Reality television has had a profound impact on dog training.  Average owners have access to more information than ever before.  Experts are divided on whether these shows are doing more harm than good.

Some reality television experts have come under attack.  Psychology Today’s recent article by Marc Bekoff labels some techniques seen on Cesar Millan’s television show as “dog abuse”.  Canadian television host Brad Pattison is no stranger to conflict.  Online protests and complaints raged over an upcoming visit to Sarnia Humane Society, prompting news stories in the Sarnia Observer.  Concerned citizens call his techniques, “confrontational and physical”.

Treat trainers have been speaking out for years.  Their concerns have been dismissed on the basis that such trainers are soft , their viewpoint coming from an extremist, granola crunching and tree hugging faction.  However, a new wave of complaints stems from trainers who use physical discipline.  Has reality television gone too far?  Maybe it’s time to wake up and read the research.

Research shows that many popular dog-training methods trigger aggression.  Technically, these problematic techniques are punitive in nature and presented under the guise of discipline.  Punitive measures, including those currently on television are not new by any means.  However, reality television’s portrayal is.  The vernacular has changed.

Jerking a dog by its leash has been around for decades.  Only now, it’s called a tug, not a jerk.  Trainers no longer say “slap the dog,” they say “tap.”  Bitter pills are easier to swallow when coated in sugar.  The shocking becomes socially acceptable.

Opponents of such techniques rightfully point out the dangers – increased dog aggression.  Research studies – proof – are met with resistance.  Experts such as Millan and Pattison are touted as last chance experts who use physical force out of necessity.

Dogs are said to deserve the punishment that is handed to them.  They are “dominant…in an aggressive state….a red zone dog.”  Justification comes in the form of a question, “Would you not yank a child out of a busy road?  Then you’d jerk a dog back when it’s about to bite someone too.”

Opponents point out that rehabilitation of severely aggressive dogs takes place every day without a heavy hand.  In response, they are called jealous.  Verbal jabs unrelated to the debate, deflect from the original point.

That being, many popular force based methods, even mild ones, trigger aggression in dogs and put people at risk of injury.

Let us digress for a moment.  I would absolutely pull a child out of a busy road just as I would pull a dog out of a fight.  Immediately following both scenarios I’d march straight to a mirror and promise myself to supervise and teach better.  I would not permit myself to make the same negligent mistake twice.

That is not how a lot of force based training works.  Dogs are placed intentionally into an aggressive state, jerked or otherwise corrected after being forced to fail by the trainer.

That is like pushing a child into a busy street so you can yank them back to teach them a lesson.  There is no place in this universe where pushing a kid into danger, in order to teach, would be considered sane.

In my opinion, pushing a dog to its breaking point with the intent of punishing it smacks of a cold, cruel callousness.  It bothers me even more when it’s part of an entertainment package combining corrections with smiles.  In the old days, we would call this, “masking the correction”.  You would smile to make it seem nicer than it actually was.

As for jealousy, I can only speak for myself.  Jealousy is not the feeling that wells up inside of me when I see a dog pushed to the point where it cowers or lashes out.  The emotions are anger, sadness and disappointment.

Good trainers know how to read a dog so they can work within the dog’s current capabilities.  Much like teaching a child to look both ways prior to crossing the road, dogs learn to overcome aggression without having to fail.  They learn without lashing out and potentially biting someone in the process.

Research study or no research study – common sense says if you push a dog past what it can handle and then punish it for failing – it is going to bite.  So why are some people still doing it?