Control vs Self-Control

There is a trainer who shall remain nameless who believes in controlling a dog by what she calls the “Down Restraint Technique.” Translation: Alpha rolling a dog and keeping it pinned to the ground with an elbow in the dog’s throat, leaning on it’s side and having several people hold down the feet spread apart–yep, several people are required to pile on — until it submits.

The point of this?! Here’s the trainer’s rational: “What we’re doing is basically ‘de-throning’ the king. Since he is dominant/aggressive. So this shows him that we control everything, even his body.”

This dog was neither dominant nor aggressive — just frightened and large. But this sure is a great way to make a dog unpredictably aggressive by teaching it to hide it’s warning signals. I can’t even speak to the idiocy of this!

Anyone who thinks man-handling a dog teaches control is someone you should run far away from. Here’s the point: If you need to control your dog, you don’t have a trained dog. In order for a dog to be controlled, IMHO, that requires that you give the dog tools for self-control. It’s the difference between fear and abuse, and education and learning.

I’d previously mentioned my trainer and Ph.D. Psychologist friend, Heide Coppotelli, who is one of the best in the country. Here’s what she had to say on control. It’s long but worth the read, whether you have a dog or not.

“Glad to see this topic come up. Control is a very mixed bag, in my view, something critical to life that gets taken way far afield and goes very wrong… Got to musing about this. Maybe a little surprised to find where it led back to…

Deep in the brain are programs that are devoted to control–starting with homeostasis, the regulation of vital body work within livable range. Then there are the numerous interactive processes by which we monitor, respond to, and check up on our connection to the environment–all the feedback processes/loops, including trial-and-error (operant) learning–they, too, function on the principle of control. On still another level, there are the rules and roles that maintain adaptive connections and interaction within social groupings–also depending on some measure of control.

All these vital processes are based on a give-and-take feedback plan, a balancing mechanism that operates over a whole range (of viable and adaptive values) and that guides events back toward a centering point when they move ‘too’ far in one direction or in another away from a theoretic midpoint. Without the variability, there would be no adaptation and no survival. Without a control process, there would be no capturing the variations into a survivable range.

It is human ego that has turned the concept of control into what amounts to a power trip (another addictive substance), i.e., ego has embraced power OVER–in relation to pretty much everything around us.

This notion of power over, once you begin to start looking more closely, is deeply embedded even in many religious frameworks and has overshadowed with various political, economic, and technical means even our cherished idea ‘freedom.’ Think about all the ways that the idea of ‘power over’ permeates modern medicine. Is it any wonder that it is almost as ubiquitous as hair in dog work.

Our kind has construed itself pretty much as masters of the universe– despite where a whole bunch of the planet travels on some part of the weekend to pay homage to a higher power than ourselves. I often think there’s a preponderance of lip service. Cynically, I would sometimes say, “…and on the 7th day, the Ego took a rest,” until I realized that ego didn’t take that day off either…

Getting back to dog work… It really takes a growing awareness of ourselves to change from being consumed with ‘power over’– however we dress it up with words and images to make it slick and sell it as good–to ‘working with.’ That would involve *listening to* rather than ‘doing to,’ and THAT, we complain, takes time, time that we are persuaded we simply do not have. It takes effort we can’t add to our multi-tasked lives, we plead.

If you can stand to read a little more of this commentary, let me add a really huge irony. Our species not only freakishly pursues power over everything it can get its hands on, we humans pair it with a heap of totally out-of-control behavior! Think global warming and environmental destruction, military spending around the world, population explosion, addictive consumption, and on and on.

Clearly a mess almost too big to contemplate. Do we throw our hands up, then? Well, that’s what I liked so much about what someone wrote–she thought about this, was taken aback, and then started to look at power/control real close to home, with herself. She nurtured awareness and took conscious actions, small, slow, steady. THAT can change the world. You’d like what Mother Teresa said to a reporter once! She was asked, how can we solve the problem of world hunger? Her reply, without missing a beat was, “Feed one hungry person.” That was her wisdom, the secret energy of toiling in the mess with personal commitment, practical personal acts, and the influence of personal example.

Back then to the world in which we live, where the first thing that so many children say as they walk up to me with one of my dogs is, “Can you make that dog sit?!” Spend a moment on what that sentence carries in it, what it implies about the human stance–from very early on… I can at that moment make a difference, not only by the REQUEST of a sit (as someone said in another discussion), as opposed to a demand, but I can also teach the child a different way of being with a dog.

There are many, many moments in our days when we can do the equivalent of feeding one hungry person to address the shame of inflicting ‘power over’ on the dogs who inhabit our lives–at home, in town, in class, at the ring…. Methinks that we HAVE TO do it. That’s why I’m hoping we who talk about this with one another will also speak up and out–not with a lot of brassy noise-making, but with a steady personal voice, and the personal acts that give that voice credibility and set an example in the world around us.

Now, if healthy control is properly a *balance* concept, then our example is needed to articulate not only when control turns to shameful power over, but also when it slides to shameful extremes represented by a lack of healthy control–that is, by neglect, indifference, discarding of dogs… and also insane indulgence that overburdens dogs with excessive emotion, goodies, and stimulation.

Railing at people isn’t going to do it. But, we can make a difference with the courage to look at ourselves and to speak by example, to not step away from looking into the eyes of those whom we find oppressed, but also looking into the eyes of those who wield the power that oppresses them. Feeding that one hungry person is the beginning. Don’t do it under a bushel, is what I’d add.

For me, I am realizing that the bigger challenge is often not that of speaking the truth or living it with the dog right in front of me, but to live and speak the truth without strangling the livin’ shit out of the human in front of me who is ‘controlling’ a dog and to whom I want to get the message. And that brings me back to the incredible difficulty of the power struggle within–and to the recognition that if I want to influence the person who is heaping power over a dog, I cannot do it by heaping my power over the person. Believe it, that’s a challenge. I keep trying to learn from Mother Teresa how to do that… stand in the truth and share it. She didn’t say, “… to solve the problem of world hunger, you slug the sob who hogged the rice bag…”

Heide (scruffy student) Coppotelli

19 thoughts on “Control vs Self-Control”

  1. RealDogs, yes I’ve heard that saying. And I agree that dogs do need a clear hierarchy to function well. I also completely agree that respect is earned not demanded.

    The thing that so amazes me about dogs, is that for as clumsy and unaware as we humans can be in our interactions with them, on the whole they’re able to adapt. I’m not sure we’d fare as well if the tables were turned.

    Thanks for stopping back.

  2. Karen, I understand how many people would just flick through and write rubbish just to stir others up, I’ve seen it on other sites that I don’t visit them anymore, I prefer intelligent discussion and debate! I have a question/comment relating to caffienated cowgirl. She stated dogs are a part of our family and treated as such. Agreed. By the same token, and I will never forget this, vets that I trained and worked with had a very clever saying..’If you treat a dog like a human, it will treat you as a dog!’ This is one that has always stayed in my mind. Now, reading between the lines, they were referring to being a pack leader, which all dog packs have. Respect and companionship stems from that. Has anyone heard that saying? I think it’s very clever. I guess at the end of the day, and my mum taught me this, respect is earned not demanded.

  3. Mrs.G., physiologically and neurologically it’s been shown that fear and pain are counter-productive to learning – for humans and animals. Sounds like you instinctively already knew that.

    Nutmeg, submissive urination takes a tremendous amount of patience and understanding to work through. How very lucky for Maya she found you!

  4. RealDogs, trying to have a valuable conversation through comments is a challenge at best. A lot of assumptions quickly get made all around. So I appreciate you coming back to clear up some of your views.

    Because this post was not about Cesar, nor did I make any reference to him in it, when you expressed sentiments that I was Cesar bashing, I have to say, I really didn’t know what to make of your comment. What other conclusion could I draw except that you were a Cesar fan? You certainly appeared to be defending him and criticizing me for sharing my views in other posts (supported with considerable documentation) here on my own site.

    Like you, I believe that there’s value to be found in all training methods. And I have repeatedly said that not all of Cesar’s methods are cruel or abusive. BUT, enough are that I cannot and would not recommend him. Especially, when I can refer people to so many other talented, capable trainers who don’t resort to such techniques. In inexperienced hands, many of Cesar’s methods can do physical harm to a dog. (I’ve given specific examples of some of his abusive and harmful techniques in other posts.) I don’t know if you have, but if you haven’t, I’d recommend that you watch a whole season of his shows. It would be interesting to know if you’d still hold the same views about him then.

    If I were not open to all ideas, your comment, and many others would never have appeared on my blog – I’d have just hit the delete button. My only requirement is that people remain civil. As long as they are, I’ll post whatever they have to say, whether I agree or not. That said, if I do disagree with something said, I am going to say why. Disagreement to me is not a sign of a closed mind. Not allowing the conversation is the sign of a closed mind.

    Interestingly, most all of the Cesar fans who’ve found their way here have been anything but open-minded or civil. After literally dozens and dozens of belligerent, name-calling, drive-by attacks (on which I have used the delete button) from people whose only reasoning as to why Cesar is THE BEST (mostly without any demonstration of technical understanding or expertise in dog training or knowledge of other training methods) is just the HE GETS RESULTS defense, I admit that when I read that very same reasoning in your comment, I did make an assumption about you.

    So, again, I appreciate your effort to return to clarify your previous comment. And I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one.

  5. Karen, yes my opinion was related to comments by sunshine not yourself. This person was relating the shocking methods of an unknown trainer to Cesar saying after that this is why they despise Cesar. My only point is I observed two different trainers get very different results and I did not see any abuse or cruelty from either. I am a vet nurse and dog handler of 14 years and am always keen to observe and learn more. My mind is always open to variations. Having said that I don’t appreciate someone quickly assuming I am a Cesar only fan and I am doing a ‘drive-by’ as you call it without reading all the information. If you read carefully, all I was stating was the differences that the two had were interesting, so perhaps people might like to watch them themselves to see what they think. I have found on this site that different opinions are not tolerated. Very disappointing,as I thought that ‘professional’ and ‘experienced’ dog handlers were open to all ideas that do not endorse cruelty, which I saw none from EITHER trainer.

  6. We strongly suspect our Maya was mishandled in such a way in her first few months of life – and it has resulted in submissive urination. It’s taken extreme gentleness and patience to improve upon the problem. We’re not there yet, but she’s improving!

  7. I just sort of winged it with our dog…but instinctively knew fear and pain weren’t the answer. I approached raising my kids the same way. The truth is, I don’t want to hurt anything.

  8. Therapy Doc, I think that’s the key — relating. Not overpowering. Whether it’s humans or dogs.

    Caffienated Cowgirl. Another key point — respect. It works best when it goes both ways.

  9. RealDogs, I sat for awhile with your comment, thinking about whether I was going to post it or not, because I get so many Cesar fans who do drive-bys and leave comments like this without reading any of my other posts to really know what my perspective or background is. And they love to leave comments of the variety that you’ve shared — Cesar gets results — without backing that up with training principles. You see, I’ve already given extensive information and explanation and research as to why, not all, but much of Cesar’s approach is, in fact, abusive. You’d find that information here.

    As to your comment: “…Then I saw Cesar Millan’s dvd... What I did not see is ‘airplaning’ or dog’s yelping, I did not see abuse. I did not see cruelty. I saw results. I believe if you don’t agree with something it’s unfair to bash it. Every one uses what works for them. I will use a bit of everything! Leave the Cesar bashing out of it, it sounds arrogant.”

    If you read the comments more carefully, you’ll see that my response to airplaning was to Sunshine’s comment on a trainer she was referring to. I have not seen Cesar use that approach, because I think even he would realize the backlash that would create – even among his followers. As to you not seeing abuse or cruelty, I cannot account for what you know or don’t know about dog training because you don’t mention anything except watching two videos.

    As for leaving the Cesar bashing out because you think it sounds arrogant -. Aside from the fact that Cesar is not mentioned even once in this post, I don’t believe speaking out against Cesar’s or any other punitive trainer’s harmful techniques based on my many years of education, training, and research in both traditional and positive dog training (specifically dog aggression issues) – and backing it up with facts – constitutes bashing. I do believe that I will continue to speak out about abuse wherever and whenever I find it.

  10. Caffienated Cowgirl

    This is such an important concept to pass on. My dogs always became my buddy…and the more respect I showed them, the more loving relationship I got in return. As I always say, our dogs are part of our family…and should be treated as such.

  11. Out of pure curiosity, I recently watched 2 different dog training dvds. The first was Paul Owens who claims to be the original dog whisperer, and then I watched Cesar Millan the dog whisperer.
    I found them quite different. My first comment on Paul was he works well with dogs, but in all honesty anyone could work well with the ‘push button’ well trained dogs in his dvd. They almost seemed to know what the script was! There seemed to be a lot of tricks and the basic sit stay etc. I did not see him show how to stop dogs jumpung,pulling, being aggressive etc.I would really like to see him tackle a real drama to see his expertise. Then I saw Cesar Millan’s dvd. I saw results achieved with real life every day problems. What I did not see is ‘airplaining’ or dog’s yelping,I did not see abuse. I did not see cruelty. I saw results.I believe if you don’t agree with something it’s unfair to bash it. Every one uses what works for them. I will use a bit of everything! Leave the Cesar bashing out of it, it sounds arrogant.

  12. I have no difficulty tarring the case of alpha training. But you take the similar case of applying lesser control strategies (scolding or leash correcting) used by most pet owners, and I can’t say I uphold as clearcut a standard. And I have a really easy dog who just pulls on the leash a bit and reacts to other dogs. I admire your adherance to positive training, but it’s a tough standard for most of us to uphold– perhaps because of the mindset Heide mentions.

    I’m not sure what I am saying, but I guess I have a vague understanding of what leads some owners to the dark side. You take a powerful dog with behaviors that exclude it from a lot of normal social interaction, and the owner desperately wants to control this so the dog can be trusted in normal society. Then this approach grows and gets adopted by a wider set of owners with dogs who have lesser issues. Makes me think of the whole Ritalin phenomenon.

  13. Tom, if a trainer has no compunction using intimidation and abuse on a dog, that trainer has, by default, also managed to intimidate his or her students into believing that method is necessary. This person did find the courage to walk out.

    Sunshine, I believe it’s a combination of that tired old mentality that the ends justifies the means, and the American addiction to the quick fix. That, plus a lot of dog owners don’t take the time to read up on training themselves, show up at a class after having watched a few episodes of the Dog Whisperer,and think that’s how it’s supposed to be done. And, sadly, the dogs are the ones who pay because they can’t speak up for themselves.

    Nat, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I think you speak for millions of dog owners who are doing the best they can with what they have. I don’t believe that most people gleefully like to leash pop, alpha roll, choke chain, or airplane their dogs. But if that’s what the local training club is offering, that’s what they’re going to learn and use. And that’s the problem. Traditional training often relies on and crosses into abuse. And the longer the Milans of the world are getting the majority of the press, the longer it’s going to take for the average John Q. Public to find better ways that presently exist to train their dog.

    I started out with traditional based training, because back when I got my first dog, that’s all there was. And all my dogs were well-trained, well-behaved dogs. The proof’s in the pudding, right? Then I got handed a dog with some serious behavioral and aggression problems. Lo and behold, the traditional way of training only made him worse. I had to go back to the drawing board. I read, I researched, I studied. I got my eyes opened to a whole new way of communicating and relating to my dogs. I saw first-hand what positive and relationship-based training can do that traditional training can’t do.

    I am able to stay with what I prefer to call dog-rearing rather than traditional dog-training because I know that, in the long run, it works better, faster, and more permanently than traditional training does. Now, having fully realized how damaging much of traditional training is, I’m just not constitutionally capable of using it anymore. Just like I’m not constitutionally capable of hitting my daughter to make my point or “train” her to do what I say. There are better ways. And I’m not saying that in a condescending or moralizing tone. But rather from a “we’re all in it together and we can all keep learning and growing from each other’s experiences” point of view.

  14. There’s a dog trainer in our area that everyone somehow knows about. He’s like the dirty little secret that everyone likes talking about. Yet, most will say he’s great, of course there’s always this BIG disclaimer, “He doesn’t mess around, but he’s good”.

    What they really are saying is; this guy will not hesitate to put a metal choke chain on your dog and “airplane” the dog lifting it all but completely off the ground.

    How crazy is this!! Are some people in our society so caught up in their egos that they are actually willing to accept this pretense of control over their dog? Do they realize they are willingly allowing the animal that they say they “love” to be treated in this way just so that they don’t have to put in the hard work themselves?

    Perhaps listening to first hand stories of this guy is why I despise Cesar Millan so much. There is a very thin line between what he promotes on his show and what this trainer is essentially showing people how to do in his classes. It’s not hard for the knuckle headed ‘joe blow’ dog owner to cross the line on their own but to have a professed trainer taking it that step further is appalling.

    One lady I talked to was so disturbed by this trainers action while in his class that she removed her dog, lost her money, and never regretted it for a second.

    It is so true that I also struggle with being able to “stand in the truth and share it” when I see the lows people are willing to stoop to when handling their dogs.

  15. How very true this is. And when we have dogs who respect us as we respect them we can read very important signs in them as we can our own children (maybe the dogs are easier in all honesty). If I had ignored my German Shepherd following me around the house pleading at me with his eyes to “do something”, if I had decided trick or treating with my kids was more important than my reponsibility as a pet owner, my dog would not be alive today. He knew to trust me with his pain and because I “listened” and believed him, his obstruction was removed literally hours before it would have killed him. This, because our trainer taught us we didn’t need to control our dogs, it wasn’t a power struggle. We needed them to respect us, and we both needed to know our place.

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