I’ve just spoken to a lady on the phone who had asked a trainer, “Are you a Cesar Millan or a Victoria Stilwell?” and it got me thinking. These two polarise people’s perceptions with the dark side still holding their ground.
To be fair on CM, he’s nowhere near as extreme as some. It’s his far greater exposure that is the real problem, and people copy him rather than being able to make an informed choice based on evidence.
Anyway, why do force-free trainers need loads of studies and the weight of scientific evidence to argue the obvious?
Everyone knows that a good proportion of offenders incarcerated for violent crimes and aggression will have had lousy childhoods, many having experienced violence, neglect or witnessed aggression from a parent or other adults.
Exposure to violence in general can warp minds and alter behaviour. AAP Gateway proves the ‘Linkages Between Internet and Other Media Violence With Seriously Violent Behavior by Youth’.
Everyone knows that many of the most violent and desperate criminals very often have had a terrible start in life. Of course a terrible start in life doesn’t necessarily predicate ending up as a violent criminal and many seriously abused dogs have become gentle and loving pets.
Everyone knows that a child brought up with patience, care, love and understanding has a much greater chance of ending up a well-balanced adult than one that is harshly discplined or tormented. It’s obvious.
Why are we having to take a stand against the notion that teaching a puppy or dog, or any animal in fact, using violence, pain and intimidation is any different to doing the same with a human child; that it will produce a non-violent, non-aggressive, balanced, sociable and self-controlled animal?
People may say about a rampaging kid (it’s sometimes hard not to agree), ‘what he needs is a clip round the ear’ (dog equivalent: pop with prong collar or choke chain). What he really needs is some quality attention, mental stimulation, some fair rules and boundaries that are consistent and that he understands – and positive reinforcement for good behaviour.
Harsh techniques and gadgets promise quick results. We live in the age of instant gratification. We do what works best in the short term, closing our minds to the future tsunamis we are creating.
I quote Stanley Coren in Psychology Today regarding punitive methods of training dogs. ‘While on the issue of dog training, one of the most practically significant findings found in this research has to do with the effect that the type of training has on a dog’s risk of aggression. There have been a number of studies that have reported that training procedures based on punishment can have negative consequences (click here for an example). In this study the researchers defined such punitive training techniques as including things like physical punishment (hitting the dog), verbal punishment (shouting), electrical or citronella collars, choke chains and jerking on the leash, prong collars, water pistols, electric fences and so forth. Such punitive techniques apparently increase the risk of aggression in dogs. They are associated with a 2.9 times increased risk of aggression to family members, and a 2.2 times increased risk of aggression to unfamiliar people outside of the household.”
Why do we need studies to tell us this?
It’s should be obvious.
Here is the story of a dog I went to that well illustrates the divide between the methods of the past where the owner must be Alpha and ‘in control’, and modern science-based methods that enable dogs to develop ‘self-control’ by giving them encouragement, reinforcement and choices.