I’m watching a dog in the park, whilst trying not to think about the fact that I haven’t a clue what to write for my blog this week!
He’s having a great time lolloping about the place, not a care in the world. He looks like he’s some kind of doodle, although I’m quite far away so I’m not sure exactly what kind. He is a fab looking dog, though, that is for sure.
He’s clearly at the end of his walk as his owner shouts his name. Then things get interesting. I won’t use his real name, lets just call him Buddy. Buddy barely even looks up, he continues to bounce around amongst the daffodils, carefree and happy, so his owner starts towards him. He’s searching for the clip end of the lead as he walks, still calling him as he goes.
Time to go Home
He gets about twenty feet away and now he has Buddy’s attention. He stares at his owner for a moment and then hops away. He’s alert now, much more than before. He keeps his eye firmly on his owner as he continues to walk towards him. Buddy evades capture three more times before his owner finally gets him into a corner. Buddy tries to push past, but his owners fast reactions mean he is finally caught. I try not to smile visibly, but inside I am cheering for the man….
I see this behaviour a lot and it’s one of the most frustrating experiences for a dog owner. You know your dog needs to get off lead, he needs to explore and socialise, he also needs the exercise. But, if you don’t have a good recall then a relaxing walk can easily turn into a complete nightmare. So you stop letting him off the lead, and you get a whole new set of problems instead.
But, anyway, I digress.
…so, the man has successfully caught his dog, great! I’m expecting him to give him a pat on the head, offer a grateful word, or to just blank him, clip on the lead and take him home. But no. Instead, he grabs the dog by his face and stares him in the eye. The dog shakes his head sharply, presumably to try to escape, and in a moment the dog has been forced onto the ground.
“I’m completely horrified”
Now, before you get all carried away, I am by no means criticising the owner. This is not his fault at all. He didn’t think that up all by himself, someone taught him to do that. Someone that he trusted taught him that the best way to solve his recall problem was to grab at his dogs face. Then, if the dog resisted, to force him onto the floor.
Now, I don’t know about you, but if someone asked me to go to them and then they attacked me, I would most definitely think twice before doing it again.
Watching that, I had flashbacks to when Molly was a pup. A dog trainer told me to do something similar to my dog – “…it’ll teach her. Let her know you’re the boss!” he said.
“It doesn’t, by the way”
This advice, and far worse, is given out all too regularly. I cringe when my clients tell me what they were advised to do by other, so called, professional dog trainers.
I have lost count of the number of dogs I have rehabilitated over the years, because of methods like this. And not just in Dundee. In fact, there is a scar on my hand thanks to another canine behaviourist. He had advised the family of a very sweet little Shih Tzu puppy. Their puppy refused to go down stairs, she was afraid, and he told them to grab her by the scruff and just force her down. I mean seriously? Surely, it is obvious that an approach like that is never going to instil confidence.
It didn’t. When I met her, I sat beside her at the top of the stairs. She was clearly scared, so I put no pressure on her at all. But, when I got uncomfortable, I put my hand down to shift my position, and of course, she lashed out and bit me! Not her fault.
It took a handful of chicken and loads of encouragement to get her down the stairs that morning, she never looked back. We then spent hours teaching her that she no longer had to fear peoples hands. They couldn’t walk her because they couldn’t put a lead on her. They were afraid to cuddle her because she panicked if they moved their hands too suddenly. But, we undid all that.
I could go on all day with stories like this one.
So what do we do?
The bottom line is, that while the industry remains unregulated, this kind of advice will still be given out. People trust the professionals they pay and follow the advice they are given, in good faith. But, there is no one to go to when things go wrong. There are no standards. There is no one to step in and impose consequences when good practise isn’t followed. We need an unbiased, not-for-profit organisation, to oversee the whole industry. If we had that then standards would raise pretty quick.
What is OK?
Of course, it is absolutely OK to correct your dog. If he’s doing something you don’t like, then you are right to intervene and help him do what you’d prefer. You just don’t need to be rough about it. Using your hands and body to guide him is perfectly fine, grabbing, pushing, prodding or smacking, not so much. You also don’t need to use treats for your training to be considered reward based. So don’t panic if your dog behaviour therapist says they don’t always use them!
In the mean time…
Until that time, the only way to make sure your dog gets the help they deserve is to ask questions of your prospective professional. Don’t be afraid, this is important stuff. Many of my clients apologise for asking me about my experience, qualifications and methods. I welcome those questions, I love talking about that stuff and am proud of the methods I use.
Ask them about everything, ask them if they have ever advised a client to restrain a dog by the face or neck. Find out if they have ever physically dominated a dog. Ask them what they would do if a dog snapped at them. If they run classes, also ask to watch a class for free, without your dog, to get an idea of whether the class will suit them.
The answers to these questions will be very revealing. As will the way in which they have been answered. Are they defensive or forthcoming? If you are happy with the answers then you are probably onto a good thing.
I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.
I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.
In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.