“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”
This quote, often attributed (perhaps incorrectly) to Irish political philosopher Edmond Burke, is at the heart of the debate between many otherwise philosophically aligned positive reinforcement trainers. Do we speak our hearts about the atrocities committed by TV personality Cesar Millan in the name of “dog psychology” or do we simply commend his success in encouraging more people to seek help for their dog’s inappropriate behaviors as we work to repair the damage done to some or our canine clients whose humans have tried to emulate his methods? We are after all, some say, supposed to be positive trainers – should we not reflect that in our behavior with those we disagree with as well as those we are congruent with? Should we not work to shape the behavior of those humans with positive reinforcement rather than use positive punishment when they act in a way we consider inappropriate, just as we would with our dogs?
This difference of approach surfaced recently in regards to two events related to companies long held dear by positive trainers: Premier (www.premier.com ), and Bark (www.thebark.com).
Premier has long been considered a leader in the field of positive dog products, offering items such as the Easy-Walk Harness, the Calming Cap, Manners Minder, Gentle Leader and much more. Bark Magazine is my second-favorite publication (after Whole Dog Journal – www.whole-dog-journal.com ); it’s not as focused as Whole Dog Journal, but it’s an interesting eclectic read, and the regular columns by Patricia McConnell (www.theotherendoftheleash.com), goddess of dog behavior, are by themselves enough to make the magazine worth the price of subscription.
I was hugely dismayed when Sharon Madere, co-owner of Premier, contacted me in early 2010 to inform me that they were selling the company to Radio Systems Corp, a well-known, very successful shock collar company. I was, no pun intended, shocked. Sharon herself gave me the impression that she wasn’t thrilled with the sale, but that it was beyond her control since she wasn’t a majority holder in Premier. She was determined to make the best of it, and optimistically offered that, since she would continue on in her capacity of managing the Premier division of Radio Systems, she was hopeful she could help the parent corporation see the light and eventually, perhaps, move away from marketing of shock collars for dogs. She was contacting well-known professionals in the training and behavior field as a courtesy, and to hopefully garner their support for the move.
I very much appreciated the courtesy, but sadly advised Sharon that I would be looking for alternative sources of equivalent products, as I was unwilling to knowingly contribute my purchasing dollars, even circuitously, to a company whose primary purpose was to shock dogs.
A few weeks age, a Facebook friend recently brought my attention to the fact that the most recent issue of Bark magazine contains an advertisement for a shock collar company. Because Bark generally promotes positive, gentle relationship with dogs, it was an unpleasant surprise to see this ad in a magazine high on my list of favorites. When I contacted Bark editor Claudia Kawczynska, she said she had already received numerous e-mails from concerned readers, including some who were canceling their subscriptions as a result of the ad. She realized they had made a horrendous mistake in accepting the ad, and promised that they would never do it again. The difficulty economy, she said, had clouded their judgment.
Shortly after that, I read several blogs and e-mails that chastised positive trainers for being so hard on companies that made business choices and as a result, fell from grace. “We are,” they said, “positive trainers. We should no more use positive punishment on these people than we would use it on our dogs. Where is the positive in this blacklisting behavior toward these companies?”
In my mind, the Premier and Bark examples are entirely different scenarios. Premier, made a permanent and deliberate major business decision, knowing it would alienate some customers, that puts them in bed with a company that goes against everything I stand for and believe in relative to dog training. Premier is now an integral part of that company, regardless of who manages it. I no longer buy from Premier. While I hope Sharon succeeds on her mission and wish her the best of luck, I won’t spend my money there. (Besides, taking my purchasing dollars away from Premier isn’t positive punishment, it’s negative punishment, and most positive trainers do use negative punishment from time to time.) Bark, on the other hand, made a one-time poor business decision that they openly regret and have promised not to do it again. I will continue to support and write for Bark. And yes, I am pretty open about my disapproval of the Dog Whisperer’s training methods.
I agree with Burke, or whoever it was who really wrote that quote. Good men – and women – need to be willing to stand up and speak out against the evils that are all to present in the world of our canine companions.
And now, I’m headed off to North Carolina to spend a weekend shaping and have fun with some of my very best dog trainer friends. Guess what my next blog will be about!
Footnote from out last Academy: Beth, one of the Border Collie sisters, was adopted by one of our PPaws apprentices and is happily in her new home.
Max, the Sheltie, was adopted by a knowledgeable and experienced couple from Pennsylvania (shelter professionals) who appeared willing and ready to work with his car-reactive behavior.
Pippy and Riley are still waiting for their forever homes at the Humane Society of Washington County (MD); (hswcmd.org)
You are pushing a philosophy, which is your right. But the philosophy is removed from observation and common sense, and in order to sell it you have to demonize “the other” while putting everything in absolutes.
Do you respect politicans who do this? I will bet not, but you do it in the world of dog training. You may not think of yourself as Dick Cheney or George W. Bush, but you have embraced their mind set.
Cesar Millan has committed “atrocities”? Really? It is a laughable statement and unnecessarily shrinks your credibility. You see, the man is on the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC channel. It’s hardly the kind of place where atrocities and violence against animals is shown. And please RESEARCH before you start spewing bunk you have read from some list-serv — at some point Millan needs to sue someone for libel, and I will applaud when he does.
You rail against shock collars. Do you also rail againt electric fences for cattle, invisible fence systems for dogs? Why not make this your lifes work?
You live in Maryland and there are a LOT of electric fences. Go visit the farmers and tell them your theories and then call them how inhumane they are and picket their farms for committing ATROCITIES because you disagree. Ditto for the folks who sell or use invisible fence systems.
Or, you could go the other way.
You could simply show people what you can do.
Now there’s an idea!
It is said that the world will beat a path to your door if you have have a better mouse trap, but YOU HAVE TO HAVE A BETTER MOUSE TRAP.
National Geographic is located with an hour’s drive from where you live, and the Discocvery channel too. Your husband has a kennel full of dogs destined for the gas chamber and I am sure the DC pound can find some red zone pit bulls for you to work with too.
Why not show the world what you can do BY DOING IT rather than demonizing others and painting a characature of the way the world works (and I assure you it works with a lot of aversive training, as you will discover if you speed down Route 50 on your way to your appointment with National Geographic or Discover)?
I figured my Cesar comment would bring some of his supporters to his defense. You certainly have the right to your opinion of him – and science is on my side. National Geographic, sadly, has fallen victim to the push for the almighty dollar, and set aside any semblance of science-based programming, at least in this particular case.
You seem to like to play loose with fact. My husband’s shelter doesn’t use a gas chamber. I also oppose the use of underground shock fences for dogs. It might surprise you to know we have horses, and we use an electric fence to contain them. I do see a distinction between an environmental aversive (I touch this and it hurts me, therefore I won’t touch it) and a shock collar on a dog’s neck that delivers a strong aversive from doG knows where.
BTW, I do show people what I do all the time – my clients, and when I speak at seminars around the world, and in my books. And I actually do my research before I write. I encourage everyone to do the same.
Thanks for reading my blog!
I appreciate your thoughtful writing here – but I’m always amazed at how Cesar Millan is targeted. You’re writing about ecollars in business decisions, but it seems you can’t resist pulling Millan into it and blasting him for his “atrocities.” Have you actually watched the show? I get the impression the “positive only” folks never have. Not really.
It’s too bad. You’re clearly intelligent – you could use your intelligence to really observe what he does. And observe the results. This sort of thing makes me a little sad – and I can’t help but wonder if there is jealousy going on. But – you wouldn’t be able to even recognize that. You’re too well defended in your anti-Cesar mentality.
Yeah. That’s sad. You could actually learn something.
Thanks for your thoughts. Indeed, the bulk of that blog was about business decisions – and interesting that the Cesar defenders focus on that one comment.l
Actually, I have watched the show. Numerous times. Most of the science-based positive reinforcement trainers I know have. Numerous times. (And most of us don’t call ourselves “positive only.”) One episode in particular that stands out as an atrocity is the one in which he hangs a wolf-hybrid until it collapses and releases it’s bladder from lack of oxygen.
And no, it’s not jealousy – I have no desire or ambition to “play Hollywood” and be a TV celebrity. Good, solid dog training and behavior modification isn’t drama, and it doesn’t happen in an hour-long show. I’m quite happy with my own success, and the knowledge that the help I offer my clients is proven to be effective and helpful, without the use of pain, force, coercion and intimidation – and I am quite comfortable in knowing I can encourage my clients – and others – to “try this at home.”
Thanks for reading my blog!
After more than a year of attending a variety of different dog training classes at Peaceable Paws, I can heartily say that Pat, and the other R+ trainers whose work she endorses, have indeed created a far better mousetrap. Unlike the traditional traps, Pat’s works without fear of injury or death, but to the same or greater degrees of effectiveness.
Thanks, Estie – you and Annie are certainly a shining example!
I watch Cesar Millan on Nat’l Geographic, and I learn from it every time – I learn how NOT to train my dogs, and exactly how I do NOT want them to be treated. I find his methods bullying to say the least. I am glad I have watched it and I’ve read his books as well – so I feel I am making an informed decision by choosing alternative methods which have been scientifically proven to be more effective (and in my mind, more humane, and ethically correct).
Thank you for the quote, Pat. I’ve heard lots of people criticizing criticism of CM, but it is true – when someone is doing harm, spreading misinformation, and potentially hurting dogs as well as humans, I think the right thing to do is to find the courage to speak up. Those who have criticized his methods have usually offered alternative ways to accomplish training goals. I think constructive criticism like this is great and a wonderful learning opportunity for those willing to listen and keep an open mind. Education makes a difference, and to me, CM’s lack of education shows in the choices he makes and techniques he uses.