What to Take Out of Shows Such as "The Dog Whisperer" (dominance-based) and "It's Me or the Dog" (this show is not dominance-based).
Even though shows such as the "Dog Whisperer" and many others are based on the erroneous understanding of dominance and the need to use force or coercions as the first-line of training for all problems, there are some good recommendations and lessons one can learn from it and other shows.
What to Evaluate:
1. Turn the sound down and watch the animals: Evaluate their body posture. Do dogs look happy in the end and willing to behave the way the owners would like? Or do they look fearful or like they are just behaving as long as they might get punished?
2. Ask yourself, do the techniques appear safe for you or your kids and family members? In cases where the dog acts aggressively to or bites the trainer considers that this could be directed at whoever is performing the technique.
3. What behaviors are owners rewarding? Watch to see how owners reward unwanted behavior. Although "The Dog Whisperer" rarely demonstrates rewarding of appropriate behaviors immediately as they occur (and with a reward the dog wants at that instant) try to come up with ideas on your own regarding behaviors that you would reward. Also keep your eyes open for the rare times that Millan does focus on rewarding appropriate behavior. One more point - to understand the difference between the highly effective positive reinforcement vs. the variably effective "cure
4. How are the owners trained? If the behavior is about the owners then one would expect the owners be trained as much or more than the dogs. Watch to see how or whether the trainer trains the owners. Ask, what does the owner specifically need to do? Is there a clear plan or does it just seem like "movie magic?"
Good Points Gained from Viewing:
1. Exercise: Yes dogs and other pets should get exercise every day. Most people don't exercise their dogs, cats or other pets enough. Note that exercise is not a substitute for training though. For many dogs it just gets them in shape so that they can misbehave longer! And when exercised, we can accidentally reward unruly behaviors. For instance if we toss the ball for the dog that barks and jumps on you until you throw it, we are actually training overly aroused, unruly behavior. So, even exercise must be done correctly for it to have maximum benefit.
2. Rules and Limits: Yes, all animals need guidelines and limits for behavior in the house. This is for sure. Whether you train pets by punishment and coercion or by rewarding good behaviors and removing rewards for inappropriate ones at exactly the right time is what distinguishes traditional trainers from positive reinforcement trainers taking a scientific approach. Rules are what allow animals in groups to get along. And if we want our pet to be able to accompany us in public, we have even higher expectations for their behavior.
3. Be calm and assertive: Yes, to be a leader that animals want to follow you do have to act like you know what you're doing. You have to walk like you know which direction you want your dog to follow, and provide visual and verbal cues in a manner that makes it clear to the dog that you know what you want.
4. Training is About the Owners: The owners have rewarded all kinds of unwanted behavior. Watch to see how they reward the inappropriate behaviors. Also, consider, that if the training is about the owners, how much training should the owners have or do they need in order to perform the techniques? Being calm and assertive alone won't make you a leader though or even good at any particular task or job. To be good at the task you must first develop the skills. For instance Tiger Woods, Yoyo Ma, and every other successful pro athlete or musician are good at what they do because they've practiced correctly many hours a day - not just because they are calm and confident.