Over Equipped

I should start this post with a disclaimer that I am not advocating against the use of the pieces equipment I am going to mention, rather that we should take a good long look at how and why we are using them.

Routinely a post will make the rounds of the social media circuit about a dog who while playing with a dog, ended up getting tangled, one way or another, in the other dog’s collar. I was once part of an assessment of a dog whose playmate had died from strangulation from a collar entanglement. The dog being assessed had unintentionally killed his friend. Few would suggest that dogs should never wear collars, they are peerless for identification should a dog go astray. Micro chips and tattoos are helpful as well and good back-up should a collar go missing, but a tag with a contact number can get a dog home pretty darn fast.

At the risk of sounding like a whiny old person, longing for the good ol’ days I will say that when I was growing up with dogs we didn’t use crates. I am not saying that crates are not useful pieces of equipment or that we wouldn’t have been better off had we used a crate with my childhood dogs. I’m merely saying that for the majority of time dogs have co-housed with humans, they were not confined to a space which restricted their movement to the degree a crate does. And yes, one could add that there are far less humane ways to restrain dogs and that there are working dogs, who when not working, are similarly confined.

Crates are invaluable for a variety of reasons, no question. Plenty of dogs love climbing into their crate for a snooze or chew session. But crates have provided humans with the option of confining dogs, possibly for longer than is reasonable or humane. A dog who might be able to go for 6 hours without a toilet break, or before boredom sends them round the bend, can be left in a crate for 8 hours without giving owners any reason to attend to the dog sooner, because the dog was unable to cause any damage to the household. The equipment gets us what we need, at the dog’s expense. If a dog in a crate begins barking incessantly, there are more pieces of equipment we can use to deal with that, namely some kind of bark collar.

Muzzles and head halters, useful for the management of dogs, give us the opportunity to put dogs into situations where they might prove to be dangerous or annoying. They make it possible for us to ignore the information a dog is sharing with us through the intensity or duration of their behavior. Essentially they allow us to flood a dog with stimuli that they might otherwise have chosen to avoid, or bite. A skilled handler can incorporate these tools into their practice with dogs for the purpose of maintaining the safety of all involved, and in the case of head halters, to get a behavior which they then reinforce. And for a pet owner or novice handler the use of a piece of equipment which takes the element of choice away from a dog, may always be necessary. It’s not always the end of the world for a dog.

Recently I watched a service dog at an all day event being manipulated by a head halter. Not only did I assume that the dog had been professionally trained (the handler was a trainer) but that he was a well-loved animal. The dog was expected to ignore everything in his environment and focus on his handler. Should he turn his head to take note of a person or other dog walking into the room his head was pulled back toward the handler. That this was done with an apology, “sorry you’re still working,” mattered little to me, and probably less to the dog. This dog was not a service dog, he was a slave, albeit a well-cared for one. That’s just my opinion of course, and heaven knows I’ve got plenty of those.

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11 comments so far

  1. Donna Mae on

    Yes, I believe that dog was a slave, as mentioned in the last of your article. My goodness, ANYONE would want to look to check what the noise or disturbance was about if they were walking along. I think that handler needs his head jerked a couple of times!

  2. Donna Mae on

    I also believe that if a dog is confined when a person is away, then they should be given a little more freedom than a crate! A person would not want to sit in a space barely bigger than themselves either, I don’t know why an animal should be forced into a situation like that for many hours!

  3. rangerskat on

    I’d argue that the equipment you describe are tools and like any tool can be used well or badly. Locking a dog in a crate for 8-10 hours a day is, in my opinion, using that tool in a very bad way. Having a crate that is a safe place for my fearful Finna to retreat when life gets a little too stimulating and occasionally securing her inside when a repair person needs to be inside ‘her’ house and I cannot trust her to behave appropriately is, to my way of thinking, a good use of that tool. Finna wears a muzzle when we go for walks in the neighborhood. Even the most clueless member of J.Q. Public recognizes that a dog wearing a muzzle is not a dog you should approach. That muzzle allows me to keep both her and the neighbors safe. In our BAT sessions she does not wear a muzzle because I trust the helpers to listen to me; I don’t have that same level of confidence in my neighbors so we add the muzzle.

    Our job as trainers needs to be constant vigilance on ourselves in using these kinds of tools. And we need to be continually asking ourselves why we are using the tool and when the answer is because it is easy we need to rethink. Thank you for this post reminding me to review again why and how we use the tools we do at my house.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Doesn’t sound as though there’s any need to argue at all ;)

  4. Jen on

    I’m actually rather confused by the prevalence of service dog classes that graduate having always worked in head halters. I would have assumed that a dog truly suited for the single-mindedness of service work would also graduate past such a tool, which is not meant for corrections. Granted, head halters are useful management tools if a person requiring a service dog wants that extra level of assuredness that the dog will be under control should s/he freak out at something, so dogs should be acclimated to them.

    I dunno. There’s only so old the days are that I’m privy to, but it seemed like dogs used to have fewer issues in them. Or did they always have these issues, and we’re just more educated and sensitive to them?

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      My thoughts exactly Jen regarding the need for such this type of management tool on a dog who is being immersed in environments routinely. Either the dog is cool with it or not. Either the dog has the skills to deal with what they are likely to be exposed to, or not.

      I think that life has changed for both people and dogs in the decades I’ve been around to observe. In some cases for the better and also for the worse. It seems that the ways of living and working we’ve adopted are challenging for many people to be successful in, it’s no wonder dogs struggle.

    • Laura, Lance, and Vito on

      Regarding the use of gentle leaders on service dogs in training and graduated service dogs-
      As a trainer of a service dog school my goal is to get every dog to the point where they can work in public on just a martingale/buckle collar. However, many of our puppy raisers have little to no dog experience and do rely on a gentle leader as both dog and human learn together. As they raise each new dog the likelihood of them using one on a regular basis decreases.
      Some of our graduate dogs do go out on gentle leaders. Like our puppy raisers, our clients also have little to no prior dog experience. Our dogs may be very well trained but they are not robots and they are still young teenagers, about 20-26months old, as they go out the door. The gentle leaders allow some of our clients to focus on learning all the other things they need to know at the same time their new dog tests the boundaries of their partner’s knowledge! And for some of our clients the gentle leader is a safety issue for the very small chance that the dog forgets himself and pulls for that split second in what could knock the fragile client to the floor.

      That being said, this is not a comment on the use of one to prevent a dog from just looking briefly at a distraction!

  5. Jamie Robinson on

    I think dogs always did have issues, but the training methods put the fear of *** in them so that their issues and emotions where of no consequence.

    • Joanne Davidson on

      I know that in the “good old days” there was usually a “mom” around while dad and the kids were at work and school. If she had to go out the most common thing was to put the dog in the bathroom with a gate across or in the basement. Heck, many got tied up outside as few people fenced their properties in. When we got home, the dog usually came with us while we ran around the neighbourhood without benefit of a lead and would come back well and truely ready for a nap once it got home. They didn’t go to a class for exercise, they got fresh air, plenty of social interaction and lots of bonding coupled with the ability to enjoy being a dog. Contrast this to humans come home, pack the dog up and go to “performance” class then ex for night and crate. Sadly the life of too many modern dogs.
      Today, most dogs are left 8 – 10 hours a day. Of course they will find things to amuse themselves and often not in a good way. Putting them in a crate is not the solution either but so may “professionals” will advise just that. I can’t think of a better way to start self mutilation, health issues and a dog that exhibits the crazy behaviour seen so much in young dogs.
      Many service dogs wear prong collars as this ensures the likelihood of instantaneous response. Ugh, and why I would never donate one of my precious puppies to a service group.
      Head halties work like the halter on my horses heads. I use it to control 1300 lbs of horse, don’t need it for a dog. Horrible things in the hands of the wrong person and pet stores are unlikely to advertise the need to never pull on one.
      I joined this group when I agreed to foster a 3 – 4 year old sheltie stud rescued from a puppymill a year ago. He was terrified of even the human voice. It took months to get him to walk on a lead – he wouldn’t balk, he would just lay down and shake. He is now housebroken, loves the car, enjoys walks -limited though they are because of physical issues – is good for the vet, loves to learn, chews on a toy and stands still for grooming. He is getting pretty good at initiating contact with other humans although he would prefer it if they let him come to them. He is only crated for bed. This site has helped me to understand him better which allowed me to help him find his way. We adopted him because I didn’t want to chance someone losing patience with him while he felt his way through or thinking he was dumb because he would give up easily when faced with simple tasks like finding his toy when part of it was in the blanket.
      Thanks for continuing to send out these posts and for being willing to swim against the tide of incorrect use of devices.

    • fearfuldogs on

      No doubt there have always been dogs with behavioral challenges, and in some cases they were/are either simply punished, stuck on chain, left at a shelter or killed.

      When I visited a shelter in Puerto Rico with a group of students I asked the manager if there were any dogs in the population of dogs we were about to step among, who we should be careful of handling, I was told that dogs who behaved aggressively were euthanized. There are just too many friendly dogs needing homes to take resources away from them, to maintain dogs who are potentially dangerous to people or other dogs and who are not going to ever receive any training to change behavior.

      Sad but realistic.

  6. jet, barbie, bender & co on

    I crate dogs recovering from major surgery and I crate foster dogs over night as I find it helps with toilet training. I will admit that I am also not willing to let foster dogs destroy my house.

    I have to muzzle my foster greyhounds as it is the law here that greyhounds be muzzled in public. I muzzle my own Greyhound if I am in a new area where I’m not sure whether I will get pinged with the $200 fine. Whilst I don’t agree with the law and think it gives the wrong impression I am not willing to take the risk that every walk will cost me that amount of money. With the fosters, both myself and the organisation I’m fostering through can be fined.

    I don’t think bark collars work at all. In fact I think with some dogs they increase the barking behaviour once they are off. They definitely don’t change the dog’s behaviour.

    I don’t like head halters. I don’t think they are appropriate for most dogs. They are dangerous for Greyhounds. Any greyhound owner I see using one will get a lecture from me. Greyhounds have a high centre of gravity and they aren’t going to drag you down the street the same way an untrained labrador would anyway. They are more likely to flail around in the air like a trout on a fishing line. Halties are inappropriate to curb this kind of behaviour at best, and will lead to the dog injuring itself at worst!


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