A few days ago I posted a fairly detailed training video featuring our recent work with Gus, a 125 pound aggressive Tibetan Mastiff. The video chronicled both the owner’s journey as well as ours.
At the beginning of the video we shared how the owner had already sent Gus to multiple trainers around the country, and although they had professed to be equipped to deal with serious behavior issues, they weren’t able to help Gus or his mom. (One trainer even had to have Gus picked up the same day he had been dropped off for a multiple week board and train because his behavior was so overwhelming.) So his mom was understandably nervous and skeptical about trying another trainer. But she was also having to contemplate some rather dire choices regarding Gus’ future if there weren’t some answers to be found.
Later in the video we detailed Gus’s behavior when he arrived – growling, multiple bite attempts – as well as our training approach. We listed the tools (prong collar, e-collar, dominant dog collar etc) and our approach/methodology/thought process.
The goal of sharing a video with all this detail is manifold. One is to give owners with serious dogs hope about the possibilities out there. Another is to advocate for/make others aware of the tools and methods we’ve seen in direct hands-on experience that have helped transform dogs and empower their owners. And lastly, to give tangible information about the process so others trainers and owners can leverage our experience to help advance their understanding, techniques and success.
So we shared the video yesterday and received a bunch of awesome responses and praise. A lot of it was for Gus’ owner not giving up on him and continuing to look for answers, and others were simply uplifted by the video showing the challenges of a troubled dog – especially one with Gus’ history and danger potential due to sheer physical size – finding some real help.
And then in the comments under the video I received this from Ashlee R:
“This is disgusting. He had a distrustful aggressive dog in an unfamiliar situation and STARTS with an ECOLLAR?! Then forcibly crate trains (crate training is supposed to be slow, and an enjoyable and safe process for the dog). Even when he is walking and working on ‘heel’ not ONCE does he reward the dog for heeling. He just says the word and ignores the dog. This is not relationship-building positive dog training. This poor dog is being emotionally suppressed. It’s called learned helplessness. That is not training. He will be returned to his owner with more problems than ever before. This ‘trainer’ needs to stop. He’s seen one too many episodes of the dog whisperer and has an incredibly uneducated, archaic and inhumane methodology for dealing with dogs. As an animal behaviorist certificated from positive and scientifically backed methodologies, this makes me very sad. If you think that this is dog training, I suggest you research what actual canine ecologists and evolutionary biologists have to say on the subject. Find a methodology backed my professionals that have PHDs in canine behavior. Google Ian Dunbar, Sophia yin, ray coppinger, Patricia McConnell and more. This is just pop science that does more damage than good. Remember, the dog whisperer is a TV show. It is edited. They pick and choose the dogs that go on air. Real animal behaviorist would have a field day with all of the things this man is doing incorrectly.”
Now here’s the thing, I get this message ALL the time! Yes, the names change, and the order or a few of the details are different, but all in all, this is a sort of copy and paste propaganda comment/message/email. They all tend to say about the same thing. The dog is being suppressed. Learned helplessness is occurring. This isn’t science based training. This is dark ages stuff. This is abuse. The inevitable Cesar Millan references. The dog is only responding because he’s afraid. The dog will be a ticking time bomb and be returned home in worse shape then he arrived. And then of course there will be a list of revered trainers/behaviorists/doctors that should be studied/followed instead.
Me and every trainer I know that is doing great work, real work, saving dogs lives and transforming real problems receives this email or message, or some form of it, all the time.
And typically I just ban and delete this stuff. It doesn’t even register anymore. But as I was reading this particular message I realized I was incensed. Not for me and my work, or the Gus video, but for you. You the dog owning public. You the folks with troubled dogs, trying to make sense of all the conflicting information. Trying to make informed decisions for your dog through the morass of rhetoric, mudslinging, and fear mongering. Trying to make decisions that could ultimately be the difference between your dog staying in your home or being re-homed, getting help with issues or staying stuck in them, and of course, even life or death.
I don’t intend to be dramatic, but when you’re dealing with real dog issues – serious reactivity, resource guarding, separation anxiety, dog aggression, human aggression etc – not finding suitable and effective answers can mean dire outcomes.
So this is why I’m writing this. There’s a battle being waged currently in the dog world. A battle where the Purely Positive/Force Free folks purport your dog’s welfare to be the priority, but the reality is unfortunately something very different. It’s a battle that prioritizes dogma over dogs. Ideology over actual welfare. Agenda over answers. It’s a weird thing to see a large group of folks, who present themselves as dog lovers, leading a charge that ignores tangible reality in favor of a belief system, and sacrifices dogs in the name of science and academia and supposed higher morals.
But here’s the thing, you’ll never see these folks – not the well-respected and highly-lauded trainer/authors, not the veterinary behaviorists, none of these folks with credentials coming out their ears – show real-life work and real-life results with truly challenging dogs. It simply doesn’t exist. They can’t show results. They never have. Not with serious dogs.
You have to ask yourself why this is?
This is maybe the most important piece of information to take from this post. The glaring absence of results, the absence of evidence.
And in this day and age of everyone having a video camera on their phone, if these folks and their methods are so revolutionary, if they work so well, if they’re so cutting edge, so humane, so scientifically stunning, how come they don’t have any evidence showing all this great work?
Because it’s all talk. Convenient, well-crafted, smart-sounding, intellectually stimulating, brain-twisting, heart-tugging talk. Talk that is based on manipulating data and cherry picking the science that supports their cause, while ignoring that which doesn’t. Talk that is completely devoid of reality and results, as well as true care, for dogs or owners. (The knowledge of Pure Positive/Force Free trainers recommending even mildly challenging dogs to be put down is legendary, and heart breaking in the dog training world.)
So I write this to help you folks out there who are trying to make sense of this stuff. The folks who show up here after having spent tons of money and time on methods and tools that haven’t yielded any results. Those of you who have heard only horror stories about prong collars and e-collars, and how correcting your dog will create more aggression and compromise your relationship. Or those of you that have never heard about us, or trainers like us, or balanced methods and tools. People who aren’t even aware of these possibilities or options, and who end up suffering unnecessarily or putting their dogs down or re-homing them simply because they haven’t had the luxury of information.
I write this not to drum up business or celebrate our training victories, but to simply do my part to try to tell the truth. To try to balance out the imbalance of the rhetoric. There’s a battle going on for sure. My goal is to try to help share information and results and to pass that help on to you. I don’t care if you hire us, hire someone across the country, train your dog yourself, or even if you prefer the Purely Positive approach. (It’s actually great for training certain behaviors, teaching new things, and can be helpful for cupcake dogs.) My goal isn’t to get you to buy-in to my method and approach or even balanced training as an approach. My only goal is that you have the luxury of all the information out there, that you get to see all sides of the story fairly presented, so you can make a decision that is informed and that resonates with you. A decision that isn’t based solely on cleverly-worded propaganda. Propaganda that leverages the PERCEPTION of science and academia while ignoring real-life results and real-life success. I want you to be able to make whatever decision feels right and makes sense, but I want you to have both sides of the story before doing so.
The propaganda machine has been doing an awesome job of trying to shame and scare those (both trainers and owners) that use a balanced approach into hiding, into being afraid to tell their stories of success. They use fear to scare owners – that you will destroy your dog and your relationship, or that you’re just a bad person. They use fear to scare trainers – they show up in hordes on trainer’s FB pages and blast them for being cruel and barbaric. They spread information all across the Internet about how barbaric these tools and trainers are. (Who hasn’t seen the famous embedded prong collar picture that is supposed to show the damage a prong collar can do to a dog in training – meanwhile that was a prong collar that was left on a dog for months, if not years to create the same results embedded harnesses and flat collars create.)
I typically try to steer clear of the controversy and madness, but felt it necessary to jump in here. It makes my blood boil every time I see dogs and owners struggling and being sold a bill of goods that aren’t helping them. Ultimately the decision is up to you. And like I said earlier, I’m okay with whatever decision you make – really, I am. I just want to make sure you’re aware of all the information out there, and are able to weigh it and process it and then come to whatever decision feels right for you and your dog.
I guess the entire point of this blog post is just to make sure that dog owners are aware that the propaganda machine is at work. That there is a movement and agenda that is out there working overtime to affect your feelings and choices, and that this movement cares more about its movement than it does you or your dog. So just make sure you’re an informed consumer, and not being swept along a river you didn’t even know was trying to pull you and your dog in.
P.S. And for those who have been following Gus’s story, ironically yesterday when I posted the Gus video his mom also sent a detailed update email (he’s been home for a good chunk of time now) later that day. Here it is for those that might be curious about what was said earlier in this post (learned helplessness, fear training, suppression, and ticking time bombs never looked so good!), and to give you a different perspective, the owner’s perspective:
This is long overdue but have been very busy here at work. We are seasonal so the summer season is 24/7 for us until October.
I don’t know where to start, and how to express the amazing transformation of my world with gus, but here it goes.
When we left Los Angeles, we drove straight through to Abq, 13 1/2 hrs. We stopped for a couple of potty breaks, and never had to use the e collar. He heeled like a cream puff.
We checked into our hotel, The Marriott in Abq. and entered into the elevator. (This is the first time he has ever been in an elevator) I was ready to pop him if he made any moves, and then the door opened on the floor just before ours. We were standing in the corner of the elevator when 3 men entered. I broke out into a sweat, but Gus, he paid no attention to the strangers who entered into this small box with him and his mom. The men just admired how well behaved Gus was. As we arrived on our floor, I let out a big sigh of relief. I was so proud of him. I placed a towel at the foot of my bed on the floor for him to place and sleep all night. He slept with his collar on just in case. When I woke up the next morning, he didn’t move at all!
When we arrived in Red River, our home, I got right to work. No days off, no resting, no play days.
I wasn’t sure how he would react once back at home, if he would test me, ignore my commands or what. We practiced our recall for 20 minutes in the house. I had to pop him a couple of times, but got him back into place. He’s fully aware that I have the power now, and he has to obey me.
At this time, I didn’t have a crate that he could fit it, so I contained him the living room. I know I know. While I was out of the house,
I put him in his place command position on his bed, (Not mine) and hours later he was still on his bed.
Day 2, we walked 2 1;2 miles up to the ranch. He was in again, a perfect heel. If he fell out of his heel, maybe a head forward or behind, all I had to say was heel, and he adjusted without a pop.
When we arrrived at the ranch, we went to the meadow, and practiced recall. Excellent! We did this for maybe 30 minutes. I was about 50 ft away from him and
most times he didn’t move until called. I am so estatic with this, because before training, when I called for him, he would just look at me and ignore me. Now I have
control over him on recall. We do this every day, You would be so proud of both of us.
I am so proud of his improvement when walking him. People around town have noticed a tremendous difference in his behavior. When we walk, he looks up at me in a way
that I have never seen before. It’s like he’s asking, OK mom, what do you want me to do now! It just melts my heart.
He doesn’t charge the fence when dogs walk by, he doesn’t go crazy in the car when dogs go by. (All stuff he used to do!)
Two nights ago, I brought him out to the lobby of the hotel/restaurant. I was very careful and very aware of his posture, demeanor around everybody. I told him to place and he remained there. It just keeps getting better and better. I don’t know how to thank you for literally saving Gus’s life, and mine. I am eternally grateful to you and your wonderful staff for not giving up on Gus, when others did.
For those of you who think you cannot leave your precious baby for 3 weeks at this facility for board and train, it will be the most difficult thing you will have to go through. You think, oh my god, my dog has never ever been away from me, he won’t survive. He will and so will you. If you have any hesitation because of this, please do your dog and yourself justice, let Sean and his team help you. You will not regret it.
I can go on and on but I think I’ve said enough for now.
I will be taking videos of our walks and sending them to you.
Also, I have asked a few friends of mine to write a couple of testimonials on Gus.
Keep up the incredible work, you have saved and changed so many lives, I wish there were more people out there who cared as much as you do.
Love to Sean and the team
PS Can I use the e collar forever, and how long do they last?