Dog Behavior and Training

The new definition of “good dog”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot today because of something a friend is going through, and thought it was worth exploring with the group of you.

I’ve been interested in dogs long enough, and been reading about them long enough, to have seen some broad swings in training. I’m not talking about positive/negative reinforcement, though that is certainly the case (and I honestly think it’s a mistake to see this as a progression from bad to good – it’s a lot more of a pendulum swing, and I would predict things will move back the other way in the next twenty or so years); what I mean is a change in the definition of the well-trained dog.

It has historically been the case that training was a preparation for the dog to work a job; you were teaching the dog the vocabulary it needed for its role in life. The basic stuff was all the same – whether herding or protecting or sending messages or a hundred other things, dogs need to not run off on their own, need to come when called, need to stay close to a handler, need to pick up and carry stuff when asked. So that’s what basic training was – heel and sit and down and stay and so on. A few people got very interested in doing those basic exercises super well, which is where competitive obedience comes from – competitive obedience is like compulsory figures in figure skating. You’re doing a few simple things with a very, very high degree of style and consistency.

But whether the commands were done at that very high level or on a more normal level, the goal was never to be that the dog just did THAT. It was supposed to lead to a life with a dog that was just a normal life where the dog did stuff. It’s sort of like teaching a toddler what the word cup and then cupboard means – you don’t do it so you can say “cup!” “cupboard!” when the kid is eighteen years old. You do it so you can say “Hey, go get me some coffee when you’re in the kitchen.” The basic commands for a dog were in order to facilitate a day where you go move a bunch of sheep, or walk down a dangerous street and collect rent, or deliver milk, or patrol a wall. “Stay” was “stay there and don’t move so I don’t get shot when I peer around this corner,” not an exercise to see how straight the legs were.

When dogs lost their jobs, over the course of the 20th century, for a long time the basic commands kept their place in training and obedience. You took a puppy to a class that taught sit and down and stay, and the further classes were refining those same basic commands. The focus of training became competitive obedience, which I honestly think is kind of a tragedy because so few of the students would ever go on to compete and we lost the idea that the commands were part of normal life and not a style exercise.

In maybe the 90s trainers began to realize that the usefulness of a beautiful retrieve and finish was pretty low in the real world, because nobody was using dogs to send messages to soldiers anymore (where the dog should quickly deliver the message and then get ready to run with the soldier to the commanding officer) or in fact to do anything that a retrieve and finish is good for. “Hand me something and then get ready to move” was no longer a problem that anyone was trying to solve.

What people WERE trying to solve were the issues that come when you have a whole bunch of frustrated dogs living with no exercise in close proximity to other dogs. Because, as you know, humans have ALSO lost a lot of their jobs. But we’re still the same inside – we still envision ourselves as hunters or fishers or farmers or explorers or messengers or warriors. And we buy dogs that satisfy those internal envisionings, not the crappy office job we actually have. We buy big retrievers and mastiffs and border collies and livestock guards and hunting dogs, and so do all our neighbors, and then the dogs are living far closer to each other than they’d ever choose to live and they’re not getting any exercise and they have no job or outlet and they start acting badly.

So trainers began to try to solve the problems of dogs biting other dogs, dogs pulling on leash, dogs who didn’t get along at the dog park, dogs who weren’t happy with strangers approaching them, dogs who were distracted by moving objects, and so on.

The expectation moved from “well-trained dogs are useful dogs” to “well-trained dogs are endlessly tolerant of absolutely anything and never discipline, punish, or predate on anything.”

With this new expectation came new words – it’s FASCINATING. When I do a book search, from 1800-1980 there’s ONE book that uses the phrase “dog aggression”–the Monks of New Skete book that came out in 1978. From 1980 to 2000 there are about a hundred books using that phrase or close to it. From 2000 to 2011 there are almost a THOUSAND. “Reactive” has exploded; before 2000 it was almost always used positively – a dog who has a quick response time. After 2000 it’s now in thousands of references to bad dogs, poorly trained dogs, unsocialized dogs.

There will be more new words – I told my friend today that I needed to go copyright “motion insecurity” before somebody decides that we have to rename the urge dogs have to chase moving objects!

I said earlier that I thought it was a tragedy that training didn’t move away from competitive obedience sooner – and I do mean that. But I think we may have done an even bigger disservice to dogs by saying that the new role of the good dog is basically a big body pillow.

So here are the big questions –

1) Is it in fact normal for dogs to endlessly tolerate everything?

2) Are we insisting that dogs be perfect when they’re not in fact perfect? Where is the place for the dog who’s just plain grouchy, and it’s not a training error but personality?

3) Are we doing justice to owners by implying that this new expectation of behavior is valid for all dogs? (To use a specific example, saying that we can “help” their terrier not chase cats, or “help” their chow not react to other dogs.)

4) Why exposure and not avoidance? That is, if you have a dog who lunges at other dogs, why is the answer to “helping” that dog (and yes, I do keep putting helping in quotes because that’s how I ALWAYS hear it used now – it’s not training, it’s “helping,” implying that the dog WANTS this help and is incomplete without this help) going out and finding 40 other dogs to expose the dog to (whether in a class or in a park or whatever) and not avoiding other dogs? Why is one right and one wrong?

5) Do we need a revival in an understanding of “dogginess”? (A celebration of Jungian dog archetypes, if you want to get fancy-dancy?) Can we re-find the validity of the warrior dog, messenger dog, defender dog, hunting dog in our own backyards?

Talk to me! I am very interested to hear if you think I am completely off-base, or if you have thoughts to add or ways to solve these problems. Should I start a new blog like the Art of Manliness called the Art of Dogginess? 🙂 Hmmm… primal weekends with dogs howling at the moon – it could work!

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  • Reply Miriam Dalfen August 1, 2011 at 6:29 am

    Far too many people have a vision of dogs as some sort of animate stuffed toy, or a Disneyfied semi-person on four legs. They are shocked when the dog actually behaves like…like…an animal! And more specifically, they don’t understand their breeds purpose and can’t figure out why theie “vicious” terrier wants to kill those cute little squirrels, or their husky drags them down the street and takes off it it gets loose. We recently had someone posting one a message board concerned because their puppy was following them everywhere and because it seemed to be food obsessed (hello, it’s a Basset Hound, they’re walking stomachs).

  • Reply Joanna Kimball August 1, 2011 at 6:46 am

    I totally agree, Miriam, and I think it’s even worse when their trainers (heck, when the massive community of trainers) supports them in it. “Food obsessed” should be struck from the vocabulary forever. They’re DOGS, you idiots. For five million years they’ve had to bolt as much food as possible whenever they found it. The ones who DON’T do that are the bizarre anomalies.

  • Reply Miriam Dalfen August 1, 2011 at 7:04 am

    One of our better Basset trainers believes that Bassets (and other hounds) are more food obsessed than other dogs because a dog that was perpetually “hungry” would be a more motivated/better hunter.

  • Reply Miriam Dalfen August 1, 2011 at 7:05 am

    You may be able to train some breeds to leave food that’s been left on a counter or table, but with a Basset it’s much more productive to simply bang your head against a wall – and don’t leave stuff within reach.

  • Reply Ruth August 1, 2011 at 9:01 am

    You should try the standard training regimen with a dog thats not really food or toy driven. The trainer will look at you like you’ve grown horns and insist you must be doing it wrong (the look on her face when she waived a piece of peperoni in front of his nose and he turned around and headed in a different direction was priceless, to be fair to her once he proved her wrong she coped very well and helped us manage anyway). Not that he doesn’t LOVE peperoni, but thats not enough to hold his attention when he decides he’s not interested.

    But no, its not normal for a dog to tolerate everything. The really good ones allow us to train that into them, and humanity has been breeding for that for at least a few generations, but no, not even close.

    The place for the grumpy dog is with someone who understands that “avoidance” is a valid technique for handling a dog! I think a certain amount of exposure is nessecary, but avoidance should be used more often, though it takes an on-the-ball owner/handler to do it properly so maybe thats why its NOT used more often.

    I’d love to see more dogs “doing” things besides “just” being companions (not that thats not a huge amount of work sometimes). It doesn’t have to be the traditional doggy tasks, just doing THINGS. We’re teaching our puppy to pull a cart, both for use around the property and for competition, the work does him good, helps keep his mind going, as well as his body, and once he got over his “WTH is that thats following me??” he seems to enjoy it.

  • Reply Red Dog Mom August 1, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Great post. I’ve said for years that you can’t expect all dogs to get along with all other dogs. You don’t like every other person you meet so why should your dog like every dog he or she meets. Anthropormorphizing doesn’t even begin to cover what we’ve done to dogs and, yes, I’m guilty of it too at times.

  • Reply Melissa August 1, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Its not natural for dogs to accept everything but in today’s world it’s important that they try. A dog growls at a person and suddenly they’re dangerous and you have everyone watching them for a ‘mistake’ and if one happens the fate of your dog can be out of your hands. Avoidance isn’t a luxury many can afford with the needs today of having our dogs out and about, taking them everywhere, dog parks, boarding, pet parties. Lets be honest, the average pet owner isn’t willing to give up their social lives for their dogs.
    Should we ‘ help’ a dog ‘ overcome’ its basic instincts, it goes back to what I’ve already said, to be socially acceptable yes, I think so.
    Personally I don’t expect my dogs to be perfect but I do try to make sure they are rounded enough to be acceptable in public as our dogs can’t control others and its our job to keep them safe.

    • Reply rufflyspeaking August 1, 2011 at 9:57 am

      Melissa – I absolutely agree that right now dog ownership means all those things, if you’re not willing to move your life around to make your dog(s) happy. I guess my question would be something like WHY on EARTH do we have “pet parties”? The dogs are usually angry, stressed, frustrated, or hugely overstimulated and crazy; it’s only for the humans, so why do we tell ourselves that our dogs should like it? Because we like the thought of it, because WE’D like it, and we want our dogs to be the primates that we are. What I would like to see is somebody saying “Wait a sec; this is insane.” The dog at the pet party that’s biting every other dog as they run past is the only one acting like he should, honestly. Dogs aren’t supposed to tolerate chaos. But the biting dog gets cuffed on the side of the head or has an owner apologizing and stuffing cookies in his mouth to “control” him.

      I think my short answer is that yes, at this point in time that’s what’s socially acceptable. And I wonder if there’s any way we can change the idea of what’s socially acceptable.

      • Reply Laurel August 1, 2011 at 12:33 pm

        This is a great point. The biggest problem with normal dog behavior is that humans don’t tolerate it. Like Ruth said above, the place for a dog who doesn’t tolerate everything is with the owner who’s willing to give the dog a sane, comprehensible environment. You would not *believe* how blind people are to dogs’ extremely clear signals (except you would, of course), or how unwilling they are to let dogs get out of situations that scare and worry them.

        The best thing we could do for letting dogs be dogs is to teach people about dog body language and signals. If you can SEE how stressed it makes your dog to be hugged or be in a chaotic environment or meet strangers, you can either try to desensitize the dog to that stress or stop exposing the dog to it. But if you can’t see dog behavior, you’re going to keep hugging terrified dogs until one of them bites you.

        If you can see dog behavior, you can also figure out what stresses YOUR dog, which isn’t what stresses everyone’s dog. My lab mix loves a party: she’s the one at the park who’s right in the middle of 7 other dogs playing chase. But she’s got a particular kind of goofy-happy play-motivated personality, and she has really good dog manners from tons of puppy playtime and growing up around some cranky older dog-ladies who would have chomped her in a heartbeat if she forgot who was in charge.

        • Reply Ruth August 1, 2011 at 4:32 pm

          Some exposure can help, but you have to be able to tell when its not helping and when to stop, and so many people can’t.

          One of the dogs that regularly comes to pulling practices is a rescue with some dog aggression (and hyperactivity) issues. The owner keeps her well in hand, and seperated from the other dogs by a bit more than usual, and keeps an very close eye on her the whole time they’re there. The owner told me last time they were there that this is pretty much the only “social” time she took with the dog because she knows she can count on the other owners to control THEIR dogs properly around her. She also told me that the extra exercise from pulling, as well as the carefully supervised exposure to other dogs was slowly making a difference in her dog. The dog is becoming less likely to attempt to jump at or lash out at a dog passing by, and more tolerant in general of the various dogs they saw. (She is working with a trainer as well, just in case anyone was wondering, this was infact the trainer’s idea.) She is completely ok with the fact that this will likely never be a dog she can take to the dog park and let go. All she wants is to have a bit more control for those times when exposure to another dog is unavoidable.

          I think what she’s doing is a perfect example of the right mix of exposure and avoidance needed to keep the dog under control.

          • priscilla babbitt August 1, 2011 at 7:06 pm

            Thanks for this discussion, my carly is a huge puller and ive had her in three cgc classes , starting at 4months , she is afraid of people so the she always fails the class.
            We walk alot, but avoid strangers and if i take her anywhere i have her on a tight leash. I would keep her home but she loves to go in the car.. it makes her so happy and My other one is just the opposite, hes very social.
            I appreciate all the comments about dogs and there ability to or not to “conform to Our rules” Its bee a very big challenge for me , since getting a corgi, (my first dog to live in the house 24/7) ive learned a more than i ever expected to or thought i needed to know about dogs in general, Especially this breed.
            I sure hope im doing all i can, i wish we had a special place i could take her to work this energy out and give her a job off leash but theres none available in my city.. Like someone on her said her instincts are strong , much more so than my younger male.. NO amount of treats or correction keeps her from wanting to pull when a car drives by, or jump on Frankie to herd him when they are running. She doesnt forget the things i have managed to teach her , which all pertain to bad habits in the house, but on the other hand id love to see her out where she would have the chance to be who she is..
            Speaking of all the ways to train, i have only been doing this for a 1 1/2 an my own experiences have gone from choke the crap out of her to give her a click and treat!! Infact that first trainer may have been the reason shes so afraid of strangers?
            Way to confuse me trainers! I was as ignorant as they come when i started and unfortunately i believe she was my guinea pig. Not a good thing with a strong willed corgi. having said that i know she is mine i will never give her up regardless of whether or not she does what i wish shed do , im here for her and she feels safe.
            Im thankful she is not a bitter, she loves other dogs if they dont try to dominate , she wants to be the boss, she is awesome with my family, the grandkids adore her and she them..

          • priscilla babbitt August 1, 2011 at 11:45 pm

            Sorry about all the misspelled words, i was in such a hurry, tending to dogs and a gran-baby. I hate it when i dont proof read what i write..

  • Reply Melissa August 1, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Hollywood (Paris Hilton’s poor dogs anyone) along with the fact that so many people view their dogs as children. I think it’s great that they love their pets but too often they forget that they are still dogs, and need to be treated as such. I celebrate my dogs birthdays with some venison heart and a photo session. No party, no hats.
    But for others their children/ dogs NEED THAT PARTY!!”!
    As for trainers, take Cesar Millan for example, I think they are giving the dogs the best chance of surviving their owners. I don’t know how many episodes I’ve seen where the owners had no clue at all about basic dog behavior, so by ‘ helping’ the dog ‘ overcome’ their instincts and traits the dog has the best chance of having a decent if not perfect life with the owners .

    • Reply S August 1, 2011 at 1:31 pm

      I don’t think Cesar Millan has much idea about dog behaviour, considering the clear stress signs he ignores!

    • Reply Elaine Axten August 1, 2011 at 3:46 pm

      my dog would have a NERVOUS BREAKDOWN if i made her have a party. she’s not antisocial exactly, but she likes people better than dogs, and the idea of putting her in a place where there was a lot of excited dogs would be my idea of hell as well as hers.

      she would go to a party that involved cats, though. when i take her to the vet’s she more or less ignores other dogs, after all she sees dogs all the time, but CATS! wh00t!!

      • Reply Ankhorite August 5, 2011 at 2:39 am

        Yes, Elaine, you know my Gem and she would lose her mind at such an event. However, she goes to her rescue league reunions with no trouble at all.

        Everyone there has at least one dog of her breed, no one is doing party hats or loud music, the dogs come first and the people a distant second. The food is where the dogs have no hope of getting at it, and they have fenced off over two acres for the 40+ dogs to run in. Those who don’t want to form packs, chase balls, go swimming, whatever, don’t have to. There’s plenty of places for them to retire to in the bushes and be shy, but still enjoy seeing their fellow rescues romp around. There are plenty of people with idle hands and open hearts whom they can approach to get petted. Their choice, at their speed. I *love* the reunion picnics.

        Dogs who can’t relax are asked to go home, and no one argues about that (though we all feel bad).

        • Reply Elaine Axten August 5, 2011 at 10:29 am

          that sounds good for everyone.

          pops likes or dislikes other dogs in a way that seems quite random to me, except that she does recognize other staffie type dogs. they play the same way, and even though it looks a bit scary, the play fighting they do they really enjoy, but they can really only do with their own kind.

  • Reply Julie E August 1, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    This is a subject that I’ve been thinking about for quite a long while. We have so very many breeds bred for thousands of years to do a JOB: herding, hunting, “verminating”, guarding – all very intense activities that really require intense behaviors from our dogs. We also have become a touchy-feely society that is reluctant to correct our dogs, our horses, or our children. (There is discipline, and there is abuse – we aren’t talking abuse, here!) Everything is positive – never a “no” in sight. (As an aside, I had had to quit one agility club because I wasn’t allowed to say “uh-uh” to redirect my dog. It made him confused that I wasn’t really communicating with him, and he didn’t like the happy-happy, joy-joy method. I am now allowed to stop him and redirect – he is having fun again.)

    Modern society, however, really does not need such intense dogs – and that’s where many people get into trouble. The vast majority people don’t have flocks of sheep or cattle to herd and guard. Most people don’t have large estates to hunt and guard. We have alarms systems and pest control companies. We don’t spend the day hunting our dinner any more. We don’t need our dogs to help haul in nets of fish. The vast majority of us no longer fight our dogs in pits. In all the years that I’ve rescued/retrained, the majority of dogs that were given up were given up for breed-specific behaviors: barking, digging, herding/nipping, insane and undirected energy. Once the need to perform a duty was addressed, the behaviors magically became controlled.

    There is great lamentation about the loss of instinctual drive in the individual breeds of dogs – that they have become more generic. We live in a society that mostly needs companion dogs, not dogs that need a physical job. I can definitely see how serious fanciers don’t want to lose the behaviors which are fundamental to their breed – after all, that is as much a part of the standard as coat color, etc. is, but I’m not entirely convinced it is what is best for the average dog in modern society. I wonder whether it is necessarily a bad thing that a Labrador is willing to retrieve all day…but doesn’t NEED to. Or that a Sheltie is bred to be quieter and less inclined to bunch up the children with yaps and circling.

    I think because of societal drift towards city life, we have lost our ability (or indeed the patience to learn how) to read animals. They miss the stiffened tail, the squared stance, the stink eye or other signals that communicate play, distress, fear, and so forth. They inadvertently praise the very behavior they wish to discourage. They feel guilt if they have to correct. They feel fear that the dog might bite them (valid) or that the dog may get bitten or hurt (also valid.) I thinks it’s an excellent idea for people to learn Primal Dog. Once you understand that, it becomes relatively easy to find solutions to doggie problems.

    Most dogs are not endlessly tolerant, any more than most people. I see nothing wrong with keeping a curmudgeonly dog away from other dogs or small children, or terriers away from pocket pets – that is a way to address an issue. It might be the best way for a person without the knowledge of how to train differently.

    While we’re at it, can we please get rid of the phrase “pet parent”? It’s driving me nuts…

  • Reply Rachel August 1, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    I wanted some time to think about this before I answered, and this is what I came up with:
    No, it’s not normal for dogs to tolerate everything. That’s why you get reports of “good” dogs biting. They were pushed too far. And because a lot of people work on the “no biting EVER” and don’t work on teaching bite inhibition (or don’t bother teaching the dog anything beyond don’t go in the house), when a dog does bite, the bite does a lot more damage because the dog doesn’t know how much pressure is too much. Also, the myth that a “good” dog will tolerate anything has spread and people will push an uncomfortable dog untill it becomes a cornered dog, and a cornered dog, with no place to run, will bite. I don’t know wheter these people just can’t read dog body language, or they read it and ignore it, but any dog owner or walker has stories of people who won’t listen when you say “Please don’t pet my dog right now.” There are also many owners who do very little training. Not all, but a lot. Dogs who have never learned respect and have learned that bullying gets them what they want.
    I think we do need a revival of knowledge of what is real dog behavior. There are too many shows where the animals are given human voices and human wants and desires. Kids grow up seeing these and grow up into adults who assume their dog or cat or horse thinks just like they do, wants the same things, and shows emotions the same way. Not only that, a lot of current dog training is based on out-dated sience where dogs are equated to wolves, and wolves who were in captivity and not acting like normal wolves. (Just finished reading Dog Sense by John Bradshaw. A little scientific but a must read as he covers how much scientist have learned over the past two decades about how dogs think and what motivates them. Sorry for the side track.) So people are expecting a dog to either act like them and see the world the way they do, or to follow rules that apply to wolves and captive wolves at that who are not acting the way they would if given a choice. Either viewpoint looks at the dog as something other than what he or she is, and sets up expectations that the dog either can’t meet, or doesn’t know how to meet.

    • Reply KellyK August 2, 2011 at 8:52 am

      “A revival of knowledge of what is real dog behavior”—absolutely! And I have had a couple people who get pushy with my dog. It irritates me, it scares her, no good can possibly come of it. Fortunately, most people I spend time with on a regular basis know the drill and are willing to give her her space. And when they do that, she warms up to them.

    • Reply Jessica January 8, 2013 at 11:27 pm

      Heck, maybe anthropomorphizing ISN’T inappropriate – do you want strangers humping you, or pushing you around? Are you comfortable at a party if somebody gets in your face and yells at you? Some people don’t even like crowds, or going to parties.

      Dogs aren’t treated like people, even. They’re held to a standard that’s almost impossible to uphold even by the most tolerant person.

      If you wouldn’t let a stranger fondle your 3 year old or let their kid run up to yours and start punching them in the arm, then don’t let other people and other people’s dogs be rude to yours. It’s your duty to protect them.

      No, dogs shouldn’t lose their minds if you’re walking calmly in public, or bite your Grandmother, but neither should they be forced to play pony or let any ol’ Joe stick fingers in their ears.

      The double standard dogs are held to drives me absolutely nuts, as a trainer. It’s time for it to stop.

  • Reply Anne August 1, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    What I see a lot of in my training classes is families who just need a dog they can live with. This means a dog that doesn’t potty all over the house, a dog that doesn’t bark loudly all day and disturb the neighbors, a dog that doesn’t pull their arm off when they walk down the road. I don’t think any of these things are too much to ask for, in ANY breed of dog. Sometimes it means the dog’s behavior needs to change, but sometimes it means the humans need to change what they’re doing so the dog isn’t set up to fail.

    We also talk a LOT about communication- what a stressed dog looks like (time to play some fetch and give up on that down that’s not working out) what play fighting looks like (do NOT pick up Smoochie-poo, see how her body is relaxed and she’s going back for more? The pit bull is NOT eating her. They’re wrestling.) and the like. Something I see a lot of is families from other cultures who are getting their first dog EVER. They didn’t have dogs as children. None of their friends had dogs. The only dogs were in the street, CERTAINLY not in the house, so they have no idea what they’re doing. We have to start from square one and help them first figure out what they even want out of their dog, and do the very basics in “talking” to a dog. It’s an interesting experience, really. I wasn’t raised in a particularly doggy family, but we always had at least one and they were always reasonably well behaved, so I’m always a little amazed at what some people will be tolerating. The four year old dog that’s only “mostly” potty trained, for example. Flabbergasting.

  • Reply ali August 1, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    “The expectation moved from “well-trained dogs are useful dogs” to “well-trained dogs are endlessly tolerant of absolutely anything and never discipline, punish, or predate on anything.””

    this is the exact concept that I have expressed to people at work. I am a veterinary technician and dog owner. I think its absolutely ridiculous that dogs are expected to tolerate anything, without reaction. For example, i have heard this several times from an owner “I dont CARE what my kid does to the dog, if the dog bites my kid, hes over”. Can you get any more unrealistic?? At the same time, i also find it hard to believe that people are so lazy with training their dogs to withstand certain necessary things, such as toe nail trims. My rationale is: if we as humans can get a killer whale to open its mouth to brush its teeth, or train a tiger to hold its leg out for a blood draw…..why cant we train our dogs to? the answer is simple, nowadays people view their pets as ottomans, no longer objects with a purpose other than to sit in our living rooms.

    • Reply KellyK August 2, 2011 at 11:34 am

      Wow, that’s crazily unrealistic. And it’d be so much better to teach the kid to treat the dog appropriately (and keep them separated as much as possible if the kid is too young to get that).

  • Reply Melissa August 1, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    I have to take a second to curve the topic, used properly a choke chain is not bad, I train using them and my dogs are far from traumatized. That said any tool has to be used responsibly.

    • Reply rufflyspeaking August 1, 2011 at 9:07 pm

      Absolutely agree. I was ready to jump in and stop it if the thread turned into anti-training methods, don’t worry :). I’ve used every collar that exists and am a firm believer that the best method is the one YOU can do best. There are e-collar trainers who are the gentlest and most supportive dog-savvy people on earth and they get fantastic results from their dogs, who are happy and joyful workers. Ditto with clickers and chokes and prongs and ear pinches and anything else that’s in vogue now or unpopular now. If you can use it well, you can train a happy dog with it. If you can’t use it well, DON’T USE IT. Find something you CAN use well and your dog will do great.

      • Reply priscilla babbitt August 2, 2011 at 12:01 am

        I still use the choke chain when walking Carly , i have to or she wont listen at all.. i do think the old school trainer who was our first experience with the chain, knew how to use it but she was so mean, she made me cry twice!
        One vet teck who was teaching the puppy socialization class said dont do anything thats not fun, well good luck with that.. i ask her how many dogs she had trained, she has cats!
        I also heard that very sensitive dogs can be traumatized by some types of training, is this true? Believe me i have read and obviously still need to read more and listen well. Maybe i getting to old to learn new
        I know i have along way to go with carly and im training a 7month old as well.. i just want to know im using the correct method so i dont screw them up more…
        Reminds me of raising my kids and questioning every move i made, some choices were good, some were dreadful..

        • Reply Rachel August 2, 2011 at 11:42 am

          From personal experience I would say “yes” some dogs are easily traumatized. My dad was trying to train our new dog, we hadn’t had her very long, and were still getting used to her (our previous dog was, mostly, well trained and the adjustment from familiar well trained dog to new, knows nothing dog was a big one. Shagg tolerated a lot, yelling didn’t phase him (all the guys have loud voices and Shagg grew up with us while we were still learning volume control). Dad caught the new dog stealing a rather large chicken leg off the counter where it was thawing and yelled at her. Shagg would have looked and dropped the chicken (more likely would have left it alone knowing he would get some later).
          Sunshine not only dropped the chicken, she ran and hid under the furniture and I had to get her out. She avoided Dad for the rest of the day, and he spent a lot of time soothing her into trusting him again. Dad hadn’t meant to scare her badly, just startle her into dropping the chicken, but what would barely bother one dog had this one cowering.
          That was the only time he yelled at her like that, it was just the once a couple years ago, and she has long since forgotten. However, had he continued to try training her that way, I think she would very likely be a wreck. Had she ended up in a situation where they tried physical punishment, she would likely have severe behavior problems. I use clicker training, with appropriate punishments (basically a loud “hey” when she is ignoring me) and for her it works great. Other dogs need other methods and I don’t think it hurts to take something from every kind of training. With us she is now quite confident, even pushy, but obeys most basic commands except loose leash walking and lie down.(We are working on those)

  • Reply LouisatheLast August 2, 2011 at 1:01 am

    Actually, to the commenter above…I don’t trim my dog’s nails. Not because I’m lazy or unwilling to train him, but simply because I have bigger issues to work with him on and don’t need to provoke him into hysterics over something like that- he absolutely loathes it. I’m working on training him to “file” them on a sandpaper-coated board so they’re a bit less….talon-like.

    Arthur is my special boy, and a prime example of this sort of thing. He’s a pit bull mix of mystery origin, who I acquired from a neighborhood kid who claimed to have “found” him. Possible, given the rough neighborhood, but he was only about five weeks old. Since I did the things I was supposed to with him (puppy kindergarten, gentle dog park socialization time, visiting stores) and he still turned out to be very uncomfortable with new people and very dog aggressive, I can only assume it’s genetic or possibly a result of being weaned way too young. Whatever it is, I struggle a lot with how much I can expect him to adjust his behavior, and how much I’m just going to have to accept.

    I’ve given up on having him ever interact with strange dogs. My goal is not to make him dog park ready- it’s to make him tolerant enough that other dogs can walk by him without him going berserk. My goal is not to turn him into a Golden Retriever when it comes to strangers in the house, but just to get him civil and trustworthy, and not have to physically wrestle him into his crate when someone unexpectedly knocks on the door. And other than those (admittedly fairly major) problems, he’s a near perfect dog: he’s polite and attentive when it comes to food and asking for attention. He cuddles, he’s gentle and patient with my toy poodle, he tolerates and even sometimes seems to like the cats, and he’s not even a bed hog. He’s also the most genuinely loving dog I’ve ever known, when it comes to his family. Yet I know he fits a lot of people’s definition of a bad dog, because he is most definitely not ever going to be the dog kids can run up to pet when he’s on a walk.

  • Reply Melissa August 2, 2011 at 8:54 am

    I adore the bully breeds, it’s my firm opinion that they are not problematic as a breed but due to irresponsible breeding and ownership get the short end of the stick far too often.
    Take a popular classifieds site. Ads on it, English Bulldogs 1507 last count, Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldogges 68, Staffordshire Terriors 1955, American Pit Bull Terriors 15393 and just for kicks Cardigan Welsh Corgis 2. Craigslist is swamped with them, shelters are swamped with them…. I have met more aggressive labs and goldens then pit types but ‘thanks’ to dog fighter breeders and ‘ OMG LETS MAKE MONEEEEZ’ breeders they are getting the shaft.
    So your dog could very well be an unfortunate by product of bad breeding, but he was lucky enough to find someone who is willing to compromise with him.

    Sorry for the bully rant but it hits a nerve with me.

    Second I WISH more parents would teach their children proper dog manners. My daughter is only 19 months and already knows to stop well back from a strange dog and go ‘pet puppy?’ before putting a hand near them. Even with my two who would rather lick you to death before flipping over to demand belly scratches I’m half tempted to get vests saying.NO TOUCH. Evidently small dogs give people the license to swarm.

    • Reply Brianna August 2, 2011 at 11:24 am

      The small dog thing drives me crazy. Somehow everyone thinks they can just swarm and smother them. My parents have two minature dachsunds and a third almost standard size dachsund. The male standard size adores ALL people and especially kids, will welcome anyone who approaches, and all touching and petting. But, they also have one who is extremely afraid of strange people and will try everything to get away, and the third has a low threshold to being touched and handled and her standard reaction is to nip/bite when that threshhold is exceeded. Luckily, when they walk them and are often assaulted by people and children who think “OMG they are all so cute, I MUST touch them”, they can use Charlie as the shield and sacraficial PR rep, while sheilding the other two.
      Personally, I have a Corgi/JR heinz 57 rescue that loves her family and people she knows, is essentially indifferent/ignores strangers and is therefore, less than thrilled to be sidetracked, or touched by them while out and about. Luckily, she is at least tolerant of any interaction that occurs, but I work to minize the chance. She also has extremely unpredictable reactions to new dogs. Sometimes she loves them and wants to run and play, and sometimes she really can’t stand them at all. There is absolutely no pattern I can dicern in regards to size, or gender, or location that will predict her reaction. She is very happy never interacting with other dogs, so we don’t force the issue. I don’t want to spend my time at the dog park, or god forbid dog parties if she doesn’t.

  • Reply Paula August 3, 2011 at 12:52 am

    I am concerned about all the laws being passed that require dogs to be perfect. Some places will confiscate and destroy your dog if it kills a cat or a rabbit. Not all dogs like all other animals. I sometimes think dog parks are one of the worst ideas ever. Way too many people are not capable of knowing whether their dogs should be thrown loose in an area full of strange ones. I too hate the term “pet parent”. I love my dogs dearly but I am still their owner.

    • Reply KellyK August 3, 2011 at 8:53 am

      I think that if your dog kills somebody’s pet, you need to be held responsible, absolutely, but a dog shouldn’t be destroyed for doing what a dog does. Some dogs have a really strong prey drive, and owners of those dogs need to keep them away from other animals that look like a snack. Personally, I’d be more in favor of fines and restitution (paying any vet bills and the replacement cost of the other person’s pet) the first time something like that happens. After multiple times, it would certainly get to a point where destroying the dog is the only option left, but that should only happen after someone has demonstrated repeatedly that they can’t or won’t control the dog.

  • Reply Jessica August 3, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Excellent post, and wonderful resulting discussion! I can do nothing but echo many of the points already made. Dog ownership is now seen as a “right”, rather than a luxury or privelege (and since very few people actually use their dogs to put food on their table or clothing on their backs, dog ownership is indeed a luxury supported by disposable income)…and dogs are viewed by many in modern society as their “fur-kids”. This means “socializing” at dog parks and parties, and little in the way of discipline because god forbid you hurt the dog’s self-esteem or feelings.

    Dogs are treated like humans and expected to behave like humans, and you’ve got two extremes – the people who put their dogs into human situations (i.e. the puppy party) and expect them to tolerate chaos as a fun-loving human would, and the people who walk on eggshells and refuse to train or restrict their dogs in any way, for fear of intruding on their “doginess”…these are the people who claims crates and even leashes are cruel, and insist on letting their dogs run loose out of some misguided idea that dogs need to “be who they are”…which seems like another form of anthropomorphism.

    To add a tangent topic: as a breeder, I also find myself wondering – is it fair to breed the essence out of a breed in order to make it a better modern companion? Take, for example, the Doberman. A true-to-type Doberman would not be a dog you could take out in public; it would not be a dog anyone other than its owner could touch. Dobe breeders over the decades have bred that temperament out of the Doberman – it is now a regal companion that many would argue is useless for protection work. A true-to-type Pit Bull Terrier is game, prey-driven, and animal aggressive – breeding the aggression out of it (if enough breeders are willing to do so) will probably be the only way to save it.

    Is it worth sacrificing the breed’s very essence in order to save it? In a sense, I think this is worse than simply losing drive, for example, in the quest for more coat or a show-ring attitude. You are taking a Sheltie or a Cane Corso and making it into a generic D.O.G. Only the shell of the breed remains. Is that lacquered vaneer worth it? If you don’t have the basic qualities of that breed, what is the point in having the breed at all?

  • Reply pinget August 5, 2011 at 12:50 am

    Have you read this? It sounds much like what you’ve written.

  • Reply Erin October 9, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    I’m posting this comment way after the fact, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. In terms of breeding animals, to what extent do we consider this new ideal of the perfectly, endlessly tolerant dog to be correct temperament. Meaning, if you have a dog that’s grumpy with other dogs, which the standard doesn’t mention, but does fit the the standard in regards to temperament with people, is that a faulty temperament that shouldn’t be bred? Or is it a personal decision? If I decide the dog has something to offer the breed, but risk passing a dog aggressive/reactive/whatever temperament down, am I hurting my breed by deciding no bc pet people can’t handle the managing of a dog like that? Breeding for a “pet home temperament” is a whole other bag of worms, at least in my breed, where the classic temperament is not really suitable for pet homes anyway.

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