Finding a Trainer, Finding Good Information

Although APDT does not yet have provisions in place to sanction or remove trainers who violate best-practices rules (part of the problem is that there is not currently a universal standard of care in the field of applied dog behavior), there is a straightforward way to increase one’s odds of hiring an educated, competent, humane dog trainer.  Go to the APDT site to peform a Trainer Search and click the box that restricts search results to certified trainers.  This will yield only trainers in a designated geographic area that have been vetted by a legitimate independent (independent of any school and independent of APDT) certifying body. 

It’s not a perfect system and it will make errors both ways: there will be excellent trainers on their way to certification who won’t be listed, and there are will be trainers listed who squeaked through the certification process or got themselves certified and proceeded to hang dogs, but it’s way ahead of trying to select a trainer based on their self-proclamations vis a vis ethics and ability.

And here are two well-written articles by Lisa Mullinax, one a measured deconstruction of  The Dog Whisperer’s philosophy, and the other a series of replies to frequently asked questions by his fans.

The Weasel Files Part Two

The International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) is a body that seems to have been formed by trainers unhappy with the trend toward dog-friendly techniques.  They also seem a little rusty on the relevant science.  Their 2011 conference theme was “Pack Leadership for Dogs and Their Humans,” and the IACP website has education articles with statements like this:

“For me, the reason I use a dog pack to train is that it rebuilds a dog’s brain from the inside out. What I see over and over anymore (sic) are dogs who are too unstable to even teach a sit.”

IACP has a Code of Conduct, Item 8 of which reads as follows:

“8. IACP members may not seek to deprive any canine professional of his or her ability to conduct his or her business by seeking to restrict or ban accepted and established tools of the trade, or by seeking to restrict or ban accepted and established techniques and practices within the industry through calls for boycotts, restrictions, bans, or other actions designed to interfere with free marketplace participation of a canine professional in his or her business. Accepted and established tools of the trade include, but are not limited to, leashes, harnesses, training collars, slip collars, prong collars, head halters, remote electronic collars, and electronic pet containment systems. Accepted and established techniques and practices include, but are not limited to, those techniques and practices described in published books, videos, and professional seminars. A personal preference shall be allowed in the individual member’s choice of methods, equipment and techniques within their own practice.”

Wait a second.  Are they saying that if anybody has ever written it down or described it at a “professional” seminar, it’s an “accepted and established technique?”   This policy would allow the grandfathering in of practices such as those of the late William Koehler.  In The Koehler Method of Dog Training (Howell Books, 1962, 1996) Koehler describes how to hang a dog until unconscious (p. 37):

“When finally it is obvious that he is physically incapable of expressing his resentment and is lowered to the ground, he will probably stagger loop-legged for a few steps, vomit once or twice, and roll over on his side. The sight of a dog lying, thick-tongued, on his side is not pleasant, but do not let it alarm you. I have dealt with hundreds of these.”

Koehler is – I’m not kidding – an IACP Hall of Famer.  Here is an excerpt from his IACP Hall of Fame page:

“Quiet, unassuming, soft spoken and gentle of hand, Bill gave us a way to train dogs while at the same time honoring their very dog-ness. The Koehler Method of Dog Training is just as valid and useful in the Twenty-first century as it was in the Twentieth century and we suspect it will continue to have just as much meaning for as long as we have dogs to train.”

Koehler’s remedy for digging (p. 178-179) is as follows:

“(F)ill the hole to its brim with water. . . . bring the dog to the hole and shove his nose into the water; hold him there until he is sure he’s drowning. . . . fill the hole with water and repeat the experience the next day, whether the dog digs any more or not.”

IACP has a listing of Trainer Schools, which are either “members or sponsors of the IACP.”  Recommended schools sponsor the certifying body?  This from an organization ostensibly “established to develop and promote the highest standards of professional and business practice among canine professionals.” 

On this list of schools is one that initially appears to be an outlier, a school whose link reads “ForceFree Method™.”  Seeing as force enthusiasts have infiltrated bodies like APDT, I thought this might represent an attempt by force-free trainers to infiltrate IACP, however it turns out ForceFree Method™, “combines low level remote collar work with excellent body language to engage the dog’s natural Pack Drive. Fast and happy training for both dog and handler.” 

If you go to their site, you get this: 

“Why forceless?  Most people just don’t feel good yelling at their dogs or yanking on a choke collar.  Moreover, doing so just turns the training process into a contest of willpower.  Anyone who has ever lived with a dog knows they have an endless supply of willpower.  So simply forcing your dog to behave leaves them forever looking for an opportunity to outwit you.

We also do not ‘cookie or clicker train.’  These methods do work well for competition dogs who must perform routines under controlled conditions.  We find them useless when trying to stop unwanted behaviors in the real world.”

Okay, so no forcing dogs to “behave.”   No food and no use of timing markers.  So what does he do?   Here is what he recommends for food guarding:

“I like to begin by calling the dog away from the food bowl.  A 10 or 15 foot line might be in order to help teach this behavior. I will call the dog’s name and apply some gentle leash pressure pulling the dog towards me.  As soon as he starts to come my way (by his own choice) I let the leash go slack and continue to encourage the dog. When he gets to me I will have an incredibly tasty treat waiting for him. So he learns that giving something up for me often means he gets something better. In other words, he isn’t giving anything up, he’s simply trading up!”

Wait.  This would be “cookie training” but for the bit where we “might” have to use a long line to “apply some gentle leash pressure.” 

Notwithstanding this description, one would think he’d boxed himself in motivation rhetoric-wise were it not for our favorite motivation deus ex machina, which headlines the Become a Trainer page:

“It’s all about Pack Drive™”

“Pack Drive” is trademarked? 

Here we go.

 

“The ForceFree Method is an intuitive system of training that makes sense to both people and dogs.  Effective and gentle, the training method works WITH the dogs (sic) instincts rather than against them. We achieve off leash reliability, even with distractions, amazingly fast.  Most dogs perceive the training as simple “pack cooperation” and play.  Therefore, they quickly shed rebellious behavior, and give you more focus than you imagined possible.  Doesn’t that sound like more fun than correction after correction?”

Are we comparing the funnicity of electric shock versus “correction after correction” from the perspective of the people or the dogs?   Speaking of the joy and wonder of inter-species relationships, here is an IACP recall treatise.  I’m trying to imagine why I would have such a grim relationship with my dog.  And I’m at a loss.  We need mental health professionals deconstructing this stuff. 

The late author Vicki Hearne is also in the IACP Hall of Fame.  She herein babbles on “rote learning”:

“It works tolerably well on some handlers, because people have vast unconscious minds and can store complex preprogrammed behaviors.  Dogs, on the other hand, have almost no unconscious minds, so they can learn only by thinking.”

Please re-read the preceding, bearing in mind that a person who took money for training animals wrote it. 

“A correction blocks one path as it opens another for desire to work; punishment blocks desire and opens nothing.”

Punishment is any consequence that reduces the frequency of the behavior it follows.  Its impact on “desire” is impossible to analyze.   The sentence is made-up rubbish.  A “trainer” – including one who is dead – who can’t define an undergrad Psych 101 term like punishment is (was) a quack. 

“Correction” is weasel-speak for the term Hearne was unable to correctly use in a sentence, i.e. punishment.   In this case, she was talking about the violent kind of punishment, i.e. positive punishment.  We could stretch and say it’s a fair metaphor to say punishment blocks one path (i.e. reduces the frequency of a behavior, thereby “blocking” a strategy the dog is attempting), but to say it “opens another for desire to work” is unparsable nonsense.  But force trainers have to use unparsable nonsense because they have this phobia of the word punishment.  Which is pretty ironic.

It’s concerning that the IACP brain trust, rather than seeking to distance themselves from the Bill Koehlers and Vicki Hearnes, enshrines them in its Hall of Fame.  But this is a fringe organization, and humans are nothing if not fringe organization generators.  Much more concerning is the fact that legitimate organizations such as APDT state outright that members may train any way they please, which means trainers may engage in even the most egregious aversive practices or flagrant unprofessional conduct.   It is, in practice, no different from IACP when it comes to the conduct of its members. 

The strategy of dog-friendly-in-theory trainer organizations seems to be what a former student of mine calls “osmosis.”  If you expose sadists and quacks to technically sound, humane ways of training, they’ll cross over on their own.  It’s just a question of education.  If, on the other hand, you draw a line in the sand and say “any member who hangs dogs to unconsciousness is out, period,” they’ll get all alienated and it’ll shut down dialogue.    

Can we entertain having a statute of limitations on this strategy?  There is a nation of dogs waiting to hear if non-contingent water-boarding will be unequivocally off the table any time soon.