Cesar Millan is in town tonight hosting one of his big dog training extravaganzas. In a different part of town several positive reinforcement trainers are holding a free Q&A session in hopes of swiping some of Mr. Millan’s audience. I thought about attending the former just for curiosity’s sake, but decided against adding my money to the celebrity pot. Then I considered going to the latter to show my support. In the end, I chose to stay home with the puppy. I don’t need another night of negativity.
Does this sound confusing? How can positive-based trainers be negative?
It has nothing to do with the trainers themselves. All of them hosting the free event are excellent people who give practical advice. Some of them are my friends. I would recommend any one of them to someone looking for assistance with her dog. I think their idea of a free education session the same night as Mr. Millan’s is a good one. My concern doesn’t lie with them. It lies with some of their not-so-positive supporters.
Dog training methods are polarizing. One is either pro-dominance theory or staunchly against. There is no middle ground. Don’t get me wrong, I stand firmly to the one side myself. I wave my clicker in the air with pride. There are very valid reasons for getting emotionally involved in the issue. The anger is justified.
I just don’t think it’s helpful. Which is one of the reasons I am staying home.
My concern with the positive reinforcement session is that it will turn into an all-out Cesar rage-fest. There is a place for that, to be sure. I have been known to crack a sarcastic joke or two about alpha rolling. And I am the first to jump on the soap box against the trainer who shall not be named. But I try to keep it to certain circles, such as amongst good friends who share my philosophy or on my website where most of you already know how I feel. Ranting is cathartic and sometimes has a purpose. But it has no place at an educational session for the general public. A session held by trainers hoping to change minds. In my experience, ranting only serves to push people away.
Maybe it’s just because I’ve been there. I watched Cesar Millan’s show and believed in it. I watched the dog training bully and believed in him too. What changed my mind wasn’t someone telling me I was horrible or yelling at me for abusing my dog. Ultimately, I became a positive trainer because the dominance-based methods didn’t work. Not even remotely. I leash-popped, attempted a sad attempt at an alpha roll, and on another dog not my own, I even pressed the button on an electric collar. There was no change. Then, I attended obedience classes with a clicker trainer and almost immediately I had success. The methods were working. The more I practiced, the more I learned, the more it all made sense.
I was won over by science and logic. By someone showing me how I could do it better while also improving my relationship with my dog. It was revolutionary.
Most people who attend training events aren’t looking to rehabilitate aggressive dogs or become professional trainers. These people aren’t evil or malicious. They don’t deserve to be yelled at. They are just looking for ways to get Max to stop barking out the window.
Cesar Millan is a big name. Without more knowledge, it’s natural they are going to turn to him. Of course, tickets to his event aren’t cheap. This is what the positive trainers in my community are counting on. They hoped that by offering a free event on the same night they could get a larger audience and turn them in the right direction. I have no doubt they could be very successful at doing so. As long as the angry supporters in the crowd don’t turn people off.
My fingers are crossed. But I can’t bear to watch.