June 22, 2018

Dog Abuse at Summit to Summit


Dear Editor,

I was walking my foster dog on the Summit to Summit fireroad last Friday when we came across a lady with two dogs, one of whom she put on a leash when she saw us. She asked if my dog, who was also on a leash, was friendly and I answered that she usually was, but could occasionally be unpredictable. In fact I am training her to be less reactive to other dogs right now. In any case, we passed without incident except that this lady's leashed dog lunged slightly towards my dog. I did not note any snarling or growling or anything hugely aggressive. There was no contact. She corrected the dog by pulling him back and we all walked on. I thought nothing more of it until I heard her reprimanding her dog. I turned around to see her shoving her dog down to the ground on his back and hitting him repeatedly on the head. I was about five yards past her by then but, in spite of my horror, politely called back to her to 'please not do that'. She answered that I didn't understand, that he had gotten into fights, that she had consulted a "trainer" who had told her she had to "dominate" the dog and punish him for this kind of behavior. I told her that I am a qualified animal behaviorist and that this was terrible advice, and I offered her the correct alternatives, using the contemporary and enlightened methods of positive reinforcement. Sadly she did not want to listen, became very defensive, and walked off.

Firstly, anyone who calls themselves a trainer and advocates that a client beats their dog, does not deserve to be anywhere near animals. Secondly, a client that is foolish enough to follow such misguided 'advice' without doing any of their own research, and then showing no remorse whatsoever for beating their dog, does not deserve to have a dog. I told this lady that her dog will never make the association between lunging at another dog, and being beaten over the head by his owner, his supposedly most trusted person in the world. All this will teach him is that the presence of another dog means he will be beaten. How does this make him learn to tolerate other dogs better? In fact it teaches him the exact opposite, that other dogs are bad news.

What she should have done, is calmly pre-empt and then correct the lunging behavior, get him into a sit, and then PRAISE him for ending the inappropriate behavior and carrying out a suitable alternative. This is the way to start him off learning to be calm around other dogs. It breaks my heart that there are people out there who think beating a defenseless animal over the head is the right way to train them. Do that with the wrong dog and you will get bitten for sure, and it will be your fault. Yet it's the dog who will end up back in the shelter or on the euthanasia table at the vet's, purely because of his owner's ignorance and poor training practices.

The concept of 'dominating' your dog belongs well in the last century. We do not need to have a confrontational or combative relationship with our dogs when it is so simple to teach them appropriate behaviors through positive reinforcement. Trainers who promote this kind of thing are simply uneducated and have absolutely no understanding of the science of behavior. If the lady in question is reading this, please reconsider your actions. What you are doing is animal abuse. Next time I see it I will not be so polite. And please educate yourself. If you have the courage, I will give you a free consultation and show you how to train your dog effectively in a HUMANE way.


Susan Nilson, BA (Hons) London, DipCABT (UK), Companion Animal Behaviour Therapist, http://petpsych.webs.coC