Abuse Of The Family Dog – Dog Training – Dog Trainer – Behaviorist
PHOENIX , AZ AREA: (602) 708-4531
OR, if you are out of this area, inquire about a telephone or e-Lesson
Email: [email protected]
Have I met dog owners abuse their dogs? Yes. Just as people will abuse their spouses or kids, people will abuse their dogs. It is something I am especially aware of, and I take precautions when training dogs to try to prevent abuse when the lessons are over.
I know most dog training methods and tricks. I have a big “toolbox” I could use when training a dog, but when working with students, there are a number of “tools” that I rarely use, and a number of others I strictly forbid, to prevent owners from harming their dogs. I can often tell, when working with a dog, what methods have been used, including abusive methods. Even good methods can be abused, however. Some humane methods, if taken too far by an angry human, could hurt a dog. Let me give one simple example. I had a dog that I was teaching to track (following human footsteps by scent) that would just goof off along the way. Even with food right in front of him, he’d go find something else to do. So, I started making it that the only way he’d get fed was to follow the track. All his daily calories were to be found along the way. Every third day, I’d let him eat his fill out of his regular food bowl. There’s really nothing wrong with this. I wasn’t starving him. I wasn’t punishing him. I was working to break through his defiance by giving him a reason to work. But, an angry owner might just decide to withhold food as punishment, and then cause their dog to have a medical emergency. So, I’m careful in describing methods and where they might be used and how, and if I know of risks, I tell the owners what they are. The fact is that any dog method can be abused if someone is angry or nutty enough. And I’m especially careful of methods which would involve children. I am really NOT in favor of people getting electric collars; these are good tools when used by competent good people, but the average untrained person hasn’t the experience and skills to use one. I’m even more concerned if the person is someone I perceive to be impatient, prone to anger, or unstable. Or if there are kids in the home that might get their hands on the controller, and shock the heck out of the dog. Electric collars are only for the most experienced, most reasonable and responsible dog owners and trainers. Because of their potential for abuse, they should never be used as a quick fix or for novice dog owners. I always size up every student before I suggest a training method.
Most of what people do to abuse dogs has nothing to do with training, however. That’s when the appointments are about the relationship between what the dog is doing and what is going on with the family. Disobedient and unmannerly dogs provoke physical and psychological abuse against dogs. Physical and psychological abuse of the dog make the dog more likely to be even more disobedient and unmannerly. It’s a vicious cycle. Dogs that have issues at home like this are much more likely to have problems in public. I have to work with the parents regarding them dealing with their own family issues, including how they relate to one another and the dog. Yelling, threatening, screaming and hitting aren’t going to make a dog better in the future.
I purposely teach skills and methods that tend to diffuse problems between the family and the dog. We do drills and methods which I know will be safe and condition the people and the dogs to have the right attitude around one another. Further, I have to show them how to like their dogs again, including spending “hang out time”, play, family outings and exercise. I discuss how they relate to their dogs, and then do drills to change those patterns. Just telling people to change doesn’t mean they will. Through lessons, I get them working as a team.
Sometimes, however, I fail at this. Owners with a history of abuse are more likely to continue to abuse their dogs. And dogs that have been abused are much less likely to behave well in the future compared to dogs that were treated well and authoritatively all their lives. The dog trainer can’t get a family to relax, exercise self control, or change how family members view one another. This is where a professional counsellor needs to be brought in. I can handle some of the dog and people issues, but just as I’m a specialist regarding dogs, sometimes you need a specialist to deal with specific human issues, such as substance abuse and violence. In some instances, I’m entering a home that has one or more people dealing with substance abuse problems, psychological conditions, and even medical issues that are fueling the abuse and the dog’s misbehavior. In these cases, I’m especially careful to teach methods that use nonphysical means of changing the dog’s behavior; methods of tracking progress; self control exercises when working with the dog; and what is reasonable to expect from a dog in a given circumstance. I’ve even insisted that families or individuals get counselling before I work with them. Unfortunately, when I do this, I usually don’t get invited back after the evaluation reveals that there are severe personal problems in the home… people with severe personal issues often don’t want to deal with them. Often times, when people have just “had it”, they ship the dog off to a board and train facility, not realizing that the problem is with the people. Or they just don’t want to face it. Once the dog gets back, the people still have the same family problems., the money is wasted, and the dog either continues to be abused or it is abandoned (given away, put to death, let loose to run away, or banished in the back yard or kennel).
I tell people: you can’t fool the dog trainer. When you’ve been around dogs and people for as many years as I have, I will eventually figure out what’s been going on with the dog. Dogs will “tell” me of the abuse because the signs become increasingly clear as I work with the dog. I’ve been with numerous people who tried to deceive me regarding what was going on in their homes, trying to hide that someone hasn’t been nice to the dog. Once I figure it out, I don’t pussyfoot around. As a professional, I confront it.
I don’t get that many abuse cases. It’s not an everyday kind of thing. But, if you work with people and dogs for enough years, as a trainer or groomer or rescue volunteer or veterinarian, you’ll see it. In those cases, someone has to work with the dog, and someone needs to work with the people. The tough thing is that it is always easier to fix what is going on with the dog than what is going on with the people. That’s life.