Save Your Breath

Every now and then a Cesar Millan fan will find my blog and do their darndest to convince me of the error of my ways and assessment of his. I have to give them credit for their efforts. They are right to accuse me of moderating many of their comments. I didn’t always but I decided that he has gotten enough airtime without my blog giving him more. My blog, my choice.

The arguments presented by these folks are at once amusing and stomach churning. One commenter suggested that I edify myself by visiting the websites of trainers who were open-minded and informed trainers (and who of course agreed with his methods). I got as far on one webpage to where the trainer states they used both “rewards and consequences” to train, when I had to just stop. This is akin to someone saying, “I speaks english real good.” Ummm….no you don’t. Rewards ARE consequences. I know what they are trying to say, but their inability to say it properly belies their lack of understanding of learning theory. Oh and in regard to “learning theory,” I was told I could keep my “science psycho babble.” Honestly.

There seems to be the misunderstanding among these people who call themselves trainers that anyone who actually bothers to learn about animal behavior and training, cannot provide practical advice for pet owners. They misrepresent rewards-based training as “purely positive” and that what they do is “balanced.” Again this only indicates how little the trainer understands about….well about “learning theory,” oh here I go again, muddying the waters with scientific psycho babble. Meanwhile they go on about “dog psychology.” Sorry. I give up.

One of the aspects about dog training that I love so much has been the opening up of worlds I didn’t realize existed. There’s the history of Skinner and Pavlov, the practical application of skills by Bob Bailey, the insights of trainers who I don’t even dare try to list for fear of leaving someone deserving out. I am tickled pink that I am able to rub shoulders with and learn from people with more education, skill and empathy than I can hope to attain in whatever time I have left on this planet.

I have come to terms with the fact that having a conversation about dog training with someone who quotes Cesar Millan is like trying to discuss civil rights with someone who recites passages of the bible. Don’t bother.


44 comments so far

  1. Laura Smith on

    HA! It’s like discussing religion or politics. Tough, but worthwhile for pre-converts.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I will support your efforts Laura! It’s helpful to have a chorus of voices at the ready for when one gives out 😉

  2. Thanks for this! Science is what unites us. The change is slow, but it’s certain. There will always be those that don’t believe the facts. They are beyond our reach. We KNOW gravity exists even though there are people who will say it doesn’t. Dog behavior and training isn’t any different than other aspects of science and thankfully, more empirical evidence is coming in every day. Slowly, surely, the tide is turning and life is getting better for the dogs. Thanks for doing what you do and for spreading the word. You’re making a difference!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Laurie (who is on the list of inspiring trainers I didn’t list). You reminded me of a favorite bumper sticker-Gravity: It’s not just a good idea, it’s a law.

  3. Amy@GoPetFriendly on

    Oh boy. I sent someone to your blog recently. He was starting a new business and on his Facebook page had shared a post from CM. I told him that he should read your blog for a while and then think again about the posts he chose to share. I really hope he wasn’t one of the people you had to moderate.

    • fearfuldogs on

      No worries if he was Amy (he wasn’t). Thanks for sharing!

  4. diana on

    i love you debbie 🙂

  5. Mary on

    Yahoo Debbie! You go girl! You are right on target and the fans of the dog whisperer can go pound sand! Any educator worth their credentials knows about learning theory. Let’s see a parent or school teacher try dominance theory on their students! How long before the authorities call them on abuse charges! I love Karen Pryor. She is the goddess of positive reinforcement for anything with a nervous system. Recently she teamed up with Theresa McKeon and Joan Orr to develop TagTeach for people. Positive reinforcement is the ONLY way to guarantee a successful teaching and learning environment.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for cheering me on. I can always use it. And thanks for beginning the list of inspiring trainers we can learn from.

  6. Jody on

    I spent years trying to understand best approaches for teaching dogs and then I found Animal Learning Theory. All my questions have been answered and at last it all makes sense. Great article Debbie!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Persistence paid off! I’m sure all that you learned along the way was helpful too.

  7. Lynn Broderick on

    Nice! You Rock! Thanks for this- I really needed it today!

  8. Gillian Shippen on

    Whaaaat…but the world is flat and the landing on the moon never happened!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Good example Gillian. If people only ever used their own experience of the world to understand things they WOULD believe the earth was flat. If it’s on TV and someone says it convincingly enough it must be true. I hope I can be as convincing.

  9. Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart on

    It’s impossible for these conversations to be productive at all between people like us and dominance devotees. I warn everyone I can, even with seemingly offhand remarks, because a lot of people outside our circles just don’t know … such as a friend who is welcoming home a new lab puppy this weekend and mentioned online that the whole family had practically memorized HIS puppy book. Yikes! I referred her to Dr. Yin’s puppy book instead and posted just the smallest warning that he was completely full of … baloney.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It is difficult when you work in this field and see the number of animals who suffer needlessly because of his methods, to always keep our mouths shut. 🙂

  10. Catherine McBrien on

    I am quite confused about positive training being compared to empirical science describing the laws of gravity. Every dog does not act like an apple falling off Newton’s head. Animal behavior is so complex and multi-faceted that IMO it can never be reduced to a science and BF Skinner’s hideous experiements attempting to do so should be illegal.

    I totally agree that it is utterly pointless to attempt any reasoned debate since each side is so zealously committed to their way of thinking that any contrary information will not be processed in the brain and goes in the spam folder automatically.

    • Mary on

      When I first studied psychology and theories of counseling I was very young and felt insulted at the thought of BF Skinner and John Watsons theories. Their scientific experiments on observable behavior were a stark contrast to the mentalistic theories of Those of Freud and Gestalt. As I learned more about learning and teaching I realized that observable behavior is really all we have to guide us. I can’t tell what a creature is thinking but I can tell you what it did and is doing and therefore make a prediction about what it might do next. Applied behavioral psychology pioneered by Julie Vargas, BF Skinners daughter, helps us understand and predict behavior of any organism, chickens, kids, dogs, husbands, employees, dolphins, students, or one cell amoebas. Behaviorism is clean, elegant and easy to understand. We all do it every day.

      • fearfuldogs on

        Thanks for your perspective Mary. There remains different lines of thinking in the animal behavior world. But you are right that the best we have to go on at this stage of the game is what we can observe, and what we know impacts behavior.

    • fearfuldogs on

      You are right in that dogs behave differently but the science of behavior analysis helps to look at the behaviors, and come up with ways to either increase the ones we want or decrease the ones we don’t want. Behavior doesn’t just happen for no reason. We can determine, by understanding what is reinforcing or punishing to the animal, whether we are likely to see more less of a behavior depending on how we either manage what happens before, and the consequences of what happens after. Animals do what works for them. Once we understand what that means to the individual, and animal behavior science gives us the tools to do this, we can come up with humane, effective and respectful ways to change behaviors that don’t work for us.

      Saying that animal behavior is so multi-faceted that it can’t be reduced to a science is like saying that nuclear physics is so simple that it can be.

      • Natasha on

        Hee hee, good one!

    • Kate on

      If you are thinking of science only as experiments in a lab, look into Bob Bailey and the Brelands, and all who have come after them. Science-based animal training and understanding of behaviour came out of the lab into the “real world” many decades ago.

      I realise that some scientists or even trainers may sound mechanical or unfeeling about animals (don’t think Debbie on this blog could be accused of that), but the vast majority of science based/positive reinforcement based trainers are actually very aware of dogs as thinking, feeling, individuals. Using science and staying within a positive reinforcement framework does not mean a one-size-fits-all approach.

      Also, “reduced” to a science?? Science investigates and attempts to explain things – often extremely complex, multi-faceted things. There is no “reducing” anything. I highly recommend you have a look at this article for a better understanding of what science is actually about:,%20She%20Said,%20Science%20Says.pdf

  11. The Pet Care Magician on

    Ever so often I digress and engage the force who should not be engaged with just to get my quote of abuse fulilled and in the hope that just maybe one person reads what I write and has a chance to think about what they are reading. We will eventually convert thise who are ready to listen. The tide is turning surely but slowly. Meantime I have two dogs sitting above my head on the pillows and the othr two around my dogs in total domination of my world.

  12. kdkh on

    Hang in there!

  13. jet on

    Totally right, there is no point and you have better things to do 😀

  14. Ann on

    I love reading your blog and totally agree with you about CM, although I have a friend who thinks he’s the best. Keep it coming!!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for your comment Ann. Things are changing in the dog training world. Faster than most realize. The whisperers will be left in the dust.

  15. justthreadtwiddling on

    As usual, very well said!

    • Debbie Jacobs on


  16. Pearl the Puppy on

    If it helps, you can and do change minds and I am evidence of that. When I adopted my dog I knew nothing about training and was naive enough to watch CM’s show for guidance. Your blog and others like it taught me a different way of doing things and I know my dog is grateful. You may not change the minds of those set in their ways but you are opening the minds and eyes of others more willing to learn. Thanks and keep at it!

  17. Kate on

    “I have come to terms with the fact that having a conversation about dog training with someone who quotes Cesar Millan is like trying to discuss civil rights with someone who recites passages of the bible. Don’t bother.”

    THIS! Sometimes I can’t help myself, though.

    It’s very like a religion – scary how devoted and hung on his every word his followers are. He can do no wrong, no matter what is right before their eyes. I don’t see very much of this unconditional love in the +R training world (however much people may say “oh both sides are equally extreme” – no.) – sure, people have their favourite experts, but having an underlying knowledge of the science means they can still think critically about what that person is saying and doing, however big a fan they are. All this mystical magical whispering energy rubbish means that people think CM “has something” they can never truly achieve, so must just blindly believe all he says. I guess people don’t want to look at the science because it will tell them things they’d rather not know!

    As ever, love your blog. Thank you.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      And I try to remind myself to be careful of what I think I am certain of too. But it’s easy enough for me to see a dog in distress and know that regardless of excuses, I don’t need to contribute to that.

  18. Bob Ryder on

    Again, nice post. Good for you!

  19. Mel on

    So very true. I read your blog post at work and half laughed because I knew exactly what you meant about civil rights and passages from the bible. I think people nowadays choose to not to do their own research even more than in the past. If someone said it on TV is must be true right?
    Forget the fact that CM has not one certified training degree in his pocket but rather learned what he does by “observing dogs.”

    Thank you for continuing to educate us and yourself and asking us to think outside the box from time to time. It’s not easy changing minds, but they are changing (some are just stronger holdouts to blind ignorance).

  20. Linda Trunell on

    I feel your pain. As a trainer at PetSmart, I only use positive reinforcement and clicker training. When I see people buying shock collars, chokers, or prong collars, I try to educate them. Some people listen but some just won’t. I usually hear things like “This puppy is going to be 100 lbs. and he needs to be trained with a choke collar.” I respond with, “My dog weighs 108 lbs. and he doesn’t need a choke collar.” The fact that I am under 5′ and only weigh 100 lbs. isn’t lost on some of them. But some (usually men) just won’t listen. I often hear, “I’ve trained all my dogs this way.” All we can do is try to educate but, damn, it is frustrating and some days I go home feeling very stressed worrying about that 9-month-old Golden Retriever whose owner bought the prong collar. Keep fighting the good fight!

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Thanks. One question you could ask the “size justifiers” when they buy a choke or prong is, “really, how much does your husband (wife, kids, boss, employees) weigh?”

  21. Vince Egan on

    Isn’t training a joint exercise each training the other? We want our pal to sit okay they just want to be asked I think. Then we can both learn sit ans SIT. Ellie, my little Gemini Red head BC Scarlett O’Hara , could try the patience of Job. Her newest trick is to NOT bring the Frisbee back but just stare in her Marcel Marceau way until I can tell her BAD DOG then here she comes tail wagging and an aren’t I just the living end look. Not always acceptable but now I know this is HER game.. And after all if we have smart dogs shouldn’t they be free thinkers too? Once she was an abused scared certainly wary dog that I could not even touch and now Sadie Thompson is a regular dog with a surprise every day. We’re lucky to live in the country these two reprobates have collars but I think only 1leash between them. They aren’t perfect but hey I am the kid with the state record for detention in high school so I get it. Ms. Jacobs sure helped. Thanks Debbie Ellie is the most annoying manipulative smilelinest, loving trustingly compulsive stubborn elegant athletic strong eyed girl I have ever known except for the one I married. And in the end isn’t that what we want? Dog Whisperer indeed. There were times in Ellie’s early life ……… of these days Alice bang zoom
    She taught me patience and in return she gives me smiles miles wide

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