Pre-Grieving Our Dogs

October 31, 2017

lying look of loveThis is a difficult blog to write, and one I hesitated to write or share. I’m not one to post my every emotion on social media or share my private life publicly. But there is a topic relating to our dogs that I have never seen addressed, and it’s something I believe a lot of us experience.

As our dogs age, especially if they’re ill or infirm, it’s difficult not to think about their eventual passing. When my dog Mojo–a 120-pound malamute/shepherd/wolf mix I’ve always referred to as my “soul dog”—became a senior, I began to watch him as he slept. He’d lie there peacefully on his side, blissfully ignorant of his owner’s anxieties. I’d watch for that beautiful rising and falling of his furry chest that told me he was still alive. Once seen, only then would my own breath return. Although it might sound strange, it became almost an obsession to watch for those breaths, to make sure my precious boy was still with us.

When Mojo passed in 2008, it was the end of a very rough year. Not only had he been ill, but I had lost my two remaining wolves (yes, wolves—go read Hit by a Flying Wolf if you really want to know about the insanity of my life with wolves and dogs), lost a close friend to cancer, and lived through a fire and other assorted traumatic experiences, all in one year. And then Mojo died. Nothing, not even the death of my brother years ago, could prepare me for the crushing grief. I barely got up off the floor for the first few weeks. I literally spent a month and a half crying from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep, to the point that I almost lost my voice. My hair began to fall out in clumps. Needless to say, it was one of the darkest times of my life. That it came on top of all the other tragedies didn’t help, but it really was due to how very much I loved Mojo, who was like a child to my husband and me.

Now, years later, we have Bodhi and Sierra. While I love Bodhi, of course, Sierra is my heart. As much as Mojo had been special and always will be, I have never been so close—so attached—to a dog in my life. It’s not just that I both love and like Sierra, or that’s she’s a wonderful, amazing dog, which she is. While I’ve always had an empathy and sort of sixth sense with animals, it’s incredibly strong with Sierra. We share some vibrational frequency; it’s a strange and beautiful connection. If I’m standing in my office, I know without a doubt when she’s standing by the bowl in the next room waiting for water. When I rub her tummy and give her cuddles, I can actually feel the love coming from her, and I know she can feel it from me, too. It’s our own little sacred circle of love. When we take our morning walks, I can feel her joy at running free and being out in nature. And she senses my moods as well. But it’s really more than just having an empathetic, psychic link with each other. To say we are connected would be an understatement.

In 2015 I had another tough year in which I lost both of my parents and a very close friend, along with experiencing other assorted tragedies and traumas. Weirdly, the same day my mother went into hospice, Sierra almost died. I came home to find Sierra standing there looking somehow not right. Although there was no vomiting or other outward signs of illness, I knew in my gut beyond a shadow of a doubt that something was very wrong. I rushed her to the emergency vet, where they ended up doing surgery to save her from a burst liver abscess. My mother and my dog had gone septic on the same day—what’s the chances? I’m pretty sure all of that loss and almost-loss has since heightened my fear and apprehension at the thought of even more loss.

We don’t know Sierra’s exact age, as she was a shelter rescue, but we estimate her to be around 10 or possibly even 11 years old. The day I did the math and realized that was a jarring one. I’m not yet quite at the point of watching for her chest to rise and fall, but I admit that I think way too much about what it will be like when she finally passes on, how the world could possibly exist without her in it. That’s a terrible thing to ponder, but I know I’m not alone. It’s very difficult, especially once your dog becomes a senior, not to think about that sort of thing. Some of us worry about it now and then, while others become obsessively worried about it. The only thing that really helps is, as with pretty much everything in life, to try to live in the moment and enjoy it for what it is. After all, we all have limited time here. What’s the point of tainting the joy of these moments with worry and fear? I try to spend as much time with Sierra as I can, and to make the most of our time together. There are times when I’m working at my computer and she gives me that look that says, “Isn’t it time for a cuddle?” Although I sometimes simply need to finish what I’m doing, there are many more times I look at her and think she’s right, that I don’t want to miss this moment, and that work will wait.

In the meantime, I take lots of photos of both Sierra and Bodhi, as photos are often the only things we have to hold on to after our loved ones are gone. I try to stay positive. But each time Facebook brings up a “memory” from a year or two ago, I wonder about the dagger I’m going to feel once my dogs are gone and Facebook brings up those photos. Speaking of Facebook, maintaining a live-in-the-moment attitude isn’t made any easier by the fact that my news feed is constantly full of posts along the lines of, “It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to…” My heart goes out to every one of those posters who have lost their beloved dogs. It hurts my heart, not just for them, but for what was and what will inevitably be again with my own dogs. I see tributes written about the lives of these dogs, about how wonderful they were. And that’s a beautiful thing. But we all need to put that much focus and energy into appreciating and enjoying life with our dogs while they’re still with us. We must accept that, as the saying goes, grief is the price of love. So for now, let’s take the time, and make the time to spend with our dogs, to make sure they’re safe, healthy and happy, and most of all, to let them know how very much they are loved. Because in the end, that’s all any of us can really ask for.

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Join me in Austin, TX Nov. 11 & 12! More seminar info here. You can find my books, seminar DVDs and more here, my artwork here, and me on Facebook and Twitter.

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Are Dog Parks Worth the Risk?

October 17, 2017

GrinRecently, a woman took her dog to the dog park for some fun and exercise. She envisioned him frolicking with other dogs and coming home happy and tired. Instead, the poor dog came away needing surgery to save his life, along with more than 10 puncture wounds. I saw the photos; suffice it to say they were both sickening and heart-wrenching. Just a few days later, another woman posted on Facebook about an encounter at the same dog park. Her dog had been attacked, had suffered serious damage to a limb, and needed to be rushed to the vet. The owner of the other dog refused to acknowledge that her dog had done anything wrong, and fled the scene.

Fortunately, both of these dogs will recover—physically, at least. As anyone who has ever suffered a bodily assault knows, the toll goes far beyond physical injury. The extent of emotional damage to any dog who has been attacked depends on the seriousness of the attack and on the temperament of the individual dog. For some dogs this type of encounter can, understandably, result in a fear of other dogs. And as any trainer worth her salt knows, that can translate to fear-based reactivity, which most people call aggression.

Does every encounter at a dog park result in physical or emotional damage to dogs? Of course not. But you might be surprised at how many dogs are having no fun at all, despite what their owners might think. When I was putting together my seminar Dissecting the Dynamics of Dog-Dog Play (click the link for the DVD), I needed lots of video of dogs playing. One of the places I spent time at was our local dog park. I filmed hours and hours of various breeds and sizes of dogs playing together. Although I was already aware that some dogs enjoyed playing more than others and that some encounters were definitely not positive, when I reviewed the footage in slow motion, I was shocked. Sure, there were examples of safe, non-threatening play. But there was also a myriad of instances in which dogs were practically traumatized as their owners stood by, totally unaware. One example comes instantly to mind: Within seconds of a man and his medium-sized mixed breed dog entering the park, the dog was rushed by other dogs who wanted to inspect him, as is typical in any canine group. But one of the greeters clearly scared the newcomer, who then lunged and snapped. The owner gave his dog a verbal warning for that defensive action and kept walking deeper into the park. Another dog approached and this time, with his tail tucked, the dog snapped and lunged more intently. The owner grabbed him by the collar and chastised him. Over the next five minutes, the dog had four more encounters that resulted in his being punished by the owner, each time more harshly. It would have been clear to anyone versed in canine body language that the dog was afraid, and was becoming more and more reactive because he was on the defense. It was difficult to stand there filming, and I considered aborting to go and speak with him. Just then, a woman who was a regular there approached and struck up a conversation with the man. Thankfully, she was able to convince him that his dog was scared and to leave the park. I’m sad to say that this was far from being the only negative encounter I filmed. More importantly, this sort of thing happens daily at dog parks across the world.

By now you’re probably thinking, Gee Nicole, how do you really feel? The thing is, I’ve seen the flip side as well. I’ve watched a group of ladies who meet at the park most mornings with their dogs. They’re savvy about canine body language, and although they enjoy socializing with each other as their dogs play, they constantly monitor the action. If play begins to become too heated, they create a time out by calling their dogs to them for a short break before releasing them to play again. In this way, they prevent arousal from escalating into aggression. The dogs all know each other and for the most part get along well. I have absolutely no problem with this type of scenario. Unfortunately, it’s far from being the norm. The typical scene at a dog park includes a random assortment of dogs whose owners range from being absolutely ignorant about dog behavior to being well informed, with most of the population falling somewhere in the middle. And why not? They’re not dog professionals, but loving owners who simply want their dogs to get some exercise and have a good time. In most cases, they’re not aware of the subtle or not-so-subtle signals that could indicate danger, or even that dangers exist. Comments like, “Ah, they’re dogs, they’ll work it out,” and “Oh, he’s fine” abound. It’s strange if you think about it: if you were the parent of a young child, would you send him in blindly to play with a group of kids that possibly included bullies and criminals? Wouldn’t you at the very least stand there and observe the play for a few minutes before allowing him to join the fray? If you did allow the child to participate, would you not keep an eye on him and leave if you felt there was a potential threat? And yet, at the dog park, the majority of owners never do those things.

In the best of all worlds, there would be mandatory education for dog park attendees as well as a knowledgeable staff member or volunteer at every park to monitor the action and to stop dogs who are known to be aggressive from entering in the first place. Perhaps a membership model would make this possible. Unfortunately, that is not the reality. And so, it falls to we owners to be advocates and protectors for our dogs. That means if you absolutely insist on taking your dog to a dog park, that you scan the environment before entering, that you monitor your dog’s play even while chatting with other owners, and that you intervene even to the point of leaving if necessary when you feel something is not right, even if that means facing social ostracism. Personally, I prefer play dates with known quantities rather than a park full of potential aggressors who might do serious physical or emotional damage to my dogs. If I do take mine into the dog park to run around, it’s during off hours when the park is empty. You might find this over the top or even paranoid. That’s okay. If you heard all of the stories I’ve heard over the years and seen all of the damage I’ve seen, you might think twice about whether dog parks are worth the risk.
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Join me in Austin Nov. 11 & 12 for seminars on Helping Fearful Dogs, Separation Anxiety & Dog-Dog play! You can find my books, seminar DVDs & more here and my artwork here.


The Waiting is the Hardest Part

October 12, 2017

dog dish istockphoto cropIt’s true! Whether in dog training or in life, as stated so eloquently by the late, oh-so-great Tom Petty, the waiting is the hardest part. I’ve seen it time after time with my clients and their dogs, and have experienced it first-hand with my own dogs.

Nowhere is the human tendency toward impatience more obvious than when we teach our dogs to stay. Dogs are normally active little beings, and sitting still can be as difficult for some as it is for a 3-year-old child. Then here we come, asking them to either sit or lay down, and then to do nothing. Huh? Imagine that from the dog’s point of view. Not only is the dog expected to not move—a difficult feat in and of itself—but there is no alternate physical activity to replace it. We’re not asking the dog to sit instead of jumping up on us, or to target our hand instead of lunging at another dog. We’re asking him, in effect, to do nothing until told otherwise. And so, our amazing dogs, who often demonstrate more patience than we do, learn and comply. But once the dog gets the idea, the next step is literally that—taking steps away. Or, perhaps building the time we expect the dog to remain in the stay. Trainers have their preferences. But either way, the theory is the same. The skill must be built up in small increments so the dog succeeds. And here is where we often fail our dogs. We practically expect them to go from a five-second stay to a minute-long stay to staying while we go out for coffee! If the dog fails, some owners are apt use punishment, while in reality the fault was their own for pushing the dog too far too fast.

Behavior modification is another area where our patience often becomes worn thin. If a dog has what I would consider nuisance behaviors, such as chewing on the wrong things, jumping on visitors, or grabbing things off countertops, owners often resort to punishment rather than taking the time to teach the dog that those things are not acceptable. And I can see why it would be tempting, because punishment does often stop the behavior immediately. The problem with punishment in general is that while it does put the kibosh on what’s currently happening, it really doesn’t address the underlying issue, and it can cause more stress, potentially making problems worse. Take the case of dogs who are fighting in the home. I had a client once whose previous trainer had told him that those ridiculous behavior programs the owner had heard about were a waste of time, and had the man put shock collars on both of his dogs instead. When the one dog hard stared the other, the man was to press the remote and deliver a shock. One day the dog looked at the other one, the man pressed the button, the dog yelped and simultaneously looked at the man…and began attacking the man. We then had a bigger problem to solve.

Whether sticking with a behavior modification program, waiting for behavioral meds to reach full efficacy, or taking gradual, incremental steps to set our dogs up to succeed, patience is a key ingredient for success. Yes, the waiting is often the hardest part; but when we’re making an effort and hanging in there because we love and care about our dogs, patience pays off.
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Hey, Texans! I’ll be teaching a seminar in Austin Nov. 11 & 12.
Click here for more info.
You can find my books and seminar DVDs here and my artwork here.

 


The Magic of Expectations

August 11, 2017

Bodhi closeup iphone cute wmI recently listened to a very interesting podcast that explored how one’s expectations can affect another being. The hosts mentioned a study that was done on rats. The rats were divided into two groups. One group, the human participants were told, were highly intelligent. The other was filled with rats who, let’s say, would not have scored well on their SATs. Or perhaps their RATs. I’m not sure what the tests involved, but the results showed that those in the “intelligent” group scored significantly higher than those in the other group. The thing is, the rats had actually been separated into groups at random with no regard to their intelligence! So what gives? Was there some sort of human-rodent telepathy going on, with I know you can do this vibes being wafted to the smart rats? Nope. As it turns out, people handled the allegedly intelligent rats more gently and respectfully, which allowed the rats to relax, thereby yielding an increased ability to do well on the tests. People with the less intelligent rats handled them more roughly, which caused stress and a loss of ability to perform well.

It’s not just rats, either. Back in 1963, a scientist named Rosenthal wanted to demonstrate the phenomenon of expectancy—how expectations can affect outcomes—on student performance. First, kids were given an IQ test. Then, teachers were told that certain students had scored highly on a test that measured “academic blooming,” while others had not. In reality, the groupings were random. At the end of the school year, IQs were measured again. Among first and second graders, those who had been labeled as “ready to bloom” showed greater gains than those who had not been labeled this way. Rosenthal concluded that the teachers’ expectations had a significant effect on students’ scholastic achievements.

Well, you know all of this had me thinking about dogs! I remember a woman in one of my group classes who clearly did not want to participate in training exercises. I tried to coax her along, but I could sense her reluctance. When I finally questioned her alone, she told me that her dog was “just plain stupid.” She had taken the class to please her husband, who had said the dog was out of control at home, but she honestly felt the dog was incapable of learning. After that conversation I made a concerted effort to demonstrate often with that dog, who, given the chance, performed brilliantly. The woman eventually went from believing the dog was stupid to recognizing that the dog was actually quite bright. Their relationship gradually changed and they both learned and performed much better together.

I have heard countless people describe entire breeds as not very intelligent, or as stubborn. I’ve not seen research on the topic, but my guess is that if a similar experiment to the aforementioned ones were conducted, results would show that human expectations have an awful lot to do with how well those dogs do in training and in how they behave. I’ve seen many owners over the years who felt their dogs weren’t very smart when in reality, there was a disconnect in the communication between dog and human. Either the person just didn’t want to work very hard at training—because really, what’s the point in training a dumb dog?—or they simply didn’t understand how to communicate so the dog understood what was being asked.

I’ve had two dogs that are part malamute, one being my current dog Bodhi. Malamutes are one of those breeds people tend to label as “stubborn.” What exactly does stubborn mean? The dictionary would say things like, “contrary; headstrong.” In my experience, it means I don’t want to do something just because you tell me. I need a good reason. Hmm. I suppose I’m stubborn as well, then. Is that really such a bad thing? The malamutes and mal mixes I’ve known have been highly intelligent dogs. You simply need to know how to motivate them. When people expect them to be stubborn, guess what? They are! When people expect that the dogs are smart and capable of learning and take the time to learn how to work with them, training and behavior modification are suddenly a lot more successful. Bodhi was dumped at a shelter by someone who I am sure believed he was a lost cause. And his behavior was awful. But with a bit of belief and a lot of time and effort, he’s now a wonderful, intelligent dog with much improved behavior.

Our expectations constantly affect our dogs. Some people believe their dogs are capable of learning tricks and advanced obedience skills, while others never attempt it because they don’t think the dogs can do it. Some dogs go from being highly reactive with other dogs to being able to walk nicely past them, because their owners felt that a change in behavior was achievable. Others will have to be tightly managed forever, because the human at the end of the leash doesn’t believe the dog can change his behavior. There are factors that we know affect the success of training and behavior modification; patience, consistency, and a gradual, incremental approach come to mind, among others. Expectations should be added to that list, as their importance cannot be overstated. How might your expectations have affected your dogs?
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You can find my books, seminar DVDs and seminar schedule here, and my artwork here. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter.


When Being More Anthropomorphic Might Help

June 28, 2017

dog pain ice bagIn the field of animal behavior science, anthropomorphism—assigning human emotions or traits to animals—is mostly discouraged. That’s not to say canine behaviorists believe that dogs don’t have emotions. Of course they do. But it’s less than helpful, for example, for owners to believe that their puppy had a potty accident while left alone because he was angry at being abandoned, when it’s more likely that the pup was simply being opportunistic, having learned that when he had an accident in front of his owners, they’d make the scary, frowny face and yell. (And by the way, why do we still call it “having an accident” when it’s obviously done on purpose?)

I had a potential client call me once about training. As we chatted about her dog’s issues, she began to say things like, “He’s so selfish. All he ever thinks about is himself. It’s really rude.” She went on in this vein until I finally had to interject, “We’re still talking about the dog, right?” Although we both laughed, I still wondered.

As much as anthropomorphism can be a problem, a case could be made that perhaps we need to be more anthropomorphic when it comes to certain things. Most people now accept that dogs feel emotions. That’s one big duh to any dog lover! But what about the sorts of things we don’t normally ascribe to dogs? I’ve long wondered about dogs getting headaches, for example, but have never actually heard it discussed or seen it mentioned in studies or in behavioral literature. Any dog owner can tell you that there are some days that, just like us, their dog seems a bit “off” and they can’t quite put their finger on why. It’s not that anything extreme is happening—the dog’s not suddenly projectile vomiting green stuff along with 360-degree head rotation—but clearly something is not right. Maybe the dog seems a bit more irritable than usual, perhaps less tolerant of being handled or brushed. Maybe he’s just lethargic, not wanting to go for a walk or participate in training. Look, I get it. I suffer from frequent debilitating headaches. They’re exacerbated by stress, and by the heat. Unfortunately, here in southern California there’s plenty of intense heat during the summer months. The biochemistry of dogs and people are similar in many ways. Why wouldn’t dogs be affected by stress and headaches as well?

In a recent article in Psychology Today, Stanley Coren discussed a study done in Beijing, China. A team of investigators studied the frequency of dog bite cases seen at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital. Through statistical analysis involving a sample size of over 42,000, the researchers were able to show a strong relationship between the number of dog bites and hot temperatures. In other words, the dogs were more aggressive in hot weather. The first thing that came to my mind was, well, so am I! Aren’t you? People often become cranky in hot weather—unless you’re my husband, who only begins to get comfortable once temps hit 90 degrees. What can I say, I married a lizard. But back to studies…another one looked at regions in the U.S. and found that crime rates were higher during hotter temperatures. Again, hot equals more irritable, cranky, and violent. Makes perfect sense to me!

Headaches? Being cranky during hot weather? With people, we accept those things as common. Why not entertain the notion that dogs too can be affected? If we took these types of factors into consideration, possibly our ways of interacting with our dogs would change. Maybe during a training session when a dog who is normally very responsive simply shuts down or doesn’t want to work, we’d give him the benefit of the doubt and try another day rather than forcing the issue. Maybe dog trainers would avoid scheduling appointments to see aggressive dogs on very hot days, especially if the dog is expected to participate in activities that put the trigger in any kind of proximity. In short, maybe we ought to start thinking outside the traditional box and allow for some anthropomorphism. It just might do us and the dogs a lot of good.
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You can find my books, seminar DVDs and more at http://www.nicolewilde.com. And if you’d like to see some of my animal-related artwork, click here.

 


Does Size Matter?

May 5, 2017

bigsmalldog

A Royal Mail worker in southern London recently alleged that six-year-old Louie had bitten and drawn blood when she attempted to deliver the mail.  Three police officers arrived at the home of the Anslows, a couple in their 60s, to confiscate Louie. Armed with “a lead that would fit a Rottweiler,” the officers quickly discovered that Louie was…a Chihuahua. Louie was not seized, but instead given a “behavior order.” (Story here.)

A police investigation confirmed that two people had reported being bitten by Louie. Owner Linda Anslow’s comment was, “I think this is just stupid and everyone is being a bit silly. The dog hardly even reaches your ankle.” But is it silly? What if Louie had been a Rottweiler, biting a postal worker two others? More than likely, Louie would have been seized and possibly even euthanized. While it’s true that a Rottweiler can do a lot more harm than a Chihuahua, when it comes to laws made to protect people from dogs, should size matter?

As a canine behavior specialist, I often see small dogs who have bitten multiple people. These dogs have bitten family members, visitors, the gardener…you name it. And yet, they are still living happily in the home with no complaints against them. I suspect this is partly because, especially for men, it might be embarrassing to show up at the local Animal Control office complaining of a bite from a Chihuahua. But a bite is a bite. Even a tiny dog who bites is inflicting wounds both physical and psychological. Imagine the young child who is bitten by a dog and grows up fearing dogs. That bite has a lifelong impact. Or the elderly person with paper-thin skin that gets torn when that cute little dog sinks its fangs in and pulls. And the scenario doesn’t even have to be so dramatic. The problem is, people excuse the behavior of smaller dogs all the time. Who do you think is likely to seek professional help for their biting dog first, the Chihuahua who’s bitten seven people or the mastiff who’s bitten one? And which dog do you think is likely to have complaints against them, or end up euthanized for their behavior?

While the amount of damage inflicted may vary, again, a bite is a bite is a bite. Owners need to take responsibility for their dogs’ behavior regardless of the dog’s size. Those police officers in the U.K. should have treated little Louie exactly the same as if he had been a larger sized dog. Laws do not apply only to certain breeds and not to others. Owners of small dogs with aggression issues need to take just as much responsibility for their dogs as owners of large dogs do, and others need to stop making excuses for them.
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Join me in Burbank CA May 20 & 21 and Alberta, Canada June 10 & 11. Visit http://www.nicolewilde.com for seminar info, books and DVDs.


Get Off Yer Butt and Train Your Dog!

April 24, 2017

training near post office smallWarning: This one’s likely to be a bit of a rant. Early this morning, I took both of my dogs out as usual. We frequent a nearby park that has a fenced dog park area. I usually let Sierra and Bodhi run off a bit of steam inside the dog park (it’s normally empty at that hour) before proceeding on to our walk/hike. We entered the small dog side, since a man with a dog was already on the big dog side. During our conversation over the chain link fence, I learned that Buddy, a 3-year-old Lab, didn’t show much interest in other dogs, although he tolerated them and enjoyed being at the park. What did get Buddy excited, however, was eating other dogs’ poop, sometimes straight from the “fountain” as it were. Yech. I know.

We talked about how Buddy displays this repellent habit with one female dog in particular, following her around, waiting for the big event. After a joke about taking submission to a whole other level (I couldn’t help it), my humor quickly faded as the man nonchalantly commented, “I’m going to put a shock collar on him.” “Noooo, you don’t want to do that!” was out of my mouth before I could help it. A 20-minute conversation ensued, wherein my poor dogs milled aimlessly around the park as mom tried to explain nicely to the man why a shock collar was a bad idea, despite the fact that his vet had recommended it. “Well, what else am I supposed to do?” he asked. I offered that training Buddy would help, specifically, a “Leave It” cue and perhaps attention and recall (look at me when I call your name, even if you’re about to eat something disgusting that you find yummy, and instead come to me). He said he’d worked with a trainer early on and it hadn’t worked. I suggested that perhaps he’d had the wrong trainer, or was it possible that that he hadn’t followed through?

Note that all of the above was said in a pleasant tone. Although the voice in my head was shouting, “Get off yer butt and train your dog!” the kinder, gentler part of me wanted to engage the man, not make him feel bad or cause him to shut down. To his credit, he did ask how to train the “Leave It.” Now, normally, this is where I would hand out a business card and tell the person to give me a call—but I had a suspicion that call would never come. So, I explained the first steps of training Leave It. Although the man listened politely, I wasn’t convinced that he would actually be trying it. Had my own dogs not been with me, I would have gone over and given a quick demonstration that would have hopefully encouraged him that Buddy could learn quickly—but that was not to be. We discussed the beginning steps of training a recall as well. Hey, at least he was asking.

I also explained how dogs associate things that happen together, and that if he applied the shock while Buddy was looking at another dog, he might well end up with aggression problems that were a lot worse than simple poop eating. As a last resort, I suggested that if he wasn’t going to do any training, that at the exact moment Buddy went to commit his usual feces felony, to use a verbal marker such as, “Too bad!” and then immediately put Buddy on leash and remove him from the park. He said he had left the park before, and I reminded him to use the marker word so Buddy would understand why he was losing something he found valuable. Finally, we said our goodbyes, and my dogs and I continued with our morning.

As much as I’m opposed to shock collars (with the possible exception of rattlesnake avoidance training), I do understand why people find them appealing. I mean, what could be better than an instant way out of a pesky problem? Who wants to put in the time and effort to train when there’s a fast, easy solution? Like I said, I get it. And believe me, I’m all about quick and easy in many facets of life. But when resorting to this type of punishment, there’s no consideration for the dog’s feelings or how it might adversely affect his behavior. I’d explained to the man by way of example that if I had a nail biting habit that he wanted me to stop, and he shocked me each time I did it, I’d stop immediately. But that shock would cause stress and frustration, not to mention pain, and that could easily cause other behavior problems (not to mention a reduction in my warm, fuzzy feelings toward him). Truly, I gave this conversation all I had, because I did not want to see poor Buddy shocked. The bottom line is, why take the lazy way out when it causes pain (and please, no arguments about the shock being a “tap” or anything else—that it’s painful or uncomfortable is why it works) when you can actually train your dog to do or not do what you want? Yes, it takes time. Yes, it takes patience. But let’s not take the easy or lazy way out, and get off our butts and train! Isn’t your dog worth the effort?
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Join me for seminars in Burbank, CA May 20 & 21 and Alberta, Canada June 10 & 11. See http://www.nicolewilde.com for seminar info, books and DVDs.


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