Balanced training versus (Purely) positive, the great divide….

I might as well call this article “Working dog trainers versus Pet trainers.” Because that is really what we are talking about here. The great divide that exists between the two forms of training and the ongoing skirmish that ensues whenever one side meets the other.

Over the last few days the skirmish has been very visible on a lot of media outlets and both sides dug in for a battle of wills over who was better and why….

The problem is tho, the views tend to be one sided. Specially from the (Purely) positive side. There is an attitude of “Everything you can do, I can do better.” And boy does that rub us working dog trainers the wrong way… Why? Because we know when it comes to working dogs, that training a dog for a task like taking down a bad guy, or to go into a fight and risk its life, over and over, that (purely) positive training simply does not work! It’s not that we are extremely stubborn in this and stomp our feet because we want to be right. It is that we have tried and failed miserably in the process to produce the type of dog that is needed to protect and serve. What rubs us the wrong way even more is when someone then proceeds to step into our world and proclaim “We want to change your training because we know better.” We get told our ways are outdated, that we are cruel, mean, abusers of dogs. We get told that “one training fits all” to ignore the bad, and reward the good. We just don’t understand how it works and if we just adjust our views to see that we are wrong, and they are right, things might change for the better for the dogs.

Here is the thing tho? Not many, if any of those (purely) positive people has ever set a foot inside the working dog trainers world to see for themselves how it works. They have mostly based their views on what they think happens and not what they know happens. There is no such thing as an open mind in (purely) positive training. You either follow suit, or you are evil. Every dog is a pet that needs to be loved on like family. And, I will be honest here, in part I agree with that theory. I have trained xMalinois and xDutch Shepherd’s in KNPV for the last 30 years and yes, I loved and love each and every one of them and they were family to me, right up to the moment that they moved on to their new life in law enforcement or the Military. But I also draw a line as far as loving on and treating as family goes when it comes to dogs. A dog is still a dog. It is not one of my children and it does not get the same rights as a human would. I treat it as a dog. I use a dog perspective when dealing with my dogs. I try to keep things as dog logical as possible and I do not let my human thoughts, ideas and feeling interfere with those thoughts, ideas and feelings. A dog, in my eyes, should be treated with respect and in a dog worthy manner. Not expecting from it to understand our human emotions or to adjust to those human emotions and ideas of what a dog should truly be.

As a working dog trainer I have a very simple set of views when it comes to dogs and how they should be trained. The training should suit the dog in front of you and you should adjust your training according to what the dog gives you to work with. What are the basic rules I use for training of Police K9’s ?


  1. When my dog shows me unwanted behavior I check what I am doing wrong.
  2. Gray areas do not exist in the working dog world. Black and white only. No means no!
  3. What I do not want to deal with tomorrow, I do not allow today.
  4. I never ask my dogs anything. I tell them.
  5. Every action deserves a reaction. Good is reward, bad is correction.


Now, here is what I see in the (purely) positive camp….


  1. Reward the good.
  2. Ignore the bad.
  3. One training fits all.

I can only agree with nr.1. The rest? Nope, not buying it. You are waiting for it to discover on its own how things work and not teaching it what it should know. You are not giving it the skill set it needs to make decisions for its own. You are not teaching a dog the consequences of its actions. This is something I am against when it comes to raising, training and educating your dog to be a balanced and healthy family member and or working dog.

The biggest problem I see or rather the divide between the 2 groups is this. Assumption. The working dog owners and or handlers / trainers see the positive trainers as cookie tossing, tree hugging hippies with fur babies as to where the positive trainers see the working dog trainers as abusive, angry, dominant dog kickers that beat their dog across the field in order to train it. I will admit, I am the first to throw out the cookie comment and even add a “Go hug a tree” when I am frustrated at once again having to deal with a positive trainer coming in on a conversation with proclamations of grandeur over how they can train the dogs we train just as well, if not better. Not because I don’t know about their form of training, but because I know exactly what their form of training is and I know the comment will rile them up to unreasonable levels. The thing is tho, they do not know what our form of training is. They have based their entire view and idea of how police dogs and or working dogs are trained on nothing more then assumption and speculation. They do not have any intimate knowledge of what happens. They just heard stories, from other non working dog people and take it for scripture. They see training tools and immediately begin to create this dramatic picture inside their brains about dogs being tortured into submission on a daily basis. You use an E collar? YOU ARE MEAN! You use a Prong? YOU ARE MEAN! You use a pinch? YOU ARE MEAN! They do not look further beyond the mean part. You are doing something that is vile as a working dog trainer and that’s that! If you dare reply or give an indication of how the tools are used…. YOU ARE A BULLY! It never enters their mind that nothing could be less true, or that the might learn something about working dogs as a whole by asking questions… No, you do not follow suit of the positive training rules so therefor you are now to be chastised and labeled a BULLY, and a mean one at that.

If I look back over the last 30 years in the dog world, how it has evolved, and the impact that evolution has had on dogs in general I can only say that it has not been that much of an improvement for the dog as a whole. Political correctness has reared its ugly head and dogs are more and more being treated as human, children, babies…. And the end result of that is? More bites to children and adults. More dog related human deaths due to irresponsible owner actions. More dogs being put in shelters because of the humanization of dogs as a whole. More dogs being euthanized due to lack of knowledge and control over the dogs that are being bred and owned. The dogs may get a better treatment in people’s eyes, but is it really getting a better treatment? Or is it now paying a higher price for this perceived better treatment? Ever notice how the dogs that end up being killed in shelters are Pets? Not working dogs? Ever notice how the dogs that have aggression issues are pets? Not working dogs? Ever notice bites to children are made by pets? Not working dogs? Ever notice how human deaths in relation to dogs are in relation to pets? Not working dogs? Ever notice how you hardly ever hear about issues in the working dog world with dogs? But in the pet world it is drama galore. In the positive world of training they managed to build a whole industry around it to make money out of it. What does this tell you? That the working dog world is a bad place? That it is a cruel place? That it is a dangerous place for the dogs? Or does it tell you that the working dog world still has its eye on the ball! And it will keep its eye on the ball. It will keep doing what it has always done… Look at the dog, see what it needs, reward the good and correct the bad….

That is the great divide between the working dog world and the positive working dog world. We deal with reality every day. We take the dogs that would be put to sleep in the pet world and give them a task, any task! And they do it, and enjoy doing it! We give them a part in our lives where they know what they are, what is expected of them and what the bottom line is. They get treated as dogs! Not as humans…. It is so easy for people to say, I can train the same dogs you do and do a better job of it but you do not know the type of dogs we work with, or how we work with them, or why we use that particular breed for the work they do…. Instead of assuming something, ask, learn, listen…. There are plenty of us out there willing to explain how it works but sadly enough there are more out there unwilling to listen… Stop thinking with your heart and start using your head. Instead of saying that one training fits all, realize that every dog needs a different approach and that a pet dog is not the same as a working dog that has been bred for a specific purpose for decades. Be open minded for a change… That is what the great divide is about….


Alice Mackenzie.


Victoria Stilwell, Savior or Danger to the working dog world?

Yesterday was a day filled with entertainment at the expense of the famous or rather now “Infamous” Ms. Stilwell. As many of you might know Ms. Stilwell started shooting her new series “Guardians of the night” not to long ago in which she rides along with the an American Sheriff K9 team, going deeper into the dangerous world of K9 teams and their work than any before her ever have. Her words on the introduction video for the new series could not have been more true when she says “I thought I knew what it would be like, I was wrong…”

March 22nd, 2016 proved that fact to her, and the rest of the world in a way she most likely never imagined… It was the day that Ms. Stilwell got bit, went into a rant of anger, blamed the handler for it happening, and then posted about it on Facebook for the whole world to see as she shrugged of her own responsibility in the event.

Her post on Facebook read the following:

Ms. Stilwell's Facebook post.
Ms. Stilwell’s Facebook post.

It was within a matter of hours that she removed the post as the replies she received on them were clearly not to her liking. Ms. Stilwell had most likely hoped for some form of comfort from others, telling her how sorry they felt for her, when at this point all she received was scorn from the working dog community for something that all in the working dog community felt they had warned her about on more than one occasion. The problem with the internet is tho, once posted, it is there to haunt you forever…. People screenshotted Ms. Stilwell’s post and it started circulating on Facebook, and the internet at an extremely rapid rate doing damage to her credibility like nothing else could. Her true colors were slowly coming to see the light and anyone posting anything not to her liking on either her Facebook page, or Twitter account immediately got blocked and or banned. Mayhem erupted as it became clear that in fact the handler of the dog that bit Ms. Stilwell was not in error, as most had already expected, but Ms. Stilwell herself had managed to place herself in such a position for nothing more than “A good shot for TV” As I understand it the whole event took place inside of a Helo and the dog bit her on the leg as opposed to what he should have bitten, which is what I presume to be a decoy.

Several actual witness accounts attested to that fact on Facebook posts.

Witness account
Witness account
Witness account
Witness account

So what does this tell you about Ms. Stilwell? That she is a caring dog lover? That she is a good dog trainer? That she is knowledgeable about dogs, and or the working dog world? Or does it tell you that she placed herself in a position of danger simply for ratings on a TV show that she is filming? That she refuses to take responsibility for her own actions? That she is less than lacking in knowledge when it comes to working dogs, the working dog world, and reading working dogs as a whole?

When the first promotional video for “Guardians of the night” got posted back in January 2016 she made it clear that she wanted a firm footing inside the working dog world to spread her ideas of how dogs should be trained. Her own words on this subject are:

While training is a component to the project, including a healthy debate on how K9 training can move forward without the use of aversive training tools and methods, I want to emphasize that our bigger goal is to show the viewer the day in, day out lives of these guys and their dogs to show that it’s not all about the calls and the action. “


While claiming the bigger goal is to show the everyday lives of the teams involved in the show she still does manage to put out there that her other goal is to start changing the training regimes and ways of working dog handlers and trainers.

This, to me, is a dangerous development indeed. Why? Well that much proved itself already did it not? She dipped her toe into the working dog water and boy did it get wet, only not with water as she had hoped, but with her own blood…..

Who is this woman? Who made her gods gift to dogs? Well, of course she did that herself and if you go to youtube you can find the evidence of such as she proclaims to be “the god of dog training” Does this make her so tho? No it doesn’t! Ms. Stilwell insists on pushing her agenda on anyone and everyone owning a dog. Does she have license to do so? Nope, she doesn’t! Why do I say that? Simple. Any dog trainer that claims that they know it all, is not a dog trainer to begin with. Any dog trainer that claims that all dogs will adhere to the very same style of training is not a dog trainer but a fool. You suit your training to the dog in front of you. You do not push your personal human views on the dogs, but you relate to the dog in a dog respectful and dog worthy manner so that it understands you and wants to work for you, and more importantly, with you!

Ms. Stilwell is just such a person tho. Actrice with not much of a career to show for herself, dog-walker, former model…. Walking around on set in her leather and heels, picture perfect makeup as she plays dog trainer. Her only real claim to fame is having dogs put to sleep for her inability to be able to help the dogs as they should be helped. She can not adjust her mindset to what the dogs need, she expects the dogs to follow her mindset which is “I do not want to deal with aggression so it does not exist”

But aggression does exist in dogs! Some of it natural aggression, some of it built up by wrong handling of the dog, some of it trained into the dogs to do a job. Just because Ms. Stilwell refuses to acknowledge that aggression doesn’t mean it does not exist or that it will go away, or that the dogs in question are bad dogs that need to be put to sleep. It only means that Ms. Stilwell is completely lacking in knowledge of what a dog really is, how it should be treated and how that treatment should take place to begin with.

If we start following Ms. Stilwell’s ideas of how a dog should be, should be raised, should be treated, should be trained, we will soon have veterinarians working overtime due to the high numbers of euthanasia that now will become more a rule than exception for a dog with behavioral issues, or even a strong minded dog.

A dog does not naturally conform to the picture you have built up in your head of it. A dog is what a dog is. It has its quirks and you will have to deal with those. Just because you feel that a dog feels bad when you correct it doesn’t make it so! A dog is not a child, or a human being, and it does not relate or respond in the same way that we do. A dog is a reactionary creature that learns through action/reaction and action/consequence. Just as in the human world, the dog world has a whole range of characters and attitudes and none are the same or conform to the very same thing each and every time. A good dog trainer realizes that, works with that, uses it to his or her advantage and creates a happy and well balanced dog in the process. A good dog trainer looks at what the dog needs and not at what the handler wants. A good handler trains a dog with whatever tool they have available to him or her, be it a treat, a toy or a device of correction if needed. A good handler knows not to push his or her own views upon a dog only to discard the dog if it does not conform to their views. A good trainer knows that if the dog is showing strange and or unwanted behavior, the trainer should adjust his or her training to suit the dog in front of them. Not just toss cookies at it, say you love him, pat him on the head and blatantly ignore everything else….


So… did you answer the question yet? Is Ms. Stilwell a savior or a danger to the working dog world? I know what I think, and I know that after reading this you all know what I think…. As for the answer to that question tho… I will leave you all to decide for yourself what the answer is….

Authors note: I welcome a healthy and open discussion with Ms. Stilwell on the subject of working dogs, dogs, and training of dogs in general. I doubt it will ever come to pass but the invite is out there for her to accept.


Alice Mackenzie.