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I received a post card in the mail the other day. It is an ad for Ian Dunbar’s workshop that is currently touring the US. The title is: Science-Based Dog Training with Feeling. I’m thinking about going because the information makes it sound as though Dr. Dunbar is promoting some use of consequence as a responsible part of dog training, which makes me curious about the presentation.
I’ve seen Dr. Dunbar in the past, in fact his tapes Sirius Dog and Puppy Training were some of the first material I studied way back in the early 90’s when I was learning more about training and how dog’s learn. He has a lot of excellent information and I learned a great deal about lure and reward and variable schedule of reinforcement, body language, etc. But I also knew Dr. Dunbar was not much of an advocate for balanced training or the use of any type of aversive. So this new information sounded intriguing.
In chatting with some friends, I learned that a colleague of mine had attended one of his East coast events late last fall. I asked for a brief review and was a bit dismayed what I heard. So I asked Renee of Follow Me Dog Training to write up a review for all of you.
I’m curious to hear your feedback and if anyone else has attended and what you thought of the presentation. I have not decided yet if I will attend when he comes this way. I keep praying for the day when all dog trainers will truly carry themselves as pros and give the dog world the credibility it deserves. If the leaders of the industry can’t walk the walk….what are the dog owners to think?
“You don’t understand anything until you learn it more than one way.”
I love this quote by Dr. Minsky. I totally agree. As a student in college I learned how to approach history from all different angles, how to understand all different cultures and societies. I also relished the idea that the more I learned, the better I could approach any aspect of my life. When I became a dog trainer this idea was never truer.
Throughout my short (15 years) dog training career I have done my best to continue my education. I have attended schools, workshops, seminars, and conferences centered on all arenas of dog training and handling. I have had the opportunity to learn from some of the top trainers in my field and even had the opportunity to teach remote collar work to dog trainers at the That’s My Dog! E-cademy. I specialize in training dogs with a remote collar but that certainly isn’t the only way to train a dog, so I supplement my remote collar training with many other methods and techniques as I am sure many other trainers do as well. Bottom line though, the learning never stops.
The one thing about dog training that a lot of the average public doesn’t know is that there are many different ways to train a dog and in my opinion there is no ONE way. I believe, to be a good dog trainer, it takes experience and the ability to pull any tool out of your box and create a bond and level of communication between dog and owner. Just like dogs need to learn in every aspect of their life, we need to learn how to adjust to the differences in each dog and if you are a trainer of people, differences in human learning. Everyone’s definition of a “trained dog” is not the same and I do not believe that every dog can be trained the same.
In early October of 2010 I had the opportunity to attend a seminar given by Dr. Ian Dunbar. The title of the seminar is, Science Based Dog Training (with Feeling). I had previously seen a presentation by Dr. Dunbar in 2007 at the International Association of Canine Professionals annual conference. I hadn’t had the opportunity to catch all the presentation then, so I was looking forward to what Dr. Dunbar was lecturing about. You can do your own research on the accomplishments of Dr. Dunbar. It is even quite possible you have read a book or seen a video of some of his training. I had even previously incorporated a few of his techniques into my own personal dog training tool box. Needless to say, he understands dogs and science and is a big advocate of training dogs. I was very sad that dogs were not allowed to attend; it made me wonder how he was going to give practical application examples. I later learned that as Dr. Dunbar said himself “Half the dogs at seminars shouldn’t be there because they are dog trainer’s dogs.” And that is when I really started learning….
I learned a lot, what I learned though wasn’t just more methods and techniques for my dog training toolbox. That was the unfortunate thing. I learned that there is a large biased and uninformed section of the dog training community that are unwilling and unapproachable when it comes to learning about different dog training tools. I was appalled by the snide remarks, off hand comments and general hatred towards other members in the many canine professions who do not train dogs like they believe it should be done. I felt as a remote collar trainer like an outsider and that I was at risk of being thrown out and insulted for believing and knowing that a tool like a remote collar can help millions of dogs and their families. I felt it safer to take notes and learn what I could from the speaker then to stand up and try to change a room full of people that had no interest in continuing to grow in their profession. I think the saddest part though, was that Dr. Dunbar was at the forefront of insulting and debasing the use of remote collars in dog training. Don’t get me wrong, he also insulted some other methods…mostly the ones that weren’t his. He managed to insult an Association of over 1000 members (the very Association that had made him a Hall Of Fame Member for his work in dogs), Cesar Milan, leash and collar trainers and any trainer that didn’t train dogs his way
Phrases like: “hurt”, “painful”, “electric s#!t”, “non- instructive reprimand”, “you are the problem if you have to press the button more than once”, “bubba with his shock collar”, “punish” and “abuse” were all used liberally when the subject of remote collars were brought up.
I was astounded so I started keeping track of the insults around the actual useful bits of dog training information he was giving. I began to wonder why a man so respected in his field would feel the need over a three day seminar to take time out of his lecturing to insult other trainers and their tools at least once an hour.
It took me a few months to be able to pull my brain around the confusion that it faced after the last day of the Seminar. Why should a specific tool cause so much confrontation? Why won’t Dr. Dunbar take the time to learn from others as we were there to learn from him? Why is it necessary to insult and degrade if people don’t train dogs the way you do?
The thought that always won out was, what people don’t understand threatens them. Many of what we would call the “purely positive” dog trainers don’t and won’t take the time to understand remote collars because of people like Dr. Dunbar. The fact that there are many dog trainers that successfully use remote training collars in a non-confrontational, fun, learning fashion threatens some other trainers. They hear how “shock collars” are abusive or punitive and are told how evil the remote collar is, and they believe them. There is no follow through, no continuing education, no learning in more than one way. And so they feel threatened by what they don’t understand.
Dr. Dunbar is a scientist; he has been researching dogs for longer than I have been alive. He has some amazing dog training information to share with the world…I just wish he would keep some of his negative thoughts to himself so that other people can make their own decisions on how to train their dog. At the risk of filling your head with false information I’m going to list some of these Dunbar quotes from the seminar, what would you think if you were bombarded with these thoughts?
“Shock collars will be gone in 10 years. There is precedence overseas. They are done”
“Shock collars don’t work to strengthen the bond; they only make the dogs more fearful”
“The three worst things to wean your dog off are, a leash, a shock collar and a treat bag.”
“Just because it works, doesn’t mean it is the right way to do it”
“You shouldn’t have to shock a dog more than 3 times, that is just an advertisement that you don’t know how to train, shock is painful so if you can’t train with one shock you are the problem”
“The conference at the International Association of Canine Professionals was filled with dogs wearing shock collars. There were too many dogs on shock collars, that is NOT training and there were no trained dogs at the conference because they were all wearing shock collars.”
“Bubba with the shock collar never takes the collar off and is constantly punishing the dog”
“We see people jerk forever and shock forever, that is not punishment training, that’s abuse.”
When someone asked Dr. Dunbar “Why are shock collars used in training then?” this was his answer: “It is horrible that they are because there is no proof of reliability, it is wrong because so many trainers have proven themselves to be hopeless dog trainers, and shock collars will do a lot of damage and make the dogs life miserable”
If you have ever learned how to use a remote collar from an educated instructor, or seen a remote collar trained dog perform to the best of their ability or even just taken time to learn about remote collars, the statements above make your blood boil a bit…trust me I felt the need many times to get up, walk out and not worry about the loss of my seminar fee…but I understand that there are more than one way to learn and I was learning!
One last quote from Dr. Dunbar and I’ll wrap up the insane weekend that this seminar provided me with. “In the Shock collar world, Bubba shocks the dog without letting them get it right or showing them how to and then making them do the task” To me this quote sums up the fact that Dr. Dunbar is unwilling to learn and understand about modern remote collar training. Ask any one of my clients and they will tell you that one of the things I repeat over and over in all my lessons is the importance of telling the dog what to do and showing or helping the dog perform the task consistently for a period of time before we assume the dog has full understanding. I would never allow one of my clients (or myself) to shock a dog for no reason, to shock without teaching. I would never put a remote collar, prong collar, slip collar, bag of treats, head halter, gentle leader in the hands of a dog owner without teaching them how to use it to the best of the dogs ability.
I don’t feel the need to justify my choice of training tool, nor do I force all dog owners to use my tool of choice. I hope that anyone that is interested in creating a language and bond with their dog will look to many different resources and go with what works best for them and their situation. I would also hope that in the dog training world, the canine professional’s world, that we can all support a balanced and humane way of working with animals. There are so many horrible factors in the world that dogs face be it, dog fighting, breed specific legislations, puppy mills and hording or true abusive situations with dogs that we shouldn’t be at odds with each other within our own profession.
Was the Dr. Dunbar seminar worth the $270? I would have to answer yes. I learned a great deal about dogs, theory and science. I also learned that there is a lot of hatred to many dog professionals and the tools they use. Will I ever go to another Dunbar seminar? Possibly, I would recommend it to my fellow professionals, you’ll learn what you are up against if you are not on the “purely positive” dog training route, but you will also learn a few pretty cool tidbits along the way…Dunbar has been researching dogs a long time and really does have some interesting information to share amongst the barbs and insults.
Do you have questions about dog training? Questions about methods, tools or techniques that will help you make life with your dog the best it can be? Ever wondered if a remote collar would work for you and your dog? I would be more than happy to talk to you about the benefits of a remote collar or I can find a remote collar trainer near you that would be willing to talk to you about the benefits of this amazing tool. There are some really good resources out there like www.truthaboutshockcollars.com. But really I think that testimonials of people that have used a remote collar and been taught by a trained professional are some of the best resources.