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Charlottesville's Professional Dog Grooming

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Cesar Millan and Treat Training

Thursday, January 18th, 2007 by Mike Cronk

We have discussed Cesar Millan in previous issues but there are a variety of training methods available.  In fact, a recent “People” magazine examined the “war” going on between his method and a method which relies on the use of treats.

Archived from “The Paw Report:”  Issue #7, January

Cesar Millan primarily works with “problem dogs”—those dogs who are exhibiting unwelcome, or even dangerous behavior.  His treatment for these dogs has been developed through a combination of personal experience and research into canine ancestry with a focus on pack behavior and its underpinning psychology.  He has determined that responsive, “balanced,” pack members are “calm-submissive.”  His method focuses on eliminating unwelcome behavior by helping dogs reach that calm-submissive state of mind.  First he says that there must be extensive exercise (at least one hour each day) with the dog heeling by your left side.  Second to exercise is discipline through consistently upholding “rules, boundaries, and limitations.”  Affection is a distant third as a reward for good behavior. 

“The Whole Dog Journal” describes a school of dog trainers that believe the opposite—that dogs should not be submissive but should rather be companions first and foremost.  This school suggests treat rewards for good behavior and is often used with puppies.  Rather than using a lead and a push on the butt to encourage a dog to sit, proponents suggest holding a treat above a dog’s nose until the dog sits of his own accord.

There are several arguments between the two schools of thought based on potential problems which can arise from using each method:

Problems cited for Millan’s method:
May scare a shy dog
May aggravate an aggressive one
May create anxiety for dogs about offering behaviors if they are unsure of the “right” thing to do
Leads can’t be used on dogs with weak tracheas
Creates a dominant/submissive relationship rather than an equal companion relationship

Problems cited for the treat training method:
Treat training requires careful re-calculations of meals in correlation with how many treats have been used that day
May not be used with dogs who have allergies or who become sick, have weight issues, develop digestive disorders, or otherwise are required by a vet to have a specific diet
Vets and groomers may not have treats suitable or available thus causing behavioral problems if a dog has not been weaned from a treat onto voice command
Creates a dominant/submissive relationship in which the owner is submissive—good behavior is enticed rather than expected
Who’s right?  I personally don’t think there’s any hard and fast rule.  Dogs are individuals and what method works for one may not work for another.  Lizzie could care less about treats but she will do just about anything for a “good girl!” and pat on the head!

My biggest concern as a groomer is that your pet has been trained (through whichever method works for you) to be still when we approach with scissors, clippers, and blow dryers even though we do not have treats immediately available due to allergies and dietary concerns.

One customer recently told me that grooming her Schnauzer might be easier if I gave him lots of hot dog in the process.  But, you would expect your child to sit still for a haircut or during class without feeding him candy through the process, wouldn’t you?  Why should our dogs be any different?  If treats are used in training, be sure that your dog is still able to offer good behavior when treats are unavailable.

In fact, most of our dogs tolerate the grooming process just fine without that treat—“if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”  I think our pets should be socialized and trained well enough at home to behave properly in public—not biting the vet and tolerant of the grooming process.  How you achieve this doesn’t matter as long as the good behavior is there.

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