The Five-Minute Dog Aggression Solution?

A while back, there was a rescue dog that supposedly was not good around other dogs. This dog was being housed by a foster family. The next step was to address this issue since it could have been an obstacle to finding the dog a new permanent home. Off in the distance was another trainer working some dogs in an outdoor class. He came over, introduced himself, and said he could fix this dog in 5 minutes if he could take the dog over to these other dogs. He didn’t know this dog. Didn’t know the background, didn’t know if this dog had any preparation work, any past traumas, any medical issues… nothing.

So, what was his likely 5 Minute dog aggression solution? I can only guess, but this is the likely answer. There are several “celebrity” dog trainers online (names I won’t mention to protect you from seeking out their advice). Their main “solution” is to a.) muzzle the dog; b.) force the dog over to other dogs on a leash; c.) when the dog reacts, hang the dog off the ground by the leash and collar until the dog gives up. There are other versions of this, using other aversive ways, but the theme is the same.

Some dogs subjected to this “solution” will defecate all over themselves. Others risk a serious and permanent throat and neck injury. Others will be further traumatized and will be even more difficult to fix next time. Some will be so intimidated that they will become a lump, which is a classic sign of learned helplessness. This is the outline of the typical 5 Minute solution.

This kind of “solution” isn’t new. You can find this in some old dog training books. Hanging was advocated 50 + years ago as the solution to aggression problems. The reasoning was that if you punish a dog harshly enough, it will stop reacting in the future. Not only do I feel this approach to be inhumane, but it also doesn’t work. What you get is a temporary suppression of a response in weaker dogs, an even more aggressive response in stronger dogs, and a longer-term exacerbation of the problem once the traumatized dog emotionally recovers over the next day.

Why should anyone be doing things like this at all? Every horrible thing you can imagine has been done to dogs in the name of science. It’s all been done and tested, recorded, and analyzed, and there is no reason to repeat these things. We know how it turns out. While a lot was learned through all these experiments, knowledgeable modern dog trainers have read the science and reject these methods altogether. Once again: controlled experiments by scientists have done these things to dogs (and other species), have collected the resulting data, analyzed the results, and published the findings. There is no need to repeat these experiments.

Fifty years ago, the top animal trainers started going away from these harsh approaches. They read the science and found out why what they were doing wasn’t working. The good ones also publicly expressed their regrets for doing these old methods. Not only were dogs from that past era injured, but they were also not made better. Unfortunately, this obsolete stuff still lingers. It crops up like an invasive weed occasionally, with some new dog guru out there promoting miracle cures using these discredited methods.

What is unfortunate is that this still goes on, and some of these “trainers” are getting trusting and unsuspecting animal owners (it’s not just dogs, folks) to pay them to abuse their pets. Contrary to the known science. Contrary to what any detached observer would see as abusive.

Another story. There was a guy I met many years ago (he was not in the animal world). He was one of the greediest people I have ever met. He would find people in distress, offer a last resort solution, and then at the last minute, jack up his prices 10-fold. He took advantage of people. But he never got any referral business from his customers. He also was continually broke (greedy people usually end up broke). He was always sad. Eventually he met up with another greedy person, went in partnership, and last I heard they were in trouble with the law.

I think many of these gurus profit from desperate people, just like this greedy guy did. When people are desperate, they will relax their standards of morality to try and get whatever result they feel they need.

[Did I ever tell you the story of the student who hired a psychic from California to do a séance to transfer the spirit of his old dead dog into his new puppy? He was desperately sad at the passing of his old dog and wanted a way to bring him back. That psychic cost this guy a lot of money. Maybe I’ll write that one up in some future article.]

Some desperate types are drawn to these gurus who will take advantage of them. These gurus also spawn followers who try to mimic what they have seen to try and be like these gurus. I can only caution you: don’t fall for the 5-Minute Solutions.

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