My thoughts on training
I posted this to my blog after reading a rather heated rant about Cesar Millan. These are just my thoughts about dog training.
Everything has a place. I do not believe Cesar Millan is magic. I do not believe positive reinforcement only is magic. I believe that becoming close to your dog, and using instinct to convey disagreement when needed and plenty of love and toys when your dog is behaving are correct. I donít think my tiny chihuahua must be ďcalm-submissiveĒ all the time. I believe he must focus on me, even while he experiences high levels of excitement, runs, plays and wrestles. I require him to show me respect and not trod all over me, but he is most welcome to sit on my lap and give kisses. Play is a big deal at my house, and I encourage running and pulling at toys, play growls, etc. Essentially what Cesar claims makes a dog aggressive. I think these are healthy outlets for energy and a step toward a healthy mind.
I gain MORE control of my dog by being kind and following what my intuition says to do. Even as he runs at top speed, I can usually call and have him return to me. I did not use treats for this. I made it clear what was expected and if he did not provide, he lost the privilege of being off his lead. That simple, really.
That said. Some of Cesarís methods are extremely helpful. The hissing sound when used as a correction is very effective, especially with a dog like mine who tends to fixate on things and forget the human exists. The use of your fingers in a quick prodding motion accompanied by a growl to the shoulder (or two fingers on a small dog), not harshly but just enough to make a point, is an effective correction as well for a dog who is trying to boss you around, especially if teeth come out. Know your dog if you do this- some dogs, not many, will come after you. Most are shocked to see their language used by a human and respect you right away. Simply from a sound. You can also raise your lip into a snarl, they understand. You do NOT need to hurt a dog to make a point!
There is always value in exercise. A tired dog is less likely to get stir crazy. You know how you feel when you have been cooped up for a long time? Maybe you were ill and not allowed out? Well, dogs feel like that too. Dogs need to be walked. Some need to be run. One thing Cesar does that I really like is go rollerblading with dogs. This is a GREAT way to have fun and bond with your dog, as well as getting a lot of pent up energy out! I do need to say not to ever use a collar if your dog is pulling on rollerblades. There is a huge risk for damage to the trachea. I use a harness when walking my small dog at all times because of the risk to his little neck.
Pain and extreme measures should only be used in life threatening situations. I think a shock collar is very valuable for a dog who chases cars, for example. I have used shocks with my own Lab in a rattlesnake avoidance class. It is hard on me as the owner, BUT, that one 10 part course full of snakes and a few zaps was a lot less trauma than if she got bit by a snake and died. That is an acceptable and extremely valuable use for these training methods. They should be used on the lowest effective setting of course and not overdone, but they do have a place. I am fond of the concept of vibration collars and Toner collars, which either buzz or make a loud beep sound, as a training tool. I have never used them myself but the idea is sound.
I also think treat training is great. Bring on the treats, just donít make your dog fat, that hurts him more than being unruly would. Use treats for sit, stay, down, roll, paw, whatever you like. Itís fun and rewarding for you and your pet.
Your body language and internal energy is huge as well and does influence your pet, something I have known and used for years. Do not come to a dog thinking how much you hate it, it will know and may be aggressive because your whole body shows dislike. If you come to a dog with trust, and you require respect right away, it is likely a dog will give it- without you doing anything. A dog should not earn your trust first, it should get it, and if it breaks your trust, that is bad. But a dog does not get earning trust, because a dog is born trusting everything.
I run off of vulpine instinct more than anything. I want closeness with my family member, much like a vixen and a pup, and enjoy wrestling, cuddling, play. But I will give one sharp correction for incorrect behavior. You must live a balanced life. My dog is not perfect but gets better every day as he recovers from past traumas. I do not baby him even though he only weighs 4.8 pounds, but I definitely love him and make that clear. I do not show aggression for no reason with him, and I invite gentleness and play. A firm no goes a long way. My dog adores me, I get comments on it in the street that how he looks at me is like he is looking at something from heaven. I am his whole world.
A dog wants rules. He wants boundaries and does not want to just run wild. Structure is healthy for a dog. You are not being mean by saying he canít get on the couch or poo on the rug. He will live a better, fuller life if he is given a world where he knows what is expected and will be given lots of love when he is good- and he will be good more because he WANTS your love. You allow him to work for the thing he wants most, just by doing easy things, like not pooing indoors. If he screws up, your correction should last no more than three seconds (I do leave my boy outside for a minute though if he has an accident, helps IMO) and after that you should be back to normal you. A dog doesnít hold grudges like some animals and he will forget right away what he did, and only see you punishing for what he thinks is no reason. Even though my dog is small, he is a dog, and should be treated like one. Your bitty chi still deserves to play in mud, and run and play. She doesnít know she is small. She just wants to live a happy life. Enjoy the muddy pawprints on your pants. Some day your dog will be too old for that.
Essentially. Be kind and fair. Donít hurt when you donít have to. Love your dog and see what he can teach you, and respect him, and require respect in return. You can both be healthy and happy together.