As a trainer, I encourage my clients to ask me anything they would like to know about what tools and methods I use in training and how I will go about getting the behaviors they are looking for. I believe in full transparency and involve my clients in the training process as much as possible. No respectable trainer would ever shy away from detailing how they will go about training your dog, nor will they tell you that you are not allowed to be present during a training session for one reason or another.
One of the disappointing things about being located in the Tampa area is that there are not any good dog behaviorists that I have been able to locate (if you know of any, please pass it along!). In my search for finding behaviorists in the area, I came across an Ivan Balabanov who highlights his variety of credentials and accolades and claims to be “the most accomplished dog trainer in the United States.”
While perusing his site, I discovered a post titled “What tools and methods do you use?”
Perfect! This is exactly what I was looking for to get a better understanding of his training methodology, since it is not clearly spelled out anywhere on his site that I was able to find.
Unfortunately, this post only made it more clear that he does not follow operant conditioning principles or the Humane Hierarchy.
Very quickly in the post, he states “If you are going under a surgery, would you ask your doctor what tools he uses, or would you be more concerned that he does the best job possible?”
Uh, yes. Yes, I would absolutely ask my surgeon if he is going to use a scalpel or a chainsaw. I want him to do the best job possible, of course, but beginning with the safest and most proven methods. This question is clearly poised as a way to justify what I have gathered are his obvious use of aversives in training, i.e. shock collars, prong collars, and who knows what else, since he won’t tell us.
He then goes on to explain that certain breeds of dogs will not respond to certain types of training. Again, he won’t clearly label what the exact tools and methods are, but he states, “Moreover a trainer that only works with dogs from breeds such as border collies, golden retrievers, toy breeds, very rarely have to use the equipment that a protection trained dogs may need. The later dogs are selectively bred for their pain threshold, aggression and fighting traits. They will not respond to the same training approach!”
Except that operant conditioning and reinforcement are based in science and have been proven to work in dogs, rats, even people. So the idea that certain breeds won’t respond to it is just plain wrong.
The biggest issue I have with this article is that he is taking advantage of the fact that the average internet user doesn’t necessarily know any better. Someone who is doing the right thing and trying to find a behaviorist in the area to help them with their pet can easily be fooled by his statements and end up with a dog that experiences fallout, shuts down, or worse.
When looking for a trainer or behaviorist, find someone that will clearly lay out their tools and methods, and isn’t afraid to show you their plan to get the behaviors you are looking for. Don’t be fooled into thinking your dog can’t be taught a certain way, and don’t be tricked by a trainer or behaviorist that insists that explaining the tools they use is not important.