The below comes via a twitter and then email conversation I had with Neil as a result of my post relating questions and criticisms some dog trainers have regarding my hero, Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer.” It’s published with permission and thanks. ~ ed.
Your post does a great job of highlighting the conundrum of what happens when people focused solely on positive reinforcement see someone such as yourself offering praise for Cesar Milan–suddenly you get a whole lot of “negative reinforcement” coming your way! While I myself am not an advocate for Cesar’s techniques, as someone who promotes an alternative, I have certainly experienced a surprising amount of “negative” coming from otherwise positive-oriented people.
I’m writing because it seemed that you were, indeed, looking for alternatives. The way that I train is based on a dog’s emotional experience of the world, teaching people how to attract and resolve their dog’s emotional energy particularly in energized moments (which are also, generally, the moments when we most want our dogs to respond to us). I show people how to tap into their dog’s hunting drive–which is essentially the healthy outlet that “nature” gave dogs for releasing energy (and pent-up stress). A good description of it (particularly in relationship to Cesar Milan’s methods) is here.
I also write a little bit about how what I do is different from Cesar in my FAQ.
I think that the problem with arguing about who’s “wrong” or “right”, particularly in the realm of behavior, is that it’s sometimes hard to argue with “I tried these methods for myself, and they worked.” That seems to have been your experience with Cesar’s methods, right? Many people succeed with his methods–and many people also don’t (they are, as you rightly stated, based essentially on an “old” theory about dominance being a driver of doggie behavior). Many people also succeed as strictly positive trainers–though there are also many who don’t get quite what they’re after here too. The real problem is: What do you do when what you’re trying doesn’t work!?
I myself found that neither approach worked when I was trying to help my dog deal with aggression issues towards other dogs, which is what led me to, Natural Dog Training (the philosophy on which my training method is based) in the first place. Note that I didn’t invent it (it was created by Kevin Behan, who was looking for something to bridge the gap between dominance theory and positive training regimens). I apprenticed with him, experienced an enormous transformation in my dog’s behavior, and subsequently started my website (initially simply as a resource to the clients I was working with here in Maine). Well, as you know, websites have more than a local reach, and the rest is history. This past summer I released a DVD set that teaches people how to do exactly what I do. Much of that is already on my website in written form, but I had enough requests for video instruction that I had the DVD set produced.
I’m really just hoping this information would be helpful for elephant in your quest for “alternatives”. If you are looking for more to read–here’s a thread on the forum at dogwise where some people were asking questions about the particulars of “pushing” (one of the fundamental techniques that I teach), and you can see first-hand how I was the recipient of some negative reinforcement. Needless to say, it didn’t change my behavior!
Please check out the trailer for my instructional DVD set, Natural Dog Training: The Fundamentals –
Neil Sattin, the author of NaturalDogBlog.com is one of the nation’s leading experts in Natural Dog Training. Neil began studying Natural Dog Training through an apprenticeship with Kevin Behan, after being told by a prominent trainer that his beloved rescue dog Nola should be euthanized because of her aggression. He witnessed an amazing turnaround with his own dog, and in the many years since then has helped countless other people effect similar transformations using the techniques of Natural Dog Training. Along with helping dogs, Neil Sattin specializes in guiding dog owners to create change in their own habits and mindset, so they can effectively change whatever they do that is contributing to the issues they’re experiencing with their dogs. Neil produced the 2-DVD set “Natural Dog Training: The Fundamentals” – the only complete video instruction available to learn Natural Dog Training techniques at home. He also designed an ultra-long, ultra-durable, high-visibility training lead, giving people the freedom to train and play with their dogs while maintaining total control. Neil also maintains a forum on NaturalDogBlog.com, where people from around the world gather to discuss their experiences with Natural Dog Training. Neil Sattin lives outside of Portland, Maine with his wife, two children, three cats, and of course his dog Nola.