You Have Options

I try to be careful when I start feeling like the fellow in the cartoon tapping away at a keyboard late into the night because, “Someone said something wrong on the internet.” I try to be tolerant knowing full well that I’ve written stuff or have videos that someone, for one reason or another could find fault with. Maybe you can guess where this is going. Someone has said something wrong on the internet.

There is no shortage of videos and websites providing information about how to work with fearful dogs. I tend to avoid them because even when there may be something of value in them, it is frequently contaminated by misinformation that perpetuates ideas that people have that guide them into making the wrong training choice with their dog. Stating that dogs are pack animals can seem benign unless you consider that one of the biggest challenges we face today is to get people to stop bullying their dogs based on the idea that a preponderance of misbehavior is based on the dog’s desire to be dominant, or pack leader. And if you care that the evidence about dogs out of the control of people (street or feral dogs) does not support this “pack” definition of their social relationships that’s another reason not to talk about dogs as pack animals.

When I see people using force to get behavior from dogs it makes me cringe. When I see people using force to get behaviors from scared dogs it makes me feel ill. Even when the outcome is heralded as a success (and I would encourage you to consider who is defining “success”). It is not difficult to get people to accept that the ends do not always justify the means. This is especially true for me when there are alternatives to the means being employed.

Following are three videos. The first is an advertisement for a training business. When you watch I encourage you to pay close attention to the dog’s body language. It’s not difficult in the first part of the video to understand how terrified the dog is. In the second part of the video when the dog is walking with the owner it becomes a bit more difficult, in part because of the voice-over, canned applause, and finally the choice of music, all geared to having us feel warm and fuzzy about what we are seeing. But look at the dog. Note the way the tail and ears are being held. Does the dog seem comfortable and happy? Is this really a “successful” dog.

It is not explained, nor is it clear, if this dog was trained on, or wearing an electronic collar. In trying to discern whether or not e-collars were a part of this company’s training practices it took some digging into their website to find references to them, but they’re there. Training “off-leash” is a great concept. But being “on-stim” is not the same thing. Perhaps the dog was not trained using an e-collar and was too frightened to stray far from the owner. This hardly seems like a training success to me and as far as learning goes is relying on an aversive consequence to maintain control of the dog.

The second and third videos are mine and are advertisements for my website, and without question there are trainers out there who are mechanically cleaner and more skilled than I am. So I open myself up to criticism. I created these videos because I wanted to show the process of building comfort and skills in a scared dog. Nibbles, the little dog in the videos was as resistant to being leashed as the dog in the first video. My choice is not to subject a dog to the terror of being restrained by the neck and forcing them to comply. You have that choice as well.

That a trainer is unaware of how to do this, doesn’t have the skill, or cannot show you how to do it with your dog, does not change the reality that you have options as to how you will interact with and train your dog. Pay attention to the excuses someone makes for not choosing less coercive methods for training dogs, and remember that because your dog doesn’t have a say in the matter doesn’t mean they don’t have strong feelings about it.

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13 comments so far

  1. Laura Brody on

    How true! I advise my clients that “dogs never lie”. If you want to know what the dog is feeling just look at them. Fear isn’t disobedience. (And what is disobedience anyway?) The truth is that there are e-collars because people are innately impatient and because the dog is initially startled/frightened/pained into ceasing an unwanted behavior, people think the dog is trained. Training should be called “habiting” because what we are doing when training anyone to do anything is creating a new habit. And with positive reinforcement, we are using a currency that is valuable to the dog to make the behaviors we like more likely to repeat. Yay!

    And by the way, after watching the first video I can say without hesitation that if we dragged the dog’s around against her will while she was that frightened, we’d be arrested for assault.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      I think you meant to type the “dog’s owner” and yes it is a brutal way to interact with anyone.

      Good habits are as hard to break as bad ones 🙂

  2. lchaimcanine on

    I couldn’t have said it better myself!

  3. diana on

    i’ve learned to watch these types of video (video one in your post) without sound so i can concentrate on the dog’s communication/body language.
    no, the dog is not happy or comfortable nor would i consider this a successful training outcome.
    the sad truth is that many many people do consider this a success because the dog is not offering any behavior other than what was ‘trained’.
    they either do not see the stressed body language or they do not care/interpret it as such, so long as they have what *they* want – a dog that complies with their human demands (not a thinking dog, just a dog that ‘obeys’).

    love your blog debbie.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Thank for reading and commenting Diana. I try not to watch those videos but that one caught my eye. That someone has chosen to use it as a marketing piece is evidence that we still have a long way to go to help pet owners understand how modern animal training is done.

    • Angie H. on

      Good idea Diana about watching videos without sound. I think I will start doing that, assessing everything in the video, then add sound. The sound, depending on what the sound is, can be distracting from what is really going on. All the positive words coming from Debbie are sounds I want to hear.

  4. Cornelie Plazier on

    I see no link to the videos

    Verstuurd vanaf mijn iPad

    > Op 30 okt. 2013 om 14:20 heeft “Fearfuldogs’ Blog” het volgende geschreven: > > >

  5. Kay Liestman on

    Your blog has taught me lots about how to look at videos and listen to other trainers. Mattie thanks you, too.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Thanks for saying Kay. We are our dog’s best chance at success. Sounds like Mattie’s a lucky dog.

  6. Angie H. on

    While your videos may not be as “enticing” as the first one, your videos are real. Nothing is fake or canned. The progress of Nibs is eviident and there are zero questions as how Nibs got to be the dog trotting happily next to you and Sunny. Beautiful examples of proper training of fearful dogs. You rock!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thank you! They’re also good for me to see how I might do things better next time around.


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