Sleights of Hand and Fraud at Work

By Lynn –

I made a mistake recently: I got into a debate about e-collars on a YouTube thread in the lair of the Beast–Victoria Stillwell herself. I politely ended the comment-conversation and moved it to messages, where I was bound by no character limit.

At halftime, the ball was in my court and I was asked to comment on if an e-collar was used in the situation of a Tucker, a terrier pup. I’ll let youwatch the video to get some perspective.

(Please note that nowhere in the video does it state that his misbehaviors occurred ONLY during grooming sessions, as the “Description” area clearly asserts! It appears that the woman brought home her dog and was instantly beset by issues.)

The ball I was to hand back over was tagged with a request to determine whether or not an e-collar was used on this dog in the process of “taking him down.”

This was my response:

I am not going to comment on the quality of training in the video, and as such will not answer your question. It is not my place to determine what tools and techniques were used on the dog, and without having seen the dog or worked with it in person, I would be doing a disservice to critique the second-hand advice (such as what the woman was telling us that other trainers told her) I heard. There was no mention of tools used, techniques to “dominate” the dog, or the qualifications of the trainers involved other than the one on which the video focused.

What I did see was a dog being desensitized to a situation in which it was previously traumatized, and being taught a basic trick (giving the paw and allowing it to be manipulated and the nails trimmed). I saw no attempt to work with the dog when it was actually misbehaving, nor did I notice any concepts being taught that might make the dog a better pet. Yet, miraculously, that one training session for ONE issue made Tucker a better pet and gave his owner a better relationship with him. That’s either some good editing or maybe I’m really missing out on how easy training could be: all I need to do is teach my dog to roll over, and instantly she will come on command regardless of what she is chasing in my backyard!

You ask me a loaded question and show me a highly edited video to back it up: the whole problem was an issue with the dog’s behavior in general, biting the owner, misbehaving in the house and being a stereotypical ‘bad dog.’ The video did not address the issue; rather it addressed one problem that was introduced to us through a very graphic description of an experience that NO real trainer or groomer would allow a dog to go through. By the way, is it a shock (no pun intended!) to you that I used loads of treats to help my dog become accustomed to the dremel that I use on her nails?

The fact that anyone can be a ‘trainer’ today is a grave disservice to people with problems such as this woman. They took her money and left her with a problem dog without referring her onto someone who might have been more help to her than they (although here, we get into the question of what techniques they recommended, and how dedicated she was to following their advice to the fullest)! This, in my humble opinion, is nothing short of fraud. I’m sure both of us watched that video and thought “Oh I could fix that if only I could work with the dog!” Are both of us trainers? I would give my subjective assessment to that question, but I will refrain from offending you (for the record, I do not have a training business; rather, I have a lot of hands-on and theoretical experience, and knowledge that has helped many other peoples’ relationships with their dogs where the pure-positive/clicker-only model had failed them).

Two more things: 1) The dog shown was either an Airedale puppy, or an Airedale mix. This breed is a LOT bigger than what I saw on that grooming table. The fact that this animal might have been exhibiting puppy behavior (if it indeed WAS a pup) was completely overlooked or perhaps left out so that it would put the other ‘trainers’ in an unflattering light. 2) There is a large difference between ‘dominating’ a dog and ‘domineering’ it. I much prefer the former (which produces a dog much more willing to do what you want when you simply ASK), while what this lady was describing sounded a lot like the latter (which creates a dog bent on resisting anything asked of it, and as such must be DEMANDED to do something), with the trainers using the much more accepted word in place of what they really wanted her to do.

Keep your eyes open when watching videos dealing with clicker training or any obvious pure-positive agenda. While not everything is this glaring, the sleight of hand used to draw people into the fad are there: “Oh, you are having an aggression problem? Well, let me show you how quickly I can teach your dog to sit and lay down!”

Positive reinforcement has its place in every training program. However, fair, appropriate corrections have their place as well. To deny the existence of a balance is to have your head in the sand: Put simply, eating fast food and taking a multivitamin might sound like a good idea, but unless you acknowledge and incorporate fresh fruits, veggies and whole grains into your diet, you’re only digging yourself deeper.