Rolls and collar corrections. To condense very simplistically, what it took was patience, a schedule, a clicker, and treats.




If you can choose to work with your dog rather than constantly embroiling yourself in an antagonistic relationship....why wouldn't you? I might sometimes go further than most people are willing when talking about canine intelligence and capability but, well, I live with a dog who's kind of on the level of a human toddler. You don't expect a toddler to know things and scream at them or poke them in the neck and slap them when they don't. Well, some people do, and we call that abuse. I'm not saying dogs are people. But interestingly, we pretty much all learn the same way. You need to teach, and encourage, motivate, and reward.



I'm very, very happy people are coming to the library in search of dog training resources. It's valuable to recognize when you don't have the tools for something, and to want to educate yourself. While I can't say I've read every single dog book we have, I've read quite a lot of them, both at my library and other libraries in the system.

Here are the dog training names I wish people would know:

Dr. Ian Dunbar (author of

Patricia McConnell

Pamela Dennison

Dr. Stanley Coren (author of The Intelligence of Dogs: Canine Consciousness and Capabilities)

Jean Donaldson  (author of Culture Clash and Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs)

12 comments:

  1. I agree with you, C.M. has a show in tv and for me it has not much to do with dog training, it's just a show. I like The other end of the leash, that's a better book what helps to understand some important things .

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    1. The Other End of the Leash was, I think, the first dog book of its type that I read. I feel like it changed my life.

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  2. I had a (male) friend read Patricia McConnell when he adopted his dog. He dismissed her, ultimately, as "too cutesy." What? He also dismissed all of my other advice, of course. Now he walks that poor dog-reactive dog with no leash training on a prong collar.

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    1. To....cutesy? Interesting. Granted, not everybody's going to appreciate a person who names their border collie Cool Hand Luke, but that's the way it goes. A prong collar doesn't necessarily require thinking and effort, just throw it on and go!

      There are people who use prong collars judiciously and well, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and make the assumption, based on the above, that your friend there does not.

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  3. Some peoples like him, some don't. We actually used his methods and they work well. I think his knowledge off behavior comes naturally
    Lily & Edward

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    1. I'm glad that it works for you! It's important to be educated about these things in general, which is one reason I've actualy read his books. I don't think ALL of his methods are terrible. It is important for a dog to have exercise and have rules, and these are things he will repeat again and again. It's the the reliance upon dominance theory and the physicality of it I don't like, and the application of those things across the board.

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  4. CM is so accessible, thanks to the TV show - people watch it and think they know how to train a dog. Great list of positive training books. I will never understand why treats are a "crutch" to the same people who will use prong and shock collars.

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    1. Yes, people who don't like positive methods seem to commonly denigrate it as "cookie training". You know what else Elka goes nuts for? A tennis ball. But, the people who dismiss "cookie training" don't seem, to me, to know enough about it. The cookies get faded once the behavior is solidly learned.

      But yeah, the TV show definitely makes him accessible. And, his level of physicality gets super fast "results", whereas more positive methods take time and patience, and do not make for exciting, sensational TV.

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  5. Hi

    Nice blog. We've added a link to you, any chance of a link back?

    Lili Labradoodle
    http://doggieblog.co.uk


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  6. Our library has a wide range of dog training books (including a few by your favorite). But their selection of DVDs is dominated by Mr. Millan. I keep suggesting better offerings to the acquisitions librarian but I haven't seen anything yet.

    The best you can do is what you're already doing. And hope people catch up with the science before they do major damage to their dogs.

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  7. Necroposting but- I haven't seen his show, but one of the things I liked about his books is the emphasis on the owner, not the dog. There's a lot of 'You need to exercise your dog, and if you don't do that, you can expect the dog to be unhappy and to act strangely. The dog's not being crazy, you're being lazy.'

    That and the idea that even most dogs who bite are capable of living long, happy lives with training and management. They're not just evil or wicked, dogs do things for their own odd little reasons.

    I suppose it was that emphasis on the needs of the dog, and the owner's responsibilities to provide stimulation and exercise and purpose beyond just 'food and water', that I enjoyed. Just my own perception of it though. Sorry about the necropost, I am bingeing on your blog!

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    1. No worries! Thanks for reading, and thanks for your thoughts.

      I don't think everything he says is all wrong; the points you bring up, specifically, are the good ones. And that it's the PEOPLE who need to be trained, in order to help the dogs best.

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