Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Contrasting Theories...?

I've been brushing up on my dog reading lately in preparation for my CGC class that will hopefully begin September 15th, and between reading, Inside of a Dog, Cesar's Rules, and The Loved Dog by Tamar Geller, I desperately needed to stop and point out a few things I seem to be maybe be missing.

So, everyone knows that it is no secret of mine that I adore Cesar Millan. His recipe for success is plain, simple, and has impressive results that bring to attention what most people do wrong with their dogs...essentially ignoring their doggy tendencies and how they generally see the world. Yet, so many people are overly critical, saying all his techniques are too harsh, and that his approach is cruel and overbearing. However, as has been researched by specialists in the dog area, many would probably be surprised to hear that over 70% of Millan's techniques are actually based on positive reinforcement. Additionally, over 90% of his "leadership" techniques are simply using posture, going through doors first, etc. Where things get notably controversial are when he does the "Alpha" roll-overs and "flooding" techniques...but whatever your stance on it, I think it's important to remember that these are used as absolute last resorts, and only for severely unhinged dogs that are left with no other options, quite often on death row. If an "alpha rollover" or "flooding" technique is what it takes and has proven success (which, we've seen time and time again, appears to be the case for those select dogs), then I feel that it outweighs the unspeakable alternative. People should also note that, because these dogs are so severe enough to be on television, putting your own dog in an "alpha rollover" for it growling at you over something minor is NOT a wise choice, especially when done without consultation. This is also the case for "flooding" a dog that has some kind of severe irrational fear; Cesar is a professional and knows when and if and how to do things at a specific time to make sure success is going to be the outcome for that particular dog. So, yes. It is probably a bad idea to do these things to your own pet, and there is probably a better method you could consult before such measures need to be taken.

What I'm having trouble with is the "differing" approach of Tamar Geller. If you google search Cesar Millan and Tamar Geller in the same search, you get all kinds of crazy posts of people arguing profusely against one or the other. Yet, to me, her so-called "Love" approach overlaps A LOT with everything I've been reading about her internet nemesis, Cesar Millan, as well as my other favorite trainer/author, Carol Lee Benjamin. According to Geller, the seven basic needs of a dog, not in any particular order are:

1. Sense of Security
2. Companionship
3. Understanding the Hierarchy
4. Surprises/Excitment
5. Food and Exercise
6. Mental Stimulation
7. Love and Connection

For Cesar, they are (in order):

1. Exercise (would also include excitement, mental stimulation, and connection in here, the way he does it.)
2. Discipline (there's your sense of security and understanding the hierarchy)
3. Affection (companionship/love).

I think what I like most and feel is the most important part of dog-ownership is the leadership aspect, first and foremost before anything else. Geller has an entire section on which she preaches this importance as well, citing each owner to "always be seen as the alpha, or leader-there must be no question about that!" Additionally, the way she illustrates being a good leader as she observed wolves/dogs describes a healthy balance of adults teaching their pups through play, as well as corrections via teeth barring, snarling, etc. but with a special emphasis on how none of the animals ever hurt one another or are otherwise cruel.

Um, hold up there...isn't this EXACTLY the same thing Cesar preaches as well? Even with his toughest cases where alpha-rolling occurs, I'd like it noted that NONE of the dogs he's worked with are ever hurt or touched without reason. By using the same techniques as a "momma dog," he mimics what would be seen in the wild; most of the time, a simple "Tsst" and snap of the fingers for effect, in replace of a natural snarl, performed at the appropriate moment in time suffices as a correction.

However, I suppose this is just the general trend of dog trainers; about the only thing two dog trainers can agree on is what a third is doing completely wrong. The fan-base seems to be more opposing though, as I believe I recall seeing an episode where Cesar solicits Geller's help with a particularly child-aggressive mixed breed, and the two considered one another respected friends (though, I will also write that I remember Geller not being fully successful with the dog, and it was Cesar in the end who had to step back in and fix the problem once and for all). People will be people I guess, and declare loyalty to one or another for various reasons. I am glad, at least, that the one I express loyalty for is open-minded, as I try to be, and is never one to criticize other experts, despite the flack he gets himself...he even went to Ian Dunbar's house to make peace and learn more about different training methods ;).

As for Inside of a Dog I'm only about half-way through. Much of it is very interesting to picture, such as how it must be to smell like a dog, or how poor their direct vision actually is. While I've enjoyed most if it, there are some occasional statements made in it that have bothered me that I'm yet exploring in other contexts. Specifically, Horowitz claims that stray dogs do not form packs; therefore, the "pack mentality" is watered down in dogs and not an effective tool in their day to day lives. Yet, there are several documentaries and news articles if you simply search, "Stray Dog Packs" that come up detailing what a problem it is, and how abandoned pets and others born on the streets form gang-like packs that wreck havoc on livestock and on-lookers. I've even witnessed pet dog "pack mentality" myself, as dogs from the same households escape from yard together, and keep together in specific formation as they roam (or as they attack my own dog, as seen in last month's post).

Still, I think it's important to read and research as much as possible about the things you're passionate about to gain a broader, more knowledgeable perspective. This is exactly what I'd like as I begin to teach class; I want to be able to have an answer as to why I believe what I believe, as well as different methods that may work for different dogs.

I want everyone to succeed and do what works for them and of course, what they are comfortable with.

To each their own; may we coexist in peace!

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