Dog training school: what not to do to your customers

Article about my attempts at finding a dog training school in the Netherlands
By Laure-Anne Viselé, January 2011

March 2013 update: Putting our money where our mouth is

So, after years of preparation, we are finally opening up our own dog training school! Read more to find out about OhMyDog! Dog training school (The Hague).

(attached: American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s pamphlet on How_to_Choose_a_Trainer_(AVSAB))

So I am a dog trainer looking to register with a training school as a customer, and am not having a great time of it. Bit of context: I am an expat in the Netherlands (French Belgium/UK background), so am approaching the whole thing  with the eyes of a foreigner.

Why I want to join a training school

  • Roger (my dog) likes it
  • I want to keep my finger on the pulse of the industry’s do’s and dont’s

So far? I have learnt A LOT OF don’ts

Dog training school: 1st attempt

It took 2 e-mails and 1 chase call to get someone to react. Bad start, but fair enough. I loved it once I got there.

They were using the dominance model (minus point in my books), but they used  ‘positive methods‘ (reward good behaviour/ignore bad behaviour), so it was harmless enough I guess.

After a while, it was starting to become clear that there wasn’t much of an agenda beyond the first 2 classes, and it felt like they were just making it up as they went along. After receiving 3 different certificates for the exact same course, most of my classmates gave up.

I, ever the loyal one, subscribed to “obedience level 4″ (mmmmh…). They would let me know the exact date in a couple of weeks. That was September  2009 (coincidentally when my kid was born). My kid has learnt to walk, speak and use the potty in the time that it has taken them not to respond (despite many chase mails/phone calls).

After about months of trying – like I said, loyal – I gave up and started shopping around.

Dog training school: 2nd attempt

 

The instructor answered all my questions promptly (plus point), and referred me to the Admin department. They ignored my first three e-mails (just asking basic stuff), and finally responded quite irately.

After a lot of headache, I finally got to register. We’re weeks ahead of the next cycle, so I keep asking for the planned lesson day (I have two jobs, one kid, one dog, and I study. I need to plan ahead).

I got the confirmation… Two days before the class begun. Sure enough, it was an impossible day. The worst thing is: there were two possibilities, but they never thought to contact me about it, despite my asking for this for-like-ever…

It took another six months (and a dozen e-mails) to send me a three-liner about the next start date: another four months down the line, same vague conditions. I gave up.

Dog Training School: 3rd attempt

I had a phone conversation with a training school owner. It was all looking good, so she asked me to complete the (lengthy) registration form.

After a couple of weeks of deafening silence, (I) call  back. The lady explains that, given Roger’s level, I need a more advanced training school. Minus points: letting someone fill in the form knowing you can’t help them + then not getting back to them… Getting quite frustrated at this point.

Dog Training School: 4th attempt

I got in touch with another local training school explaining that am non-negotiable on my ‘positive methods‘ condition.

The owner calls me back, and it looks like our training philosophies differ. He uses what’s called ‘balanced methods’ (reward good behaviour/punish bad behaviour). The guy is lovely on the phone, but it’s clearly a no-go for me given my professional allegiances and the methods I preach to my own customers. I try to leave it at that, but he keeps trying to convince me to change over… His role model appears to be Cesar Millan, a professional whose methods I have severe reservations about.

Here is how it went:

Gentleman trainer: “Do you know Cesar Milan?” [Gosh, it’s going to be one of these conversations when ‘having grown up with dogs’ and flashing white teeth qualifies you to educate the public about dog behaviour] “He doesn’t use positive-only methods, and the dogs respect him“. [As verifiable statements go…]

Me: [as tactfully as I can possibly manage it] “His methods are the subject of quite a bit of controversy among behaviour scientists” [“en-bloc rejection”, more like, but still trying to be diplomatic. Not here to convince anyone.].

Gentleman trainer: “I’d rather be respected by my dog and Cesar Milan than by scientists“. [At this stage, my eyebrows were stuck in a semi-permanent state of skepticism]

He continued to insist I drop by, so I ended up vaguely committing to come take some pictures when I got a chance, but I know the encounter is bound to be awkward to manoeuvre. Maybe I will – the guy was lovely.

Don’t get me wrong, the guy was adorable: very polite, and everything. But the whole episode felt like a Catholic priest trying to argue a Rabbi into breaking holy bread. It’s just: “Dude! Please get a hint. This is not going to be a good match. Do you seriously thing I am going to revise my entire professional belief structure on the basis of one phone call and the same old unconvincing arguments?”

Standards in the dog professions

Think that it’s time for me to get my dramatic heels on, and slam some doors and make some rude phone calls (no, not that kind of rude phone calls)? Nope. I am still bending over backwards on the off-chance that I might get a spot somewhere… Anywhere.

And THAT is why I am crying out for stricter standards in the professional dog world (more on this in Interview with a behaviourist).

All am asking is that you, please, kindly:

  • get back to your customer’s (cherry on the cake: in a polite way)
  • tell your customers the planned class day well in advance
  • be truthful about the limitations of your services
  • keep yourself as educated as you can (watching National Geographic does NOT count)
  • do not pressure your customers into changing their views

So, if you have just moved to the Netherlands and are looking for a positive training school, start early.

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15 Comments

  1. Mariana
    Posted 11 January 2011 at 21:24 | Permalink

    I have my two teckels in a school going now for the level B. They are just starting and I don’t want much more then interaction and well behave among other dogs, so what this school has to offer is quite enough.
    I totally understand your frustration. It is like you’re looking for a school for your child that follows a philosophy that you actually believe is the best for your kid after researching about all the available ones, and people in place of helping you with your choice insist on changing your mind.
    I like the Ceasar method and it works fine for me, as I love Dr Phill and many call him a quack.
    Here in the Randstad you’ll not find a more specialized advanced dog training, as it is a more urban area of the Netherlands, as you are very busy you can not travel to Limburg or Overijsel or Drenthe to follow an agility prep course for example, I wish you success in your search!

    • Posted 11 January 2011 at 21:43 | Permalink

      Hi Mariana.

      Thank you so much for your comment!

      Teckels, cool!

      It’s encouraging to know that you’ve found your match. I’ve been putting so much time and energy in it it’s starting to be worse than finding an international school for our kid! All I’m asking is just level B obedience training based on positive methods.

      What frustrates me is not so much the difference in philosophy – everyone has the right to their opinion – but the complete lack of customer service (not returning calls, not making truthful statements, etc.). Given the waiting lists on most training schools in the Netherlands, it doesn’t look like it’s affecting business much.

      If the training school you attend are in the region of The Hague, would you mind telling me the name of the training school offline (via http://canisbonus.com/home/contact-me/)?

      Yours desperately! ; P

      Laure-Anne

  2. Posted 11 January 2011 at 23:16 | Permalink

    Hi!

    Great article, again! Very funny and sadly very true. I have had the same experience. Good trainers are hard to find. My first experience with a dog training class in 1993 (-ish) was unique. Not realizing it at the time, it must have been one of the first trainers that didn’t use harsh techniques. The trainers were two ladies on the back field of a police dog training school. BIIIG differences in their techniques in comparison with the “front field” ;-)

    Looking back it was quite revolutionary. I moved away there and moved a lot since, and each time it has been a time consumming and sometimes frustrating proces of finding a new trainer in the area. Now I drive 35 minutes to the school, which is a chunck out of my busy day, but enjoying it!

    Hope you find a suitable place soon!

    • Posted 12 January 2011 at 09:04 | Permalink

      Thanks for the comment, Alexandra!

      I’m glad to see I’m not alone. I should have enjoyed my luck while it lasted when I was at the first training school, hey.

      Gentle methods in 1993, that’s nothing short of pioneering! It was all about leash corrections and alpha wolf at the time. You’d found yourself a gem by the looks of it, especially one involved in police dog training (some police dog training schools are only now experimenting with clicker training for the first time).

      I think am ready to do the same (drive 35 minutes) if it’s a good school, absolutely.

      It’s bound to get resolved soon. I’ve sent an e-mail to what feels like 100 schools now. Am waiting for the results. Am sure it’ll be worth a new post ; P

  3. calmassertive
    Posted 12 January 2011 at 16:36 | Permalink

    It sounds like you are in serious denial here, dear. What I got from your experiences was that all the trainers you consider ‘positive’ were miserable at customer service, but the trainer who you dismiss outright was the only one who personally contacted you by phone in a very timely manner. If you really believe that good customer service is important you should Jump at the chance to take that person’s course and stop arguing with him about training philosophy. The first trainer you went to had your cherished philosophy yet wasted your time and money so extensively that you feel you still need training. The other trainers that share your cherished viewpoint have no problem wasting your time with useless paperwork yet you fail to conclude that maybe, just maybe, their personal lack of respect for their customers is a mirror for the lack of respect they would have for your dog.

    Looking for a trainer is somewhat of a catch-22, in that if you were qualified to pick a trainer you would not Need a trainer, and if you need a trainer, you by definition are not qualified to pick one. If you had the knowledge you would not be seeking the knowledge, yet when the knowledge calls you on the phone and says hello may I please help you your response is go away, I’m seeking knowledge…

    Trainers with poor customer service will demonstrate poor ‘dog’ service. Take your own advice and go with the one who called you back and did his polite best to overcome the old adage that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Do what you would do when looking for a housepainter or carpenter or babysitter — ask for references, and check them out. My guess is that you’ll get much better reports from the customers of the person whose philosophy you decry despite your own clear lack of experience in the matter. Somewhere somehow you got brainwashed into thinking Cesar’s mantra of ‘exercise, discipline, affection’ was abusive, when the exact opposite is the case. Dogs Love Cesar. Millions of people in over 100 countries have embraced his way of engendering respect, trust and loyalty thru use of calm assertive energy. These millions and millions of people are not dog-abusers, they are dog lovers. Try it, you’ll like it.

    • Posted 13 January 2011 at 12:34 | Permalink

      Hi Calm Assertive.

      Thank you, and let’s stay calm and assertive

      Thanks a lot for your comment.

      You clearly had very good intentions, but you were so passionate that you came across too strong for the usual spirit of this blog (it is about sharing knowledge in a positive way). I hope you understand that I shan’t be publishing further comments, if they continue to contain insulting remarks.

      Using statistics
      Essentially, in a nutshell, you are saying that my post demonstrates that:
      1/ positive dog training = always poor customer service
      2/ poor customer service = poor dog training

      It is certainly tempting to draw the conclusion that:
      – 3x positive trainers = rude;
      – 1x mixed trainer = adorable,
      – Therefore all positive trainers = incompetent and all mixed trainers = competent.

      But you seem far too intelligent to fail to see the fallacies in that:

      1/ ‘generalisation': Drawing an unsound conclusion about a whole population based on a sample that is too small.

      2/ ‘appealing to emotions': Just because two things feel negative (what you see as unqualified trainers – i.e. positive trainers, and poor customer service), does not mean they are necessarily related.

      The following factors are, in my view, just about as relevant to the validity of one’s training methods as customer service is: hair colour, city, colour of the car), so it works something like:

      a/
      3 of the trainers were blonde and showed crap customer service, and
      1 was a red-head and showed great customer service

      b/
      3 of the trainers were from Rotterdam and showed crap customer service,
      1 from Amsterdam and showed great customer service

      c/
      3 of the trainers have a black car and showed crap customer service,
      1 had a red car and showed great customer service

      Would you sincerely argue that all trainers who are blonde, are from Rotterdam, or have a black car show bad customer service based on that sample alone? (hoping the answer is no). The reason you wouldn’t, is that it does not validate a strong personal conviction (akin to brain-washing, you might facetiously argue).

      Also, the sample size of traditional trainers with good customer service is … one! Hardly solid grounds for a generalisation. I am not implying that traditional trainers show poorer, or better, customer service. So that particular guy was lovely, and polite, and respectful, but one person does not a rule make.

      So the conclusion is certainly convenient, sure. But logically sound? Not so much.

      To push the statistics argument to death, another three points:

      a/ I subsequently wrote again to about 20 other training schools. I got my first 2 replies quickly (btw, I am super pleased with that), and they were professional and polite. These were from positive training schools. But again, I do not think there is any connection.

      b/ Why did only 1 traditional trainer get back to me out of the several I contacted (I don’t go out of my way to select them, but a school’s philosophy is not always immediately transparent from their website, and I sent a lot of enquiries). I don’t conclude from that that traditional trainers are crap at customer service, nor does their silence validate/invalidate their methods.

      c/ You couldn’t possibly have known this, so apologies as it’s a little unfair. Dog training school #2 is a large traditional school who hires only one positive trainer for the clicker class. The clicker trainer is the one who replied quickly and politely. The traditional school completely screwed it up. Again, that does not tell me anything about whether traditional trainers are good at customer service or not, or whether their methods are valid/invalid.

      Customer service and the Netherlands
      The conclusion I can certainly draw at this stage, is that it’s a pain to find a dog training school in my region. It is such slim pickings at the moment that I am having to make customer service secondary in my choice.

      I live in the Netherlands as an expat, and, to put it mildly, I have had to go through a real culture shock to adapt to the different standards of customer service here. If I connected crap customer service with expertise, I would have stopped doing the following in years:
      – restaurant evenings
      – dentist’ and doctors’ appointments
      – having the internet (dealing with the local telecoms can be a long and dark adventure…). : P

      Wasting money
      I completely agree with you about having wasted money with positive school #1. I feel so frustrated about the last 2 cycles: we didn’t learn anything new for weeks, and they were ready to keep us dangling even longer.

      I completely agree that this was not showing the respect that the owners, and by extension, the dogs, deserved. But what are your grounds for stating that this would not have happened with a traditional trainer? It’s the equivalent to saying it would not happen with a trainer with a red car. It’s speculation. You and I don’t know if this would/could have happened with a traditional trainer, or with another positive trainer for that matter.

      Cesar Milan
      I think Cesar Milan’s message is partly very good: I love his emphasis on exercise (although some people take him too literally), and on the importance of a calm, assertive attitude. I think it’s a great message when too many people are just uncertain or inconsistent with their dog, which can make a dog confused about its boundaries. I also think he’s telegenic, and very charming (read really quite cute!). Last, but not least, he’s made a huuuuuge success of himself. You’ve got to respect that.

      So please don’t think me one-sidedly against Cesar Milan. I get very irritated when his name crops up because… I am having the same conversation again and again with loyal fans who won’t accept any dissent.

      I am equally wary of excesses the other way: Cesar Milan name-calling just poisons an already animated issue. I can’t abide claims that he does not love dogs, or that he is being deliberately abusive, or other unverifiable personal attack on the man or his supposed intentions.

      I am sure he loves dogs, and most dogs love him. But how is that relevant? I like to think that most dog trainers love dogs, and have a good connection with dogs. How does that guarantee that he’s infallible? How does it mean that every single one of his methods is universally sound, and cannot be disputed?

      My reservations are based on a lot of reading of a variety of material from different perspectives (also the traditional ones), read primarily from first sources (i.e. the book or scientific paper, rather than an internet site or a TV programme, where things get oversimplified beyond recognition). That, and personal experience with both traditional and positive methods. In other words, an informed opinion, based on anything but what you were quick to assume was the result brain-washing.

      Trying out a traditional school

      You make a very good point about trying it out. I would like to write a piece about it, and for that I would need to go through at least a cycle in a traditional training school at this stage in my life. I used to do it way back when, when that was the only method. It just does not attract me at this stage, but it would be a very useful and interesting exercise. So thanks for suggesting it. I’ll mull it over.

      Respecting different opinions
      From the way you are writing, you are clearly very intelligent, and also very passionate about the subject. Two commendable qualities.

      And perhaps you’re right, Cesar Milan’s method is absolutely flawless despite the controversy to which they are subjected by qualified professionals. So maybe I am an idiot for having jumped from traditional methods, maybe am too much of a bookworm and I am blind when it comes to the practical side, maybe all the arguments against some of his methods are just out of petty jealousy by less successful trainers. Maybe.

      But then you must concede that maybe things are not so black and white, and that maybe, there is something to positive methods too?

      I might (facetiously) add that conviction without fact is just preaching, ‘brain-washing’ if you will ; P But I seriously understand the strength of your opinion is partly in reaction to the seemingly endless Cesar bashing, which must be very irritating if you are a big supporter.

      Abuse and personal insults
      One thing is for sure, you cannot seriously believe that everyone who does not agree with your point on this is brain-washed, unqualified, or inexperienced. Surely.

      In a comment, name-calling makes me:
      1/ Think it is spam (and accidentally delete it, as happened here)
      2/ Not consider your arguments will be very objective, given the clear emotional involvement

      I guess my point is: the post was a social commentary on customer service, not a call to show me the errors of my way and save my dog training soul.

      Having said that, you make a lot of really valid points, and, were it not for the abusive tone, I very much enjoyed reading your perspective. I would love to discuss this further if we can stay within the realms of a constructive discussion. I am not at all interested in trying to convince you to jump ship, nor should you try to convince me. That would be a waste of both of our time. Different opinions are fine by me.

      P.S. My dog thanks you for your concern at the brain problems with which you have repeatedly diagnosed me. ; P

  4. calmassertive
    Posted 13 January 2011 at 10:50 | Permalink

    Why create a blog and then delete people’s posts? Very un-customer-friendly. My condolences to your dog for having such a brainwashed owner.

    • Posted 13 January 2011 at 10:56 | Permalink

      Hi Calm Assertive. Ironic name considering the tone of your message ; P

      The post got deleted by mistake, I am really sorry. I am digging it in my archive, and replying to it as we speak.

      I get a lot of spam and at times I get ‘false positives’. Your message was truncated, and started with something about “you’re in denial”, which is typical of the text I get in spam messages trying to sell off-the-counter medication.

      Again, apologies, and I am addressing your message as we speak.

  5. Posted 28 February 2011 at 17:30 | Permalink

    Dear ALL,
    I am a professional dog trainer and Behaviourist working in the Netherlands for the past 6 years. I fully understand your frustrations in finding a good trainer/ behaviourist. I teach my clients to understand how dogs natually comminicate and by using their instincts we can solve and train all behaviour or training issues.
    My technuques are generally along the lines of Cesar Milan and not the humanised give give methods of Martin Gaus. I have copied a couple of my comments over the Cesar Milan vs Martin Gaus which I hope will give you an idea of where I am coming from.

    DearSirs and Mr. Gaus,
    First let me say that I have a lot of respect in what you have done for dogs and absolutely appreciate that you love dogs, as we all do. You are also right that we have to respect each other’s techniques , but equally I have a couple more points I would like express from your general email that I just don,t agree with.
    1) Using the same general techniques as Cesar for years in my Business I can 100% say that I have never abused , maltreated or been violent to any dog what so ever to achieve an end to an unwanted behaviour, whether it be generated through, abuse from people, fear, nervousness etc, If I did I would not have a business, as well as an uproar from my clients and vets that use me.
    2) Using and understanding the natural needs of a dog psychologically to acquire it to live in a calm, peaceful , carefree state is by far the best and quickest way to achieve this.
    3) As you must agree that 99.999% of dogs are not naturally aggressive, ie breed etc. I have only come across about 3 over the years that I would say had a mental problem which resulted in their behaviour. Dogs show aggression either because of being nervous of something or a particular environment , feeling threatened, or feeling it is their responsibility to protect themselves from something. In all these cases the dogs are very stressed and live a very unhappy stressful life.
    4) Once we show dogs in THEIR natural way that they have no right to be nervous, afraid, make decisions to protect themselves because they see us as their natural leader of the pack, they, as they are pack animals naturally submit any notion of fear, aggressiveness etc as they relinquish these responses over to us as we are their pack leader. This enables the dog to take off the heavy burden of stress, nervousness and fear and every dog becomes calmer, stress free and happy as we teach them that we , as their pack leader will always make the decisions and protect them.
    5) You seem to assume that there is no balance between being assertive to a dog and humanising them for our own moral feeling. This is just ridiculous Once a dog sees it’s owner as the pack leader, it suddenly treats the owner with respect and trust in all areas, so the dog can at last be relaxed and enjoy the affections of the owner STRESS FREE because he knows the owner will protect him , so he will naturally have no desire to be nervous, afraid or protect himself by showing aggression. This results in the dog being totally liberated and stress free, NOT AS YOU SUGGEST..burdened, terrified and abused.
    6) Of course all good behaviourist always must have the dogs state of mind and welfare at heart as the main priority. Mr. Gaus I am absolutely fed up and frustrated when people like you demonise us behaviourist that use instinctive techniques like Cesar as apposed to your give, give training approach with no consequences. Your training techniques are for training dogs, ie instant reward to produce an desired action in a atmosphere of excitement , play and partnership…which is absolutely right if you are training a dog. BUT you can not use these same techniques when a dog is going mad with, fear, aggression or uncertainty or in a red zone, etc.

    That is why you seem to come to the conclusion that if a dog is aggressive etc it can’t be rectified so you tell your MG Schools to give up on the dogs, get rid of them or advise putting the dog down. The point you with respect are totally missing is the point above. Guess what as you have found out YOUR techniques don’t work on these dogs…OUR techniques as per Cesar’s WORK.. as all my clients can testify 100% So please don’t keep telling clients that and stick to dog training Not BEHAVIOURAL.

    Mr. Gaus, with deep respect I appreciate all your work however you are just missing the point on my points above. I 100% am certain you have a deep desire and love of dogs, as I do and Cesar. I am more than willing to meet up with you anytime and anywhere to show and also discuss our different behavioural techniques . I really hope you find some time in your very busy life to come back to me on this. I am not looking for any publicity or stunt so please get in touch.
    Kindest Regards,
    Glenn Prosser.www.allaboutdogs.nl

    Hi Richard,
    Thank you for your comments. I agree with some of your points. pe peolpe need to understand and learn about dogs Before They have one, how ever you are still missing the main point as I Explained,
    Of course all good behaviourist always must have the dogs state of mind and welfare at heart as the main priority. You demonise us behaviourist That instinctive use techniques like Cesar as apposed to your give, give training approach with no conséquences. Your training techniques are for training dogs, ie to produce an instant reward Desired Action in a atmosphere of excitement, play and partnership … which is absolutely right if you are training a dog. BUT-you-can not use theses techniques Same When a dog is going mad with, fear, or aggression or uncertainty in a red zone, etc.

    I use about 90% or CM approach but the main difference is Physically I do not touch my hand with my clients dogs or Any Other part of my body. I only correct the dogs with the lead.But That’s another story! The key fact is give-give-you-can not use training / obedience techniques to solve behavioral issues. And yes I do this day in and day out with clients WITHOUT abusing, hurting or terrifying my clients dogs.

    If you are still stuck in finding a good trainer/ behaviourist then please give me a call or look at my website.
    Kindest Regards,
    Glenn Prosser
    Allaboutdogs.nl

    • Posted 28 February 2011 at 17:50 | Permalink

      Hi Glenn

      Many thanks for your comment. With your permission, I shall mull it over a little, to give it the proper time it deserves (I am rather rushed tonight). But, again, thanks a lot for your thorough comments. I am really looking forward to reading it.

      I shall get back to you with a proper response asap.
      Laure-Anne

    • Posted 1 March 2011 at 14:09 | Permalink

      Hi Glenn

      I am finally getting the leisure to respond fully. Sorry about the slight delay. Again, thank you very much for your comment.

      Out of curiosity, are you Dutch yourself? As a non-Dutch, I am always interested to hear of how fellow ‘foreigners’ experience of the Dutch dog professional world.

      “My techniques are generally along the lines of Cesar Milan.”

      I like that you put it it that way (“generally along the lines of”). I am accustomed to such extreme allegiances, so I am glad you put your affiliation in such moderate terms.

      “I have a lot of respect in what you have done for dogs and absolutely appreciate that you love dogs, as we all do. You are also right that we have to respect each other’s techniques , but equally I have a couple more points I would like express from your general email that I just don,t agree with.

      If only all e-mails were written in such a concilatory tone.

      “1) Using the same general techniques as Cesar for years in my Business I can 100% say that I have never abused , maltreated or been violent to any dog what so ever to achieve an end to an unwanted behaviour, whether it be generated through, abuse from people, fear, nervousness etc, ”

      Noone likes to think of themselves, or their action, as abusive. So I can’t tell whether or not you have used abusive techniques from your judgement alone.

      Having said that, the other side of the coin also holds true: the term ‘abuse’ is often hurled to discredit somebody’s techniques if they happen not to fit with our own.

      So, to cut a long story short, I don’t know if your techniques abusive or not.

      “If I did I would not have a business, as well as an uproar from my clients and vets that use me.”

      If only it were true that only qualified, fair, humane people with very successful techniques were the only ones with a popular business and lots of recommendations… But popularity and business success can be related to entirely different factors, like: 1/ you could have great salesmanship skills, 2/ your customers may have no one else to go to in the region, 3/ the vets recommending you certainly do not have a sophisticaled feedback system asking the customer whether they felt the treatment was borderline abusive; etc.

      But indeed, I like to think that our society has natural safeguards against extreme abuse, so I assume that if you routinely posed extremely abusive acts towards your clients’ dogs, you would not continue to receive many recommendations. But all that tells me is that you are not a blood-thirsty sadist.

      Whether the public (or the vet) are in a position to judge whether your techniques are ‘unnecessarily cruel’ (i.e. the extent to which they are aversive and to which there are equally effective, but more gentle techniques) is an entirely different matter. And that is the biggest qualm of the modern training crowd with the traditional trainers, I believe.

      “2) Using and understanding the natural needs of a dog psychologically to acquire it to live in a calm, peaceful , carefree state is by far the best and quickest way to achieve this.”

      Without a bit of more meat on that bone, this is not a little unquantifyable and unverifiable. What do you mean with “understanding their natural needs?”

      Did you study a (serious) qualification in dog psychology that refers to these needs, that now put you in a position to advise the public on the said ‘needs’? Or are the dog’s ‘needs’ a notion that you use to refer to your set of beliefs about dogs and their behaviours.

      “3) As you must agree that 99.999% of dogs are not naturally aggressive, ie breed etc. I have only come across about 3 over the years that I would say had a mental problem which resulted in their behaviour. Dogs show aggression either because of being nervous of something or a particular environment , feeling threatened, or feeling it is their responsibility to protect themselves from something. In all these cases the dogs are very stressed and live a very unhappy stressful life.”

      I certainly get the same feeling (that most sound dogs are quite conciliatory). I have very little time for people who glamorise the view that dogs are really ‘aggressive predator’.

      But I do not see how this invalidates, or validates, M. Gaus’ or C. Milan’s respective positions.

      “4) Once we show dogs in THEIR natural way that they have no right to be nervous, afraid, make decisions to protect themselves because they see us as their natural leader of the pack, they, as they are pack animals naturally submit any notion of fear, aggressiveness etc as they relinquish these responses over to us as we are their pack leader.”

      My views in this instance could not be more opposed to yours. I hold the opinion that dogs have every right to their feelings.

      I also think that it’s a virtually impossible task to force a dog to change some of their feelings, especially by force. Impulse control, now there’s an achievable, noble, behaviour mod. goal.

      With regards to ‘controlling their feelings’, you can perhaps 1/ de-sensitize them to something (gently, not through flooding pleaaaaaaaaase), or 2/ coerce them into acting a way that somewhat masks the feelings. But I have severe moral qualms about 2/, I really do.

      They are not humans, granted, but they are also not robots. I think that compassion has very, very, very important place in the dog trainer’s arsenal, if only to act as a safe-guard us against potential abusive treatment in the name of a dog training protocol.

      Any talk of ‘the pack’ and you’ll quickly loose me. Regardless of my allegiance, or not, to positive training. Kindly show me a couple of reliable, recent, scientific sources attesting to the pack theory. I am equally open to the idea that a cat is cycling on the hidden face of the moon, or that Santa brings us presents every year, or even that my dog is plotting revenge against me by relieving itself in the house when I am not around, but kindly show me some substantiating proof.

      Also, how can being the leader of the pack convince your dog of this blatant lie: “When my owner is around, I am 100% protected”. Ever taken your dog to the vet’s for a painful procedure? Ever had an out of control dog charge at your dog, scaring the bejeezus out of him? Are you able to systematically prevent that?

      But more fundamentally, I think we both agree on this: we are responsible for our dog’s actions and they should heed our guidance (I should add ‘wherever feasible/realistic’). We are responsible to teach our dogs about our rules. We must do so consistantly, and, indeed, calmly and assertively.

      But I think this is the goal of M. Gaus and C. Milan alike, no? And I don’t see scores of ill-behaved, out-of-control, ill-adapted dogs dogs as a direct result of the increasing popularity of positive training schools. Perhaps the pattern is there and I have never seen it. It’s not like I did any serious research in this, but, with all due respect, have you?

      Again, I totally agree with Cesar Millan’s message about calm and assertivenes. That point cannot be stressed enough. If you are ambivalent it is likely your dog will perceive this, and it could lead to inefficiencies in the training process. So I do think that dogs thrive on predictability and so that a consistant, calm, predictable owner is a great asset towards a dog’s mental welfare.

      But another big tennet of a dogs’ psychological welfare is control, the ability to control the outcome of a situation through its behaviour. So if you first take the time to allow the dog to learn the rule by making the link between a specific behaviour and its (positive) consequences, you give the dog the necessary cognitive tools to offer you the behaviour you want without resorting to aversives.

      A big tennet of the traditional training school of thought is the assumtion that many instances of disappointing compliance/obedience are due to lack of respect for the owner. As you mention ‘humanising’ later in your mail, allow me to put this to you: failing to breaking the wanted behaviour down to a dog’s cognitive abilities, is humanising the dog. It assumes the dog understands our rules. If that assumption is not there, then how can it be fair to punish a dog for not offering a behaviour that it is clearly beyond its cognitive abilities to offer without more (preferably positive, in my mind) prompting?

      So, to summarise, I think that if this link between behaviour and consequences can, in great parts, be taught using positive techniques (R+ and P-), then it is indeed preferable from a moral standpoint (if the effectiveness is comparable to using more aversive techniques).

      The above is a reservation that many modern dog trainers have of traditional ones (that one quickly jumps to the conclusion that the dog is being disrespectful instead of reversing to even more basic teaching steps until we are certain the dog ‘gets it’). This concern about traditional trainers is founded or unfounded, I don’t know.

      “5) You seem to assume that there is no balance between being assertive to a dog and humanising them for our own moral feeling. Once a dog sees its owner as the pack leader, it suddenly treats the owner with respect and trust in all areas, so the dog can at last be relaxed and enjoy the affections of the owner STRESS FREE because he knows the owner will protect him , so he will naturally have no desire to be nervous, afraid or protect himself by showing aggression. This results in the dog being totally liberated and stress free, NOT AS YOU SUGGEST..burdened, terrified and abused.”

      There is a lot to be said about establishing clear rules and clear social status, but lack of respect for owner is not the root of all evils.There are many, many, many behaviour problems which are not at all related to the dog’s respect for its owner (take separation anxiety). So, to treat every behaviour problem in the dominance reduction panacea is misguided, simplistic, and rather short-sighted, IMHO.

      I am very uncomfortable with any tagline, one-liner, soundbite, panacea solution, oversimplification, formulaic approach… Do you know what I mean? Instinctively, you know not everything can be explained by that one, albeit simple and convenient, concept.

      I do not know precisely what you are referring to with ‘humanising’ them. If you are referring to refraining from any kind of punishment for fear it will alienate the dog’s affections, I agree with you that this concern has its shortcomings. I am by no means encouraging corporal punishment, or that we let go of compassion, but I am also think that condeming the use of all aversives (e.g. startling the bin scavenging dog with a loud booby trap) is not entirely realistic, and is rather one-sided and dogmatic.

      ‘humanising’ the dog can be interpreted in many ways. I would argue that, by humanising the dog, I am actually defending the use of punishment. At times, I have to be ‘cruel to be kind’ with my kid. If my kid has done something that could put him at harm, he will get a stern reprimand. I make sure I 1/ manage his environment to minimise the instances where he can put himself in danger. 2/ educate him so I can tell him of the rules in advance of him breaking them, not in a situation where punishment is warranted. I do exactly the same for my dog.

      There are many similarities between children and dogs, and their respective education. Condemning or deying these similarity to support one point or another needs to be fleshed up by solid arguments, in my view. All mammals, scratch that, all verterbrates, learn in remarkably similar ways (get really familliar with the laws of classical and operant conditioning and you’re half way there). So I am no more humanising my dog than I am ‘mammalising’ it.

      6) “Of course all good behaviourist always must have the dogs state of mind and welfare at heart as the main priority. Mr. Gaus I am absolutely fed up and frustrated when people like you demonise us behaviourist that use instinctive techniques like Cesar”

      I am also wary of people who take extreme views (be them modern, or traditional). This name-calling of traditional trainers is an example. If people support their case against traditional trainers with emotive, insulting, patronising ‘arguments’, they’ve lost my interest. So I really can’t blame you for getting irritated with this fashion.

      What is an ‘instinctive technique’? This is an umbrella term, a label I find rather difficult to tie down to a substancial, unambiguous, concept. It could apply to the guy who wants to hurt the dog hours after the deed out of revenge and frustration because it feels instinctively right. It could apply to a fan of the ‘pack theory’. I don’t really know what you mean by it.

      If one must use labels, then I guess C. Milan is often referred to as a ‘traditional’ dog trainer and M. Gaus as a ‘cross-over’ trainer (used to be traditional and became ‘positive’).

      But within these labels, there are extremes (Koehler would be extremely traditionalistic, and, say, Karen Pryor, is extremely modern) between which there is a continuum of positions with regards to, mainly, the intensity of punishment.

      But I think that one label cannot satisfactorily encapsulate M. Gaus or M. Milan, or you, or me, for that matter. The best we can do is position ourselves in relation to famous protagonists (I am closest to Jean Donaldson, Steven Lindsay, or Ian Dunbar in my views), and I understand you are closest to C. Milan. I do not blindly give my 150% allegiance to any ‘camp’, and nor do you (which I find refreshingly moderate on both our parts, frankly. Pat on both our backs).

      “give, give training approach with no consequences.”

      Modern training is all about consequences: parts of the Skinner quadrant of operant conditioning are one of its basic founding principles (P+, P-, R+, R-). Modern dog trainers shape their techniques to use (to a varying level of exclusivity): 1/ R+ (show wanted behaviour/stop unwanted behaviour = introduce hedonistically positive, pleasurable experience) and 2/ P- (show unwanted behaviour/stop wanted behaviour = withdraw hedonistically positive experience, pleasurable) .

      Some modern trainers really really really refuse to apply P+ (positive punishment: give an aversive stimulation as a result of unwanted behaviour) and R- (negative reward: stpo giving aversive stimulation as a consequence of producing the wanted behaviour) in any form, so according to some (not all) modern trainers, indeed, there are no

        aversive

      consequences to bad behaviours (although some experiment seems to indicate that removing an expected reward, like, not giving the treat the dog had come to expect, has an emotionally aversive value of similar intensity than the presentation of an unpleasant stimulus of comparable intensity, like, shouting at the dog).

      I share your concerns with the techniques of a trainer who 160%, completely, dogmatically, exclusively, relies on what you call ‘give-give’. I once went to a seminar by an influential modern trainer here in the Netherlands. She kept saying what not to do if a dog was misbehaving in a specific way, but she did not once say what we could do. The elephant in the room grew considerably, to the point that a member of the audience irritably asked: “So what CAN we do?”, to which she was shot down in flame by the dog trainer (again, the blanket ban on positive punishment seemed not to expend to humans). Following the logic the trainer predicated, there was nothing we could do, as she dogmatically rejected any form of positive punishment.

      Here is my position on this: for certain behaviours, positive punishment is warranted and is the most efficient approach. It should be approached 1/ humanely, 2/ after more positive options have been exhausted, 3/ not in a spirit of revenge or frustration, 4/ should not be corporal, etc. etc. etc. There are so many conditions to intelligent punishment, in my mind, that I have listed them in this article: Dogs, the art of intelligent punishment).

      “Your training techniques are for training dogs, ie instant reward to produce an desired action in an atmosphere of excitement , play and partnership…which is absolutely right if you are training a dog. BUT you can not use these same techniques when a dog is going mad with, fear, aggression or uncertainty or in a red zone, etc. “

      Good distinction to make. Behaviour modification is not dog training. There are some overlaps, though.

      In both cases (beh. mod and training), I advocate exhausting all practical positive solutions (R+ = nice consequence to good behaviour; and and P- = expected nice consequence withdrawn for bad behaviour) wherever possible/practical.

      But the irony is that I am sure (I hope) that you are advocating this too. I do not assume you are a sadistic abuser, I assume you first look at the more pleasant ways to get to a behaviour (right?).

      “That is why you seem to come to the conclusion that if a dog is aggressive etc it can’t be rectified so you tell your MG Schools to give up on the dogs, get rid of them or advise putting the dog down.”

      I am not aware of any study revealing an increased tendency for ‘failed’ behaviour modification programmes (to be defined carefully) by behaviourists using the modern approach. Do you have a source or reference? That sounds really really really interesting and I’d like to dig deep. I am keeping an open mind about it, at this stage. It’s quite possible. But I’ve never heard of such a study.

      “OUR techniques as per Cesar’s WORK.. as all my clients can testify 100%”

      With due respect, I highly doubt that someone can seriously claim a 100% success rate. To be taken seriously, this claim would need to be substantiated by 1/ defining success (also 2/ indicating whether a long-run follow-up was carried out), 3/ defining sample size, and 4/ defining what problems were treated, 5/ defining what the original behaviour was; 6/ stating how much it was reduced (if not eliminated) in measurable, verifiable terms; 7/ stating whether the end result was free of unwanted side-effects; 8/ offering customer testominials to that effect; etc.

      I think that polarising a set of techniques into YOURS and OURS is over-simplifyling the techniques of a myriad different practitioners who are at various degrees of the modern/traditional training continuum. We are all complex individuals with a set of procedures, which we feel we have tried and tested and fit best with us. Our procedures may or may not have been dictacted, to a varying degree, by famous dog trainers (mine by Dunbar/Donaldson/Lindsay, yours by Mlian and other contributors).

      “I 100% am certain you have a deep desire and love of dogs, as I do and Cesar.”

      I think that is the main point: everyone thinks that, because they love dogs (or you wouldn’t be a dog trainer/behaviourist otherwise, right?), their judgement is infallible because their intentions are good. This is a very slippery slope that takes you further and further away from facts, and closer and closer to obstinate dogma. That view falls apart as soon as you meet another dog trainer who equally loves dogs, but holds slightly different views. So you make a very very very good point: we all love dogs. Let’s not let it blind us into thinking we are therefore infallible.

      “I agree with some of your points. pe people need to understand and learn about dogs Before They have one”

      I think that the more people know and understand their dog, the better, but the more pressing matter to addres is the fact that most dog professoinals are not even remotely qualified to give educated advice. Most are self-educated, and clinging to the beliefs that they find emotionally most comfortable, or most familiar. That is a great concern to me.

      Many dog trainers basically spread the views they instinctively hold to be true with little regard for fact or peer-reviewed literature (if there is such a thing… Here’s another can of worms).

      I make this point regardless of where on the continuum you place yourself, as it is true to many, many, many modern, as well as traditional trainers, as far as I can see.

      And the ones who do bother to get qualified get taught by often egomaniacal, dogmatic trainers demanding a blind allegiance to every single one of their ‘teachings’, thus merely endoctrinating an ‘army’ of professionals into perpetuating their sometimes very extreme views to the unsuspecting public who think they are paying for the services of an expert, qualified, professional.

      For the sake of collecting information from a variety of sources, I have followed, and continue to follow, several qualifications from the different training schools in the Netherlands (and the UK, and the US). But the process can be very frustrating at times, as I often see yet another ill-founded view spread as gospel; and badly outdated, literature, made into compulsory reading…

      “Physically I do not touch my hand with my clients dogs or Any Other part of my body. I only correct the dogs with the lead.”

      I am rather firmly against the use of corporal punishment unless someone’s life is in real danger (here’s an issue I am really not ambivalent about). But yes, specifically, hitting the dog with your hand carries some real consequences (hand-shyness and, possibly fear-related aggression to a petting hand.

      “If you are still stuck in finding a good trainer/ behaviourist then please give me a call or look at my website.”

      Thank you. I am not looking for a behaviourist, though. Just a training school to which I could continue to take my dog for obedience training classes as a long-term hobby, rather than keep giving us the same class again and again because they don’t have a level up.

      Allow me one last thought-provoking point: what constitutes a ‘good’ school is a rather debateable point, isn’t it? As our discusison attests. ; P

      I have found one and am trying it in 2 weeks. I’ll see what happens.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment! I very much enjoyed hearing your perspective.

      Laure-Anne

      • Posted 1 March 2011 at 17:43 | Permalink

        Hi Laure-Anne,
        Thank you for you detailed remarks, there are a few that I am not too sure I agree with you and also on some of your assumptions. I am sorry but my thoughts were very generalised and I really was NOT looking for your approval, regarding your doubts if I am abusive to my client’s dogs is quite frankly irrelevent and worthless as again you are basing this on your own thoughts. I have years of real proven history with dealing with behavioural issues and resolving them in a calm, assertive way and using my techniques so please be assured I don’t feel threatened by any of your remarks. Equally I can also use the same argument towards you, ie, what is the value of your thoughts and ideas?

        Having said this PLEASE do not think that I am in any way annoyed or offended by your comments. I always enjoy good honest and open debates , I am just being the Devil’s advocate.

        No one knows all the answers as I know you agree. I thank you for your honest thoughts and also where in parts we see eye to eye. You have a very interesting Blog.
        Good luck with everything and once again I truly have enjoyed the discussion.

      • Posted 1 March 2011 at 19:19 | Permalink

        Hi Glenn. And it is so taken (no offense taken or meant, and all in the name of a civilised debate).

        What is the value of my own thoughts? Absolutely right. They are no better or worse than yours. I think we all have our right to our opinion and there are very few absolute certainties.

        To confirm my view on this particular point: calm and assertive is a great mantra. Very sound, and nothing wrong with it, to the contrary.

        And me too (enjoyed the discussion). I love it when we can disagree in a civilised way ; P

        Best of luck with the business (sounds like you don’t need it, you’re doing really well).

        Laure-Anne

      • Anonymous
        Posted 14 February 2012 at 18:12 | Permalink

        Dear Laure-Anne,

        Are you American? You sound like a few of the frustrated Americans that don’t understand or appreciate Dutch culture. I am not Dutch, but have lived here many years, had 4 great dogs, all trained with Dutch non-aggressive trainers.

        You need to stop your tirade. It’s sad.

        Kind regards,

        Shakespeare

      • Posted 23 February 2012 at 10:46 | Permalink

        Hi Anonymous. No, am not American.

        My problem is not so much that all trainers are aggressive, that’s not the case at all, but that I haven’t found that one magic school that is organised, courteous, qualified, uses positive methods, provides advanced classes and is nearby. Seems an ever elusive search to find a school that has the combination of all these qualities.

        I am glad you have found trainers you are happy with. Would you be happy to provide me the names offline if they are in the Hague region if you think they foot the bill above? That would be ever so useful, thanks!

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