There is a trend in dog training that is ever more popular, yet their vigilance ends up hurting many dogs. This trend is the “positive only” movement.
Last month I was in Prescott Arizona working with the humane society. On my last day I was asked to work with a dog that was set to be put down for aggression. I’ve worked with my share of aggressive dogs in shelters and in my private work, so people often refer to me when dealing with these type dogs. More often than not, the cookie trainers have turned their backs and some activists say that if you need to use compulsion to correct a dog it’s better to put that dog down. Well, some compassionate humane societies are standing up against that concept, the Yavapai Humane Society is one of them. Nacho had been at the shelter for over 70 days.
When Nacho was brought to me, I was finished with my workshop and ready to leave. Seeing his initial behavior I agreed that if a dog had to be killed, he would be a good candidate. The main reason I say this (in these type situations) is because people will not wan to do the work that it will take to work with a dog like this, either because they will find it cruel or because they just can’t. I filmed the entire session, so you can see it by clicking here. The entire session took about 12 minutes. At the end f that session Nacho was able to behave very well and be around the other dog that he initially wanted to fight, and possibly kill.
The controversy that ensued because of this 12 minutes was enormous. I was threatened and harassed by a group of people that I had never met and that had not been present for the session. They went on the word of one person, the “positive only” trainer that worked at the humane society. He had just under 12 months of experience “training” under another positive only trainer. He wanted to be a hero, so he started a rumor that I killed the dog. Apparently he forgot that I was rolling a video the entire time. Later the story changed and changed. When I released the video the fanatics still stayed their course, but everyone else was able to see the truth. Nacho was saved with a few corrections and is alive now because of that session. The irony is that of the approximate 4000 people that rallied against me, NOT ONE stepped up to take Nacho. NOT ONE. Instead these people threatened my life and the reputation of our work.
What strikes me so ironic about this is how divided we are in doing what’s right for the animals. At any time, anyone could have stepped up and rescued Nacho. Instead these people formed a linch mob to try to condemn the work of Bound Angels, The Yavapai Humane Society and me. I wondered for a while about what to do about this and made the decision to further commit to the life-saving work we do. I decided that since they (the haters) wanted to point their fingers at my work, I would showcase it more and more. All of the training videos that we offer to shelters, rescues, humane societies and SPCA’s is public, so I will promote it and show how we can save more and more dogs that others think can’t be saved. When the clicker and the cookie fail, there should be a path for people who want to do the right thing. Remember, the training that we show is in real time and the results save lives. We make this information available free of charge, we’re not selling it. This is real and it shows what works and what doesn’t. We don’t spend an exorbitant amount of money or time editing and retouching.
My book, Desperate Dogs Determined Measures, was reviewed recently by someone I thought was an animal activist, but later found out is a BSL, pit bull hating hypocrite. In the review he mocked the work it takes to save a dog and in his closing statement said,
“If a dog can be saved, it can be done without violence. If violence is needed, the dog is not salvageable.”
Sadly these fanatics equate the word correction with violence. They feel that a pinch collar or a pop on a choke chain is brutal and abusive. I feel that euthanasia is a much less favorable option. Studies reveal that one of the greatest hurdles to overcome in order to achieve no kill is the behavior training that dogs lack in the shelter. If all the dogs in the shelter were good, adoptions would be easier. I have an issue with people who want to kill a dog because he is less than perfect. My girlfriend and I live with 10 dogs, at least half of those dogs would be put down if people like this had their ways. I believe animals have rights, not just perfect ones, but all of them with the exception of ones that create a clear and present danger to humans and other animals. I have always said, I don’t mind if a shelter kills dogs, I just want to know they are killing the right dogs.
Sadly, most dogs that have behavioral problems have problems because of the fanatical movement that wants to abolish any corrections in training. Sadly, this is an idealistic approach. These people pick and choose the dogs that they will handle, rescue or train and therefore continue to cause problems for the dogs that need rescue most. There are thousands of dogs that suffer because people refuse to use a balanced approach in training, and this is equally so for people on both sides of the dog training barrier. Those who don’t use positive training methods as well as those who don’t use corrections. The fault is on both of the extremes. Dogs need balance and structure. This cannot be achieved by a one-sided training approach. I understand people trying to protect animals from harm, that is my life-work, but not to give a dog corrections and structure is like the fanatics who believe that kids on both teams should get a trophy no matter who wins!
If you feel that a dog can be saved without corrections, you have never worked with a dog that has any personality. I can assure you that protection dogs, sport dogs and any dog that has a drive will at some point require a correction and will need to understand that YOU are in control in order to be happy and balanced. People who want a turn-key dog should not claim to be trainers and should stay out of the way of people trying to do the right thing. For years I’ve made it clear that I will gladly meet any positive only trainer at a shelter and compare skills, lets see who ends up with the more adoptable dog.
Now, after all of this is said, I want to clarify something. I consider myself a “balanced” trainer. That is, I believe in treats, toys as well as corrections and structure. Those of you who know me, know my style and I have yet to be considered “violent” by anyone who has worked with me or whose dogs I’ve trained. It is only those that have no idea. People who have trained with me for over 100+ hours know my style and have learned how to work with ANY dog and not get hurt AND help save countless dogs!
The main point of this post is that we ask ourselves the important question, “If this were my dog and he was acting up, would I try to train him and correct him, would I do whatever it takes to save him or would I kill him?” Then ask yourself, “If the positive only method doesn’t work, would I kill him or try the next step?”
I believe all animals deserve a fair shot, I want to give them that shot. If that doesn’t work, then we can rest assured that we’ve tried everything. And I believe we owe it to the animals to try everything before we give up!