Does It Pass This Test

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Along with all the stupid sh*t that is passed along as gospel about dogs, there’s the rich arena of stupid sh*t about training dogs.

This is a doozy that is in a book by a “natural” dog trainer. I won’t go into the absurdity of labeling oneself a natural anything, other than to say it’s some silly sh*t. To teach a dog to come when called the set-up looked like this- Put a longline on the dog. Throw something or find a way to get the dog to run off after something. Before the dog reaches the end of the line, call the dog. If the dog stops and comes, all is well. If they don’t, whammo, they’ll hit the end of the line and receive what is termed a “shock,” not to be confused with an electrical shock.

I’m not sure how much thought went into coming up with this gem of bad advice but let’s break it down and see how it fits in with my three criteria; is it unfair, dangerous or stupid.

When a brain is attending to something it’s not unusual for it to not attend well to other things in the environment. There’s a great experiment online that was done using a group of basketball players. Check it out. If you are engrossed in something it is not that you are being disobedient or obstinate if you don’t hear someone talking to you, or the timer go off on the stove. So is it fair to get a dog to run after something, a hugely fun and awesome thing for a dog to do, and expect them to notice that you’ve called them? If your voice is not relevant to your dog is this the way you’re going to go about becoming relevant? I cry foul. This is NOT fair.

Have you ever seen a running dog hit the end of a line? I can’t imagine anyone, other than a chiropractor in need of business recommending that someone do this to their dog. Whether they’re wearing a collar or a harness they are often pulled off their feet and land on their backs. Dangerous? Check.

If passing the tests of being unfair and dangerous aren’t enough, there’s stupid. What if you want to teach your dog to run after balls or frisbees? Or you want to do something else with them that includes having them move away from you? You may have to teach your dog that they will only be brought up short when they have a leash on them otherwise they may worry about being “shocked.” 

There are books about dog training for dummies. With the amount of sh*t out we could have shelves of books of dog training by dummies. 

You Want Me To Do What?

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How gullible do some dog trainers think pet owners are? Pretty darn gullible if you listen to some of the sh*t they recommend for changing behaviors in dogs. You wouldn’t be faulted if you thought 12 year old boys were behind many of the “theories” they expound based on peeing on stuff.

To end resource guarding- pee on their stuff to claim it as your own.

To be sure your dog isn’t going to make a power play- pee on them to assert your dominance (but don’t blame the dog if they just think you have bad aim).

To teach your dog to stay in the yard- collect pee in a bottle and sprinkle it around the perimeter of the yard so the dog will know you’ve claimed the territory.

It would make for a great segment of Candid Camera.

Fast forward to 23:00

Needing Something They Never Had

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One of the perversities of making sh*t up about dogs is that it allows people to continue to use force, intimidation and scary punishment to get their dogs to do what they want. The mythology of the pack leader ranks high on the list for this.

I am not going to reinvent the wheel in regard to explaining that dogs don’t need pack leaders because they are not pack animals in the same way wolves are. You can find lots of information about that from bloggers, trainers, and field biologists. But I will encourage you to imagine what a person’s acceptance that dogs need a pack leader can mean to an animal that survives by the millions without one, thank you very much. It’s like suggesting to a parent that they need to brush their baby’s body every day even though they don’t have fur.

person holding a scared dog down

Is this person being a pack leader or just an a**hole?

Dogs are incredibly adept social animals. They have a wide-range of behaviors that help them avoid or minimize conflict among their peers, and the humans they live with. When one of those humans tries to pretend to behave the way they assume a pack leader would behave, imagine how that could be perceived by the dog. What those who know what they are looking at observe is that the dog is on the spectrum of concerned to flat-out scared.

But then again, if dogs have a sense of humor they might just be chuckling watching the human spitting in their food, scurrying out the door first and laying claim to property in any one of the ways recommended by the folks adept at making sh*t up about dogs.

Own Their Food

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dog food bowl with crackers on topThe biggest problem with all the sh*t out there about how to change a dog’s behavior is that it delays someone getting science-based, logical and ethical information that has been shown to work.

Resource guarding is a common challenge with dogs, and one with a well-established protocol for correcting. A protocol that is not based on crazy sh*t, but rather on how we change how a dog feels  and behaves using science-based training methods. Jean Donaldson’s book MINE! addresses the issue.

Eileen Anderson shares this story–

In 2006 I adopted a dog from a small town shelter who only had one more day before she would be euthanized. Soon after that I found I had my hands full. Summer was 10 months old, under socialized, and she fought with my other dog, who was less than half her size. I was very worried that she would hurt Cricket and I didn’t know what to do.

I scoured the internet and the library for information and books about aggression and other problem dog behaviors. Almost everything I read said that I needed to show my dog in various ways that I was boss and had priority to everything.

I learned, among other things, that I must never let my dogs eat before me. Ideally I should eat my own meal first. But if that was inconvenient, I could be sure to eat a few bites out of her Summer’s bowl before giving it to her. I didn’t want to eat dog food, but I read one more helpful tip. I could put some crackers or something else on top of her food and eat them before giving her her bowl. And I needed to make sure that she saw me do this.

I made a practice of this for several weeks. I was very careful to let Summer see me eat something out of her bowl before putting it down. But you know what? Summer didn’t stop aggressing towards Cricket.

People really do make up some crazy sh*t about dogs. Did I really think that the next time Summer was on the verge of launching into the smaller dog, she would stop, thinking, “Oh, better not! Eileen eats my food before I do!”

Whisperers Make Me Want To Scream

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Months back I was asked to be part of a radio show that was devoted to talking about dog training. I was one of three, a trainer who explained to listeners that they could use e-collars (i.e., shock) “nicely” for dogs with storm and sound phobias, and a dog whisperer who went into great detail how to curb resource guarding in dogs by owning everything that the dog could possibly think was his. He can’t guard it if it wasn’t his was her line of reasoning. She described how owners needed to claim the space where the dog’s food bowl was, a feat I’m not quite sure how to accomplish and don’t actually want to imagine.

woman handing treats to two dogs

Teach them something!

Going through doors first, walking in front of them, spitting in their food, rolling them on their sides, eh-eh-ing them senseless, the list goes on. It’s utter nonsense and would be comical if it didn’t mean that dogs were not receiving the training help they desperately need. If you are struggling with behavioral challenges with your dog find a trainer, a real trainer, one who understands how dangerous stress and fear can be to dogs. A trainer who understands behavior and learning, not one who is content to make sh*t up about dogs.

Need a Bridge? I Can Sell You One

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People struggling with behavior problems in dogs are easy prey. They are often desperate. They will try anything to help their dog and create a semblance of order in their lives. Even trainers and marketers with good intentions (but a load of BS) end up being able to take advantage of this desperation.

big white dog standing on hind legs looking into a man's face

This dog is not trying to assert her dominance over this man.

Whether we are hard-wired to conserve energy or have been conditioned to expecting quick fixes, our expectations regarding creating behavior change in dogs have been impacted. Our reasoning gets cloudy when we are given the choice of working with a trainer for several months or are offered an immediate, guaranteed “cure” for our dog’s behavioral challenges. Snake oil comes in many forms, but it’s still snake oil.

I have created this blog to feature some of the most prevalent and tempting mythologies (sh*t) about dogs and dog behavior. My goal is to keep you from stepping in it and tracking it all over the house.

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