Are You Being Kind To Your Dog?

Every dog training era has ended up this way: dog training is abnormally mechanical and formulaic as a result of new fads that are now considered “the way”. It’s kind of like how a family makes the same recipes their parents and grandparents made, and even when some aspect of the recipe is found to be unhealthy, it’s hard to get everyone to change.

I remember times I’ve tried to get one or more of my extended family to do something differently. When I was a teenager, but not yet old enough to drive, I had the hardest time convincing one adult member to not stop on the highway onramp before trying to merge into traffic. Instead of blending in and matching speeds with the other cars, like a well working zipper, it was a harrowing adventure experiencing them taking off from a stop to catch up to traffic and hearing the other cars start honking. It was clearly dangerous. Eventually, I got my point across, but it took some arguing.

Or that time I advocated switching out margarine to butter in the family recipes. Mission accomplished, but there are still recipes that are cast in stone like the 10 Commandments, and I can’t get them changed.

In a similar way, dog training is locking into fads, and not doing what is best for the dogs. I hate the mechanistic dog training methods. There are some slick techniques being promoted these days, which can sound reasonable to those with little behavioral knowledge. I was closely watching dog demonstration videos online yesterday. In my eyes, the dogs moved like a remote-controlled electric car. The giveaways were the on/off abnormal responses, and worse, I witnessed the flat, emotionless faces and bodies, or sometimes insecure or fearful laid-back ears and concerned eyes of the dogs. And compounding this, was the macho attitude emanating from the people who were doing these perverse demonstrations. I see a different version of this, as well, with the “purely positive” trained dogs. They are happy marionettes, puppets subject to an overly managed, overly enriched, sterile life. Someone should caution them (but they won’t listen): experiments with lab rats using robotic methods can result in an early death, often from cancer. Dogs can also break under mechanical training methods, and they shouldn’t be done.

It’s not just new fads, either. Some people are still operating on the old fads, the harsh stuff of old. Yesterday, I also spoke with a couple who are fostering a young adult rescue dog. They are nice enough people, but they need some serious updating in term of dog handling and training. They have had this new dog only a week and have already sustained 4 bites. The owner says he’s “disciplining” the dog and the dog bites when reprimanded. At the same time, this dog doesn’t even know what the word, Sit, means. So, the dog bit the wife’s hand when she tried to put on a leash. And the husband has been bitten 3 times trying to move the dog’s bed from the living room to the bedroom, and back. I explained that this dog needs some empathy. This dog doesn’t trust them, and you shouldn’t start making demands of an untrained rescue dog before there is an established bond. Furthermore, I explained I recommend that to never correct a dog before you can be sure a dog has had a lot of training in many situations so that you can be convinced they know what you’re telling them to do.

It’s like this: people will tell me their dog knows Sit. I’ll explain that isn’t true. They will insist it is true. So, I say, let’s take your dog off leash in public, let him run across the field, tell him Sit while running, and see if he stops, Sits and Stays. If he can’t do that, then he doesn’t know Sit. No one yet has been willing to take me up on my challenge. So, if a dog doesn’t know Sit, then why the heck are you “disciplining” a dog when it doesn’t Sit when you say it? And if you then get mad or push the dog psychologically and the dog bites you, why is that now the dog’s fault?

There is no joy in the work in these dogs, handlers, or trainers. Often it is more about winning or proving something than about the quality of life these dogs are experiencing.

Contrast that with what I also saw yesterday with a 6 month old puppy. We (the owner, the dog and me) were working on Sit/ Stays, up close and at a distance. This was the first time we tried this for this young dog. Not only did we make excellent progress, we did it with no corrections, yet with distractions (strangers; treats on the ground in front of the dog), but the dog did it all with JOY. This owner has followed through on all we have done, and this dog is in tune with his owner. This dog shows great pleasure in what we teach, is responsive, and isn’t reactive. He looks sooooo good, and all that early socialization also helped.

What is one of my great training secrets? I teach students to treat their dogs with kindness. Meditate on that for a while because there is a lot to consider. Because of kindness, the dogs I train are obedient and joyful. If your dog finds joy in being with you, your dog will choose your directions over distractions. Just because the latest fad, or some old-style method, has followers doesn’t mean it is going to be humane for your dog. Take a good hard look, like I have, and see if the dogs are joyful, or just eager to do a food or toy motivated task or are afraid and avoiding some kind of punishment.

I’m kind to dogs, and I’m challenging you to be kind to your dog.

Intro Video