Disturbing dog training video has me asking what you “see” and “hear”
Have you ever had that experience where what you see and what you hear don’t match up? Like when a sound reel for a movie runs a little bit faster or slower than the person speaking the words on-screen?
Well, recently I came across a video (Note: this video has since been taken down.) that demonstrates a disconnect between what you see and what you hear. The video was posted by someone knowledgeable about animals, but not necessarily knowledgable about dog behavior. It has been making the rounds among dog trainers and dog training circles because it is so deeply concerning and because what is being “said” is not what is being “seen” in the video. Many trainers have encouraged the person who posted it to take it down, but instead she just disabled the comments (and disallowed embedding the video into a blog post).
Those of you who read my blog know that I am a firm believer in the importance of understanding dog body language. This video should be an example to all of us that just because someone presents themselves as an expert does not always make them so. We should always trust our dogs are telling us.
I’ll let you watch the video yourself, but I thought I would take the opportunity to share my observations with you – both what I “saw” and what I “heard”. As always, I welcome your observations. What do you see and hear? Does what the “expert” says match what you are seeing?
First, a few details about the video:
Purpose: To show clients how to keep a dog contained and safe in a fearful situation (in the video fireworks is referenced as one of the situations in which a dog might be difficult to contain).
The “expert”: A holistic veterinarian from Minnesota (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, no animal behavior or dog training certification mentioned on her website)
The dog: A heartworm positive pit bull-type dog who (according to the vet) was found in the areas damaged by the Oklahoma tornadoes. (Dogs who are heartworm positive and being treated for heart worm are supposed to be kept quiet and put under the least amount of stress possible to avoid affecting their already weakened heart.)
Sounds used in the video to trigger the dog into a fearful reaction:
- Banging on sheet metal
- Shotgun blasts
Here is the video: Keeping a Dog Contained and Safe in a Fearful Situation
What I heard from the “expert”:
- We only say “It’s okay” when something is wrong.
- If she were to start to have concern with it, all I would have to do is put her in a sit-stay.
- I am just reinforcing with her that I don’t really care that there’s a loud noise.
- This isn’t mean
- I’m not reacting to it. I’m not showing her that I am reacting to it.
- Insecurity = disrespect
- Comforting a dog reinforces the behavior
- The reason she was reacting there is because I was asking her to sit beside me. I’m not going to let you hide behind me.
- I think the shotgun freaked her out, so that’s good for us to know.
- If you don’t react to the noise it will keep the dog calm.
- It’s kind of funny because now she is looking where the shotgun went off right now. She’s incredibly concerned about the man behind the bush with the shotgun and the more she looks at Winston (giggles), the more worried she is.
- This is how I am going to train them through it. It doesn’t matter if it is a tornado. It doesn’t matter if it is a man behind a scary bush.
- However, if I had a dog that was disrespectful of humans, I am going to put her back in her sit-stay.
- It’s about not babying them.
- If we act like it’s no big deal, yeah a shotgun went off. Whoop-de-do. She will pick up on that vibe and start emulating that.
- We have no control over getting away from the fireworks.
- (Another shotgun blast.) Kind of scares me too, but I’m not feeding that for her.
- If I give her a treat right now I would only be rewarding her for being afraid and that’s what a lot of people do really wrong with treat training
- The only thing I can keep telling her is ‘calm is the answer’
- Sitting and staying meant calm energy next to me
- Every time I am afraid I should sit-stay and my human will take care of me.
- I don’t love seeing her frightened of the shotgun, but I also know how important it is for her to overcome that.
- She is actually calming down more about the noise (as the dog pulls on the leash again and tries to get away from the noise)
- She’s also a dog that is heartworm positive so for her, she has to stay calm (which is why I decided to expose her to shot-gun blasts?)
- That was another shot-gun and she’s doing much better with it (as the dog pants heavily and tries to jerk away again)
What I saw the “expert” do:
- petting the dog after she demonstrated signs of fear (several times)
- pulling the dog forward on the leash despite the dog pulling away from the scary sounds
- kneeing dog to the side to keep her in a sit-stay
- choking the dog with leash by pulling straight up or pulling her to her side (numerous times)
- lifting dog’s paw and pushing her into a “down”
- dragging the dog forward (and towards) the shot-gun sounds using the leash
- jerking the leash and jerking on the dog’s neck very forcefully (several times)
- holding the leash tight around the dog’s neck to prevent her from pulling away from the sound
Behaviors exhibited by the dog:
- pricked ears
- backing up
- pulling back on leash
- turning head and body away from the direction of the noise
- lowered head
- hunched body
- laying on ground and pulling front feet under her or close to her body
- jumping up on “the expert”
- hiding behind “the expert”
- pulling away
- writhing away from the sound and the leash
- ears back
- lip licking
- low tail close to body, slight wag when touched
- jerking away from sound
- jumping up on the “expert”
- pricked ears
- tucked tail (under butt)
- leaning away from the sound
- looking away (multiple times)
- Facing away from the sound and the “expert”
- Jerking away from the “expert” with her whole body, writhing and twisting to get away
- rolling down on the ground
What I saw and what I heard were at complete polar opposites of one another. Despite saying over and over again that remaining calm would keep the dog calm, the “expert” was unable to demonstrate this at any time throughout the video. Instead, the dog exhibited increasing and escalating signs of stress.
I heard the “expert” tell viewers to keep “control” of the dog by making them do a sit-stay, but what I saw was the use of force, via the leash and through the use of her hands, into a sit-stay. Essentially, she forced the dog to endure continued shotgun blasts for the purpose of showing clients how to control a dog during fireworks.
I heard the “expert” stress several times that petting the dog or reassuring her would reinforce the fear and that was a bad thing, yet she did this herself several times throughout the video.
I heard her say towards the end of the video that the dog was heartworm positive and should be kept calm, but the “expert” repeatedly exposed her to loud, scary noises and forcibly made her endure them despite her fighting like crazy to get away. Not exactly a calm situation (for any dog).
What I heard at the beginning of the video was the dog didn’t appear to be fearful of noises, but by the end of the video she demonstrated fear of all of the noises being made, and possibly the man making them from behind the bush. She most certainly will be fearful of loud noises after this 20 minute ordeal.
What I heard was that one needed to be prepared for a dog that was afraid when bringing them to a fireworks show. What I did not hear was the most obvious and logical solution to a dog who is afraid of fireworks – leave the dog at home.
To say this video was disturbing is an understatement. I keep hoping Melissa will take it down, but from what I have heard, she staunchly defends it. All I can say is I am terribly sorry for the dog and for what she was forced to endure. Please, if you decide to take your dog to an “expert” ask about their background and training in dog behavior. No dog should be forced to sit through something like this.
For more information on dog body language, refer to Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide Interpreting the Native Language of the Domestic Dog by Brenda Aloff
For more information on working with fearful dogs, go to FearfulDogs.com.