Home > Dog Behavior, Dog Training > Dog training gone bad. What would you say?

Dog training gone bad. What would you say?

February 21, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Looking back on my early experiences with training dogs, I feel grateful that Caesar Milan wasn’t a household name yet. Even though positive reinforcement wasn’t a widely used term then, I know now that this is exactly what I was using with my dogs, Teaco and Alicia, back then. I taught them all sorts of tricks using positive reinforcement: jump on the bench, jump off, down, sit, come, heel, etc.

It’s the same method I use when training my dogs today. Why? Because I know it works. It’s worked all my life with all of my dogs. Why would I choose a method that to me seems cruel?

This past weekend I happened to be speaking with someone about our dogs and some of the work we are doing to manage our dog’s barking at other dogs along the fence line. During the conversation, she mentioned that she had pinned her female dog down to let her know that she was misbehaving. Ugh! I inwardly (and I am sure outwardly) cringed when she said this. My face had to have relayed my reaction to this news, if not, then my stunned silence must have done so. I wanted to say something to her about using this type of “training” method. I wanted to tell her how wrong this approach iss and the repercussions of using it. I wanted to share with her the scientific data that shows this type of training approach only leads to more aggression in a dog, not less. Submission? A man-made concept to feel oh so powerful over a often smaller and weaker being.

Yes, I wanted to say all of that. Instead, I froze. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to sound like I was lecturing, but I wanted to educate. Instead, I remained silent and then murmured something innocuous and walked away. To say I was disappointed in myself was an understatement. I could have used this moment to educate instead I shut down because I didn’t know quite how to approach the topic without sounding like I was lecturing.

So, I am asking you for help. How would you have handled this issue? How would you have turned the discussion into one that would educate and not lecture? How can I broach the topic with her again? I welcome all your thoughts and ideas.

  1. February 21, 2012 at 8:12 AM

    It’s sometimes hard to speak your mind without sounding b*tchy. Sometimes I will say something like, “Really? And how did you find that works for you? I’ve been using this method with my dog and she seems to be responding very well.” Or “Have you heard about positive reinforcement, I find it to be very effective with my dogs.”

    To broach the subject again I might say, “You know, I’ve been thinking about that conversation we had the other day and I was thinking this method I’ve been using might be beneficial to you in terms of helping your dog.”

    Once you’ve opened the topic you can share with her some of your resources. If you have a book you could offer to loan it to her.

    Good luck, it’s a touchy one. :-)

  2. Jen
    February 21, 2012 at 9:58 AM

    Depending on the setting, and the person who says such a thing, I can’t control what flies out of my mouth. “That’s a great way to get bitten” immediately springs to mind. A more PC one is “Most professional dog trainers have abandoned that method as damaging to the trust of the dog.”

    Or, even more constructively than just my knee jerk outrage (and as Jodi Stone suggests), you could say something like “Oh, I had a barking problem too for a little while. We decided to….” and outline a positive method (i.e., we anticipated what the dog would bark at and distracted before barking started, we trained an incompatible behavior, etc.)

    It’s hard not to immediately say “No, you’re doing it wrong”, and it’s SO MUCH HARDER to say “you’re doing it wrong” politely and sensitively, while suggesting what might be more correct. At least now that your neighbor has brought it up, the next time you can be like “You know, I thought of your barking the other day (no, I didn’t hear them) and thought maybe I’d suggest something, if you want to hear it?”

  3. February 21, 2012 at 12:13 PM

    Great post again, I know that frustrating feeling ! Nobody likes a lecture. If you try open open questions like: “Interesting, How do you think it helps?”, “What exact improvements did you notice”, sometimes, only sometimes, it gives you an opening when the other person is honest and open.

  4. February 21, 2012 at 12:36 PM

    I usually try to speak from the heart and try to relate my response to a personal story. I might have responded with a story about how our old vet recommended that kind of training technique, but what really changed my dog’s behavior was when we discovered positive training. I would probably talk about how it really built up my relationship with Kol and how it worked so much faster and more consistently. I might tell her how I was so glad someone had shared the information with me all those years ago because I would never have imagined that most modern trainers consider the method dangerous. I’ve just found that the people I’ve met are more comfortable with the information in an anecdotal format than when I become an “infomercial”, so to speak.

  5. February 21, 2012 at 1:29 PM

    I think a lot depends on your relationship with the person you’re talking to. With a casual acquaintance/random neighbor, I think I’d ask (in an incredulous tone) “Did that work?” and follow up with a statement that my dogs think that kind of action is part of play and it only makes them more riled up.
    (As a note, I don’t think we’ve ever purposely rolled our dogs, even in play, though they roll each other all the time. Still they sometimes end up on their backs when playing with us, which usually results in belly rubs.)

  6. February 21, 2012 at 2:52 PM

    As someone who hates hates hates unsolicited advice, I probably wouldn’t have said much either. When I am told by someone, even well-meaning people, that I am doing it wrong, it tends to make me angry and I stop listening. Unless I ask for it, I don’t like hearing it. So I try very hard not to dish out any of my own. Unless a friend or stranger asks, I probably won’t say much.

    However, I think the above people have given some great suggesstions! If you come from a place of sympathy – “Yikes, that sucks, did you find pinning her down helped?” – the other person will be a lot more receptive. You could potentially even get them to ask you directly what you would do in that scenario. You could say something like “Ugh, I totally had that problem too. But I found this awesome book on how to work with my dog and it helped a lot. Would you like to read it?” You never know, she may be thrilled to hear there are other options!

  7. February 21, 2012 at 6:38 PM

    I guess because your remark about the issue of dogs barking at each other through the fence solicited something this person thought would be helpful, it gives you an opportunity to discuss such treatment and what you found out about it in terms of the bond with the dog, the long term effects.

    If you don’t want to get that specific you can talk about the positive relationship you want to establish with your dog and how you’ve discovered recent science, or experts or however you feel comfortable describing this, showing how to handle dogs in ways that do not damage the dog’s trust in you.

    Sometimes when you are unprepared/taken aback/shocked by what someone says, you may be better off just asking questions as (Leo) Kenzo_HW suggested: How did that help – how did the dog react to you, did you feel like you humiliated the dog – did the dog do it again the next day? Then you’ve set yourself up to come back with helpful information to continue the conversation.

  8. February 21, 2012 at 10:15 PM

    I agree, I think a lot of how you approach it depends on your relationship with that person, and that person’s personality. Some people respond to friendly, non threatening suggestions, some to humor and some to straightforward talk. You might just need to plant the seed of the idea for it to take root without getting really preachy with her. Even if she doesn’t seem terribly receptive, it might be something she mulls over later.

  9. February 21, 2012 at 10:28 PM

    I would have done the same thing, unless I knew the person well enough to share that I have used an alpha rollover and found it didn’t work and how I don’t use it anymore. And I think it would be the only way I could approach it. Some wouldn’t hear you no matter how you brought it across. But I agree with everyone, it would depend on the nature of the relationship.

  10. Dr Vadim Chelom
    February 21, 2012 at 10:40 PM

    Nice post. I agree, it’s a tragedy that so many people get their ideas about dog training from that crazy ‘Dog Whisperer’.

  11. Mel
    February 21, 2012 at 11:45 PM

    My thanks to all of you! Seriously. Every one of you gave me great advice and gave me some terrific ideas I can use next time and with this same person when I get the chance. Now I just have to find the opportunity to broach the subject again.

    Leo – Agreed. No one likes a lecture. I think that’s why I was stuck. I really didn’t want to lecture her.

  12. February 22, 2012 at 7:24 AM

    You got some great advice Mel and I could not add anything there. I just wanted to share the perspective of someone who didn’t know better from the beginning.

    I’ve always wanted to do what was best for my dogs. I just never quite knew what that was. Even though choke collars or rolling a dog never felt right to me, I have spent many hours insisting my dogs follow me through door ways or wait to eat until after I do (part of the same submission/dominance school of thought).

    When I read Suzanne Clothier’s Bones Would Rain From the Sky, I experienced a real breakthrough. For the first time, I considered what the world looks like to a dog instead of to me.

    Your neighbor is trying to do the best by her dog. And you were very kind to her by walking away because you didn’t know what to say. That was probably the smartest thing you could have done. When you open the conversation with her again, you might be able to facilitate her breakthrough to a new way of understanding her dog. Good luck. And thanks for facilitating such a great conversation.

  13. February 22, 2012 at 6:02 PM

    When we first got Cali, the first book my hubby and I read was by ‘The Monks of New Skete’ and it was primarily about becoming the pack leader (neither of us had any idea what we were doing!). Luckily, it never felt right to either of us, and the next book we got was ‘Don’t Shoot the Dog’ by Karen Pryor!

    I think most of the time people are doing what they think is right. I’m sure I would have responded the same way you did (and believe me, I am terrible at hiding my emotions – just ask my husband . .he says I could never be a poker player!).

    You have received so much great advice – you have some amazing followers!!

  14. February 23, 2012 at 2:41 AM

    I think it’s a lot in how the “lecture” is introduced. I’d start with asking whether it worked. Then follow with things like “have you ever heard of…?” or “did you ever try …?” or “we have tried so and so…”, or “we had very good results with …”

    I think the main reason why “lecturing” doesn’t work is because if often introduced by judgment. By the time one would get to offering an alternative the listener is not listening any more. I think that offering an alternative without passing judgement might allow the listener to make their own judgement. And the chance they’ll be listening are higher.

  15. JJ
    February 23, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    Neurologically speaking, when an animal is pinned like that it is not offering submission, but preparing to die. Hold a baby’s arms still long enough, and after an initial – and likely intense – struggle, his breathing will slow, his dilated pupils will contract, and he will appear “calm and submissive”. Unfortunately, his brain will be shutting down, having realized that it can’t escape from whatever predator is trying to kill it.
    I just tell people the truth – calmly – when they talk about alpha rolls. I mean, whatever training method you use with your dogs is on you, but I like people to at least consider that, when using those methods, their dog is not viewing them as the alpha but as a predator to be monitored and feared.

    • Mel
      February 24, 2012 at 7:22 AM

      Really great point JJ. Kind of gives people a visual so they can’t just ignore it. Thank you for sharing this.

  16. JS
    February 23, 2012 at 12:50 PM

    The question I always want to ask of people who favor this approach wouldn’t be terribly civil or useful — “Do you see dogs as companions, or as subservient beasts that you keep in your home for some weird reason?” People who raise children this way get accused of child abuse. People who train dogs this way (well, that one guy on TV) get hailed as powerful leaders.

    So it’s a good thing other folks offered better replies.

    • Mel
      February 24, 2012 at 7:22 AM

      Amen Jen. You and I are on the same opage. I did get some really great advice, but I am in agreement with you. In fact, I hope you don’t mind, but I used part of your quote to respond to someone who commented on another post about how I was misleading folks and use of aversives was fine as long as you know what you are doing. I disagree.

  17. February 24, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    I say, “Lucky you didn’t get bitten.” And then think…”And if you had it was your own fault.”

  18. February 26, 2012 at 6:38 PM

    wow, this was a great post and a great discussion. the advice already given is far better than anything i could offer, because i still don’t know how not to let my emotions get the better of me on this topic. i would have done exactly what you did in that situation and just not said anything pretty much out of shock.

    i have a friend who subscribes to quite a bit of old-school thinking and says things like, “it’s just a dog.” yet she has one adult dog and just got a puppy. i don’t even understand why she would want any dog, let alone two.

    i wish i could figure out a way to show her another side of things.

  19. March 4, 2012 at 12:10 PM

    Really great post, truly very helpful advice. I will try to visit to blog again because i am busy today, thanks for the share.

  20. March 9, 2012 at 7:19 PM

    Ignorance must always be challenged. For some it’s easy to do it right away, maybe you are the type of person that needs to rehearse, research and prepare. For me, I never let those things slide.

    • Mel
      March 9, 2012 at 11:10 PM

      Thanks. I agree. I’m not usually one to shy away from saying anything, but sometimes when it’s a neighbor you have to be careful how you approach topics like this so you don’t create a worse problem. I wanted to be thoughtful about my approach, something I am not always good at when speaking with people about dog training.

  1. February 25, 2012 at 12:40 PM

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