Hot off the press: Our students opinions on dog training methods…

Paws for Progress: Dog Training Methods

Which dog training methods should you use with your dog? This has been a hot topic in the UK in recent weeks, as the celebrity trainer Cesar Millan began publicising his upcoming UK tour. Many professional dog trainers and behaviourists have voiced their concerns about the confrontational methods which are shown in his TV show (brought together here), and an interview with Cesar on the Alan Titchmarsh show led to coverage in a number of UK newspapers (e.g. here, here and here), in blog posts (e.g. by Jez Rose) and on forum sites (e.g. here). It’s a controversial topic – although UK animal welfare, behaviour, training, canine and veterinary organisations are united in their objections to the use of such aversive training techniques (see statement here), Cesar is popular celebrity figure who has many fans in the UK, and so the debates can often become heated (interesting points on this issue are highlighted by Karen Wild). And to make it more complicated, there are many points made by Cesar which few would argue with – such as the need to provide dogs with adequate exercise, appropriate boundaries, and the recognition that many behaviour problems exhibited by dogs are caused or exacerbated by people. However, it is the methods used by Cesar to address behavioural problems, (which typically involve triggering the unwanted behaviour and then punishing the dog) which have led to increasing concerns regarding both the dogs’ welfare and the safety of dog owners who imitate what they see on the show.

At Paws for Progress, we like to address current dog related issues in the news as part of the training for our students. For example, when Jordan Shelley appeared on ‘The One Show’, we followed the topic and our students watched the clips, and wrote essays giving their opinions on the methods which were used. We also look at the UK laws pertaining to dogs and dog ownership, and discuss the positive and negative aspects of our current legislation. So as the topic of dog training methods has arisen in recent news, we showed our students the resulting newspaper articles, and a number of clips of famous dog trainers taken from television shows. The main purpose of this exercise is to encourage our students to use their observation skills to assess the dogs’ behaviour (e.g. noting stress signals) and to then consider the positive and negative consequences of different training techniques.We then asked our students to write their opinions about the different training methods they had seen.

We thought you might be interested to see what they thought, and so here are some of the responses we received… The first was written by one of our students, who chose to write an essay on this topic, which is copied directly below:

Why you should use positive reinforcement/ reward techniques to train dogs instead of punishment.

I believe positive reinforcement using reward based training is not only a great way to train dogs, but is in fact the best way. I first discovered this during my time in Polmont Young Offenders Institution, when I started a dog training programme called Paws for Progress. Before starting the Paws for Progress course I did not know anything about dog training and had never tried anything like this before. On the first day of the course Rebecca, the course leader, explained to me everything that I would need to do and told me that we would be using positive reinforcement to train the dogs and that we were never to use punishment on them.

Positive reinforcement is when you reward your dog for doing something right, instead of punishing them for doing something wrong. To do this we use clicker training, this is where I would ask the dog to do something, for example I would ask the dog to “sit”, then as soon as the dog’s bum touched the floor I would click my clicker and give the dog a treat. That way the dog learns a lot quicker that it is doing something right, as the action is clearly marked as correct and the dog recognises they are being rewarded for it.

Clicker training is very easy to learn, you just need to get your timing right. As soon as your dog does what you’ve asked them, that’s when you click your clicker, otherwise if you leave too long – between the time your dog does what you’ve asked it and the time you click your clicker – you could just end up confusing your dog. But it is good that with clicker training, you won’t do damage to your dog if you get it wrong – they just won’t learn as quickly.

When I was growing up I’d never had any pet dogs, until I was seventeen and I moved in with my friend and his family. They owned three dogs but not one of them had ever received any training and my friend’s family did not know anything about training dogs, yet they seemed to expect the dogs to understand everything they were saying to them. They used to shout at the dogs and sometimes hit them for not doing as they were asking and I always remember thinking the dogs looked scared and confused. Yet all that shouting at them never helped at all as the dogs never learned anything from it, which to me proved using punishment on your dog to train them does not work and should never be done.

Positive reinforcement however does work which is why I believe you should use this to train dogs instead of using punishment. Using reward based training is extremely effective, it is easier, quicker and much more enjoyable both for you and your dog. It is also a great way for you to build up a good bond with your dog, whereas if you were to use punishment on your dog you are more likely to break that bond.

So if you are looking to start training dogs please use positive reinforcement instead of punishment as it is the best way, the right way and for me the only way to train a dog.

While on the subject of positive reinforcement, just recently Cesar Millan, or the “Dog Whisperer” as he is known, began publicising his UK tour.

Cesar Millan is probably the most famous dog trainer/ psychologist in the world due to his US TV show ‘The Dog Whisperer’. However this does not make him the best, in fact I would say he is far from it due to his barbaric training methods. Cesar uses things such as prong collars, electric shock collars, nooses and leads to restrict the dog’s air supply and I’ve even seen him do what I can only describe as physically assaulting dogs to get them to do what he wants.

Now, to me that is not dog training, but simply an act of animal cruelty and I would strongly discourage anyone, especially new dog owners, from watching his shows for advice or tips on how to train their dogs.

I’m not the only one who disagrees with these training techniques as most, if not all of the UK animal welfare, behaviour, training, canine and veterinary organisations would also advise you not to copy Cesar’s methods, as from a welfare perspective it is totally unacceptable and using methods such as his can in fact worsen the behavioural problems you aim to address (see statement here).

This brings me to my next point. What do dogs learn from these methods? Well, firstly, using punishment on a dog such as kicking the dog’s underbelly or pinning the dog to the floor, two acts that I’ve seen Cesar use on a number of occasions, will teach your dog that you are a source of pain and will put a fear of you into your dog and may well cause an aggressive reaction which could lead to you being seriously injured and then the dog being euthanized (put to sleep), all because you tried to train your dog to do something right, but unfortunately in the wrong way. Also it is, again in my opinion, impossible to build up a good, strong bond with your dog by using these methods. And in relation to training, yes, some of Cesar’s methods may work, but why use these when you can achieve the same and more by using reward based training, which is used very effectively by dog trainers all over the UK and is a much safer, humane, enjoyable, rewarding and effective way to train a dog.

Like many others, I’d like to see Cesar Milan ditch his current techniques and to start using positive reinforcement as his shows are watched by millions of people around the world and then people could see what I like to call ‘the right way to train a dog’ instead of his current medieval tactics and I’m sure in doing so a lot of his critics would turn in his favour.

Lastly, I would just like to reiterate why I believe inexperienced dog owners should not try out the techniques seen to be used by Cesar Milan on his TV shows.

Cesar Milan is a self-taught dog trainer and has never been trained by a professional himself, in fact Cesar has even said himself “I tell people to consult a professional”, well, at least that’s something we agree on. Cesar’s training methods come with huge and sometimes dangerous risks. For example if you’re using punishment and aggression towards a dog, you are highly likely to promote the same reaction back which is the last thing you want to do. I’m not saying everything Cesar Milan does is wrong but there are some of his training methods that I strongly disagree with and for that reason I would advise anyone who is looking to learn how to train a dog to be on the safe side and steer clear of doing what he does and instead use positive reinforcement/ reward based training.

This report is not directly against Cesar Milan but at the methods he sometimes uses as I feel they are completely unnecessary and on some occasions down right cruel. So if you want to be a good dog trainer please take my advice, as it is the right way, the best way and the only way forwards for you and your dog.

After watching clips of the ‘Dog Whisperer’ show, the rest of the group of students answered 3 questions; these are copied below, with the responses of each student.

1. What do you think of the methods that were used?

  • Useless, kicking the dog was not right, electronic collars should not be used.
  • I don’t think the methods he used were good because he often hurts the dog.
  • These methods are barbaric and in no way helpful and in my opinion people who use them should be treated the same way to see if they like it.
  • I think they were uncalled for. He was kicking the dogs even when they were behaving and in doing this he was getting the reaction that he was probably looking for in the first place.
  • The methods used were outdated and brutal and this is no way to treat an animal, and he has got himself fame and fortune for teaching people wrong methods of training.
  • I think of him as a cruel dog trainer and I would never let him take my dog or any of my family or friends dogs. And I would never call this man a dog trainer.
  • Not necessary in ANY way.

2. Can you see any problems that might arise if people try these methods?

  • They might get bitten, they might not train the dogs right, although some people might not like it some people might try to copy them, meaning even more dogs get treated in a bad way.
  • I think if people use these methods then the dogs will bite them.
  • A lot of pent up anxiety, frustration and aggression that will have to be released some time
  • Yes. People might end up getting bit due to shady treatment and in the long run it is dogs who will suffer and get a bad name, all because of bad treatment.
  • If people try these training methods they could lose the bond and trust you have with a dog not to mention the fact the dog might bite your hand off and the dog might become fearful of everyone.
  • Yes. Dogs can be worse and end up biting their owners or other dogs.
  • Dogs are more fearful and therefore might attack.

3.  What did you notice about the dogs’ behaviour? What do you think the dog learnt from the training session?

  • Anxious, stressful, fear, upset, did not want to be there, agitated, the dog learned nothing and became more scared, more fear.
  • I think the dogs got aggressive when he was kicking them. The dogs were also anxious and scared. I don’t think the dog learned anything.
  • That it will be battered if it does not do as it is told, even if it doesn’t understand what it is being asked to do. And so gives the dog more fear and causes more aggressive behaviour.
  • The dogs were often calm at first, then got kicked and got aggressive. What would you do if it happened to you? The dogs learnt nothing good!
  • A lot of the dogs it shows you in the show are standing, doing nothing wrong then suddenly gets a snidely kick to the stomach/ groin area. IT’S BANG OUT OF ORDER!
  • The dog didn’t learn anything apart from being abused in a cruel way.
  • To be scared of the trainer – nothing more.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our student’s opinions on this topic. We feel it is a very positive outcome for the young men taking part in this project that they are able to see the potential problems with techniques which cause fear and distress, and are able to empathise with the dogs’ situation. It is very reassuring to think that the dogs’ they own in the future will be treated compassionately and fairly, and that they will promote the use of kind training methods to others too.

We also hope you enjoy gaining an insight into the teaching content on the Paws for Progress course, and look forward to sharing more news with you soon.

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About pawsforprogress

The first prison based dog training programme in the UK, Paws for Progress was introduced to HM YOI Polmont in August 2011, and continues to operate successfully, improving the outcomes of the young people and dogs involved. Paws for Progress was incorporated as a Community Interest Company (CIC) (SC469108), to build on the overwhelming success of the pilot project. Our aim is “to enhance the well-being of people and animals by promoting and supporting, by whatever means, positive and effective interactions between them”.

3 thoughts on “Hot off the press: Our students opinions on dog training methods…

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