Defeating the Dog-Training Bully: Can It Even Be Done?

Last week I did something I probably shouldn’t have. It seems I am constantly admitting things like that on here. Last Wednesday night I was tired and up late by myself, as my practically husband had to work at three-thirty in the morning. Shiva was sleeping on the couch and I was on the floor – a not atypical arrangement. As I flipped through the channels, I came across a show I haven’t seen in a long time. It was a newer episode. Newer in that I hadn’t seen it before. Thankfully, I think they have stopped filming completely. (ETA: Unfortunately, according to the website, a new show is in the works. Yay…) For some stupid reason, I decided to check it out again.

 Masochism is a tricky thing. It sneaks up when one least expects it.

A lot has been said and a lot will be said about a certain whispering Mexican. It is not my intention to add to that particular dialogue. Everything I could write, people smarter than I have already written. Besides, in my opinion, this other television experience is a lot worse. I understand that on some level this kind of show is entertaining. Heck, I used to find it entertaining. There was indeed a time I even found it informative.

Years ago, before I ever thought of adopting a dog, I started watching a Canadian program called At the End of My Leash. I knew absolutely nothing about dog training back then. I watched it because I liked dogs and because I guess I liked making fun of people. That seems to be the overall purpose, now that I am looking at it with new eyes. Because it doesn’t have much to do with dog training.

The host of this show is mean. Essentially, he is a dog-training bully. There is no other way to put it then that. When he is not yanking around the dogs, he is berating their owners and making the people cry. No wonder I was mega intimated when we finally called a trainer for Shiva. He tells people they are useless and then puts video cameras throughout their house so he can monitor their every move. This “trainer” and “life coach” also goes through each house with the owners waiting outside, searching for signs of dog treats. Dog treats, according to this television host, are worse than evil. The people who use them are worse than criminals. Treat-training, he often says with disdain, is nothing but a bribe.  This host adheres to the all-too-common belief that dogs should obey their owners because they like them. End of story.

And I used to think he was brilliant.

I am so glad to say that I don’t any more. That after ten minutes I had to turn it off because I couldn’t watch the poor shepherd mix struggle to get away any longer. Nor could I stand the woman looking at the host like he was her saviour (gag). But the important thing to remember is that I did. I thought this “trainer” knew what he was doing. I thought what he said made sense. Sadly, I even tried to apply some of what I saw. (I am very sorry, Roach.)*  I will even go as far as to say I probably still would follow these directions blindly if they had even remotely worked.

Sometimes they do, after all. Some dogs are naturally confident enough to adapt to any form of training. Some dogs really will sit and heel just because they like their owners. Shiva wasn’t one of those dogs. Fortunately, she was hardy and wasn’t affected by my goof-ups. Instead of getting freaked out by my horrifying attempts at leash corrections, instead of running away from me, she just didn’t respond at all. I would correct her and then she would still go ahead to lunge at another person on the sidewalk. It was as if I didn’t exist.  Shiva knew a lot more than I did. Thank goodness she didn’t give up on me completely.

The reason I am saying all this is because I used to like this show and follow its trainer’s precepts. When they didn’t work, I sought outside help. Luckily that help was in the form of a positive trainer and not a “Certified Educator Trainer” from the television show host’s school. (Yes, he has a school for trainers. No, I don’t know what an “educator trainer” is.) It may not have been. What about all the other people out there just like me? How are their dogs doing now?

One of the major reasons dogs are surrendered is due to lack of training. The dog chews the house, pees on the floor, barks too much, steals food, or bites a child. Off to the shelter she goes. Obviously we know most of these problems can be fixed or prevented. But does everyone know that?What about the people who watch this show, try to train their dogs in this way, find out it doesn’t work, and then give up completely?

My question is, how do we reach these people?

It was mostly luck that turned me around. Luck and a very supportive trainer. My dog trainer didn’t enter my house and start yelling at me, which is what I feared. She came in, listened to our concerns, complimented us on the things we were doing right, and offered positive, real-world solutions. She also stayed much longer than the scheduled hour and told me to email her any time I had a question. When she left, I felt good. If I cried it was because I was so happy someone understood our dog. Someone even liked her. It was one of the most uplifting days of my dog-owning life.

In my opinion the host of the aforementioned show is not really a big fan of the dogs he trains.** Nor does he even seem to like people. It worries me that this is how many viewers may view dog trainers. I totally understand not wanting to call someone like that. How do we convince them otherwise?

There are a lot of questions here. I realise the average dog owner doesn’t care all that much about tricks or obedience. As long as one’s dog will walk on a leash, pee outside, and greet everyone in a friendly manner, a lot of people don’t care about much else. That’s fine. But those three things aren’t always easy to attain, despite what the media  portrays. Every dog requires some level of instruction. As someone who has become very passionate about positive reinforcement, I want to help others find the right way.

How do I do this without sounding like a total harpy? 

Or, one better, how do I get shows like At the End of My Leash off the air? How do we make positive reinforcement training just as entertaining to watch?

Pamela at Something Wagging This Way Comes wrote a much less long-winded post on finding the middle ground. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. She makes a lot of very good points. And doesn’t ramble nearly as much about herself.

In the meantime, here is an ancient photo of Shiva being “treat-trained”. If you look closely, you can tell she is totally planning to bite my hand off.

* I am even sorrier I actually considered submitting an application to appear on the show. It makes me wince to remember.

** I’ve read his book as well. Mentioned it in this post. While reading it on the bus, I actually took off the jacket so I wouldn’t advertise for him. Probably a sign I shouldn’t have read it at all.

35 thoughts on “Defeating the Dog-Training Bully: Can It Even Be Done?

  1. Another example that TV producers care more about making money then doing anyone a service. I can’t believe this sadist is still on the air.

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  2. First off, thanks for the shout out. I can’t approve it to appear as a link, however, because I can’t access my site at all. [sigh]

    And I think you just did something that will help. Although we like to assume everyone who is reading our stuff has reached our same understanding, it’s just not true. You have lurkers out there reading who may come to a new idea of what they can do with their dog.

    Many excellent, professional trainers also tell stories of starting out making leash corrections back in the day until they learned better –like Pat Miller. You just don’t know what you don’t know.

    As for your friend in preproduction on Canadian television, perhaps this should be your theme for Blog the Change in April. If you could provide the address and email of the television channel, you could challenge your readers to petition the network to substitute a more scientific and up-to-date dog training show.

    Thanks for sharing this story. And I love your personal approach to all you do. It’s the biggest strength of your blog.

    I do, however, have to admit that I’m really disappointed to hear about this show. I always thought that when we Americans grew up, we’d become Canadians. Now I see that even Canadian television can be crass and obnoxious. 🙂

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  3. I don’t understand how these people get TV shows, when the scientists behind dog training ( board certified veterinary behaviorists) prove these methods are detrimental to dogs.

    Hopefully, with time, these “training methods” will fade into the background.

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  4. I’ve heard of that guy and thankfully never had to see him.

    I often feel that I am preaching to the chior, here, in blogland. But I remind myself that if just one person reads that post and it makes a dent, even five years later, it’s done it’s job. On the other hand, our dogs are ambassadors for all rescue/ stray/shelter dogs. I know Stumpy has changed the way any number of people feel about cattle dogs and more importantly, rescued/shelter cattle dogs.

    And you express yourself so well, Kristine; putting things I many have thought, in black and white in a way I wouldn’t be able to!

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  5. Great post – and I don’t think you ramble by the way.

    We’ve not seen this show in my house. Maybe it’s not on our satellite channels. I shall make a point of avoiding it if I do spot it.

    Back in the 1970s – when the Lady Of The House was a tiny, little girl (hardly more than a baby, SHE SAYS!) – there used to be an elderly lady called Barbara Woodhouse who had a television programme in the UK about dog training. The LOTH says she can’t remember much about the training bit but she does remember how this white-haired Barbara used to tell the owners off like the most scarey old-school maths teacher you have ever seen!!!

    Kindness and fairness always gets the best results I think (with people and hounds)

    Love and licks Winnie x

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  6. I hope the TV productions on dog training issues can be more sensible and convey the right messages to the public. Before I had Eva, I was misled by a lot of false information too until I started to question them and sat down and checked it out, then I realised I had had made a lot of silly mistakes.
    By blogging, I’ve learnt so much about dogs and dog trainings from blogger friends from all over the world and everybody is so helpful and caring.

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  7. I agree with you 100%, and I also agree with Pamela when she says you don’t realize it, but you probably have impacted people with your words. Hell, I’m one of the most dog-loving people I know, but you’ve really made me think about how I can do more than just love dogs, but how I can help them with all that love. In a way that is positive and rewarding.

    I also like Pamela’s idea of using this for your Blog for the Change post and putting a way to contact the station and website where that show is hosted to allow your readers to petition the show. Not sure if that’s legal or how that works up there (hi, I’m an ignorant American), but there has to be something we can do.

    Just keep writing!

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  8. This is such an interesting post! It all sort of reminds me of bicycling (okay, I’ll tie this together, just wait for it): if everyone walking or driving sees bicyclists running red lights and riding on the sidewalks, they think that’s How You’re Supposed to Do It. Then when they start bicycling, they do the same thing.

    We rarely see other people training their dogs outside of an actual dog class. We see them walking their dogs who are relaxed and loose-leash walking right beside them (envy!) or being dragged down the sidewalk by their dogs (disdain!), but we don’t really discuss training options or techniques. The only place we really see this is on these TV shows, which, I would argue, are also Not Doing It Right.

    Hmm I think you may have just inspired my personal statement for my grad school application…

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  9. Kristine: As always, I love your refreshing insights, self-reflections & sense of humor. I haven’t seen the show you’re describing, and I don’t think I could watch it, either. Fortunately, Victoria Stillwell is gaining popularity, spreading the positive training word. I teared up a bit reading your post, as I too thought a force-based trainer was amazing before I knew better. I switched to positive training because force-based methods were causing my sweet dog to be defensively aggressive. Even as a novice, I knew there had to be a better way! (And, I apologized to my dog many times after becoming enlightened.) Keep spreading the word, and hugs to Shiva!

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  10. This is a great post! I used to watch that show and find it very informative. What changed my mind was talking to a trainer at the animal shelter I volunteer at. She reccomended other trainers books to read since I was reading his books at the time. Since then I’ve focused on Patricia McConnell and Suzanne Clothier and Karen Pryor.

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  11. Luckily we don’t get that show here in the US. From the sounds of it, I wouldn’t want to see it. The first trainer I went to with Riley didn’t believe in using treats, just praise. We got our therapy dog certification after attending his classes. We weren’t allowed to use treats for the Therapy Dogs International test or a clicker, so I guess I am kind of glad we went to him first. Now we go to a positive rewards trainer and we’re both much happier. I can just picture our first trainer being the host on this show you’re talking about!! Gives me chills.

    Elyse and Riley

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  12. I watched the show once – hoping to get help with Nick and his issues – and I thought – this guy needs to be off TV and wrote a letter to the network – and more important – wrote a letter to the advertisers saying I would no longer buy their product if they continue to advertise on his program. One person writing does not make an impact – if all the Canadian doggie bloggers did – I am sure we could make our voices heard.

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    • That is an awesome idea. Thank you for chiming in. Your comments are always so kind. I will try to find out who Slice’s main sponsor’s are – even if I have to sit through an episode one more time. 😛

      He’s just so mean. I don’t understand why he thinks he knows so much better than everybody else. He doesn’t have a degree in anything. In fact, he is a landscaper by trade, not a psychologist.

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  13. Amazing post!!! Here in the US, Animal Planet aired his show ONCE. I know I watched it (out of curiosity, having never heard of him) and wrote them an lengthy and very strongly worded letter that what this idiot did in the name of training was pretty abusive to both dog and human. My guess is A.P. got lots of letters/emails/calls because after that night, they never showed it again and stopped all advertising and took any mention of the show off their website.

    I think posts like this are super helpful for people… and really I think the BEST advertising we have is our own dogs. In prong-collar country, (in NY where everyone and their mothers used a prong) I would walk both my dogs around town in excellent heel position and would be working down-stays with people/dogs walking around… I had many people ask me about the training and I very proudly said I used positive reinforcement and clicker training. I didn’t believe in using prongs/chokes or leash corrections (people couldn’t believe I got the results I have with out corrections)… the hardest part is that there were virtually no really local clicker trainers, but i recommended a few schools about 30 minutes away to quite a few people. Over the course of the two years in the area, I saw some of the dogs who WERE on prongs being walked on front-clip harnesses or halti’s/gentle leaders. There were some steps in the right direction.

    Excellent post!!! (again)

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  14. Excellent post, and kudos – saying it simply and well is good,
    and EVERYone at some point is a beginner.
    Like you, i began in the ‘correction’ mindset because that’s what was taught to me, but luckily, EVEN IN THE MID-1960s, my mentor [tho she used choke-collars] was kind, fair and humane; she praised three or more times as often as she scolded, she was much more soft and eliciting with shy or soft dogs, and she never approached the intensity of “corrections” as seen or shown on TV, with Prattison or the Dawg-Wrassler.
    She did not expect inexperienced pups to be totally focused under distraction; she also didn’t tolerate handlers who didn’t do their homework, and then blamed the dog.
    It’s stunning to me that over 40 years later, these throwbacks are broadcast and lauded as experts, but in my personal experience, they’re the equivalent of the 1940s wartime-veterans, using make-or-break boot camp K9-training on pet-dogs and even puppies. Flashback! Koehler and Haggerty re-incarnate…
    – terry

    terry pride, APDT-Aus, apdt#1827, Certified Vet’s-Asst,
    member of Truly Dog-Friendly
    “dogs R dogs, wolves R wolves, and primates R us.”
    – tmp, Sept-2004

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  15. Pingback: Defeating the Dog-Training Bully: Can It Even Be Done? « Rescued … | Dog Training Blog | Tips and Dog Training Resources

  16. DYING over the line, “whispering Mexican.”

    I know what you mean. I watched the show when I first got Oly and tried and tried and tried to do what I was told. And for some maybe it works. But my girl was NOT having it.

    Positive training and treats and especially PATIENCE were what ended up working. Especially patience.

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  17. Charlie has/had severe, clinical separation anxiety. He would bark for as long as I was gone, even if it was for twelve hours. He destroyed his trachea, and lost his voice many times, besides the destruction to the house. The first trainer I called, was unfortunately, a “traditional” trainer. The moment she put that choke collar on him and popped him I kindly asked her to take her collar and leave. He didn’t stop coughing for twenty minutes after she did that.

    I don’t know how we got by in the years before I found clicker training, but somehow we eked it out. We received death threats from grumpy neighbors, and had the cops called numerous times, for many hefty fines.

    But when I began really addressing his problem, it was like a light turned on. It took almost a year of really intense training, as well as medication, but he was slowly able to be alone for longer and longer periods.

    We moved twice since then, and every move has been difficult with some regression, but it’s working for us. It’s not something you can put on an hour’s TV episode, it took us *years* of work to get where we are now. Years.

    Thank you for writing about this.

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  18. Well stated! I think one of the biggest challenges is that people no longer think for themselves. There are so many sources of information available at the click of a button (and of course, if it’s one TV or the internet, it must be true) that people just jump on the bandwagon of the first opinion they find…or worse, the one that is the most popular. It seems so many people who have challenging dogs meet one self-proclaimed expert and then fail to process whether that person is making sense, whether the process and values mesh with the experience they want for themselves and their pets, etc. When I have a challenge or need training, I make sure I have the best resources available, in my opinion, to help me get what I need. Why would I offer any less to my dogs?

    I think the other challenge is that people prefer drama over reality. Just as people would rather watch Jerseylicious (which I would like to state for the record is not something I have ever watched), they would rather watch a poor dog be terrorized and its people reduced to tears than tune into the mundane, repetitive monotony that makes up true training and progress.

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  19. Brilliant post, Kristine. Training is nothing to do with strong-arm tactics and everything to do with loving firm boundaries.

    Your blog – and especially those lovely films you make – are the best advert for dog training I know 🙂 High standards – but fun…

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  20. I think sometimes, it’s enough that people start talking about things that they disagree with. It validates other people’s feelings that they may have kept hidden. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen the show in question, which doesn’t sound like much of a loss.

    We’re always training our dogs. Whether it’s teaching them what they can and can’t get away with, or obedience or agility or tricks or whatever, they’re always learning something in their partnership with us. When we’re teaching ourselves, it’s important to remember that we sometimes learn more from our failures and what doesn’t work as we do from our successes. Sometimes watching a show like that can press the button in your head that says “I would never do that! What I would do instead is…”

    I don’t pretend to know all the answers when it comes to training dogs, but I’ve had enough experience to know that when something feels really wrong or off to me, to follow my instincts!

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  21. MayzieMom here. I watched a similar show on Animal Planet (wonder if it’s the same guy under a different US title) and I was horrified by his methods. And the most ironic thing about it was that in the middle of the show was a PSA from Victoria Stilwell talking about outdated coercian methods and dominance theory. I was like, “You have GOT to be kidding me.” I was so angry after watching that show and fired off an email to Animal Planet. I never saw the show on again. Doubt my one little email had anything to do with it but maybe there were a lot of other little emails all talking together.

    I’m with you. I get very nervous about anyone watching a “do not try this at home” show because you KNOW they’re trying it at home. I’ve heard some people talk with such disdain about “give them a cookie” trainers like Victoria Stilwell and it bothers me a lot. Mayzie and I have come a LONG way with that type of training (okay, her training is more like “give them some cheese” training) and I can’t even IMAGINE how awful it would’ve been to subject her to some of the methods (particularly flooding) that some of the other tv trainers encourage. I always feel like if someone tries Victoria Stilwell’s methods and the dog doesn’t change, at least you haven’t harmed the dog or the relationship you have with your dog. Other methods present far too much risk for harm, both canine and human, in my opinion.

    The very first trainer we ever worked with told us that anyone who said that dogs should work just because they like you is crazy. He said that very few people would go to work and do their job for free just because they liked their boss. Why should our dogs be any different?

    Okay, stepping off soapbox now. 🙂

    Amber

    PeeS from Mayzie: Whew! My mom sure is long-winded! I just wanted to tell you thank you for coming to my Commentathon pawty. I have had so much fun and it’s all cuz of good furends like you!

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  22. I think that one positive thing about the show is that it has brought the idea of dog-training to the masses. I feel that before this people didn’t really think much about training and just felt like they had to be stuck with bad behavior. Then, hopefully, when people become interested in training they realize the more positive method that works for their dog.
    As a side-note, we did 4-H dog training back when we were kids and their method was using a choke collar and using the other hand holding the leash to whip your dog on the behind (like a horse) to get them to listen. And no one questioned this.

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  23. I don’t know that I could comment anything more than what others have said. I personally have had 2 horrible experiences with dog “professionals” that are the only ones in the area. And both were highly recommended. I haven’t found any that I’m comfortable with on TV or off. But I believe just talking about it, opening the door to other possibilites will aid in the attraction. We have a saying in 12-step groups, attraction rather than promotion. When someone sees the wonderful job you do with Shiva, someone is bound to ask and then someone is bound to ask them and so on.

    I have read about a few trainers who were like drill sargents and believe whole heartly that they should run there dogs like an army, hard core discpline. And I don’t understand it. But then some people can’t understand how our dogs are our best friends and are as much a part of our family as if we had children. To some people a dog is just a dog and is treated as such. Still a lot of minds to change there. One post at a time. 🙂

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  24. I’ve watched Brad Pattison’s show a few times and yes, he is pretty obnoxious, but a lot of the owners that he deals with are pretty thick, not understanding the needs of their animals. Same with Cesar, too. Owners with so called problem dogs are “problem people”, too. If you pay attention to the owners on these shows, you’ll notice that they usually don’t have schedules for their animals ie. exercise and feeding and let the dogs do whatever they want. Seriously, you can’t do whatever you want, so how why does the dog get a pass? And a lot of their kids aren’t a treat, either.

    It’s funny that you mention that Brad says that dogs will obey owners because they “like” them. Jersey likes Sean, but she doesn’t respect him. To make her sit, he usually has to tell her 4 or 5 times. I just say the word and she sits, that’s cause Jersey respects me.

    When did discipline become a dirty word? Discipline doesn’t mean violence it means consistancy and learning to respect rules. A disciplined dog is a happy dog. (psst, that usually applies to people, too)

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  25. Yeah, we’ve all seen those trainers and I think most of us would admit that one time or another our view of “training” has changed significantly over the years to make room for what is best for our particular dog.

    Doodlebug would never do well under a harsh trainer…he’s too soft and squishy and would just fall apart. I think it’s my job to find the best method for him (though I’m sure there are some who after seeing him think I should keep looking!).

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  26. Pingback: Searching For My Inner Harpy « Rescued Insanity

  27. YES YES YES YES! After actually *meeting* with the trainer I think you are referring to, I can tell you he has absolutely NOTHING I want. If I have to bully, intimidate, and deprive my dogs to get them to behave, *I shouldn’t have dogs*. My dogs behave because I taught them that when they trust me and obey me, good things happen. Period. No bullying necessary.

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  28. I watched the show once & couldn’t believe what I was seeing. So I watched half of another one, & yup I was right……that man is a bully who likes to degrade & humilate. Maybe it makes him feel better about himself. He needs training on how to be more humane to dogs & humans. I will never allow that show to be watched in my home again. I have a rather large dog (85lbs) who listens & obeys when I speak softly & calmly & does what I want (well most of the time lol). He is allowed on the couch (he will get down if I tell him to) & hops up on the bed at 7:30am every morning for his snuggles & morning scratch. I love my dog very much and would never allow that sadistic man near him.

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  31. Great post Kristine. Although I’ve never heard of this trainer, as you know I am one of those who subscribed to similar nonsense at one time. Glad Shiva taught you the right way at lot faster than I learned my lesson! 🙂

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