Turn Your Dog Into a Supermodel

April 16, 2018

Sierra park purple flowers for blogIf you’ve followed me for any length of time, you’ve probably seen tons of images of my dogs Sierra and Bodhi. The thing is, neither of them particularly liked having their photo taken when they were first adopted. Sierra in particular did not like that giant eye pointing in her direction! That was unfortunate, because I greatly enjoy photography and not only do I love Sierra like crazy, but I find her a beautiful subject. And so, my first task was to get her over her discomfort with the camera.

If you’ve ever done clicker training, you’re already familiar with the concept of click-and-treat. It’s simple conditioning, with the dog associating the sound of the click with something super yummy, so that the dog works to earn a click. In this case, the camera shutter delivered the click. I started with the camera in my lap, with each click followed by a small piece of hot dog for Sierra. I gradually worked up to holding the camera up to my face, clicking, and treating. Over time, Sierra got comfortable being photographed. Still, tolerating a camera is not the same as modeling. Since we’d all love to take great photos of our dogs, I’d like to share a few tips. I’ll assume that you know the basics of using your camera. (If not, there are some great tutorials online.)

1. Just as human models need to have posing skills, so do dogs. At minimum, your dog should have a solid stay. Ideally, she should stay on cue whether she is sitting, standing, or lying down. But keep in mind that just because your dog performs well in the house, that doesn’t mean she’ll remain in position on a hillside at a busy park around passersby. Build up gradually to stays with distractions.

2. Another useful skill is attention. Photos of dogs gazing off into the distance can be quite beautiful, but you’ll also want to have images of your dog looking at you. Normally, a dog’s name is used as the attention cue. If your dog is not trained to look at you when asked, and calling her name doesn’t work, try using interesting sounds to get her attention. You can actually purchase duck calls and other noisemakers online, but it’s easy enough to make your own mouth sounds. I’ve personally perfected the sound of a cat meowing, but I’ve also used a sharp intake of breath, blowing a raspberry, and even, “Want to go for a drive?” Experiment to see what works for your dog, but don’t use the attention-getter until you’re in position with your camera settings correct, and don’t overuse the sound. Variety is key if you’re going to take more than a few shots.

3. Get down on your dog’s level. Photographing your dog while you’re standing could still yield a cute image, but try sitting on the ground or even lying on your belly instead. You’ll see a huge improvement. (I do, however, sometimes like to shoot down on small dogs who are looking up at me. Cuteness overload!) To make it easier on yourself physically, you could also position your dog on a slight hill or tabletop.

4. Don’t ever put your dog in danger! I would never, for example, pose Sierra off-leash near a busy road, no matter how beautiful the background was or how much I’d love a shot of her there. If you’ve got someone you can bring along, have that person hold your dog on leash while you take the photo. Use a thin leash, and tell your helper to hold it up and away from your dog on a diagonal. That way it will be easier to remove later on in a program such as Photoshop or Elements.

5. Don’t forget to pay your model! I normally show Sierra where I want her to stand, turn her collar so her tags don’t show, take the photo, and then go back and shower her with praise and hot dog bits. No wonder she tolerates me. Just be sure the experience is fun for your dogs. Bodhi, for example, is happy to model all day long, but I know that Sierra only enjoys it for short periods, so we keep her sessions much shorter. Don’t get frustrated if your dog isn’t listening or the images aren’t turning out the way you’d like. There’s always another day. With practice and persistence, you’ll soon be getting great keepsake images of your dogs.

I’d love to see some of the images you’ve taken of your own dogs!
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You can find my books (including my latest, Keeping the Peace: A Guide to Solving Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home) and seminar DVDs here. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter, and check out my artwork here.

 

 

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Rewarding Bad Behavior

April 10, 2018

Sierra spies somethingEvery dog trainer would like for their dogs to be compliant 100% of the time. I mean, we’re trainers, right? But dogs are not robots, and although a dog might listen 99% of the time, there is always that 1% that keeps trainers humble and reminds us that nothing in life is 100% guaranteed. Sierra, for example, is very well trained. Because of all the training we did early on and that we still practice, I often have her off-leash at our local park early in the mornings. As we walk the trails and remote areas, I am able to call her away from any fellow walkers we encounter, whether they have a dog with them or not. I can even recall her mid-chase from a bunny or squirrel (and yes, that took a ton of work). However…let me share the story of this morning’s walk with you. I had Sierra at the park bright and early, and after we’d finished our normal route, we headed toward the dog park that’s set in one corner of the larger park. I normally let her into the small dog side when her buddies are on the big dog side, since they enjoy racing along the fenceline together. When we were halfway across the grassy area leading to the dog park, after ascertaining that no one else was in sight, I let Sierra off leash. She started to race happily toward the park.

Just then, a man walking his Lab came down the hill that runs alongside the park. Now, this particular man is someone I used to be friendly with, until it became apparent that he had anger issues, as well as believing that not only is he an expert in dog behavior, but that it’s his job to tell everyone else what they’re doing wrong. Unfortunately, his knowledge is in inverse proportion to the amount of advice he gives. Nevertheless, Sierra loves this guy. Any time she’s run up to him in the past, he’s given her treats (the crappy quality yummy ones I don’t let her have at home) and petting. But nowadays, I really don’t want her near him. And so, when she spied him at a distance this morning and froze, I told her calmly from a few feet away, “Sierra, stay.” Instead, she took a few steps toward him. Then she began to run. Stern Mom voice: “Sierra, no!” Nothing. Now she was really running. Happy voice: “Sierra, come!” Nope. Nada. Zilch. Nothing I did worked. This was not good. Here was my well-trained dog, racing away from me at top speed toward something she wanted. The man, of course, saw and heard the whole thing. When she reached him, did he, with his infinite dog training wisdom, ignore her and withhold treats and petting so as to teach her that she got nothing when she disobeyed her owner? Nope. He gave her plenty of treats, petting, and praise. Great! So now, not only had she not listened to me, but she’d been rewarded for it as well.

Obviously, I’ll be more careful in the future about having her off-leash in that particular area, and we’ll be doing some remedial recall-with-distractions training. But it made me think about all the times dogs inadvertently get rewarded for bad behavior. For example, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been at a client’s home, sitting across the kitchen table listening to them tell me how they don’t want their dog jumping or climbing on them. And yet, during the conversation, any time the dog puts their paws up on the person’s lap for attention, they absentmindedly stroke the dog while chatting. Score! Why would the dog ever stop?

Whether or not to reward a dog can sometimes be tricky. Back in the day when we had Soko, our German Shepherd, I was awakened early one morning by her barking—only it wasn’t coming from our house, but from the neighbor’s house across the way. Apparently, she’d scaled our six-foot chain link fence and had run down our hill, across the dirt path, and over to the neighboring property. I grabbed some treats, walked outside in my pajamas, and in the happiest sleepy recall voice I could manage, said, “Soko, come!” She began to run to me. “Soko,” I continued in my happy voice, “You little brat, I can’t believe you did that, what a stinker you are!” It really didn’t matter what I was saying; it sounded happy. And when she reached me, I did give her treats and got her back inside. Was I rewarding her running off by giving her treats? No. I was rewarding the fact that she came when I called her.

It’s pretty simple: dogs do what works for them. If they’re rewarded for something, it improves the chances that they’ll do it again. If they’re not rewarded, or are punished (we’re talking behavioral consequences here, not physical punishment), chances decrease that they’ll repeat the behavior (unless the behavior itself is inherently rewarding, as things like digging can be). But dogs are living beings, and stuff happens. And so, we train, train, and train some more. We try to be vigilant, and to learn from our mistakes. And if our dogs’ behavior improves, there’s our reward.
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You can find my books, seminar DVDs and more, including my latest, “Keeping the Peace” A Guide to Solving Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home” at www.nicolewilde.com.


Your Dogs and the Green-Eyed Monster

April 2, 2018

jealousyJealousy. We’ve all experienced it. The “green-eyed monster” is petty, unpleasant, and something that most of us would prefer to avoid. But what about when the ones feeling jealous are our dogs? Some scientists still believe that dogs don’t experience emotions such as jealousy, but any dog owner could tell you different. When we first brought Bodhi home from the shelter, there were most definitely jealousy issues between he and Sierra over our affections. When Sierra was on her back having her tummy rubbed, Bodhi would clumsily stomp over and actually walk on the poor girl, trying to get in on the action. As you might imagine, this did not go over well. I had to come up with a solution.

I came up with different solutions to the jealousy issue depending on the situation. I’ll share the one that allows Sierra to have her tummy rubbed and Bodhi to jump on the affection train without derailing it. I’ve described it in my new book Keeping the Peace: A Guide to Solving Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home. Here’s an excerpt:

My solution was to train Bodhi to perform an alternate behavior. I taught him that if I was petting Sierra and he wanted affection too, his job was to approach and, instead of steamrolling over her, to lie down on the other side of me and wait. This effectively positioned me between the dogs and kept them from interacting with each other. It allowed Sierra to feel assured that Bodhi would not be stepping on her, and that she would not lose my attention. Nowadays, whenever I’m giving Sierra a tummy rub and Bodhi wants in on the action, he comes running over and immediately lies down next to me. He has, on his own, added the follow-up of rolling over on his back to make getting to his tummy that much easier. (He’s such a thoughtful boy.) I can then give both dogs affection at the same time or, if I choose, I can finish rubbing Sierra’s tummy and then turn my attention to Bodhi. And if Bodhi forgets his manners every now and then and Sierra snarks at him, I let her. There is nothing wrong with allowing her to remind Bodhi that pushiness is impolite.

 Of course, I realize that sounds simpler on paper than it might be in practice. Assuming your dog understands the cues to lie down and to stay, it’s pretty simple to teach. The reward, by the way, is not a treat, but affection. In case you might find it helpful, here’s another excerpt that describes how to teach it:

Now, maybe this technique sounds promising but you can’t imagine your dogs having the self-discipline to carry it out. Perhaps one of your dogs is even more Bodhi-like in his pushiness, or the situation is more intense in your home. In that case, begin by tethering the pushy dog to a furniture leg or other sturdy object. Have treats on hand. Ask the non-tethered dog to lie down nearby. Then ask the pushy dog to lie down. Pet the non-tethered dog. As you are petting, periodically toss treats to the pushy dog so long as he remains in a lying position. You are accomplishing two things at once: teaching the pushy dog that lying down nearby while you pet the other dog is not only okay but results in being rewarded, and showing the dog who is being petted that it is okay for the other dog to be nearby. Over time, as your pushy dog learns to lie calmly as you pet the other dog, switch the reward from treats to petting. When you feel that it is safe, do the exercise without the tether.

 So, there you have it. This particular technique is easy, and just takes a bit of time and practice until the behavior becomes habitual. Try it and let me know how it goes in your home!
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Thanks for reading! You can find my books, DVDs and blog here, and my artwork here.

 

 

 


Do Some Rescues Need to be Rescued?

March 22, 2018

Pug stare at cameraThe woman on the other end of this morning’s phone call was distraught about her dog and in need of help. This was not unusual. That her dog was behaving aggressively was not unusual, either. When she told me her large purebred dog’s breed, I asked whether she had by chance gotten the dog from a particular local rescue group. Sure enough, she had. It was all I could do not to utter the expletives that came to mind. Why had I suspected that the dog might have come from that rescue? Because over the years, I have had countless calls from owners who adopted from them, and over 90 percent of those dogs had aggression issues.

This gets my hackles up. Having been involved in rescue for over 20 years, I understand what it takes to run one. For years I co-ran a rescue for wolves and wolfdog mixes. Granted, it was a bit different because many of the dogs could not be adopted out. However, before that, I worked for a low-kill rescue organization, as well as volunteering (and then volunteer coordinating) for years at a Los Angeles city shelter. I networked with many groups, got very involved in and helped out others, and understand the ins and outs of rescue. I’ve seen the best and the worst of what can happen. And I’m here to say that the “worst” doesn’t have to be this way.

We all want to save dogs. But the sad truth is that not all dogs are adoptable. If a dog is behaviorally so unsound as to be a potential danger, a rescue has no business adopting that dog into a home with an unsuspecting owner who may (or whose kids may) be injured by that dog. Even if a dog has “workable” aggression issues, the screening process for a qualified home had better be very thorough. Years ago, I visited the home of a disabled woman who had adopted a large breed dog from a rescue that dealt only in that breed. The woman had a “helper” who was a friend that came by daily. However, this well-meaning friend had some mental challenges and was not able to truly take responsibility for helping with the dog. This 90-pound dog very calmly sat down in front of me, took my forearm in his mouth, and stared at me as he began to bite down with increasing pressure. It was strange and unsettling. I was not harmed, but given this and other behaviors I observed, it was obvious this was not the right dog for this home (or possibly any home). Although this was a different rescue group than the aforementioned one, I had also seen quite a few aggressive dogs come through that organization over the years.

Most rescue groups bail dogs out of shelters where they would otherwise be euthanized. This is laudable, but what then? Some have a network of foster homes where a dog can settle in and his behavior can be properly observed. If there are other pets in the home, it may be possible to find out whether the dog gets along with other dogs and even cats. If there are children present, the dog’s behavior around children can be assessed as well. All of this is the best-case scenario. Unfortunately, some groups simply get dogs from shelters and then, with no temperament testing at all, put them up for adoption. Can you guess the effect this might have on the return rate, not to mention the chance of harm to adopters? And what about the dog’s health? How can anything be known if the dog has just come out of a shelter?

The organization I used to work for had an adoption form that some joked was as lengthy and detailed as a college application. And you know what? It was, and that was fine. It automatically screened out those who weren’t committed enough to take the time to fill it out, and it told us a lot about the potential adopters. I’m not suggesting that an overly difficult, long, or judgmental adoption process is the goal. It’s not. But some groups I’ve encountered (rescue groups, not shelters) have absolutely no adoption application at all, nor do they take the time to so much as have an in-depth conversation to judge whether the home might be appropriate. There should be a happy medium.

Then there are home checks. Over the years, I have seen people write on applications that they lived on a ranch with acreage, when in reality they lived in a studio apartment. While I would like to think that most potential adopters are honest, the sad truth is that some people will lie to get what they want. A home check should be a part of every adoption, not only to ensure that the dog will have adequate living conditions, but to see whether anything needs to be fixed or changed before the dog arrives. Owners often miss things like the fact that an unfenced pool area can mean death for a dog who’s never encountered one before, or that the garbage bin that’s sitting against the backyard fence is a great stepping-stone for a dog to jump over and out. Fencing, kids’ toys that could be ingested, and other safety concerns are things that must be surveyed first-hand.  Again, to clarify, I am not talking about city or county shelters here, but rescue organizations that have the time and resources to do this. And the idea is not to judge whether anyone is “good enough” for the dog, but to help them repair what’s repairable in order to make the environment safe for the dog, and if it can’t be made safe, to prevent possible tragedy.

Rescuing dogs is hard. It’s more difficult physically, mentally, and emotionally than non-rescuers will ever know. It can be extremely rewarding, of course, but it can also be heart-wrenching. My hat is off to rescuers everywhere, truly. But if an organization is going to rescue, there needs to be ethics and oversight in place. Simply bailing dogs out of a shelter, putting them directly into homes with no regard to health or temperament, charging way-over-average, exorbitant rates and then boasting about how many dogs you have adopted out is NOT ethical rescue. Does an adoption process have to be overly long and complicated? No, and it shouldn’t. But taking the time and making the effort to place dogs in well-matched, loving homes will ensure that the dogs stay in those homes. And really, shouldn’t that be what it’s all about?
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Keeping the Peace cover for website 3On a happier note, my new book “Keeping the Peace: A Guide to Solving Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home” will be out next week! Click here to pre-order, to view the Table of Contents, and to read the complete Introduction.


The Tipping Point

February 26, 2018

husky attacksAt the dog park this morning, my dogs and I were on the “small dog side,” as it was empty and there were two dogs on the “big dog side.” I was happy to see the gentleman and his two dogs, as our dogs like to run the fence together. They’re all friendly, and everyone gets exercise. It’s all good. But five minutes into the festivities, a couple showed up with a dog I’d never seen before, and entered the big dog side. Apparently the two dogs in that space had never seen the dog before either, and ran over to him. The new dog and one of the two began to get very stiff-legged. Hackles were raised. Growls were heard. Suddenly the air was thick with tension. “Ziggy,” warned the owner of the two dogs, “Be nice.” Ziggy got even more aroused. “Come on, Ziggy” he cautioned again, his voice even more tense. Fortunately, the dogs did not fight, and after a few more moments, they separated.

Every dog owner is familiar with that tense moment when two dogs are aroused and may or may not fight. You can feel the tension coming off the dogs in waves, and it is almost impossible not to be stressed yourself. But what an owner does in that moment can affect whether the dogs will explode into violence or not. It’s a common response to do exactly what Ziggy’s owner did, to admonish the dog in a stern, warning voice. And for some dogs, it may work. Unfortunately, for many, it only adds to the unease. Although it might seem counterintuitive, calling your dog’s name in a high, happy voice can be the better option. If you’ve conditioned your dog through training that his name is his cue to look at you, although the situation is worrisome, you can still get his attention. You can then call him to you, thereby averting a full-blown fight. EDIT: I am adding in this edit after someone brought up the important point that there could be a possibility, once your dog was called away, of the other dog attacking from behind. Clearly this is a judgement call that the owner must make. In my mind, the situation had not yet gotten to that point, but it does bear mentioning to use caution and assess the situation carefully.

The same type of scenario often happens when two dogs meet on leash. Many owners are not savvy in the language of Dog, and don’t realize that the dog they are bringing their dog over to meet is not friendly. Very quickly, the dogs are nose to nose with rigid bodies, tails held high and waving stiffly, hard staring at each other. Here we have not only two dogs who are already tense, but there is the factor of the tight leashes, which adds even more pressure to the situation. There is a tipping point that is being approached: will the dogs go past it and fight, or will the moment pass peacefully? Again, what the owner does at that moment can make all the difference. Tightening the leash even more, which is often the knee-jerk reaction for we humans, can make things worse. If the dog has been trained to give attention at hearing his name and to do a “walk-away,” meaning he follows the owner away from something, the incident can end peacefully. Or, the owner could simply call the dog’s name in a high, happy voice, followed by, “Come!” I’m not suggesting that these tactics will work in every situation; they won’t, if tension levels have already escalated past a certain point. Once a dog is over threshold—past the tipping point—he’s not capable of mentally processing those verbal cues, any more than a person is who is involved in a raging argument would respond if you walked up and asked for the time. Emotion has taken over, and it’s too late for coherently processing thought.

Just think how wonderful it would be if everyone trained their dog in simple things like attention (look at me when your name is called), the recall (come when called), and walk-aways. It’s really not difficult, and there are plenty of resources out there (including the Train Your Dog: The Positive, Gentle Method DVD). And what about having early education on canine body language in schools? It’s estimated that almost half the homes in the U.S. have dogs. The majority of dog bites happen to children, who haven’t been taught not to do things that cause dogs to become defensive. But I digress. The point is, if your dog is involved in one of those moments where things are looking dicey and could go either way, don’t add to the tension. Flip the script and call your dog’s name in an attention-getting, happy voice instead. You might be surprised at how well it works.
Keeping the Peace cover for web newest
Speaking of aggression issues, pre-orders are rolling in for my upcoming book “Keeping the Peace: A Guide to Solving Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home.” Clearly, this is an important issue to trainers, owners, rescue workers, shelters, and more. Publication is scheduled for April, although I’m hoping it will be sooner! You can pre-order as well as read the full Introduction and Table of Contents here.

 

 

 

 


Is it Always the Owner’s Fault?

February 22, 2018

There’s dog on leash pixabay smalla man I walk around the park with sometimes early in the mornings when I have one of my dogs with me. I’ve known this man since before he ever got a dog, and was familiar with his philosophy about dog behavior. It goes something like this: Every dog is fixable if the person knows what they’re doing. I’ve tried to tell him in the past that not every dog is stable temperamentally, but not only would he not listen, he’d tell me I was being way too careful and overprotective with Sierra around unfamiliar dogs. I should let her go right up and meet all of them. Umm….okay. Luckily for him, he ended up getting the easiest, sweetest Lab in the world. The dog is friendly with other dogs but doesn’t get in their faces. In other words, an easy dog. Good for him.

We were having a perfectly nice walk this morning, discussing the Olympics, the rocket launch, and other innocuous subjects. I had Sierra off leash, as we walk very early and when there are no dogs in the area, she’s free to romp around. I saw another dog coming, and put her on leash. After we passed the woman and her dog, this conversation happened:

Him: You know, Sierra’s never going to be good with other dogs if you don’t let her go up to them.

Me: She is good with other dogs. I just don’t let her run up to dogs she doesn’t know.

Him: Why? When I first got my dog, he wasn’t always good with other dogs. You know that lady with the pit bull? I saw her one morning and her dog was on leash. I asked if the dogs could play. She said she didn’t know if her dog was friendly, but okay, she’d let him off the leash. (Insert cringe here.) The dogs sniffed each other and then they were fine.

Me: Lucky for everyone!

Him: And you know that one guy with the big dog that you always say is really aggressive? I saw him one morning and both of our dogs were on leash. He moved off the path to let me pass and I asked if I could bring my dog up to his. He said no and I asked why, and he said he knows what he’s got, his dog is not friendly with other dogs.

Me: Well good for him! He was being a responsible owner.

Him: No! It’s his fault the dog is that way. It’s always the person’s fault. The only way that dog is going to get better is if he takes him up to meet other dogs. You could give me Sierra for a day and I could take her up to any dog.

Me: (trying to stay calm and civil) Okay, let’s not get personal. So you’re saying I could give you any dog, any dog at all, and you could get him to be okay with other dogs.

Him: Yes! Yes! From everything I’ve read and watched, it’s always the person’s fault.

I’ll spare you the rest of the conversation. Suffice it to say that this man has a very hot temper and although I remained polite and calm, he worked himself into a frenzy that ended with saying that I clearly thought he was an irresponsible owner. Well, if you really want to know, yes. I do. It’s ignorant to believe that you or anyone else can “fix” every dog’s aggression issues. Yes, you can absolutely work with dog-aggressive dogs and get them to tolerate or even be friendly with other dogs. In my professional career, I’ve helped hundreds of owners to rehab dogs like that. But to blame it all on the owner? Where does that come from, do you think? Could it be television shows that purport, in 30 minutes or less, to completely change the temperament of a very dog-aggressive dog, working with the dog away from the owner, and then blame every bad behavior on the owner? Those shows might make for good drama, but they’re not doing anyone any favors.

I really try to avoid arguments about dog behavior. There’s just no point. I will absolutely have a civil conversation with anyone about it, regardless if their opinions are different than mine. But trying to gently educate someone, given the amount of misinformation out there, can be frustrating. For the record, there are dangerous dogs out there. Sure, owners contribute to some problem behaviors in dogs, absolutely. But are they completely responsible for a dog’s issues? No. Telling an owner whose dog had to be euthanized because he was flat-out dangerously aggressive that it was her fault would be cruel and untruthful. Let’s stop blaming owners for everything, open our minds, and work together to rehabilitate the dogs.
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Speaking of aggressive dogs, my latest book “Keeping the Peace: A Guide to Solving Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home” is now available for pre-order! Click here to read the full Introduction, view the Table of Contents, and pre-order. Books should be out in April!Keeping the Peace cover for web newest

 


Why No Warning?

December 26, 2017

I love scared german shepherd pixabay smallmovies. In a world where there’s all too much to be stressed out about, and too much work to be done at any given time, movies offer a wonderful escape. Besides, I just plain enjoy watching a great film.  However! If there’s a dog in the movie—it doesn’t need to be in bad shape, or stray, or sick, mind you, just a happy, friendly family dog—I spend the entire film worrying about whether something is going to happen to the dog. If it’s a suspense film, that goes double.

My husband and I are a Netflix-loving couple. This past Saturday night, we settled in to watch our latest choice, Wind River. The trailers we’d seen showed a gritty drama with good acting and an intriguing story. We were both looking forward to it. After a brief, dreamy opening montage featuring a young woman running across a lake as credits rolled, a stark opening scene appeared: three beautiful coyotes stood at a distance from a herd of cattle. A man with a rifle crouched in the bushes. Before I could say, “Oh, crap,” the man had shot one of the coyotes. There was then an immediate closeup looking down upon the bloody carcass. I can’t tell you whether the coyote was dead or still breathing, because after the first split second of seeing it, I couldn’t watch. I also can’t tell you the rest of what happens in the film, because we turned it off.

Movies have ratings for a reason. Parents don’t want their kids exposed to sexual or violent content. While PG-13 cautions parents in a general way that some material may not be suitable for children, we are also now seeing more specific warnings regarding things like brief nudity, foul language, mild violence, and so on. So why not have a warning about violence to animals? Surely animal lovers make up a large enough segment of the population to warrant it, and yet there seems to be no concern whatsoever about violence toward animals in films. It’s a sad reflection on our society.

As an animal lover, a warning would be appreciated and would have saved me from seeing many things I can never un-see. There was the film Fear, where teenagers invade a home and torture the family. Hmm. Whatever happened to the dog, who went missing early on? Wait! He’s coming back in through the dog door! Oh, sorry, that was just his head. Yes, his head. WTF? Sorry, I understand the concept of shock value, but what would happen if that level of graphic violence were applied to a kid? Would a scene featuring a headless child have ever make the final cut? Then there are the times nothing bad has happened yet but you just know it’s bound to, like in the film Signs—the one about crop circles and unseen, possibly alien monsters. I was all but yelling at the screen as the family left their German Shepherd tied out in the field as they took cover indoors. And you just knew in Secret Window, where Johnny Depp was a writer living alone in a remote cabin, that nothing good was going to happen to his dog—and you were right. Did I spoil some of the suspense for you? You’re welcome. Now you can avoid those films entirely.

Look, I understand the need for dramatic tension in films. It’s usually a good thing. I even understand the need for bad things to happen to good dogs in a storyline—if it’s really called for in the overall plot and serves a purpose. And I realize that not everyone is as sensitive about violence towards animals as I am, and as many others are. Still, it would hurt no one and would help many of us to have some sort of rating to warn us, so that we could at least make an informed choice before deciding where to spend our movie dollars.

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You can find my books and seminar DVDs here, and my art here and now here on selected products.


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