The Boundaries of Tolerance

My husband and I have an arrangement where I walk one of the dogs in the morning while he takes the other running. This works out well for all of us—except when my husband has a week where he’s got to leave for work early every day. Rather than have the dogs do without exercise, I take them both to the park. There, I allow them to run around the dog park (it’s empty at that hour), do their business, and then we go for a 3-4 mile walk/hike around the perimeter and paths of the main park.

I normally have a walking companion, a very tough-looking 65-year-old Columbian man I somehow met while walking many months ago. He walks every day for his health, and we’ve struck up an unlikely friendship. His attitudes reflect his culture and upbringing, and we’ve had some interesting discussions. I’m don’t mind having conversations with people whose ideas are different than mine on a variety of topics, including dogs. I have friends who hold different political views, are of different religions, and hey, some even use training tools I choose not to use (a topic that can amount to a religion for some). This man and I have chatted about ways to train dogs before, but at some point his heavy-handed philosophy just went over the top and I suggested it might be best if we stayed away from dog training as a topic of discussion.

We’ve done just that, and all’s been well—until this morning. There’s a woman we run into sometimes who raises puppies for Guide Dogs. This morning he told me he’d run into her, and saw that her newest puppy was wearing a choke chain. He told her that he thought no one used choke chains anymore (he’d misconstrued my comment that many trainers have moved away from using choke chains in favor of gentler methods). She told him the program uses them because they’re the fastest and best way to train dogs, although they are expected to transition to flat buckle collars when the puppy is older. He was keen to let me know that people do still use choke chains, and that the girl had told him you can train good leash manners without choke chains but instead of taking months, it can take five years. (Can you imagine how hard I was biting my tongue?) I politely let him finish, and then explained that there are ways to train dogs without pain that most certainly do not take five years. Suffice it to say that once this man makes up his mind about something, that’s it, there’s no argument that will sway him—he’s right and that’s that.

Now, when I have Bodhi or Sierra at the park, I don’t require them to walk right by my side (unless there’s a vehicle or dog we need to pass). I figure the park is “their time,” and they’re allowed to walk in front of me as long as they don’t pull. When I have both dogs together, though, they do tend to get into a who-can-pull-further-ahead mindset. I haven’t put effort into working on the problem since they’re almost never walking together. And the truth is, I haven’t done extensive leash work with either of them separately or together, mostly because of chronic back pain. (Somehow when you’re in pain, doing leash work with 50-pound northern breeds is not the thing you most long to do.)

It’s true that my current dogs are not as well trained as my previous dogs have been on leash. So I can see how this man thinks all I need is a choke chain and a few good corrections, and my dogs will be walking nicely by my side. I can’t argue with the fact that this may be partly true—I say partly because it would certainly take a bit more than that—but I do understand the argument. However, as I told him, just because something works doesn’t mean I’d use it on my dogs. I could hit them with a two-by-four and they’d listen, too; doesn’t mean I’d do it. I related that I’d started out training many years ago with choke chains, and then explained my reasons for choosing not to keep using them. After listening to all of this, he said there was an expression in his country; I can’t remember how it went exactly, but it amounted to something like, “A parent gives a child advice but he doesn’t take it, and then years later the child realizes the parent was right.” I asked how that applied to this situation and he said that I’d realize at some point later on he was right. Now, I’m not accustomed to arguing with people in this way because, frankly, it’s not worth my time or energy. I like this man well enough most of the time, and it’s much easier to walk 3-4 miles when you’ve got someone to chat with. So I very politely and calmly told him that he was being condescending and that it wasn’t appreciated. I reminded him that maybe this wasn’t the best topic for us to discuss. By this time, the sun had come up and it had gotten very warm out. He made a joke that maybe it had gotten so hot because of our heated argument, and we laughed, the tension broken.

To many of us, our dogs are our children. No one likes to be told how to raise their kids, human or canine. And no one likes to be told they’re wrong, whether they are or not. I’m willing to discuss pretty much anything with anyone, as long as the tone remains civil and respectful. When it’s not, you’ve hit the boundary of my tolerance. I can’t say I didn’t get a bit annoyed this morning, but I truly believe that if we can discuss things without blowing up at each other, we can learn something. And if we can’t discuss certain topics civilly, well, we can always agree to disagree and move on.

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12 Responses to The Boundaries of Tolerance

  1. Wow, you wrote so politely and graciously about something that must have been very annoying at the time. If you lived closer, I’d walk with you in the mornings! I think you are correct to draw parallels with child rearing “advice.” Other people see just a tiny bit of a relationship and want to say, “do this, do that,” with no understanding of how it all fits together.

    • wildewmn says:

      Madeline, I WISH you lived closer! It would be fun to walk together in the mornings. 🙂

  2. I think you handled it very well. I run into this all the time in my training business. For many, the statement by Suzanne Clothier “How is it for the dog”, sometimes helps. Everyone wants a quick fix for any problem that they are having with their dog. Getting buy in with owners, it the toughest part of this job. But many people do not care how it is for the dog, and there lies the problem.

    • wildewmn says:

      Juliet, thanks for your thoughtful response. I agree that the problem is that many people don’t care how it is for the dog, but I think a lot more of them just don’t “get” how it is for the dog, whether because they can’t read body language or other reasons.

  3. Christine B says:

    You handled this situation very well, thank you for sharing this with us. I’m sure maaaany of us have been on your side of this conversation before, and I appreciate your insight!

  4. Well done handling this, Nicole. I think you should bring along your clicker training dvd on your next walk and give it to the man as a present 😉

  5. Steve S says:

    I find it interesting that a leading international firm that breeds, supplies, trains and contracts dog/handler teams for military and police work has as their training philosophy:

    “A dog will perform a lot better if it’s having fun than if it is getting punished.”

    If you don’t need the old compulsion methods for that type of dog you don’t need them for anything else. That doesn’t mean you let the dog walk all over you, that’s what management (not compulsion) is for.

  6. Good for you for at least trying to educate someone on the more humane, modern methods of training…. And I try to get people to see that we can’t gauge whether or not something is painful or uncomfortable to an animal unless we ARE that animal.

    For example, when had knee surgery a couple of years ago, the doctor shot STAPLES into the incisions, which hurt like a mother coming out a week later, rather than taking the time to use a needle to suture while I was still under, for his *convenience* and because staples are was quicker. Good for him–HE didn’t have to go thru the agony of having them ripped from HIS skin a week later. And every living being differs in their pain threshold–mine is obviously BELOW zero; I about need anaesthesia to rip off a bandaid… <:-/ And that's my fear; we can't really know how "painful" it is to our dogs whenever we choose to use an invasive method (aside from reading body language), and we don't have the right to make that decision FOR them. Just my $.02……! 🙂

  7. Richard Donahue says:

    Certain situations may call for more extreme measures as far as dog training goes. I love my dog(s) and would always use gentle methods if I thought they were 100% reliable. But I have and had predatory wolfdogs that I have watched kill and eat what they kill. (racoons, groundhogs, mice). I choose to walk off leash for the most part and have found that once they went after something with a prey drive, there was no gentle method that I know of to stop them. If you know of one, I am all ears. I found a dead cat in thier fenced in area once that Little Miss was starting to eat (luckily, it was a wild cat). What if they killed someones pet cat while I was out for a walk with them? I had to start using shock collars. The tradeoff for them was that they got more freedom. I had a video of them going into a herd of cattle, isolating a calf and then they went for the kill. When I called them back, they came. Little Miss was a complete ruthless killer. Now she hikes the AT off leash with no collar and is free.

    • wildewmn says:

      Richard, this blog wasn’t meant to be a discussion of methodology itself, and I’m not interested in debating e-collars…but I do understand the issue of high prey drive and the problems it presents! I don’t have a magical fix for a strong instinctive prey drive with a dog running off leash (now wouldn’t THAT be nice). Me personally, I choose to use a long-line instead. Not as much freedom, true, but no shocking, either. We all make our choices and try to do what’s best for us and our dogs. 🙂

  8. Richard Donahue says:

    My apologies for missing your point! I zoomed in on the collar thing because that seemed to be the source of the argument. You handled the situation with a level of class and grace that is far beyond my grasp. BTW I like the name Bodhi too.

  9. I think the answer is as you said..dogs are like our children and no one should tell us how to raise them…

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