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Dog Psychology – The Academic Divide

The Academic Divide

The real searcher after truth will not receive the old because it is old, or reject the new because it is new. He will not believe men because they are dead, or contradict them because they are alive. With him an utterance is worth the truth, the reason it contains, without the slightest regard to the author. He may have been a king or serf — a philosopher or servant, — but the utterance neither gains nor loses in truth or reason. Its value is absolutely independent of the fame or station of the man who gave it to the world.

— Robert G. Ingersoll – (1833-1899) American political leader, orator

By Dale McCluskey

To better understand what is happening within the dog training community one needs to gain deeper insight into what is fueling this ongoing discourse between behaviorists and traditional trainers.
You may not be aware of it, but there’s a quiet war raging right now in the dog-training world. It’s a conflict between positive reinforcement (+R) trainers and behaviorists like Ian Dunbar and Nicholas Dodman who base their methods on the principles of learning theory. They’ve pitted themselves against traditional or dominance trainers like Cesar Millan and the Monks of New Skete, who follow the alpha theory. (Lee 2010)
While many are under the opinion that behavioral science is losing the training wars this may be premature based on the weapons within the behaviorist arsenal. The increasing popularity of the behaviorist model of training has been fueled by an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at appealing to the feelings and emotions of the dog owner.
The APDT quickly grew to become the world’s largest organization dedicated to the training of pet dogs. Since its inception there has been a worldwide explosion of puppy classes run by reward-based trainers. (Lee 2009)
Many trainers have taken full advantage of this marriage of behavioral science and the exploitation of conditioning along with a feelings and emotions agenda.
Along the same lines, I no longer use the words “obedience” or “command” in association with training.  According to The Oxford Dictionary, “obedience” means “submissive to another’s will.”  The word “command” has its negative connotations as well.  Instead I use the words “training” and “cue.”  Because training should be a fun and positive experience for both the dog and its guardians, I have chosen to remove all words from my training program that imply unpleasant associations or any type of force. At that point in my career I didn’t realize there were many trainers already using positive methods.  I was convinced I was the only one in my city with the beliefs I held, and I felt very much alone.  Since then, I have met so many of like-mind, and I’ve learned so much.  I continue to learn every day.  I’m happy to say, my city now consists almost totally of positive reinforcement dog trainers. (Laurette 2006)
This unholy union of behavioral science with feelings and emotions has created the perfect storm which is raging against nature. As behaviorists continue to promote and market an agenda fueled by feelings and emotions it has become clear that popularity has become the focus.
The saying that a good defense consists of a great offense takes on new meaning when it comes to how behaviorists market and attempt to validate their interpretation and approach to the dog and human dynamic. This aggressive campaign to marginalize and target those who go against the current of behavioral science has done little to stop the ongoing questions and challenges.
Cesar Millan has become the target as a charming, one-man wrecking ball directed at 40 years of progress in understanding and shaping dog behavior and in developing non punitive, reward-based training programs (Derr 2006)
Behaviorists continue to demand validation and that their voices to be heard while at the same time ignoring and dismissing serious questions and concerns associated with their methodology and approach to the dog and human relationship.
The following responses to the Time Magazine Article Dog Training and the Myth of Alpha-Male Training are typical of the public attitude towards the “as is” science.

Dominance theory is dead. Talk it til your blue in the face. To ignore the numerous studies and to keep bringing this down to one or two people is ridiculous. The evidence has mounted. Organizations comprised of 1000s of professionals have researched this through and through. It’s time to move forward. If you smoke and still do – you at least admit it’s not good for your health, no? Well, if you believe in dominance…start to at least admit and digest the fact that these thoughts are antiquated and recognize that the evidence has been presented.


Maybe in your mind.   You can talk until your blue in the face. One or Two people?  More like hundreds
of thousands of dog owners recognize it is not wrong or have you not been reading the posts here and
at the yahoo Time article site or visited the Dog whisperer site or the Dog Whisperer Yahoo Group.
The majority of posters recognize that dominance theory is alive and well and believe it and have seen
the results on our own dogs. You PHDs can have fun writing your journal articles that the common
person cares nothing about debunking dominance theory for the rest of your lives.  It’s not going to
change the minds of us who believe what we see with our own eyes and have common sense.
What does smoking have to do with this argument?  There is no way to make a reasonable analogy.
Where is this so called evidence you have?  Hidden in some PHD Journal Article somewhere?

Response by another poster

“The evidence is probably in some biased PHD study that skews the results to make the the theory
work.” Funny you should say that, since that’s exactly how the Alpha/Dominance Theory of wolf packs
originally came about.  Even the guy that came up with it says the original wolf study was skewed.
That’s what I hate about those silly PhD’s and scientists, they are more interested in continuing to learn and evolve than they are in proving they were right fifty years ago.

In reality the entrenched positions behaviorists have taken regarding dominance leaves them held within a defensive position. To change their views regarding this issue would cause their model of training to collapse. Reputations and careers sold out to this model of training would be over in an instant. The following exchange between myself and a behaviorist on a popular internet dog discussion forum illustrates the typical response to specific questions and challenges to this method of training.

My question “Tell me why some owners are successful while others fail using the same exact models of training ???? ”

Answer by behaviorist
Human error : “bad timing”and inconsistent. Which is true for ALL types of dog training.

My question
” Conditioning is used within several models of training however the behaviorist model of training has a much higher failure rate, why is that ??? ”

Behaviorist response
Can I see YOUR research and evidence on this before answering??

My question
“Why do owners who connect with dogs on a higher emotional level have the most behavior problems and issues ????”

Behaviorist answer
Can I see YOUR research and evidence on this before answering??

My Question
” When some dogs move around for treats and clickers and behavior issues don’t diminish why is that ????? ” (This question is regarding why some owners succeed why others fail using the exact same devices, methods, techniques and interactions)

Behaviorist Response
Can I see YOUR research and evidence on this before answering??

This type of avoidance to questions is typical when you begin to pin down and focus in on the problems and issues. Behaviorists are clearly against the wall based on the type of psychology they have aligned themselves with and the positions they have taken regarding dominance. The behaviorist response of bad timing and inconsistent training leads to ultimately blaming the dog and or owner when meaningful influence fails to grab hold and unwanted behavior issues fail to diminish.
I remember reading somewhere that if something isn’t working, Don’t Shoot the Dog! Of course McConnell didn’t shoot the dogs in this case, but she did give up on them. That’s the really sad thing. She won’t give up on her belief in her beloved behavioral science -even though that’s what the data is telling her — but she will give up on her dogs.
McConnell had 4 years to “condition” these behavioral problems away, with little or no success. What are those 4 years of data telling her? That sometimes conditioning doesn’t work. Why doesn’t it work? Because it’s based on an inaccurate and incomplete model of learning, one that fits perfectly with how rats learn to run through a maze, or how pigeons trapped inside a box learn how to peck a lever to get a piece of food. But in this case, it didn’t work to foster a positive social connection between two well -bred dogs, when dogs, as a species, are inherently, with no conditioning needed, the most social animal on earth. I’m not blaming Patricia McConnell for anything except for a failure to re-consider, re-evaluate, and re-think the validity of behavioral science. (Lee 2009)
The until death do us part mentality that behaviorists such as McConnell have with the bridge is out science delusion illustrates the reason why academics have a credibility problem with this issue. What is seen from the surface through conditioning gives behaviorists the illusion, or delusion, that bridges can be built even when they can’t. This suicide pack behaviorists have with behavioral science illustrates why this debate, discourse and division shows no signs of abating anytime soon. Behaviorists feel they hold to keys to knowledge and are the final governing authority when it comes to understanding the dog and human relationship.



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