Ducks Don’t Need Quacks Either

cartoon of surgeon with chain sawThere is a science to behavior change in animals. That most pet owners are unaware of that is not surprising. That there are dog trainers out there who are unaware of it is disastrous.

I know just enough about my car and computer to turn them on and use them, when all is going according to plan. When problems arise, even if my cursing and kicking of tires seems to provide a temporary solution, I know enough to know I should contact a professional who understands the way car engines and computers work. Put the wrong fluid in the wrong compartment, delete the wrong file, and I may be in trouble that will be expensive to fix. Use the wrong approach to training a dog and the price just might be the dog’s life.

As you might imagine I hear from many people trying to sort out how to help their fearful dogs. Yesterday I got a call from a pet owner and had there been a board monitoring the ethics of dog trainers, I would have contacted them. But there isn’t so I am left writing to writing blog posts. The dog, acknowledged as fearful by the owners (and one would assume by the trainer) had started to display increasingly aggressive behavior, including biting the owners. This is bad news. Even worse news was that I was not being contacted for training help, the owners were looking for help to rehome their dog. When I mentioned training, from the owner’s perspective, they HAD been training, and since it wasn’t helping (indeed it appeared to making matters worse) they were done with it.

I was not familiar with the trainer they were using but it didn’t take long for me to find the self-described whisperer’s website. Dog whispering ala Millan (as opposed to Paul Owen’s earlier use of the term) is akin to practicing medicine in a barber’s chair. It should be outlawed. That enough people survived bleeding cures is not enough to continue the practice. Should the patient die, the disease can always be blamed.

Fearful and aggressive dogs need competent training by educated, skilled professionals. They exist, but in the historical muddle of dog training information, they may be hard to pick out among the quacks. The topic of competency in dog training will be addressed in this webinar with Jean Donaldson. It may be too late for some dogs but it’s about time we talked about this for the rest.

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15 comments so far

  1. Sage on

    I agree with you about Millan and the muddle of incompetents out there that describe themselves as trainers. And it’s even harder to watch a dog that’s marginally aggressive turn into a snarling beast because of these so-called trainers.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Things are changing but unfortunately not fast enough for the dog I heard about yesterday.

  2. Laura Brody on

    You’ve highlighted such an important issue. The “I’ve tried that and it didn’t work” attitude shuts people down to using the right training.
    I use the “scissors” analogy. If you are instructed to cut leather with a pair of scissors and you buy a pair of cuticle scissors, does your failure in cutting the leather mean that scissors don’t work? It’s very frustrating for me, too, a CPDT-KA trainer and behavior specialist.

    • fearfuldogs on

      We’ve got a long road ahead of us to come up with solutions for this issue, but I trust we’ll get closer all the time.

    • pawsforpraise on

      You’re so right, Laura. Great analogy. I also find that it happens, even among trainers. They forget a small detail, such as antecedent control, and assume that the entire protocol they thought they were using was ineffective. Kathy Sdao has a great video on trainer mistakes that I wish more pro’s would watch.

  3. jet on

    I’ve seen some pretty bad trainers lately…. just out in public doing their thing, and hapless dog owners putting trust in them. I don’t think there is really any way that the situation can be ‘fixed’ by anyone but pet owners themselves. They need to ask the right questions. When you get someone to fix your car, do you not ask other people for recommendations first ?

    • fearfuldogs on

      They are unfortunately not difficult to find.

  4. Catherine McBrien on

    For amateurs like me, who have difficulty truly assimilating purely abstract concepts, your blog would be much more instructive if you could include specifics of what was done wrong and how you would have handled the situation. You have so much knowledge to share and your readers are already well aware of your aversion to anything associated with non-positive dog training.

    For example, your Nibbles videos were amazingly helpful to me and made me actually understand concepts like treat/retreat in a concrete manner after which I also “got” the concept of immediately having the dog do something easy any time it has done something difficult. Consequently, I would love to hear more specifics about the dog in question so I can continue to benefit from your experience and knowledge.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for sharing that Catherine. I offer webinars on the topic, and the fearfuldogs.com website has lots of info as well. If people are feeling stuck they can also contact me for a consult and I’m happy to get into as many specifics as folks need.

  5. pawsforpraise on

    Alas, I’ve spent thousands of dollars over my lifetime getting a college degree in a behavioral science, and educating myself about dog training and behavior, yet when I make the case for knowing this material as a prerequisite to training dogs, I am called names, told that I’m a hater, and generally disrespected on various forums. I admit, I am as someone recently described me, a “quadrant queen” and proud of it. I believe that any discipline or craft has basic fundamentals that should be learned and understood. For dog trainers, it’s theories of learning, behavior, motivation. If you skip the basics, you always get in trouble when the scene becomes complex.

    • fearfuldogs on

      The more challenging the problem the more background and understanding required to address it. This is frequently the case with fear-based behaviors, every step in the wrong direction makes it more difficult to get a dog back on track.

  6. Lynn on

    I was one of the hapless dog owners mentioned above, putting their trust in the wrong trainer. Luckily, it didn’t go on for long and I’m back to clicker training on my own for now. I just ran across the term “poisoned cues,” which I believe I’m dealing with. A blog on that topic would be wonderful, if you’re looking for topics.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Great that you are back on track. Poisoned cues is a great topic. It’s right on the list of important things going on with fearful dogs. Too many bad associations.

  7. farmingconnections on

    How refreshing to read a series of informative accounts of the good, the bad and the ugly. It makes one realize — yet again — that without the proper education, horrific mistakes can be made. Mistakes made with the best of intentions.


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