What’s your standard?

Standard- an accepted or approved example of something against which others are judged or measured.

cartoon of surgeon with chain sawI was recently contacted by someone who was starting a rescue group for dogs with mild to moderate behavior challenges. I’m not sure how ‘mild to moderate’ was being quantified and nothing about the information they readily shared gave any indication that they did either. They may be skilled people who are capable of doing a fabulous job. They may be full of good intent but clueless about the needs of the dogs they are assuming responsibility for. There is also the possibility that they are a scam or worse, hoarders. I no longer feel all warm and fuzzy when someone tells me they do ‘rescue’.

It’s possible in the course of a day to hear or read about all kinds of bad advice freely shared by self-proclaimed ‘professionals’. This morning it was the recommendation to poke an aggressive dog in the neck, using a claw-like hand to redirect their attention toward the owner, instead of the person the dog was attending to. The sharer of this pearl went on to detail how it had worked on a dog they were training. It all sounded so easy and reasonable unless you thought about it, which seems to be rarely done. Touch an aroused dog and you take the very real risk of being redirected on in a big way. In many professions giving advice that causes someone to be injured would be considered gross negligence, not so with dog training.

Imagine joining an online group of professional therapists and reading suggestions and advice that are straight from an episode of television’s Dr. Phil. How about discussing medical options with a surgeon whose only education included online courses and ownership of the complete DVD set of Grey’s Anatomy. That anyone in either case would use the fact that they’ve lived with a mind or body for decades as evidence of ability would seem ludicrous. This continues to go on in the world of dog training today. Barbers are doing the blood letting.

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8 comments so far

  1. kdkh on

    It’s surprising how few people consider the source when getting advice. The need for discernment is so big. Otherwise, we’d all be terrorizing our fearful dogs like some well-known dog trainers. All dogs aren’t made alike, and their training shouldn’t be either. And we should never be part of the problem (making them more fearful). Well said.

  2. Jen on

    I know “claw hand” is what I think of every time I want to lower arousal level and redirect attention. Sounds remarkably like a particular television personality whose name starts with “C” and ends with “esar”.

  3. jim Stay, Dog Repair, Inc. Mebane NC on

    Debbie, I agree with the specific example completely. However, your comment about rescues is unfair even if true. How many rescues would there be if we depended on trained people to do the rescuing. If a person spends the money to take courses to become a trainer,they become a trainer. And small rescues can’t afford to hire a trainer.

    Admittedly you can still take the time and effort to learn the difference between harsh and gentle training, but rescuers are amateurs almost by definition.

    I seem to remember that you started that way, at least with Sunny.

    • Debbie on

      I’m not sure which statements about rescues might not be true or are unfair- that some rescues are great, some aren’t and others are criminals?

      I didn’t get started in rescue with Sunny, so again I’m not sure what you mean.

      Debbie Jacobs Fearfuldogs.com

  4. engineer chic on

    I think the best trainers are the ones who have SEVERAL training approaches. Someone who swears clicker training is the answer to everything, or that claw hand is, or relies on just one technique is unable to create change in many dogs. Clicker training CAN be great, if your dog is not reactive to sound (or if your dog doesn’t completely lose his mind when there are treats around, we had a beagle like that).

    Without getting too philosophical, I think dogs are looking for different things from their owners. Some are looking for a strong leader who gives them clear rules while others are looking for reassurance and protection. It’s like people, one woman may be looking for a man who is handy and earns enough that she can stay home with kids while another is looking for a man who is okay that she has a career and enjoys using power tools.

    So my standard is the answer to this question, “How do you train dogs?”. If the answer comes back with one method instead of, “it depends” then I’m not dealing with a good trainer, merely one who might be adequate in some situations.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I would agree that it’s important to have different techniques available to get or stop behavior, however what remains the same is the theory behind them. Clicker training is based on creating conditioned reinforcers to ‘get’ behavior. Poking or grabbing a dog is based on using punishment to stop behavior.

      Be as philosophical as you like, it’s what makes us interesting to chat with at coffee shops 😉 But be sure you dip your toes into the water of ‘how can we ever be sure just what it is dogs are ‘looking’ for from their owners’. I’d suggest that we can’t and whatever we do come up with may rest heavily on stuff going on in our heads more than in theirs.

      What it will come back to for a ‘good’ trainer is how do we get or end behaviors? Knowing what you are doing and why it works, or isn’t working, or even what ‘working’ looks like, is important. IMHO

      • engineer chic on

        True, a lot of times it just a guess about what each dog wants. I just know that each dog I’ve gotten has had different level of interest in coddling, snuggling, playing, and “working”. For instance … Our shepherd mix wasn’t happy unless he was between me and any stranger, while our beagle wasn’t happy unless I was between him and the stranger. I sort of interpreted that as the beagle wanted to be protected, while the shep mix wanted to work for a strong leader (he’d listen if told to “stand down”).

        I’m still figuring out what mix of protector, playmate, and “guidance counselor” this current dog is looking for 🙂


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