Last year I wrote with dismay about the continued use of inhumane dog training on reality TV: http://www.animalbehaviorist.us/dogs/how_not_to_train_a_dog and in particular about the punishment and compulsion training being used on Kim Richards’ dog Kingsley. This same dog a year later is now being implicated in biting a family member with additional reports on the likelihood of being put to death. Going through the online reports it is difficult to ascertain what actually happened before the bite occurred. While there is much written about the dog being a pit bull and the owner’s ability to handle the dog there is little if anything written about the type of training and handling this dog was subject to. TMZ did feature the former dog trainer who spoke to viewers’ objections to his training methods and to his belief that the owner of the dog was to blame for the occurrence.
The treatment of companion animals on reality TV is a look not just at how these reality stars live for the cameras it is also a look at what the producers of these shows find acceptable. A 4 year old shopping for a puppy as his parents separate in Atlanta, dogs kept outdoors in wire pens in New Jersey excluded from social contact with family or held and dressed up as dolls, vanity dogs in Orange County, house training considered a joke in Staten Island and so on. And if the producers find all this part and parcel of pet ownership the question of why they would not react to the more egregious of these sorts of behaviors becomes even more troubling when it is revealed that they are partially responsible by creating them. In the case of Kim Richards, the trainer who appeared on TMZ claims he was in fact hired by Bravo to “fix” the dog. Fix? The training methods broadcast show the dog being kicked (the trainer calls it “thunking”), jerked into place by the scruff of the neck, and overly muzzled so breathing is constricted along with other extreme aversive punishment methods advocated as appropriate, affection in particular is admonished against as recommended handling. This is no fix for training a dog to live peacefully amongst humans, just the opposite. At this point force free trainers have a large number of scientific studies to add to the consensus of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s position that aversive based dog training methods are cruel and inhumane. These methods compel obedience through punishment, are fear based and require continued and escalated punishment to be effective. Further studies demonstrate that exposure to compulsion dog training result in fear related behaviors and aggression. And that continued use of these methods is inherently dangerous as to future events.
Science continues to support welfare based dog training as the safer route for both dogs and humans. A 2014 study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior noted that: “Fewer behavioral problems and better command following have been found associated with the use of positive reinforcement based method. In contrast, immediate behaviors signaling fear and stress and aggressive reactions are linked to aversive events.” While a 2009 study in Applied Animal Behavior Science concluded: “confrontational or aversive behavioral interventions applied by dog owners before their pets were presented for a behavior consultation were associated with aggressive responses in many cases. Owners of dogs aggressive to family members are especially at risk for injury—and their pets at risk of relinquishment or euthanasia—when certain aversive methods are used. Ultimately, reward-based training is less stressful or painful for the dog, and, hence, safer for the owner. It is important for primary care veterinarians to advise owners about risks associated with aversive training methods, despite their prevalence in the popular media, and to provide resources for safe and effective management of behavior problems.” (Emphasis added.)
This is the kind of article no one wants to write or read. The one that points out that if only people stopped to listen, then perhaps pain, injury or death might be avoided. Where the lesson learned is after the fact and all the warnings are in place if people would just pay attention. And where the producers of reality TV have the responsibility to showcase not just what they think sells but to make sure that animal cruelty is not part of it.