DOMINANCE –BASED DOG TRAINING
DEAR DR. FOX: I am a great admirer
of your work (at least what I know about it).
I own many of your books and was attending the SPARCS 2013 conference
this last weekend of June, 2013. I like
the part of spirituality that enters, is given space in your work.
A controversy was created around your comments
use of aversives, use or neck shaking and shock collars. These seem to
contradict all of your work or my perception of your work, approach of respect
towards other animals. I see you as a man of grace who would not hurt
other animals. Some people here
(Canada) are totally flabbergasted by these 'recommendations’ as they perceive
it. To me, it is very painful because I
really appreciate all of what you did so far for animals all over.
I see your interactions with animals I cannot imagine that you would use or
recommend these methods to modify their behaviors. The shaking of the neck is
something that Cesar Milan would
recommend and in some dogs it will escalate the emotion and increase the risk
of a bite therefore putting them in danger of losing their life. And yes I am struggling with the opinions
of trainers who take the position that only gentleness ( so called R+ or
positive reinforcement/reward) works and should be used at all times and it
makes things difficult to maintain a balanced view and find where I position
myself all things considered.
see what the controversy is about. I
needed to put my mixed emotions on paper out of the admiration I have for
you. I would really appreciate if you
could share your thoughts on this with me.
M.F.L., Carignan, Quebec
Marie-France: I think it is important to address what seems to be an on-going
controversy ignited by the dominance-intimidation ways of people like Cesar
Milan, which I have publicly deplored. Some dogs need physical restraint
to learn internal inhibition/self-restraint, one method I have described being
‘Cradling’ for pups and small dogs.
Holding around the neck and shoulders with one arm or holding the neck-
scruff and when needed, placing a hand around the dog’s muzzle or putting on a
muzzle are standard handling procedures for keeping some dogs still for
veterinary examination. I would not
write this off as cruel domination but rather, as when a cat is held by the
scruff of the neck, induces a reflexive passivity. Pups are likewise held by
the scruff of the neck when being
carried by their mothers and a reflex passivity is triggered as per my earlier
research on the reflexological/neurological development of the dog.
only advocate using a scruff and muzzle hold and even holding a dog down for a
few seconds as an extreme intervention, only by a competent person, as when one
dog has attacked another. When put into practice, as at my wife Deanna Krantz’
animal refuge in India, in addition to other safe and effective techniques to
break up a fight when caring for a free group of 30 or more dogs, this NATURAL,
ethologically appropriate method of canine behavioral inhibition works well.
Loud sounds can also prove effective at a greater distance.
I hope this
helps clarify things for you and my position and total aversion to the
Millan-style of domineering aversive conditioning which could increase canine
issue is training collars using remote wireless signals: buzzers and tones are
fine, but no electroshocks for any dog, hunting and working dogs in particular
where there can be much misuse and abuse of these devices .Remote control
electroshock collars with variable intensity should never be sold to the
Only experienced, sensitive and qualified dog
handlers and behaviorists should use remote
shock collars in aversive conditioning, such as to prevent
dogs from attacking livestock.
This technique is being considered for use in Sweden on
wolves, captured and released with such collars to
deter them from attacking farm animals in their range.
for a Ban on Electric Shock Collars for Dogs
British Kennel Club and others in the U.K. are urging the Government to
prohibit the use of shock collars for training dogs. This comes after two
independent studies have shown that there is “ conclusive proof that electric
shock collars do not deliver the promises the manufacturers claim and could
actually cause more behavioural problems than they solve”, according to a
report in the Veterinary Record, Aug 10, 2013, p 130.The research indicated
that “ behavioural and physiological responses are consistent with negative
emotional states”, and that the use of e-collars in training pet dogs leads to
a negative impact on welfare, at least in a proportion of animals trained using
Peter Stockdale, veterinary college class-mate and former Dean of the
veterinary college at Massey University, NZ, now sheep farming in British
Columbia, tells me that in his opinion all users of shock collars should be
trained and certified. He relies on them while working his dogs with the sheep,
using remote controlled, rheostat-adjustable DogTra system which can deliver a
warning buzz or beep to the dog’s collar, coupled only when needed after
initial training as a conditioned reflex signal, with reinforcement of a mild
electroshock. “Improperly used, these devices will demoralize a dog, and I have
not developed the skill of some shepherds who can simply control their dogs
with different kinds of whistles.”
buzzers can work well for some dogs who are
incessant barkers, but again, electroshock-devices I find ethically
unacceptable and yet they are being sold to insensitive owners, trainers and
handlers who are lacking the kind of empathy and skill called for in their
proper use .
the other extreme are the ‘hands-off’ never shout or hold-down dog
trainers/counselors who put gentleness before all else, a position I respect
but which will prove ineffectual with some strong-willed and over-indulged
dogs, like some parents who are averse to exercising ‘tough love’ when it comes
to dealing with their delinquent offspring who do not respect boundaries and want
their own way---like so many delinquent dogs. Striking may be the solution of
last resort or only response for some, an action which I deplore. There never
can be any justification for hitting or kicking a dog, an attention-getting
loud hand clap or shout being sufficient. Also. ‘time-out’, such as banishing a
misbehaving dog immediately to another room, is another effective corrective
for most dogs.
Canine genetics, early experiences,
socialization and other dog-related influences on behavior and tranability/adaptability/educatability
not withstanding, one must look at the attitude, competence, confidence,
intelligence, understanding and capacity for empathy of the dog’s human
companion with equal thoroughness before deciding on the most appropriate remedies
for troubling, unwanted, aggressive and other behaviors which need to be
modified in order to improve the human-non-human bond and in many instances
prevent animal abuse, cruelty and even abandonment or euthanasia.
I must add that many people, including dog
caregivers and trainers/educators, are limited by their own preconceptions and
misconceptions about how to handle and communicate with dogs. No amount of
factual knowledge without hands-on experience is going to make a difference
because they variously lack empathy, have unresolved fears, need to dominate
and control etc etc. This is why I do not advise many people to engage in
play-fighting with their dogs which includes grabbing and shaking the scruff of
the neck, cheeks and muzzle. But many people can engage in such intense
physical contact because their dogs know what is going on and the humans know
when to set limits and boundaries in terms of response intensity and duration
of interaction. Those who play together stay together. But many trainers say,
mistakenly, that such interactions, and even having a tug-of-war with a
chew-rope or knotted towel, will encourage dogs to become aggressive and
dominant in the relationship. So they say no to what many dogs really enjoy,
along with their human playmates. This is unacceptable and makes me wonder
about the training/education of many individuals in the dog business of
training and behavioral counseling. Some trainers even regard a dog jumping up
on a person as dominance behavior, another example of a little bit of knowledge
potentially causing more harm than good. Dogs also jump-on to greet, embrace,
display affection and to solicit play.
Even a leash and collar (and especially
choke-chain collar which I deplore) can be an instrument of torture and abuse
in the wrong hands. When commonly used improperly as tools of domination,
correction and control they can cause neck injuries and great harm especially
to small breeds whose tracheas can collapse when they pull too hard or are
corrected too roughly. Small breeds in particular should be walked in harnesses
around the chest, and for other dogs the Anderson-type ‘Gentle Leader’ around
the muzzle can provide effective, non-injurious control and direction.
Above all we must examine the truths that
live by, including what we believe to be the best and only way to treat,
handle, train dogs and other animals, and to remain open to new ways and old
using common sense as our guide, not ‘pure science’, and compassion, not
custom, expedience or convenience, as our compass.