Between A Rock & A Hard Place

small dog looking at toySometimes we have to do something because it needs to be done. If we grab someone about to fall off a cliff we can worry about having to apologize later for having touched them without their permission. But we need to be careful not to use the excuse that needing to get something done absolves us from understanding what it is we are doing.

If ever there was a group of professionals who could use the excuse that something needed to be done, it’s veterinarians. What we are seeing today, happily and gratefully, is the recognition that how something is done to an animal can have serious implications for that animal in the future, and any decisions made regarding how to handle and treat animals should be done with a thorough understanding of those implications.

There remains resistance among some in the rescue and sheltering community to, at the very least, acknowledge that decisions made regarding how to handle and train a dog can matter in the long term for that dog and the people living with it. It is reasonable to determine that the time and resources to work with some dogs in ways that minimize the risks of creating fear and possibly instigating aggression, are not available. However it’s important to consider whether we are holding onto and justifying familiar practices because they are what we are used to doing. Perhaps they work with enough dogs that dogs who require a more systematic or less aversive approach, can be considered an unfortunate, but acceptable loss when they fail to make it as a pet.

When a dog’s life depends on being trained, train as though their lives depend on it.

Keep the dog feeling safe. Help them feel safe.

Counterconditioning to the scary stuff. Incorporate gradual exposure to them as necessary.

Train. Use food, toys or play. Use lots of food, toy or play. 

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7 comments so far

  1. laurabrody1 on

    Thank you for putting that out there. I have worked with too many rescues who believe the best way to make a fearful dog adoptable is to do lots of handling with lots of people, flooding the dog and more often than not, making the dog worse. One rescue director said to me proudly, “If I don’t get bit at least once a day, I’m not doing my job.” I couldn’t give a more honest testimony to what still needs to be learned by those who handle dogs for any reason.

  2. Kathleen Fitzgerald on

    I had told more than one trainer that my fear aggressive dog and I made the most progress through play, but none of them tried. It seems to be the rare individual that can move beyond what they learned to be the norm. Very frustrating.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It is frustrating. And until the training industry is regulated we will likely continue to be faced with trainers who do not understand how motivation and consequences work to modify both observable and unobservable behavior in dogs.

    • Vince on

      Aye that’s a common thought. Perhaps a good bite would bring ‘em around.

  3. Linda on

    Reward reward and reward the behaviour you want. And when you get it reward it again and again. No to punishment yes to motivation and play. Always pick the best trainer as remember you wouldn’t send your child to a school that uses punishment to teach him or her.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Yes and owners need to know to ask 🙂

      • Vince on

        Hey Debbie. More to follow on fearful dogs. Ellie is still with us! Now all boss and no fear; just picky red headed Gemini!!!!
        Her story was in your blog 11/11/2010. Once again you hit the mark with this page.
        I’ll write a follow up, 8 years later, of these 2 goofy dogs. Ellie and Hank each providing what the other one needed.


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