Monday, August 6, 2012
Okay, I said I wasn’t going to post anything in August, but a recent PetLife Magazine interview with dog trainer Brad Pattison urged me to put my fingers to the laptop and share what was going through my mind as I read it.
In case you don’t know, Brad Pattison is the actor of a TV show called “At the End of my Leash”, and someone who also trains and certifies others. So, he is one of media darlings who influences many: mostly layowners, but also people who wanna be trainers and sign up for his 6-week course.
Unless you find reading what Brad says a waste of your time, which could be a strong possibility, here is the interview.
And here is how I would have answered, had PetLife interviewed me.
Q = question and My A = My Answer – in case you’re wondering.
Here is goes.
Q: Did you grow up with animals?
My A: No, at least not with dogs. But I always wanted one, always felt a certain kinship with dogs. In lieu of it, I pretended to be a dog when I played “house”, and made books my friends.
Q: What inspired you to become a dog trainer?
My A: Yes, my love for dogs, but more so because when finally was able to have one, I made a total mess of it. I did some research into breeds and breeders, but certainly not enough and we ended up with the wrong breed from the wrong breeder. When problems became obvious, we sought help and got exactly the kind of advice Brad Pattison gives, and implementing it made matters worse, things escalated and eventually we had our first dog Cedric euthanized. I never wanted that to ever happen again, so I began to learn about dogs; learned lots from a variety of people, and many dogs, before I let myself loose to work with other people’s pooches. But I also wasn’t broke and needed to make money, so there was no pressure to rush things.
Q: Did you have a teacher or a mentor you learned from or apprenticed with?
My A: My first volunteer job that had to do with dogs was with the Calgary Humane Society, and they offered many learning opportunities I took full advantage of. After that I attended numerous seminars and workshops, attended classes with my own dogs, did field research, read books, watched DVDs, it’s all posted on my website. By the way, to a lesser extent I still learn from others. Learning never stops.
Q: Are there other trainers out there that you admire?
My A: Yes! But not Cesar Millan. The big names for me include Suzanne Clothier, Patricia McConnell, Steve White, but there are many others, including local people I admire for their superb handling skills, or expertise in dog sports, or how they breed. I agree with Pattison that not one single person is the best. I don’t think, though, that Cesar Millan could teach him something, but I think that Victoria Stillwell could, rather than the other way around.
Q: Were there any books that you read that helped you along the way?
My A: I read too many books to list, including body language books and books that are about behavior, but not specifically dogs. You can find some on my webpage http://www.voice4dogs.com/dog-books.html, but it hasn’t been updated for some time, so there are many I read since. The latest ones are BAT by Grisha Stewart, and Insight of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz, and Never in Anger by Jean L. Briggs is the next one on my shelf to read. That one is not about dogs, but about an anthropologist who had an insight scoop of the daily life and behavioral patterns of the Utku Eskimos in the Arctic, and their way of treating their children and how they handle deviations from desired behaviors.
So yes, learning never stops.
By the way, I also read Cesar Millan’s three books and watched four complete seasons of Dog Whisperer, so that I know what I am talking about. Except excerpts, I never read Pattison’s stuff, but I seen some of his At the End of My Leash episodes.
Q: How did you become a behaviorist, and do you consider yourself a dog behaviorist?
My A: Like Brad Pattison, I don’t have a degree in any of the behavioral sciences, so I omit the ‘ist, even though legally I could get away with it as long as I don’t call myself a “Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist”, but I respect people that do have a degree.
I like to call myself a Dog Behavior Expert, and if someone, like a veterinarian, refers to me as a behaviorist, I ask them not to.
Q: Have you taken any classes or courses on animal behavior?
My A: See my webpage http://www.voice4dogs.com/behavior-expert.html
Q: What classes did you take with your own dogs on your road to becoming a dog trainer?
My A: I took: puppy, obedience, Rally O’, Freestyle, herding. Unlike Pattison, I never got kicked out of class, but I left on my own account because I was unwilling to hit my dog under the chin with a flat hand for wanting to come to me.
Q: What led you to creating your own training certification?
My A: I don’t have that. Right now, in an unregulated industry, each school and organization can come up with its own certification program, so it doesn’t really mean much – or at least is no guaranty that the trainer is top notch and able to help you.
Q: How would you describe your training method?
My A: It’s an easy question to answer, and has nothing to do with titles, as he claims.
I just talked about my methods in my last posts: positive reinforcement/negative punishment, emphasis on relationship, management to decrease fear/anxiety and set the dog up for success, conditioning and counterconditioning, distance threshold, functional rewards, managing. No clicker. No force. It is really humane and recommended by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.
Who are the pet industry professionals that recommend his methods?
If he allows dogs to be dogs, why does he correct many of their natural behaviors?
The next question is N/A because I don’t have a course where I certify others.
Q: Do you have any credentials and certifications?
My A: I’ll answer that question the same way Pattison does, minus the CTE certification. I would never attend his course, nor would I let someone he certified even look at my dog, let alone hand over the leash.
Q: Do you have a preferred breed to work with?
My A: I work with any breed and mixed breed, any age, and love it, but admit that I have an affinity for herding dogs.
Q: Why do you have such a preference to the Martingale collar?
My A: Well, I don’t. Not that it is an awful tool, and yes, it can be the safest one to use for canine Houdinis, but my favorites are the Freedom Harness at www.wiggleswagswhiskers.com and the Sense-Ation Harness at www.softouchconcepts.com.
In any case, the Martingale collar is NOT meant to lift a dog’s front paws off the ground to make him sit, like you see him do in the first video clip.
Q: What about the other training methods you did disagree with?
My A: Of course dogs understand the “language” of rewards – all animals do. And they also understand human words – or let’s say they can learn the meaning of a word if people teach it. Has Pattison ever met a dog in his longtime professional career who goes ape when he hears the word: walky, leash, carride, ball. Ball is a big one for many dogs. People have to spell it, and spell it backwards, and the dog still understands. What about come, sit, down. Mommy. Daddy. Dogs can detect relevant words in a sentence of several irrelevant ones.
Dogs understand words when we teach them, but also when we use them consistently. He should try that sometime.
Q: Have you heard of Chicken Camp? What are your thoughts on this?
My A: Yes, of course, but I am not surprised that Pattison never heard of it. It is great for learning technical skills. Although I have never attended one, it is absolutely applicable in the dog industry. Behavioral laws are universal to all species. The fact that Pattison never heard of chicken camp indicates to me that he isn’t really that interested in behavior, but rather in control and mindless obedience.
Q: Would you be willing to attend a chicken camp?
My A: Sure.
Q: Have you ever trained an animal other than a dog?
My A: A little bit – our neighbor’s cat. And what a surprise (sarcastic): positive reinforcement worked with him too.
Q: Was that anything like training dogs?
My A: The kitty had a shorter attention span.
Q: Tell us about your experiences doing canine rescue operations with your CTEs.
My A: Although I volunteered for humane societies and helped rescue consistently throughout my career, I never did anything that got such media attention.
Q: How did the TV shows come about?
My A: I don’t have a TV show, but I am on CBC Radio One about every second month to answer call-in questions. CBC called me for an opinion on something dog related in the province I live in, and it evolved from there.
I know for sure though that I would be myself if I had a TV show, not someone my friends wouldn’t want to watch. Perhaps that’s why I don’t have a TV show – what you see is what you get, and that’s obviously not good enough to reel in big ratings, which is the only thing media really cares about – not credentials, not certification, not the welfare of dogs.
Q: Tell us about your time with the show. Was it a positive experience?
My A: I have a lot of fun with CBC Radio One. I get to help owners, and with the methods I recommend, it makes life better for the dogs, too.
Q: What are some of the more memorable families?
My A: I don’t have a show, but clients, and many are memorable. Some started as clients and became friends – they are memorable.
My happiest moment is when I see a dog labeled dominant and punished for misdeeds in the past improve, because he was anxious and fearful all along, and his people followed my advice and created an environment that allows him to function better.
Lately, I worked with a wonderful Border collie, an agility competitor, and that is memorable because it gave me a deeper insight into a sport I don’t know too much about.
Complex issues are memorable because they propel me to learn more.
And timid of strangers dogs who choose to be near me – gravitate to me voluntarily, without a leash or a jerk or force, are memorable. A dog wanting to work with me is so much more rewarding than one seeking distance. Another thing I suggest Pattison try sometime.
Q: Has there ever been any follow-up with the families from the show?
My A: Via my clients’ exclusive online forum, the humans I worked with can be in touch with me as often as they like or need, and for the lifetime of the dog. Many take advantage of that.
Q: How do you feel about having such vocal critics?
My A: Since I am not so much in the public eye, I don’t have to deal with critics to the degree Pattison does. The fact that I don’t cause a dog to yelp in front of the camera, and that I actually understand behavior, might have something to do with it as well. That said, of course not everyone agrees with the way I do things, and I am fine with that. Water off a duck's back.
Q: You have said that you would welcome an open conversation with your critics to answer questions and help them understand your methods. Your critics say that you have never given them the opportunity for such a situation and don’t respond to their online requests. What are your thoughts?
My A: Well, this is another one that doesn’t really apply to me because I do answer online requests. I am always, always open to discuss things online, on the phone, or in person. Always! With clients, that is. In fact, I welcome questions and arguments, because it allows me to explain things a bit better, perhaps in a different way. Someone asking a question tells me that they haven’t quite understood yet what I am after, and the onus is on me to clarify the whys and hows.
I also enjoy a healthy discussion with fellow professionals, and can agree to disagree on some things. But I have no time for someone who tries to convince me that dogs can’t be trained without force, compulsion, corrections, or the threat of it, which is intimidation.
Q: The next four questions relate to four video clips you can watch, and then read his explanations and points of view.
My A: Here are mine.
First clip: Regardless what euphemism Pattison chooses to use, what I saw was a dog hit across the nose. For what? From my viewpoint, when he was on his way back to his owner, so for wanting to return to his owner. My hunch is that Pattison lost his cool, patience, and therefore hit the dog. Telling the owner that she annoys him indicates that as well. I never said that to a client. If that were to slip out of my mouth, it’d be a sign that I need to work on self-control. How can he expect impulse control from a dog if he doesn't have it.
By the way, I also don’t believe that a dog must obey every idiot who can hold leash. The dog should pay attention to the owners and that’s it. Owner attention is paramount, but for it to be reliable it must be voluntary. I teach my clients how to get their dog to want to stay connected with them, not because he is jerked back or “nicked”. I work on attention first, and then built in distractions incrementally. That’s is setting owner and dog up for success, and success builds on success.
Second clip: Is much of the same, and yes, the deaf dog is giving fearful signals when he avoids the bicycles. Fear is in my opinion also the reason why he keeps Pattison in check; afraid to make a mistake he’d be corrected for. Alas, he made one anyway by forging ahead, and promptly got yanked back.
Third clip: Is just silly – sad silly. Pattison is running so close by the trees, or changing the direction abruptly, that the dog has no choice but move to the other side of it. Gotta give the dog a chance man. I’d like to try that with him. Put him on a leash, run closely past obstacles not giving him any information what I am about to do, and see what he does to avoid running into them.
Fourth clip: Hm, I never had to put a neighborhood block under lockdown to work with a dog – and I never met a human who is fast enough to catch up with a dog whose intention is to evade or bite.
Oh, and one more thing. Moving away from something is flight, not moving toward it. I actually saw that same mistake in one of the Cesar Millan's episodes when a German shepherd who wanted nothing more but to get away from him was described as an attack dog.
Oh, and another thing. Of course a deaf dog doesn’t hear the sound of a clicker, but one can most certainly train a deaf dog with positive reinforcement. A couple of my friends did: their deaf from birth dog competes in agility and even goes for off leash walks. It’s all about voluntary attention my friend.
Q: Some of your critics claim that you’ve been sued or criminally charged due to your training methods. Have you?
My A: I never have. And I don’t muzzle my clients. They don’t have to sign a contract that they won’t publicly talk about our sessions. Does he?
Q: One of the claims you have made was that clicker training or treat training kills dogs. How did you come to this opinion?
My A: The same claim was made recently in a blog post that circulated on FB. Of course it is not so. I am sure anybody could come up with an anecdotal story of a dog who was NOT clicker and treat trained and was hit by a car. And as far as obesity goes, use part of the dog’s daily ration and have her earn it. Duh. Or reduce the amount of treats from the daily ration. It’s really not that difficult to comprehend.
Q: How do you feel about dogs being cuddled, coming up on couches, or sleeping on the owner’s bed?
My A: It totally can be a daily thing. In my house it is a daily thing. I love having my dogs near me. I feed them, I walk them, I open the door to let them in or out, I facilitate their basic needs. Guess what? They are already dependent. They are dependent by virtue of being owned by a species who has bank accounts, opposable thumbs, and a more or less well developed cognitive brain.
Q: Do you believe that treats are bad for dogs?
My A: No, but I agree that a dog who has learned how to sit doesn’t need a treat for every sit, but that’s not what positive trainers do. I explained using treats, or rather applying positive reinforcement, in my last three posts.
Q: Why are multiple toys bad for dogs?
My A: They aren’t. Multiple toys, novel toys, food toys, all in an accessible designated place, offer mental stimulation, prevent boredom and anxiety, and is exactly what prevents a dog from chewing up inappropriate things.
Q: Do you think home cooking is best for dogs?
My A: I agree with Pattison. Feeding right is an individual thing and home cooking one of the ways.
Q: The next question, and another one further down, challenges Pattison to define terms commonly used in dog training and behavior circles, for example: operant conditioning, counter-conditioning, LAT, Premack Principle, primary and secondary reinforcer, aversives, calming signals and more.
My A: Defining these terms goes beyond the scope of this post, but I have addressed some in previous posts, and continue to explain others in following ones.
It might not be ignorant to talk over layowners and clients’ heads, but it can be arrogant – I agree with him on that. The thing is though, that when I claim expertise, I have to know what these terms mean, and how to use them as tools in a toolbox full of methods to change and influence behavior. I don’t have to lord them over my clients, but I have to know them, and explain the one or the other, as applicable, in a way they can understand. I think Albert Einstein said that if you can’t explain something in simple terms, you haven’t understood the concept - or something like that.
And by the way, the theories don’t come from dog-dog relationships and interactions, but the rules also apply to dogs.
Q: A lot of critics say your methods go against modern science and peer-reviewed scientific research. What are your thoughts on that?
My A: My methods don’t, but his do, which he admits. I agree that real life doesn’t happen in a Skinner box, but again, knowing how behavior works gives one the tools to influence it. To me, the rank-reduction talk is a sure-tell sign that the person has no clue how behavior works, and to boot, knows little about dogs as a species.
Q: In your new puppy book you advocate pinching a puppy’s ear until he yelps as a training strategy. Why do you believe using this method is preferable to alternative methods that do not cause pain and are scientifically validated?
My A: I would never advocate that regardless if I see it used in the service dog industry. It is archaic, and was used (likely still is) as a way to train field dogs to hold a dumbbell. The ear pinch caused the pup to scream, he opened his mouth, the dumbbell was shoved in and at the same time the pinching stopped, so holding the dumbbell became a good thing for the dog. In operant conditioning it’s called negative reinforcement. There is nothing good about it. Sadly Pattison doesn’t learn from experts who don’t use pain to train. Perhaps he could go to chicken camp.
Q: The next question is about “nicking” the dog’s nose, and I already addressed that – and him confusing flight with fight/chase.
The question after that asks about pinning a dog, and he answers it with benefits of rank reduction. My answer: There are no benefits, but plenty of side effects, including biting hands.
Q: What is your view on BSL?
My A: I am against BSL, but agree that there are dogs that shouldn’t be in a pet home, and those dogs can be found in any breed. So, am against BSL, but not entirely a supporter of No-Kill.
Q: The next question deals with a statement by the Ontario SPCA what to look for in a dog trainer, and follows it with his methods not fitting the bill.
My A: All SPCAs, rescue groups, and veterinarians should follow such a statement, and many do. Nowadays, there shouldn’t be any professional who recommends someone who intentionally inflicts pain as a consequence of a behavior, or to elicit one. Should isn’t reality though. There are a number of local vets who send their clients to see the shock collar trainer, and some rescue folks who work with punitive trainers, or punitive trainers who rescue.
On the other hand, our provincial SPCA is committed to modern, stress-free techniques, and of course some veterinarians and rescue groups are as well.
Q: The next question challenges Pattison to a training competition, and he said he’d be up for it but questions who decides the rules and if treats are used.
My A: Who cares? If the clicker trainer is more successful that’d be proof, wouldn’t it? That said, I, personally, would not participate and for sure not downtown Vancouver. A competition like that could put a lot of pressure on the dog, and fear of punishment can be a powerful motivator, so Pattison, to the untrained eye, might actually look better in that moment. A shutdown dog also can look well behaved to an untrained eye. A competition would have to unfold over a period of time and a number of things must be evaluated to determine who is more successful in the long run, for example if the dog is self-directed in his good behavior, or if he behaves for all family members and not just for the effective punisher.
Q: Do you think your methods use positive punishment?
My A: Mine don’t, but his do, even though he doesn’t think so. But then he also didn’t define operant conditioning, did he?
Q: A reader explains that her dog can’t be on a collar – any collar, because of a past injury, and asks what to do in that case.
My A: We’ll work on a body harness. That simple. I often work with a body harness like the Sense-Ation or Freedom Harness anyway. I am neither clicker nor collar dependent.
Q: The next two questions deal with certification and government regulation, and I already answered that earlier. Some uniformed regulation in a now unregulated industry would be great. I’d like to see that.
Q: This one deals with an excerpt of his book Synergy, in which he describes the up to one-hour pinning exercise and the expressions a dog can display.
My A: Advice like that creates aggression, anxiety, avoidance and a number of behavioral problems that weren’t there before. In my opinion, it is abuse. I feel sad for every dog whose owners deliberately, and repeatedly, cause him shriek, thrash, bite, urinate and defecate. Imagine doing that to a person? To a child?
When a dog defecates and urinates, whines, avoids, tries to get away, it is fear. Damn well it is fear, which answers the next question.
And no, fear body language is not different in every dog. Can he tell when a person is fearful? When one screams and cries, avoids and voids, retreats and runs, hyperventilates, breaks out in sweat. Are those fear – panic really, expressions universal to all people? Of course. Why would it be any different with dogs? Stating that is ludicrous, especially coming from someone who claims to have studied dogs for, how long?
Enough of it. People that criticize punitive trainers are often accused of being envious of their fame and money. I can’t speak for others, but that is so not why I am critical. I have nothing against him personally, but the methods he uses, in my opinion, hurt dogs, harm and destroy the relationship with their humans, create side-effects including aggression, and yes, are inhumane. I feel sorry for every dog who is unlucky enough to fall into his hands, or one of his CTEs.