Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dogs are worshiped, but not protected

Dogs are worshiped, but not protected.

For a few good years those of us that needed to point out the harsh realities of pain training all had the comfort knowing that we could point to a number of respected groups for back up when discussing it with client’s or friends and family. Recently during a discussion with a high school teacher I realized I could not suggest American Humane as a source for why the DW show is harmful. This then rests in the opinion paradigm, even though it’s not, and there are other sources, American Human is the oldest and they have a TV & Film division. So the impact of their position statement is much stronger.

I was given a cordial dismissal via email by the VP of American Humane a few weeks ago. There was no argument, no disagreements. Essentially all conversations were productive and we shared the same concerns. However, I asked too many difficult questions. I kept getting the circular logic double talk, and standard issue answers, but I kept asking questions. I found it funny, because I was told by Karen Rosa of AH’s TV & Film Div, that she admired my “sustained passion”.

Herein lays the problem with not only this AH symposium but much of dog training. If you ask too many questions either people get mad, or they fall silent, or in CM’s case they get the lawyers to scare you. In the case of dog training on TV that celebrates causing dogs fear and pain and falsely claiming it’s not a problem, but a man’s “gift” is out right negligence. Nat Geo knows full well what is happening. CM and his thugs know there are different ways to train, and they also know it’s a matter of time before they get caught, that’s right caught. American Humane is sincere in their efforts; I am not saying they are shady. However they are playing with one slippery fish, and they’re out matched in the PR game. After all, that is what TV stars do, they reshape themselves into whatever sells and work at avoiding the wrong kind of controversy. If CM and his people wanted him to get an education legitimately they would have him take some time off, go on the down low and study, jeeze if he’s so gifted it should take no time at all.

Instead they are attempting to take a short cut, co op some new language and use some legit terms to make it appear as though he's humane.

The following is the last Q&A I had with American Humane

• American Humane has not retracted our 2006 statement that is critical of Cesar Millan training methods.
Yet it is not on your website. Which sends the wrong message to the entire community of positive reward based dog trainers and concerned dog owners. So in essence you did retract it. Once you put it back on your website it will be a public statement for us to point to when we need back up during counseling and training sessions. How helpful is your statement unless the public can see it?

• The decision to remove our 2006 statement from our website was made in consideration of moving forward with the planning of our Summit.
I get that, it was undoubtedly a condition placed upon you by Millan Inc. You should not have acquiesced to it. It has sent the wrong message to the very people that are out here working towards a more humane profession. You let us down.

• We are not partnering with Cesar Millan in hosting the American Humane National Dog Training Summit.
You keep saying that, and I believe you, however Millan or his people keep pushing the notion you are. There is a PowerPoint floating around the web stating you are “partnered” with him, and his website announcing the symposium conjures up the image that he has been invited and that you are in support of him. When I asked if you were going to move towards getting it taken down, you said that “freedom of speech would protect them”, yet your freedom of speech is not exercised by leaving your statement on your website?

• Neither Cesar Millan nor his affiliates are giving us any funding nor are they influencing the planning of our Summit.
Again I believe you that he and his people are not funding the event, but you cannot expect me to believe that they are not influencing the event, they got you to take down the statement against his show, so they are influencing the event, Millan has a statement at his website making it seem he & AH are copasetic. My question is what Hollywood star has their high powered lawyer behind the scenes making everyone dance to Millan’s tune? That is my question.

• Cesar Millan’s representatives reached out to open a dialogue with us a few weeks ago and we accepted an invitation to that dialogue.
Again, I understand the sequence of events that took place for the meeting and the symposium, yet Millan’s PR team has it twisted that you asked him to be part of the event, when in fact it was them that came to you. I also know that at first you said no thanks, and then went back with the notion of a broader educational possibility. Education for whom? Millan hopefully. You cannot seriously think that Millan will be teaching anyone at the symposium anything, unless you count how to hoodwink and hack train as educational for other people. He's had plenty of opportunity to become educated. It's not AH's job to educate Millan, nor is it anyone else's job, it's his job to educate himself. That is also a slap in the face to every person that has taken it upon themselves to become educated in dog behavior and positive training. We have to work for it, while he gets a private audience with the best and brightest?

• Mr. Millan has expressed interest in attending our Humane Dog Training Summit and has stated that he is open to evolving his training methods and learning from other trainers.
He may have stated that to you in private, however in public and on his website he does not say that he is interested in learning from anyone, he paints a picture of himself being asked to participate, casting himself alongside other humane trainers/behaviorists et al…as an equal, as being accepted, and American Humane’s bungling of the roll out of this event is mainly to blame. You placed no conditions on him or his people about announcing the event on his website until it was all confirmed and set?!?

• Mr. Millan has not yet been invited to our summit, as the date and location have not been determined.
Look at his website it is quite obvious that he is going to the event and again making it look like he has already been invited.

• Any formal invitation to Mr. Millan will be issued at the same time that we issue such invitations to all of our other Summit guests.
Yet he is touting that he has been invited. This is like your once public statement that is now private. Looks like he is dictating the way the event will be perceived. After all, his entire PR team is better than yours. In the end that is what you’re dealing with, like it or not. Why else would they jump so readily to announce he’s part of the event? It gets them much needed validation from critics. They did not waste a second did they?

• As yet we have not determined a date, location, venue or final guest list for the Summit and we are only in the very early stages of planning for the event.
In these early stages you have already caused him to be aligned with people who are opposed to him, given the impression that you no longer have a position statement against his show, methods or ideology and let down a vast majority of the humane and positive dog training community.
Why should I or anyone else believe that this event will not be twisted into a photo op for Millan and his people to just use it for a re make of his image? That is already taking shape. Where is the assurance that he will in fact learn anything, other than he can get away with his shenanigans? You have not even confirmed the event or the other guests and he is touting he’s invited. Can you not see what his people are doing and it’s not even a reality yet. They are so desperate for anything resembling an affiliation or an acceptance from the humane legit crowd that they’ll even take the promise of it.

End of Q&A with American Humane.

Some of the people reading this will be asked to attend this event, and may have already. Some of the people reading this will not be asked. Some will just go back and hang their heads and sigh. The last reaction is what Milan Inc. counts on and what has largely been the reason he’s been able to bully his way through dog training culture, oh sorry dog psychology, or is it now that he modifies behavior?

Whatever side you fall on, know this; the reason why this is important is simple. Dogs deserve not just our worship, dogs deserve our protection.

You might ask why the hell I am so adamant about this topic. CM & I share one very singular distinction, dogs are the reason we’ve got anything in life. I would venture a guess that a good majority of the dog trainers reading this would have to agree they too are secure in life due to dogs. The massive difference is that those of us who train humanely, that have dogs as companions and do not cause them fear or pain, are being high jacked by a charlatan. The culture of dog training is in danger, and dogs everywhere are now in jeopardy of being mis diagnosed and then jabbed, kicked, choked and shocked into submission as a way to “train” them. Personally I’m tired of cleaning up this behavioral mess, and I know many others are as well.

Two recent personal events that illustrate this decline in the desire for people to find out the humane way of doing things when it comes to training dogs.

1 - On a recent dog training session my wife Vyolet Michaels CTC was working with a couple that tried CM’s methods based on watching him on TV, and made the dog so fearful, that the dog was a “shaking bag of bones” to quote my wife. After she explained the fall outs of pain and fear based methods the people said they would have “never done that stuff” if they knew the "truth about what could happen". The operative word here is the truth. The good news is that the dog is now on a legit and humane path towards recovery. The warning on CM’s show does not say why not to copy him, it just says don’t do it.

2 – A few weeks ago I was in a meeting with some people discussing a nationwide dog training program for volunteers and employees in shelters. Some guy who claims to be a dog trainer refused to have a conversation about dog training and behavior. He flat out said “I’m not working with you you’re not working with me”.

I had 14 questions that I needed to discuss before I would I feel comfortable getting involved. The guy folded the paper I’d handed him with the questions and stuck it in his pocket. Then chimed in with how he had “no use for science” because his “clients would not understand it anyway, and they had “no use for it”.

I went on to explain that we’d need a common language if we were going to converse about dog behavior for dogs in a shelter, and that there are numerous ways to turn science info into everyday understandable and digestible language.

Plus never assume your audience is dumb.

You might ask, where do I get the nerve to ask someone to discuss their knowledge base? Well I’d ask why I should work with someone claiming to be a dog trainer with zero legit credentials, after all the dogs in the balance here are shelter dogs and dogs in homes that if not dealt with in humane way, may end up in shelters. If I had been able to find any proof that guy claiming to be a dog trainer had some education, some type of credentials in relation to dog training, I would have felt much more comfortable. He had none, and he was not even interested in a dialog.

A week after I met with these folks, I heard through a volunteer at the local shelter this guy in the meeting claiming to be a dog trainer did a play session and a dog killed another dog. One of the questions I wanted to ask and speak to him about is the protocols for dog - dog intros and potential subsequent play sessions.

Ignorance does kill. Education saves lives.

This resistance to learn, this self credentialed validation and the ever popular
“I‘m good with dogs” street degree or “I’ve been doing it for x number of years” is weak. Now bear in mind I have no PhD, no degree from a university, nope. I also know there are brilliant people that simply figured it out and train dogs humanely. I am the poster boy for if I can do it you can too. I freely admit I have no magic, but I do have legit knowledge and I do have solid mechanical/timing skills when it comes to training dogs.

I’m sure there are far too many stories of people trying things on dogs based on faulty info. More stories should be written about dogs that have been subjected to fear and pain based “training”, and the results of these methods, for it needs be exposed. This way perhaps people will learn it is not the way to go. Where you bloggers at? Personally I have tons of files of clients that have tried CM's nonsense and it did not work out for the better.

While re reading the Cass Sunstein paper The Rights of Animals I was reminded about an excerpt from the California Animal Cruelty Laws that I find to be the essence of CM’s show and the way of the pain trainers everywhere.

…imposes criminal liability on negligent as well as intentional overworking, overdriving,or torturing of animals. “Torture” is defined not in its ordinary language sense, but to include any act or omission “whereby unnecessary or unjustifiable physical pain or suffering is caused or permitted.”

This depicts many of the segments on the DW show is it not? CM has a licensed business in California does he not? Just saying…

I am imploring anyone that says they care about dogs that has benefited from them financially through dog training, or media such as books and DVD’s. Please demand justice for dogs, demand the truth from organizations that say they protect dogs, be it your local SPCA or some conglomerate of professionals and experts. Far too many people that have highly credentialed knowledge stay silent, are “too busy” or simply do not have the gumption to confront the lack of enforcement when it comes to dog abuse in the paradigm of training. Please step up and speak up, your voice is needed. We owe it to dogs.

Here are some suggestions for questions and conditions that should be met before this humane dog training symposium takes place. It’s also a good check list for people that claim they have a gift, are a whisperer or some other form of self credentialed “title”.

These questions need to be asked of CM and the conditions based on his answers should be whether or not he can even have a discussion about dogs in a legitimate way with the legit crowd. If he is supposedly attending a symposium on humane dog training and he is touting that he has been invited, as well as he now modifies behavior, that he is an equal; then he should have no problem with these questions. He can post his answers via You Tube without edits, without reading off cue cards just the answers to the questions.

1 – How do dogs learn?
2 – What are the quadrants of operant conditioning? How are they used?
3 – By and large how do dogs view the world?
4 – What do dogs generalize very well?
5 – What are the three D’s of dog training?
6 – In behavior modification what are the four steps that need to be executed?
7 – What is barrier frustration and why does it occur?
8 – In resource guarding tests at what point should the evaluator stop the test?
9 – What is aggression and what is the purpose of aggression for dogs?
10 – What are the levels of the Dunbar bite scale?
11- When doing on leash greetings with two dogs for the first time what is the protocol and what are the variables?
12 – Leash reactivity can be reduced by what human behaviors?
13 – What are the fallouts of using aversive methods such as pain, force, shock, startle & choking?
14 – When introducing dogs for off leash play, what are the three main things we’d like to know?
15 – Define learned helplessness, flooding and conditioned emotional response.
Puppy development pop quiz!
• When should bite inhibition be worked on and what are the protocols
• When does the critical development period end for puppies?
• What are the three main things to work on with puppies?

ANY dog trainer worth a damn should be able to discuss these topics without any effort. This is especially important when these “trainers” are taking money from people or if they have some type of audience or worldwide platform. This is equally important when working in a shelter as a volunteer or paid employee.

I’d also suggest, invited or not to this symposium, all those who care about the future of the profession of pet dog training should simply show up at this event, and respectfully demand they are allowed to witness this event. If CM can say he’s going, even though he’s not officially been invited, then well why can’t we just show up without an invite? I’m not talking about anything in the way of force or violence, please understand this is about asking questions and obtaining answers. Far too many people are being duped into thinking violence against dogs under the guise of training is ok. Training a dog should not act as a loophole to cause dogs fear or pain. In any other context it would be considered abuse.

We have to admit that humans are the greatest variable in a dogs training and behavior; we have the most influence period. So why would anyone claiming to know dogs not be able to answer these questions, or at the very least want to know as much as they could about dogs before they started working with them professionally on the world stage or otherwise.

If people would start hitting the books and stop hitting the dogs we’d have this whole thing cleared up by now.

Until there is a standardized educational system in place for dog training professionals as well as dog owners, dogs might be worshiped but they are not fully protected.

Cass Sunstein’s paper The Rights of Animals

Mythologies and co modifications of dominion in the Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan

Whitewashing the Whisperer

Links to information about what is really happening with Milan