“The Great Debate” Feedback

Read what our readers had to say about pack theory vs. positive reinforcement training.

Positive training all the way

I’m afraid I used the common tactics with my first dog back in 1969: scolding the dog when she peed indoors, rubbing her nose in it and forcing her to walk on a leash.  My dog loved me — but did not always listen to me. I could tell she was a little afraid of me and not certain how I would react.

Fast forward many years later. I have had my latest dog a Parson Russell Terrier, Ziggy, for 14 wonderful years. Ziggy was totally raised and trained using positive reinforcement. No yelling, no scolding. I ignore the bad behavior and reward the good. Ziggy is a happy, well-adjusted dog. He always comes joyfully when called. He loves and respects me, but is not afraid of me.
-Claire S. of Georgia

Not a fan of pack theory

This is a snarl in response to the article “The Great Debate” in the June issue because Cesar Millan really ticks me off! I watched two episodes of his show and that was enough. You don’t gain a dog’s love and respect by force and intimidation. This is fear-based training. When you jerk on a dog’s leash, poke him when he barks or growls, do alpha rolls or otherwise restrain him using force, the dog learns to do what you want because he fears you and the consequences if he doesn’t do what you want — not because he sees you as the alpha. On the other hand, if you use positive reward-based training, the dog will choose you as pack leader, or alpha, because you gain his love and respect and he wants to do the things he knows will please you. If you think you have to dominate and intimidate a dog to get it to do what you want, you are the one who needs training.
-Gene M. via DOG FANCY email

Rewards work
My Yorkie,Webster, is a 2-year old therapy dog. I do not train with a clicker or treats. His reward for a task completed correctly is high-pitched praise and hugs. This works for him; I want him to do tasks for me and not for a piece of kibble. It may take a bit longer (though I don’t notice much of a delay in learning new tasks), but it’s well worth it.
-Sandra J. of Tennessee

You can integrate your pack with positive training
I was surprised that you called them opposing philosophies. I am a certified pet dog trainer and have three dogs of my own who are part of my family. I use positive reward-based training with my own dogs and teach my clients to do the same. Most people feel their pets are part of their family (pack) and in a family there is a hierarchy to prevent chaos.

My clients follow what I call leadership exercises, which are taught to the dogs using treats, toys, affection and play. The dogs are taught good manners, such as waiting at the door for their human to go first for safety reasons. I can see benefits to the best of both theories and employ them both in a balanced way to build a wonderful relationship with our canine companions. No harsh methods need to be used. There is every reason to let your furry friend understand what is expected of him in any given situation.
-Ronie D. of Pennsylvania

A little of both

I am a self-taught dog trainer. I was lucky enough to stumble into this business after finding an aggressive Chihuahua roaming the streets. After searching for many different trainers and actually having one trainer tell me to put him down, I answered an ad on Craigslist. It said “Do you have an aggressive dog? Are you at your wits end? Do you need help? I answered the ad, and my little dog and I ended up being the first episode ever filmed for Cesar Millan’s The Dog Whisperer.

I had no idea who this man was, and when I looked him up online all I could find were a bunch of Pit Bulls and Rottweilers following him around. I didn’t know if this was for me, but felt I had no other choice. Yes, my little dog was rehabilitated and I became a great pack leader, not only to my dog but in the world.  

About a year later, I went to work for Millan where I learned a great deal by working with his pack and seeing how these dynamics work. I watched him like a hawk and saw that everything he did worked — and if it didn’t, he tried something else. He was amazing to observe. While working there, I also enlisted the help of a positive reinforcement trainer who taught me many things as well. So I believe that there are different ways to do things, but why not use traditional training coupled with pack leadership? Being the pack leader is just an added bonus to everything else that you do. I found that employing both methods and learning what works with each individual dog case has helped make my practice very successful. I ask my clients to be a leader while using positive reinforcement. It works. Why does there have to be such a great debate about this when really both work well together?

Really it is all very simple if we just open up our minds a bit and quit making it so complicated.
-Tina M. via DOG FANCY email

I’ve tried both
The on the different types of training for dogs was very interesting. I think I have done both at some point in my life, but I certainly favor the reward method. It keeps the dog’s attention and makes him eager to please.

I adopted a Manchester Terrier who was brought back to his breeder because he acted so crazy when meeting people or other dogs on his walks. I started giving plenty of treats as we passed people or dogs, which worked very well for the people. Passing other dogs is taking somewhat longer. I also recommend using an air horn for excessive barking at guests and others. When he stops, I immediately reward with a treat.  
-Ellen K. of Pennsylvania

Nothing is perfect
After reading your article on “The great debate,” I smiled and said “It’s about time someone finely addressed training strategies with the public.” We have so many dog shows on TV now that it’s hard to keep up with them, as well as which trainer offers the best suggestions.
I’ve had the luxury of having a German Shepherd Dog, Rottweiler and currently two crazy Jack Russell Terriers. All of them have very unique and different personalities and needs. I’ve come to respect Cesar Millan and Victoria Stilwell’s view on how to handle dogs. As I read this article, I thought that both methods work well for different dogs, especially depending on their personality. Any of these trainers will use what works best for the breed that they are working with.

Dogs are funny, they respond to you depending on a number of things, especially how they interpret their trainers inner strength. You better be able to handle a Rottie’s aggression as oppose to a JRT temperament or you’ll have a big problem on your hands. Both theories seem to work reasonably well, but nothing is perfect. It depends on the trainer to decide which method works well in which situation in order to get the response necessary.

I love dogs, but they will control you if you give them just a little hint that you aren’t in control — and that goes from the smallest to the largest dogs. As for me, I use both approaches: reward and showing that I am the leader of the pack. The worst thing is to let your dog feel that he can dominate anyone and everyone in your house when the pack leader is gone. A clicker is not going to help when your 13-year-old wants your Rottie to do something and you’re not home. They must respect everyone in the household. If not, watch out!
-Leon W. via DOG FANCY email

Pro positive training
Debate? There’s a debate? I’m personally hoping that this “fad” for Mr. Millan’s outdated practices (harsh corrections and dominance) dies a quick sudden death. The positive reinforcement approach advocated by Karen Pryor, Victoria Stilwell, Patricia McConnell and literally hundreds of other trainers is the only real way to humanely teach our dogs. To be a “benevolent leader” (Patricia McConnell’s phrase) means that we can have a rich, meaningful and respectful relationship with our canine companions.
Using force, threat or harsh correction only weakens our communication with dogs, and only leads to their trying to avoid reprimand. I think the heart and soul of good training is establishing that connection between us and our dogs, which leads to a successful and joyful experience for all.
-Amy C. of Maryland


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