Friday, April 13, 2012

Bad Advice- A case study.

This may be the longest post I've ever written....

In the last few months I've been doing more and more private lessons-  in my small city there seems to be plenty of people who are "dog trainers" who have no freaking idea what they are doing. I really, really, really don't understand why people want to be dog trainers in the first place- but then to call yourself one when you have no clue what you are doing, and potentially are causing unfixable issues. It drives me batty. If you want to be a dog trainer- great. But train yourself, do some research, find someone to shadow for a while. Get some actual experience....

Because what you tell people, and show people really does make or break a situation. As with all "professionals" people listen to what you say assuming that you are correct. They take your word as truth. Unfortunately if what you are telling people is BS, and is causing more harm than good- well, that's an issue. 

Now, combining the bad dog trainers with what people are seeing on television and you get disaster. 

Last night I met with a new client. A 4 year old Pit Bull who has been to numerous "trainers" and on the recommendation of their vet are at the point of euthanizing the dog. I was told by the owner that the dog is very aggressive, lunges, growls and nips at people that come to the house. Is very protective, and recently has been fighting with their other dog. Fighting to the point of blood. This is a dog who up until a week ago has been living side by side with the other dog his whole life....

Some more background I learned before I met with them:

The dog(s) are both recently neutered in December. 
The PB resource guards food, and items.
He fence fights with the neighbour dog. 
Is walked on a pinch collar, with a basket muzzle on. But only once in a while because the owner is nervous that he is going to hurt someone. 
He chases the cats in the house. 
And he and the other dog are completely separated at this point.

What has been recommended to them in the past:

Pinch Collar- for control. 
Well, dealing with aggression (of any variety) with pain is not going to go well. What typically ends up happening (in my experience) is that the dog becomes even more reactive because they have paired the pain of being jerked around with the pinch collar with the sight of the dog, or person or whatever. 

Roll 'em- to show him who's boss. 
I am sick to death of people who think that this is an appropriate thing to do with your dog. Seriously folks. What do you really think this is teaching the dog? And what do you think is going to happen when you let the really pissed off dog back up?

Smack him when he's bad. 
I am not opposed to a "hey you, knock it off" but it seems that the "smackers" don't ever think about actually teaching the dog what they should be doing instead....and I don't know, rewarding the dog once in a while for making correct decisions.

I am not afraid of dogs. But I have a healthy respect of teeth. I do not enjoy being bit, and would not put myself in harms way. However- I do think that the dog deserved a chance. 

I called them when I arrived so they would be ready. We had already discussed that I did not want the dog muzzled and that they should remain calm. I went to the door and already could hear the scrambling nails and barking. 

When I went in I saw a very freaked out, defensive dog who was pretty sure I was there to kill him. His eyes wide, his ears back, and every pearly white tooth exposed. When I told the owner to let him go they didn't believe me and held on tighter. Which caused the dog to react again. I told them I was serious. The dog comes barreling up to me barking and snarling, eyes hard, and then smells the hotdog. He stops, a little confused. I look away and I throw a piece to him on the ground. In five minutes he was taking it from my hand. Gentle nibbles, no hard teeth, eyes softer but still wide, worried. It took fifteen minutes and two hot dogs to get to the living room. 

The lesson lasted an hour and in that hour we taught him how to respond to his name, offer a nose touch, and most importantly I taught the owners how to deal with the problem they've created. We talked about teaching him to think, and make choices, and how to reward him for making good choices, and at this point preventing bad decisions. We talked about the cold hard truth. What the goal should be for the dog, and that he is a liability for them. He could bite someone- badly. There were no kid gloves, and I made sure they understood that his death is still a possibility. 

I think I gave the owners hope- something they did not have before I arrived. They were amazed that he was able to learn something as simple as a nose touch! Thrilled that I was able to gently scratch him under the chin. I believe that the dog can be taught how to be a better dog. How to have impulse control, and social skills. But I also believe that there is potential for someone to get hurt. It is a conflict for sure. I want to help these people, and so I will. But there is a niggling thought at the back of my head about how I will feel if he does bite someone. Not only is he hurting someone, but is also hurting the name of an already tarnished breed. 

What bothers me the most about this whole situation is that it could be prevented. 100%. If as a puppy the trainer they went to didn't demand the dog be put on a choke chain and drag him around until he did what they wanted. If as a puppy the vet hadn't scared the crap out of them about the possibility of disease so they didn't leave the yard until he was 6 months old... If the trainer who gave them a pinch collar but not the understanding of basic dog training would have done her job properly. And if the owners stood up for their dog. 

That's all it would have taken. If you are uncomfortable with something that you are asked to do. Stop. Say no. You have the right. Do not blindly follow someone just because they call themselves a professional. 

I am getting off my soap box now. Rant over. I am hoping that I will be able to help to save his life, and prevent a tragedy from happening.  I left their house feeling good though- I saw a glimmer of a happy, relaxed, goofy pitbull. The dog that he is when no one else is around. I believe that if the owners remain dedicated to his rehabilitation that his life can be spared. We will see I guess. But hope is not a bad thing. 


Taryn said...

Excellent post, Amanda! You are much braver than me. I couldn't have approached a snarling dog! I

Jen said...

You should write longer posts more often.

Everything that you said made sense. And I feel so very badly for that dog. Hopefully his owners continue with you, and LISTEN to you. It sounds like maybe they will? The sense of wonder one can experience when you see your dog learning and thinking can be a very powerful thing. Hotdogs can also be a very powerful thing.

"Hope is a thing with feathers"

oddman said...


I'll hope too.


Jenilee said...

This actually made me tear sad for the dog, so much misunderstanding and bad education. So glad you could help...

Anonymous said...

You are just a great, wonderful person Amanda. I really admire what you do for dogs and their people!