Home > Dog Behavior, Dog Park, Dog Training, Pet Ponderings > Dogs: What do we really want? Control or connection?

Dogs: What do we really want? Control or connection?


Sad Looking Chocolate LabI first saw her, the young Husky, as the dogs and I entered the dog park. She looked sweet and friendly. She waggled her butt as she sidled up to me and asked for a pet. I reached down to pet her when I heard her scream and watched as she ran down the path to my left. At first I was confused. What had just happened? I watched her run, frenetic and scared, and then scream again and run in another direction. Then I got mad. I couldn’t see the shock collar around her neck, but I knew it was there. Someone was shocking her. I looked around the park, trying to identify the idiot shocking his dog and scaring the shit out of her.

I finally saw him standing across the park near the open field. I watched him as he called his dog’s name, and when she didn’t respond, hit the button on the remote in his hand. Immediately after that, I would hear the now familiar scream and watch as his poor dog ran in yet another direction. She was trying to escape he shock and didn’t know how, so she just kept running. She was completely terrified.

I couldn’t help but wonder what he hoped to gain from this experience. Control of his dog? A sense of superiority? A need to feel all-powerful? What was it that made him think shocking his dog was more preferable to using a more positive method of training? Why did he choose to shock his dog for not coming instead of praising her for coming to him?

con·trol (kn-trl)
tr.v. con·trolled, con·trol·ling, con·trols
1. To exercise authoritative or dominating influence over; direct.
2. To adjust to a requirement; regulate.
3. To hold in restraint; check.
4. To reduce or prevent the spread of.

As human beings, I think we often feel the need to be in control. The need to feel like we have a say or an ability to affect an outcome. I know I do. I try to control the outcome of many things in my life. But I know that the control I “think” I have is really more of an illusion of control than real control.

The man shocking his dog thought he was developing control of his dog through use of force. He thought that using a shock would force her to come to him. The reality is that he never had control – from the first shock to the last one. His dog was scared out of her mind and running in fear. She was so scared that she couldn’t even hear him call her name. The control he had was an illusion.

Recently, I read a blog post that addressed The Control Myth we all have when it comes to our dogs. It was written by a certified dog trainer named Michael Baugh. His words were quite powerful and insightful, and even though his post was directed towards other dog trainers, I think we all can take something from it.

At one point in the piece, Michael asks us “What do we want, control or connection?” What a great question. What is it that we want with our dogs? Is it really control we want? Or is it the bond and connection that we crave?

In Michael’s words… “The illusion of control is alluring. But connection, a real bond with another living being – that’s the stuff. That’s the stuff.”

Yes it is.  It is “the stuff” that we all want.

Controlling a dog using force might make one feel powerful and in control at the time, but it never feels good in the long run. It doesn’t increase the bond with your dog. It doesn’t make you feel good about yourself either. It can often leave you feeling guilt and shame.

Control is temporary and fleeting. Connection is something strong and lasting and so much more powerful. It’s what fills us up. It’s what makes us smile when our dogs greet us at the door after a long day at work and it’s what makes us cry when we have to say goodbye to them. It’s what we crave. What we want most in this world.

The question is can we give up our need to control our dogs so we can have the connection we so fiercely desire?

I really hope so, because there is so much more to be gained by building a connection with our dogs than to be gained by control. 

We can achieve great things with our dogs, or we can find greatness in the simple things with them. Even the dogs who seem to be out of control have a place with us. Chodron was speaking about our fellow humans when she wrote, “Be grateful to them; they’re your own special gurus, showing up right on time to keep you honest.” I think we can apply the wisdom here to our dogs as well. Who’s teaching whom? It’s hard to tell. Maybe not knowing makes the joy even greater. The Control Myth by Michael Baugh, CPDT-KA, CDBC

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  1. October 28, 2013 at 7:43 AM

    I’m totally in agreement with this article. The same applies to kids in a way too. I have seen some beautifully behaved fur-kids & non fur-kids but often wondered about their spirit & whether there’s any real connection in the relationship. At least with my mob (fur & non-fur) what you see is who they really are – their hearts and personalities are truly there for all to see…..& yes they don’t always listen to me but they’re very loyal 😉

    • Mel
      October 28, 2013 at 8:39 PM

      How beautiful! I love that you get to see your kid’s hearts and personalities as they are. Yes. I agree it applies to kids too. 🙂

  2. October 28, 2013 at 8:28 AM

    I hate shock collars! It is an misguided way out of training that is cruel. That poor dog had no idea why it was being hurt, and why would he choose to use it at a dog park?
    I doubt I would have stayed silent had I witnessed this at the dog park.
    I can’t even put together a complete train of thought just thinking about what that poor dog was experiencing.

    • Mel
      October 28, 2013 at 8:38 PM

      I couldn’t either Carole. I did say something. I wish I had handled it better, but I did say something to him.

  3. October 28, 2013 at 9:29 AM

    That poor dog. I would have given that idiot a piece of my mind. Connection and understanding are the two best ways to have a relationship with our dogs.

    • Mel
      October 28, 2013 at 8:36 PM

      Agree Roxy. I have found connection with a dog to be so much more powerful and more effective in working with a dog.

  4. October 28, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    I just want to be with Mama! WOoooooowooooooo!

  5. victorialynncarter
    October 28, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    Oi, I’ve never used shock collars or shock “training” (my parents used it once, with an I-fence, after the dog knew the boundaries they turned it off but still had Amber {their dog} wear the collar to trick her into thinking it was on when it wasn’t). I admit my Willow doesn’t have a ‘strong’ recall but she does have a strong ‘touch’ and I almost always have highly desired treats with me; freeze dried USDA approved beef liver bites that we call puppy-crack. All our dogs will do ANYTHING for it. I’m still working with Willow on her recall (using a 12′-16′ lead) but she’s still young and highly independent so she’s never off leash. That and we never ‘train’ at the dog park that is a fun-only-zone.

    • Mel
      October 28, 2013 at 8:35 PM

      I love your approach entirely Victoria. I also love that you make the dog park a fun-only-zone. Willow is so very lucky she has you. I wish more people used leads. They can be so very helpful in working on recall. Jasper has a terrible recall when he sees a jogger or biker. A lead is a wonderful way to work with him too.

      • victorialynncarter
        October 28, 2013 at 9:03 PM

        Our Hankster (also a Sheltie) is the same way! Lol He’s a perfect gentleman off-leash until a jogger or bike passes; so if we know there is a chance of seeing them (which in this town is almost always) he stays on the leash.

      • Mel
        October 28, 2013 at 9:44 PM

        So we’re not the only opens? Good to know! Jasper is like another dog when he sees a jogger or biker. It’s like he doesn’t even hear me. Is Hank the same way?

      • victorialynncarter
        October 28, 2013 at 10:16 PM

        Yes all bets are off if Hank sees a bike or jogger. No our park is not an open park. Although we have been to some. There is an open play/training area behind the park that we occasionally use (when no one else is using it) for training. Typically the only time he’s off leash is in our driveway (supervised otherwise he’s in fenced yard), friends houses, and when we go canoeing. Leashes can be a hazard if we tip and act as weights when soaked plus the possibility of getting tangled or snagged is to risky (Willow is the only one who stays leashed and sits with me in the canoe due to her habit of ‘slipping’ out to go exploring). I’ve got a post (there will be more) of the dogs canoeing with us on my blog.

      • Mel
        October 28, 2013 at 10:47 PM

        Awesome! I want to read all about it! Hank sounds so much like Jasper. I am grateful for the dog parks we have here. I live near two really large ones. The dogs love them both.

  6. jan
    October 28, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    Shock collars may have a use by trained and experienced dog handlers. I’ve read some convincing arguments in using them to teach a dog to avoid poisonous snakes in a short time. But for the casual dog owner it just seems sadistic.

    • Mel
      October 28, 2013 at 8:32 PM

      I agree Jan. I know people are going to use them, but if they are they should seek training on how to properly use them. I suspect this guy had never used one before and I don’t think the dog had ever had one on before.

  7. October 28, 2013 at 2:34 PM

    Mom has come close to getting a shock collar, she says, when Katie was young. She was out of hand and Mom was out of patience, but she could not bring herself to do it. She wanted to get Katie to behave using proper methods. It did take time but she did it. We don’t like those invisible fences either. For one, we don’t care who tells us what, we don’t trust them, and we find them cruel as well. Even if we aren’t perfectly behaved, we are all happy and that is what is most important.

    • Mel
      October 28, 2013 at 8:30 PM

      Your mom is a wise woman Miss Emma. Both you and Katie are lucky to have such a nice mom. (I’m not a fan of the invisible fences either.)

  8. October 28, 2013 at 4:27 PM

    I would have screamed too – at the man who was shocking his dog! I could NEVER stand to hear one of my furkids scream! This is HORRIBLE. Disgusting. That man has issues! He is EVIL.

    • Mel
      October 28, 2013 at 8:29 PM

      I did yell at him Deb. If it is any consolation, I think he felt bad. He actually crouched down and called her to him and comforted her once he realized how scared she was and how much shocking her had frightened her.

  9. October 28, 2013 at 10:48 PM

    Seems more like he was punishing his dog for looking for affection than because she didn’t come when called. I can hear the arguments above for using shock collars to prevent harm to the dog (such as running into the street), but not when to reinforce a desired behaviour like recall!

  10. October 29, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    I really, REALLY like the difference between control and connection distinguished here. I wish this was more widely talked about in training. I think it would be good for people to learn early on that they want to establish a connection and not control. …Though, “control” in laymans terms is what can result from a connection, and is commonly thought to be the desired outcome of training. Now I wonder if this might bog the average person down with too much jargon…

    Anyway… the sentiment is good and useful.

    Also, on a different note, I think people turn to things like shock collars out of ignorance, stupidity or frustration, not necessarily some Machiavellian need to rule or dominate. Maybe for some, sure, but those people would be a cruel minority who shouldn’t own pets.

  11. Jeff Sutherland
    October 29, 2013 at 3:47 PM

    I used a shock collar to train my English Setter and if it is done correctly it is safe and gives the dog more freedom. The problem is many people buy the collar and don’t train the dog correctly. My dog gets excited when I get the collar and make it beep when I turn it on. He knows he is going for a walk. I rarely ever need to use the shock and if I do it is on a very low setting that feels like a poke. I know, I have done it to myself. I primarily use it because I live at the beach and he can get distracted chasing birds and if he is getting far away I first use the beep and if he doesn’t response I quick light shock. He stops and looks back and comes if I call him. My dog essentially can now walk without a leash and he responds to me even when he isn’t wearing the collar. Many people at our local dog park comment on what a friendly well trained dog he is. I have a very close connection with him and feel confident taking him anywhere with or without the collar. I find it to be much more humane than a choke or prong collar and they serve no purpose when the dog is roaming free or if he gets off a leash. The idiot described in this article had no idea what he was doing and he was hurting his dog and endangering his dog. That is no reason to condemn an effective training tool.

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