9 Aug 2019

How NOT to train your dog

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:29 pm on 9 August 2019

Celebrity dog trainer Cesar Millane is a proponent of "dominance theory" - the idea that in order to train your dog you must assert yourself as the pack leader, and intimidate or physically punish your dog to repress unwanted behaviour.

But New Zealand's Association of Pet Dog Trainers says this is a dangerous and harmful way of looking at dog training, and send the absolute wrong message to dog owners.

The group's president Mark Weaver explained to Jesse Mulligan why dominance theory has been thoroughly debunked, and to offer some tips of his own in dog training.

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Photo: Pixabay

It is an outdated theory, he says.

"Some aspects of what’s promoted are appropriate, your dog does look towards you for leadership, but it's how you exercise it.

"I guess it’s more akin to being a good parent for a child as opposed to being a dictatorial leader for your child or for your dog."

Some of the methods that are being promoted on programmes such as Cesar Millane's are "downright dangerous", he says.

"In one of the shows there is a family dog that is aggressive towards family members and it doesn’t like its paws being touched.

"It’s taken away, some training is done with it and the family come back to visit the dog, and a young girl is advised to kneel down in front of the dog and take up the dog’s paw."

The dog's growls should have been a warning, he says.

"The dog snaps at her and she lets it go and apparently this was about teaching the dog to accept her touching the paws, well the reality is that a lot of people just don’t understand the signals that dogs are giving us.

"Dogs are visual communicators not verbal, so little signals like licking, yawning, turning of heads, lowering of ears, a submissive posture are often missed by us and we just impose our will on our dogs and it’s no wonder people get bitten."

His association doesn't promote aversive training methods, he says, such as punishing a dog with shock collars or choke chains.

"We focus on reward-based training, it’s encouraging the dog to do the behaviour that you want and rewarding them for this. This is exactly the same techniques that are used by animal trainers around the world for wild animals and semi-wild animals or animals in captivity.

"So our theory is if it’s good enough to use on killer wales, dolphins, lions, tigers, hyenas, it’s good enough to use on domestic dogs."

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