How not to train a dog as seen on reality TV

By Frania Shelley-Grielen. All rights reserved

Countless scientific studies support the effectiveness of positive dog training compared to compulsion training or the use of aversive training methods. The AVMA position on dominance based training methods is that they are cruel and inhumane. Animal welfare organizations and countless trainers and behaviorists support this position. Yet compulsion dog training continues and is shown on televised reality shows as part of the story line or as the main plot featuring the supposed quick fixes (displacement behaviors and fearful effects are not followed). Oftentimes the participants and viewers are unaware that what they are doing and watching is just plain wrong and then there are those viewers that support the message of "do not challenge or else" that comes with the reliance on punishment in dog training.

Netlix's latest reality dog training show highlights a training outfit that prominently features shock collars as part of their training packages choke, prongs and slip leads are standard equipment shown in use on the show. President Biden's dog Major, recently made headlines biting security personnel. Avid concern followed the incident including a degree of concerned trainers and behaviorists offering guidance with positive science based methods and noting the prongs and choke collars the German Shepherd was outfitted with along with the history of military training the Biden family dogs had experienced. As loud as the voices may be in opposition, compulsion training more than sells unfortunately, a look back at how it plays out in one reality scenario.

An older November 11th episode of RHOBH features the housewives embroiled in the usual dramas, most of which they create or control. Avid viewers tune in to watch how those dramas play out. But what about those cast members who have no control over the script? No choice and who, from where I’m sitting (let me know if you agree), are actually abused on set. Yes, I‘m talking about Kim Richard’s Kingsley (a one year old pit bull puppy) and the aversive and cruel “training” he is being subjected to. (Continues below.)

First off that it is abundantly clear that Kim Richards loves, loves, loves this dog. We get that, seeing them interact is wonderful, there is an outstanding trusting bond that has been forged here and there is joy. All the romping and playing —so wonderful to see Kingsley play bowing to Kim as she attempts to keep house and entertain him at the same time. Kim seems to miss that when Kingsley places his front legs out and bows down he is asking for play and not trying to keep objects away from her but she is kind and good natured and there is much laughter in the segment. And when Kim gets under the bed to retrieve a toy for Kingsley, fellow dog lovers can relate, having all been there getting whatever has rolled under the couch, dresser, bookcase, or bed.

Kim acknowledges in the segment that she needs to train this big puppy. Good intentions. Where this falls apart is in the training methods employed by the trainer Kim has hired. We see the back of the trainer kicking what appears to be the dog as a method of control, advocating Kim and her son to “thunk” or hit the dog with her legs and to grab on to the tender scruff of the dog’s neck to force the dog to sit. There is much made of how this puppy should not be treated tenderly and the relationship with “Mommy” that he has forged is disparaged. We see no teaching of Kingsley as to what we might want from him. None. No teaching of “sit” or “off” or “quiet’.” Instead, the trainer advocates rough manhandling which teaches a dog nothing except to fear the handler period. Studies bear this out extensively. Punishment creates fear and defensive aggression as the animal seeks to protect himself. Teaching any animal, human or non-human with positive reinforcement is proven more successful not to mention kinder and more humane.

Kim, herself seems to question these methods. (Good for you Kim!) In her blog of November 12th she writes: “The trainer told me he’s very spoiled! You think??” No Kim, your doggy is a puppy and a high energy, playful puppy who likes to play and do dog like things like bark, and chew and bite and jump up. You need to learn how to redirect him in a positive manner just as you would any child. Kingsley needs to be taught how to channel those behaviors to coexist in your human family. Positive dog training without aversive strategies is the way to go here.

Kim writes on: “When I spoke to the trainer, David Utter, he told me that Kingsley is not going to like the authority of a trainer and what he represents and that he could become aggressive with him.” There is absolutely no good reason for this. Dogs are heavily domesticated and work well with any human that handles them with sensitivity, consideration and respect. If the dog reacts aggressively to anyone including a trainer there is an issue with the approach and handling. A dog becomes aggressive when he is fearful and is protecting himself, and what the dog is protecting himself from in this instance is the trainer’s painful handling. Kim goes on to write: “He also said that Kingsley should have a choke collar and leash on when he arrives, because Kingsley may sense him on the other side of the door!” Such bad advice! Restraining an animal with a powerfully aversive method such as a chain which chokes off their air supply is compulsion training which is not only cruel but which will work counter to what you are trying to teach. This sort of pulling and pain inducing will hurt and frustrate the dog, add to that the owner’s high energy and you have a recipe for extreme arousal. Attack dogs are trained to attack by keeping them on lead and just within reach of whatever it is they are trying to get to. Way better here to teach Kingsley to sit off to the side and offer treats for quiet behavior. This trains “sit quietly while I open the door” not “opening the door means you get choked.”

In TV land, where shows are shot way ahead much has already happened in real time that we are not aware of. I hope Kim Richards has figured this out already and that Kingsley is being taught without the use of compulsion training. There is so much that can still be done with Kinglsey and this trainer and behaviorist would be happy to show guidelines and strategies to Kim and Kinglsey to start working with on set or off. Should the producers be looking for celebrity think of Ian Dunbar, Sophia Yin, Suzanne Clothier or Victoria Stillwell. Good luck Kingsely!

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