Vetstreet. All rights reserved. Powered by Brightspot.
Vetstreet does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See Additional Information ›
Alpha Dogs, a new series on Nat Geo Wild, has all the elements of a successful reality series. The show focuses on the intense working environment of Vohne Liche Kennels, a rural Indiana training facility that produces a large portion of the country’s police and military dogs. The dogs are trained for life or death scenarios, including tracking suspects, drug discovery and bomb detection.
While Alpha Dogs has the potential to be a hit, the Feb. 8 premiere was met with criticism, largely because of the methods used to train the dogs. The trainers at Vohne Liche Kennels employ punishment-based methods, including shock collars, in their training and frequently use the controversial label “alpha dog” to describe the handlers’ relationship with their animals.
I disagree with the training methods used on Alpha Dogs, primarily because a good portion of the training shown on the series focuses on the need for the handler to be the alpha dog in the relationship. To achieve this, the trainers at Vohne Liche Kennels mix positive reinforcement with aversive methods, such as choke chains. Although it is often assumed that aversive methods are required to train a tough working dog, research has shown that working dogs can be successfully trained using positive reinforcement, with little need for punishment.
Currently, the training used to prepare a dog for government work varies depending on the trainer and can span the spectrum from primarily punishment-based to primarily reinforcement-based. Kenny Licklider, the star of Alpha Dogs and the founder of Vohne Liche Kennels, uses a training method that includes a positive reward once the dog finds the object of a search. But he also uses aversive methods, including choke chains and shock collars, both to teach certain behaviors and to deter others.
I have a great respect for Licklider and for the dogs he trains. But I strongly believe that most of this training can be done using less aversive methods. Properly done, positive reinforcement training reduces the risk of emotional damage to the dog and minimizes the negative associations caused by repeated punishment. But my biggest concern is that viewers will try to replicate the training methods they see on Alpha Dogs with their own pets.
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Take our breed quiz to find your next pet.
Bartonella is a type bacteria that can be transmitted to cats, dogs and humans from exposure to infected fleas and…
Want to give your pup yummy, low-calorie treats? We’ve got the skinny on which foods are OK to feed him.
Not sure about food puzzles? Our veterinarian reveals why the payoff for your pet is well worth any extra work.
With these simple dental care tips, you can help keep your canine’s adorable smile shiny and healthy for life.
The friendly and inquisitive LaPerm has an easy-care coat that comes in a variety of colors and patterns.
Check out our collection of more than 250 videos about pet training, animal behavior, dog and cat breeds and more.
Wonder which dog or cat best fits your lifestyle? Our new tool will narrow down more than 300 breeds for you.
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.