I’m not a dog behaviorist. I’m not even a very good trainer of my own dogs, but I’ve read a lot about different methods and over the past six years, I’ve learned a lot about dog behavior and body language.
Early on in my education, I watched The Dog Whisperer and tried to follow his technique to get Isis to stop barking at bicycles and joggers and other dogs on leash. It didn’t work. She got worse. What finally did work was clicker training and positive reinforcement. That’s when I learned that there are lots of dog trainers who think Cesar Millan is the worst thing to happen to dog training since shock collars.
Victoria Stilwell is where it’s at. Not only does she use dog-friendly techniques, she wears tight black pants and has pretty hair.
Last week, a video circulated decrying Cesar’s methods when working with a food aggressive dog who wound up biting him on the hand. The first version I watched featured slow-motion and captions describing the dog’s behavior.
Then I read this blog post and the comments. One dissenter blamed the owners for nurturing food aggression and creating a monster. He/she wrote:
Watch the ENTIRE episode to find out what happens to Holly. I don’t know of many trainers, including Victoria Stilwell (whom I respect and appreciate very much as a trainer), that would make this offer to save a dog’s life. Holly is now a balanced dog and will most likely be placed with dog savvy people who can keep her that way.
Actually, I know quite a few trainers who would try to save this dog’s life rather than have her euthanized.
And I just so happened to catch the whole episode over the weekend, because “find out what happens to Holly” was just too enticing. Turns out, Holly got left at Cesar’s rehab center. I didn’t hear anything about her being placed in a better home. It looked to me like Holly might live out the rest of her life at Cesar’s. (I also didn’t see anything that showed that the owners “nurtured” food aggressive behavior. They consulted other trainers before Cesar.)
Earlier in the week, I read this blog about the hazards of rehoming an aggressive dog, and I recognize that Holly’s family simply could not keep her. They had a small child, and not everyone has a lifestyle like mine, where it is possible to keep my dogs from ever interacting with small children.
So I completely understand the decision that Holly’s family made, and think moving out to Cesar’s center is probably preferable to being killed, but I disagree that those were the only two options.
A positive reinforcement trainer could have trained Holly to be less food aggressive without putting her through so much stress that she bit someone in the process. Cesar’s method involved leering over the dog while she ate, advancing ever closer. Of course she bit him! She already was visibly anxious, and he deliberately escalated the situation.
I know I’m guilty of personifying dogs, but I felt sad for Holly at the end of the episode, watching her family leave her behind at Cesar’s. I hope she’s happy living with a pack of her own kind, but I couldn’t help thinking that his rehab center resembled a cruel Oliver Twist-style orphanage.