Should You Ever… ?
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Because I’m a dog expert, I get a lot of interesting questions. Some questions are of an informative nature, things that people can’t find specifically in a dog book or on the internet. Sometimes, I get these questions anonymously because people have a question, but they wouldn’t want anyone to uncover who is doing what to a particular dog. That’s ok. I’m not here to be the a police informant, I’m here to help people and dogs live together peaceably and happily.
Here are some questions I’ve received over the years… and some answers:
1.) Is it ever OK to hit a dog in the face? You can find a lot of weird advice on dog training. I have a 75 year old dog training book on training search and rescue dogs that recommends, after several weeks of foundation training, slapping a dog across the face if it is searching for someone and locates the wrong person. The justification is that once the dog has learned to search and find someone, that if it purposely goes to the wrong person, there should be a discouraging consequence. This book was written by an expert whose dogs located many a fugitive from the law over the years, so he has a record of success that would be hard to argue against. Then again, I work with many dogs myself, and have done so for many years. I have met a number of dogs that were “hand shy”, meaning they had been slapped or hit about the face or head, and would duck away if you reached down to touch them. I know of a show dog, about a decade ago, that came back from being on the show circuit with a well known show dog handler. Once he got home, after several months away, he would flinch and duck away if you reached down to pet him on the head. He never used to do this. This professional, well known handler used face slap corrections on the dogs he worked with if they stared at another dog in the ring. The justification was that this dog was a very large, intact male in the show ring with a bunch of other very large, intact male dogs. Show dogs are worked with a very skinny leash and thread-thin chain collar which can break if the dog pulls ever so much. The leashes are not sufficient to give a dog any kind of leash correction. All around a dog show, all the dogs are intact male and female dogs, so the risk of a dog fight is ever present. And most of the male dogs have been bred with females, so they are even more intense if they stare at and challenge another dog. Further, many of these dogs are extremely valuable and the handler is responsible for their care, and these dogs are the way they earn a living. So, no one can afford a dog fight.
Now, let’s look at the other side of this. I have met a handful of dogs that have been physically abused and become seriously aggressive. Pain and threat stimulate fearful, aggressive, or defensively aggressive responses. Dogs that have been hit about the face can become dangerous to touch around the face. Most times, if someone is wondering if it is OK to slap a dog on the face, they are worried about someone in their home who is abusing the dog. Abuse is not dog training. It is criminal behavior and should not be tolerated.
So, what is the answer? First off, I don’t think it is a good practice to be hitting dogs, on the face or anywhere else. You can make the dog a biter over time, biting people who innocently reach over to pet the dog. Second, I don’t think it is a good idea to hit a dog as standard practice in any type of training program. Third, there are times, during an emergency, such as if a dog was about to attack another dog, that an extreme correction might be warranted in order to prevent something even worse. But, that isn’t really a correction as much as it is a way to stop a disaster.
With all that said, it is much wiser to do better and more thorough training on every dog. Most times, when a person is slapping a dog on the face, it isn’t part of any kind of purposeful training program, it is being done out of anger. With respect to the search and rescue dog, I have worked alongside experienced search and rescue volunteers while we trained our dogs to track people. None of the people I worked with were slapping their dogs in the face. And I can easily see that if you slapped the wrong dog, you could either set back the training for a very long time, or you could provoke an attack. With respect to the show dog, the problem there is that most show dogs are never trained before they go in the show ring. Many dog breeders give the bogus excuse that they don’t want to train their dogs prior to going in the show ring because they will lose “spirit”, and they don’t want them sitting down in the ring. As I have said many times before, a properly trained dog doesn’t lose spirit from the training, and you can easily train a dog to Stand Stay in the show ring so that it doesn’t sit when you stop. On the other hand, in an emergency, such as one where a dog might be about to attack another dog, an experienced dog handler, with a trained dog, might resort to a last resort correction if verbal corrections are failing. A dog fight can be a very messy thing.
Wisdom, as a result of learning, experience and intuition, should always be the guide when administering a questionable method of correcting a dog. It is always better to extensively train a dog, in advance of a problem, instead of having to resort to something such as slapping a dog.
2.) Is it ever OK to withhold food to a dog during training? Generally this question revolves around whether it is OK to make a dog hungrier for food prior to giving the dog a lesson. It depends. First, it depends on the physical constitution of the dog in question. I have worked with many dogs that would get sick if you withheld food from them. I have owned dogs that would not get sick if they missed a meal, and I owned a dog that would get sick if he missed a meal and then wouldn’t eat well for the next couple of days. So, if withholding food makes the dog sick, then I wouldn’t recommend any kind of food deprivation in the training. Second, I would never punish a dog by withholding food. The dog won’t understand why it is not eating a meal, and you are implementing a correction that won’t fix whatever you are dealing with. And hungry dogs are more likely to misbehave, so you could stimulate the dog to be even brattier than he already is. So, you need a different solution. Third, there are a couple of methods for whetting a dog’s appetite for food for training, but I want to go over them with you, in person, after evaluating your dog. Things like this can be misused by some people. I think you have to be in a pretty serious situation to use food deprivation, and you’d want to discuss it with your veterinarian first. Sometimes, a better way of getting a dog to work is making the dog rest for 2 boring days, and then doing a lesson. Rest is easier to implement and safer for the dog. Or just use a tastier food treat. If you experiment, you can often find a dog has a taste for something that they just love.
3.) What are the wrong reasons for getting a dog? I think this can be answered relatively simply: don’t get a pet unless you are going to invest the time, money, and effort to have a well mannered, well trained, well socialized, healthy, happy dog. Any reason that gets in the way of these objectives is a bad reason to get a dog.
4.) How do I repair my relationship with my dog? I’m going to assume the reason you are asking this is that somewhere, somehow along the way, you’ve either been abusive or neglectful of your dog. Severe psychological trauma is the most difficult experience to overcome in dog training. The second most difficult is severe neglect, just a different kind of trauma. The first thing to ask yourself is whether your home is a place where a dog should be. If the home environment is going to be such that it isn’t good for a dog, even if you do all the right things on your part, then the dog deserves a better home. Or, if you have your own personal or psychological issues that will interfere with having a dog, then maybe now isn’t the right time to have a dog, and you need to find your dog a new home.
If your home is stable and good for a dog, and you are willing to work with your dog, then by all means hire a professional dog behaviorist to evaluate the situation, and then do the assigned homework and see what can be done to turn the situation around.
5.) Should I adopt an un-socialized dog? Only if you hire a professional dog behaviorist to help you. All young puppies should be raised with their mamma and littermates until 8 weeks of age, then be adopted into a good, loving, committed dog owner’s home. From there the dog should be socialized with tons of people. After 4 months of age, the dog should be socialized with a wide range of friendly, vaccinated dogs, a wider range of strangers, and taken a million new places. Socialization is an ongoing, lifetime process. Dogs that aren’t socialized are more likely to be overly stressed, fearful, or aggressive. Lack of socialization is the result of neglect. It is inhumane to have a dog live an unsocial life in a back yard, just to be fed and neglected. It is foolish for a breeder to adopt out puppies under 7 weeks of age, or not socialize them the entire time they are being used as breeding dogs. I am not in favor of people adopting unsocialized dogs if all they are looking for is an easy going, no issues, inexpensive dog. Some dogs can make tremendous improvements with proper care and re-socialization. That’s because some good qualities are inherited. Other dogs can’t overcome the trauma of neglect, so at best they are tolerable pets at home with no guests, but not so fun when other people or animals they don’t know are around. And some dogs that have been neglected are dangerous and can’t be made trustworthy. That’s because some bad qualities are inherited, and no amount of retraining and re-socialization can overcome early traumas. There are a lot of great dogs in the shelters. As the old saying goes, “it’s just as easy to love a good dog”. You don’t want to get overly eager and sentimental to get just any dog. Get the right dog for your temperament and lifestyle.
Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.
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