a response to one of the most heated topics on dog training

Bound Angels Blog


Dogs that bite people get killed.

People that block a dog’s attempt to bite are scolded.

I’d rather find myself in the second category than in the first.

I would like to offer a reality check to the controversy that has ensued over the episode in which Cesar Milan immobilizes (or as is commonly referred to) as “hangs” a dog which was trying to land a bite on him.  I’d like to be clear that I am not a friend of Cesar nor do I have any vested interested.  I’d simply like to shed some light on a highly charged issue that, if not clearly understood, can cost countless dogs their lives unnecessarily.

First we must understand that dogs bite when they feel pressured, when they are afraid or when they are protecting themselves.  If we allow them to bite we put them at risk of being killed for this behavior.  Teaching a dog not to bite is simple with some dogs and much more complex with others.  Determining which dog you are dealing with separates the novice from the expert.

Having worked with hundreds of dogs with various types of aggression, I can tell you that Cesar’s methods were not too out of line with what most competent trainers, at least those who deal with these types of dogs, would see as fair.  The problem is that oftentimes those who opine are those who have never dealt with a dog of this size or drive.   Furthermore they could never deal with this type of dog using a purely reward based method.

Since most of my work is in the public sector, dealing with dogs at shelters that other trainers and owners have given up on, I can tell you that most of these dogs don’t have a chance at life, they’re on the waiting list to be killed and put in a barrel.  If these dogs show aggression, they are put down.  There are no progressive desensitization programs in most of our nations shelters; it’s simply –“show aggression, or what we think is aggression, and you’re dead.”

Is there a better way to train?  Possibly.  However, the question remains, is there something else that can be done when you’re holding one end of a leash connected to a dog that is trying to bite you?  No!

The question is commonly asked if people would do this to a child.  This is a one-sided naïve question that has no logical place and nothing to back it up.  In order to be fair in comparison we must understand that dealing with an 80lb dog is less like dealing with an upset child and more like dealing with a 200lb man coming at you with a knife.  This can be clearly seen knowing that an 80lb police dog can easily incapacitate a 200lb human assailant.  Now, if we were to offer this type of dog, same drive and size to a trainer without the ability to block his behavior, I can promise you a couple of things:

  1. the person is going to get bit.
  2. the dog will be put down for his behavior.

Treats and toys are the way I begin all training with dogs, and it is what I teach everyone to do as well.  However, when a dog doesn’t respond to this I recommend a continuum of force, one specifically geared to the particular dog.  It’s simple, when it comes to aggression, we can move up the ladder of training or down the hallway to kill the dog.

Comparing training dogs to handling children is absurd and unfair to children and dogs.  The love we have for a human is different from the love we share for our dogs, and believe me I love my dogs more than most people.  However, let’s ask these questions:

  1. Would you let your child poop on the side of the road?
  2. Would you let your child eat dried food from a bowl on the floor?
  3. Would you walk your child on a leash with no shoes and allow her to eat grass?
  4. And most importantly, would you put your child to sleep if her illnesses were too much for her to bear?

Once we can honestly address these questions, we can move away from anthropomorphizing our dogs.  They deserve better!

Now we can re-address the question of fairness in this situation.  If a dog is attacking someone who is working with them what should be the etiquette?

SO many people paint all dogs with a broad brush.  Just like people, no two dogs are the same and no two dogs respond exactly the same to training methods.  Therefore assuming that all dogs will respond to one method of training, be it motivational or compulsion, is unfair to the dog.  Some dogs do better with one method than another and in order to remain fair to the dog we must step outside of what we believe and give the dog what he needs at that moment.

Those who don’t deal with dogs who bite should not delve into the discussion of how best to handle the situation.  Just like those who don’t know about medicine should not offer medical advice.  Is hanging a dog right for the average person?  NO.  But that was never the question at hand.  The question here is the criticism of one trainer who took the political hit by putting this technique on his show.

The irony is that the people posting this video, for the most part are those looking to capitalize on the charged emotion this video brings.  Instead let’s focus on the thousands of dogs that are being killed in our nations shelter.  Perhaps those who differ in opinion could join a volunteer program at their local shelter and work with the dogs that really need help.

Robert Cabral
Bound Angels
Black Belt Dog Training