Peer Pressure? Bite Me!

Here’s a pop quiz:

1. What should you do when your trainer uses harsh training methods?
2. What should you do if your veterinarian slams your dog on his back to show him who’s boss?
3. What should you do if your dog is scared of people, but someone insists on petting him anyway?

This is the easiest quiz ever, because all of the answers are the same: You stand up for your dog!

We’re taught early on in life to be polite. Women especially have the importance of courtesy and manners drilled into them from a very young age. We also learn to respect authority, and in most cases, that’s a good thing. But when someone is mistreating your dog, all bets are off.

I had a client once who came to me after attending a group class with another trainer. On the first day of class, this “trainer” (and I use the term loosely) showed the owners how to teach the dog what the word “no” meant, even before the dog had done anything wrong. This “training technique” consisted of whacking the dog over the nose with a rubber hose while screaming, “No!” The woman was mortified. She stood up in front of the entire class and informed the trainer that she would never do that to her dog. She then left.

The woman who walked out on that training class is a hero. She did two very difficult things: she stood up to someone in authority, and she did it in front of a room full of people. Don’t underestimate the power of group dynamics; many times a person will go along with something just because everyone else is doing it. No one wants to be ostracized.

Many years ago I attended a seminar given by a well-known behaviorist. A demonstration was conducted to show how a dog’s nails could be trimmed, even if the dog was scared or reactive. The dog was lying on his belly in a suspended sling contraption, with his legs dangling loosely down. I remember the terrified look on the dog’s face. I remember all too clearly the dog’s screams. The behaviorist trimmed the helpless dog’s nails anyway. I don’t know what this was supposed to show; it certainly wouldn’t make nail trims any easier the next time. But the scene made a lasting impression on me. I don’t have many regrets in this life, but I regret to this day that I didn’t stand up, said what I thought, and walk out. Upon speaking with other attendees later on, I discovered that many of them had felt the same way, but we were all too intimidated to say anything at the time.

I do better nowadays. When we first adopted Sierra, we learned that she’d been brought in as a stray, and had been impounded at the shelter four times. At home, we quickly discovered that she had the escape talents of Houdini. We extended our fencing and practiced vigilance. On the morning walks we’d take around the local park, I fell in with a group of dog owners who allowed their dogs to romp and run around the surrounding hillsides.
“Let her off leash,” one woman suggested. I explained why that wouldn’t be a good idea.
“Come on, you’ve got to let her have some fun,” another chimed in. I suggested that Sierra becoming lost in the hills and ending up back at the shelter probably wouldn’t be all that much fun for either of us.
“You’re a trainer, can’t you just train her to be okay off leash?” a man challenged. Sure. But I’d only had Sierra a few weeks, not a few years, and our bond and her training weren’t rock solid yet. Those well-meaning folks persisted week after week, until I finally told them gently but firmly to please stop asking, if they wanted us to continue walking with them. Looking back years later, being all too familiar with Sierra’s extremely strong prey drive, it’s a good thing I never gave in to that peer pressure. She’d have been one bunny away from disappearing over the mountains and far away.

Peer pressure, and pressure from authority figures, can be intense. People can be judgmental and condescending. Standing up to it can be difficult, and may mean risking social ostracism. You could be disinvited from a social group, or dropped as a client. But you are your dog’s advocate, the only thing standing between him and the big, bad world. You’re the one who understands his temperament, knows his behavior, and can predict better than anyone what will scare him or cause him to become aggressive. You are the one person he trusts completely, and looks to for safety. Hey, everyone’s got an opinion, and they’re welcome to it. My response to unrelenting peer pressure? Bite me! My dog is infinitely more important than what you or anyone else might think of me.

29 Responses to Peer Pressure? Bite Me!

  1. monsteroyd says:

    Yea! Thanks for this. I am my dog’s protector, not the other way around. And for my dog, it is never her, but me, when something happens. I am much smarter and more capable than she is, and when someone tries to pet her (she’s reactive to people and dogs). it is up to me to prevent it. And no one uses +P on her. No one.


  2. Great article Nic. I remember that seminar very well and was horrified that the owner, who was a trainer, let it happen. Although it wasn’t just the behaviorist who did it, it was another trainer who brought up the idea of the sling so maybe the owner felt doubly intimidated. Either way it doesn’t matter, you are spot on. We are supposed to be our dogs’ best friend. The one person they trust when they are frightened, unsure or injured. We need to live up to that.

    • wildewmn says:

      Thanks, Laura. I remember a bunch of us trainers being there and so many felt really distressed afterwards, no matter whose suggestion or fault it was. And no one said a word…tough situation when you’ve got a room full of people and a respected presenter.

  3. whattapup says:

    Thanks so much NIcole! I’m always repeating “be your dog’s advocate” and I hope this helps my clients feel more pressure to stand up for their dog!

  4. Steve says:

    Difficult to deal with peer pressure, but why the “Just say NO” program was so successful – to the point kids were telling their doctor’s “No” to medications/vaccines.

  5. Steve Brooks says:

    Hi Nicole, I think the dog you’re talking about was my dog Sven. The owner was me, and the behaviorist was Dr. Peter Borchelt.
    I also regret not standing up and stopping that battle. I was fairly new to training at the time, and I was a bit intimidated by all the talent in the room. I new that the doc wouldn’t win against Sven, and he didn’t. I felt kind of bad for the doc though. He embraced himself pretty bad in front of a large room of people, and it obviously made a large impact on everyone, because were still talking about it today. Battling a dog, and flooding a dog who had that amount of fear is never the answer. I’ve learned a lot since then. I would have definitely stood up if it happen today.
    Great Article!

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Steve,
      When I was writing the blog I thought you might see it. I didn’t want to name names. I felt much the same way you did at the time, too intimidated to say anything. I’m so sorry that happened to Sven (and to you). Totally non-related, Sven was an amazing dog, and I know how special your bond was with him. Anyway, I think we’ve all learned a lot since then, and hopefully we can pay that forward by educating others.
      Take care,

  6. It does not matter who or what you must stand up for what YOU believe, when we stand and watch….It is promoting the words or actions, have pride in your belief system, a calm rebuttal is a shame that can not be ignored.

  7. ebuhaug says:

    Thank you for such a great post!
    Dogs are really the victim of socially acceptable animal mistreating. I feel so bad for them in the way that some people can openly hurt or scare their supposed-to-be best friend. It especially hurts my heart when dog trainers who does this for a living is using harsh methods, as they should know about positive reinforcement. Most are just to ignorant to start learning, or to fearful of new things, I guess.

    Thankfully I’ve never had any real bad experience regarding my dogs and other people. I know I would stand up for them, though.


  8. I have just been kicked of a professional discussion group after just 2 days because I stood against what I saw as bullying towards someone …the administrators to the page not only encouraged the behaviour, they appeared to have had a particular mind set and if anyone disagreed with them they would be expelled from the group…..the topic that had me booted off wasn’t even supposed to be part of the agenda of that particular page.

  9. Kathleen says:

    Thanks. Great. “Know thy dog!” And “Know your surroundings”. I caved once. I was pressured to let my dog off lead to play with a new acquaintance’s Irish Wolfhound. After repeated urgings I let Watson (Border Terrier!!!) off lead. He played nice. Then a flash hit me. I asked “Where are your chickens?” Before Val answered “Behind the house”, Watson was in pursuit. Wearing flipflops there was no way I had any control but to follow and say all the commands I could think of: Wait, leave it, Come. Ha like that would work. All the while Val screaming “I’ll kill that dog” Watson cornered the hen in a washroom. Hen had head in corner and Watson poking her butt to get her to run some more. No injuries. Lesson learned and reinforced.

  10. Sanni says:

    I have a three-year-old samoyed mix called Sulo, who is a lovely boy but stresses a lot in new invironments. Whe he was about 6-18months old, he had a lot of issues with his eyes and needed to go to the vet several times. The first time we went, Sulo was already in the examining room when the vet came in. She didn’t greet me or Sulo, just went straight to her computer. Then Sulo started barking, he does that when he’s stressed. He was still sitting nicely and only barking. The vet slapped him on the nose and told me he needed discipline, or else he would be a lot of trouble when he grows up. I was so suprised by this I didn’t know what to do, I’m also a very timid and shy person so it’s difficult to me to stand up to someone.

    Then the vet tried to look in Sulo’s eyes, but of course Sulo didn’t like that, he thought she was going to slap him again. In the end there were three vet nurses forcing Sulo to stay still while his eyes were examined, it was horrible and I regret I let that happen. Sulo got his medication and painkillers, his left eye was actually really really sore so no wonder he was barking and didn’t wan’t anyone near it, the vet should have known better.

    The next time we had a different vet, and she was really nice. She greeted Sulo with a happy, friendly voice and gently touching him on his chest. Then she happily explained to Sulo that she’s just going to look in to his eyes, not going to do anything bad. And I was also reassuring Sulo at the same time. Sulo just sat there, and let her examine his eyes. At one point a vet nurse popped in to ask if the vet needed help ( I suspect they had written in Sulo’s file that he was a difficult dog), but the vet said no, everything is fine. There was hardly any barking at all, no need for holding and forcing Sulo to stay still, he was behaving really nicely and the vet was great and understanding. She didn’t try to look the eyes by using force, and was really gentle, so Sulo let her do everything, even put several drops in his eyes and weird instruments so close they almost touched his eyes.

    The third time I took Sulo there we had the same vet than the first time. This time Sulo started barking again, he remembered her. The vet told me to command Sulo to be quiet, but this time I knew better. I told firmly that Sulo is afraid and stressed, his eye is sore and he’s not feeling well. Commanding and forcing him won’t help at all. After that the vet barely spoke to me, but she didn’t slap Sulo, or command him to be quiet, just did the examination and gave instructions what do with his medication. There was a vet nurse present at first, but I kept on giving Sulo some tasty treats so the nurse soon left as she wasn’t needed, Sulo sat nicely on the table and let his eyes been examined.

    After that I haven’t let anybody do anything to Sulo if I’m not comfortable with it, I don’t care if people think I’m a jerk, rude or just weird when I forbid them doing something or walk away without saying anything if that’s the best option, Sulo is more important than some random person on the street or in the vet clinic (after all there are several vet clinics in the area and we can always go to another one. We have also moved so we are not going to see the first vet anymore at all)

    • wildewmn says:

      Sanni, I’m sorry for what you and Suli went through with a vet who obviously had no better manner with people than dogs, but this story really shows how much better dogs do with a gentle approach, especially when the dog is afraid. It’s great that Sulo was willing to trust the second vet, and that you were able to speak up when the original vet came back. Great job. 🙂

  11. Jerry I says:

    This happened to me at my first seminar. I was a new trainer, still am, and I was at a big name dog training school location. There were a lot of people there representing that school. At first I submitted, but I saw Tessa shutting down and decided no, this is not okay. Thank you Jen White for helping me gain the courage to do just as Nicole WIlde suggests. Thank you Steve White for supporting me in my decision to do so. I tell my own students, if I or anyone ever does anything you are uncomfortable with say so. There are always other options.

  12. awesomedogs says:

    It takes one person to stand up and say, “No” in order to make the rest of the people feel confident enough to do the same thing.
    Being positive doesn’t mean you shut your mouth and take things. We DO need to advocate for our pets. We have a right to stand up and draw boundaries. No one needs to feel badly about it.
    Nice job Nicole.

  13. Natasha says:

    No one usually stands up to a human bully either! My peers watched me being abused by an “admired” mentor. I was frozen in complete victimhood and everyone else just sat there. And bullies like this convince everyone that the victim is the problem and deserves it…. We just all freeze and then talk about it later. We can’t let this habit carry over to our dogs. We paid a “lifetime ” huge fee to trainers called something like Ark Rusters, and it was easy to just never call them back, but I still jerked the (“soft”) martingale when she told me too. They tell you to growl at your dog! I am so glad to have learned from so many positive training resources and I guess it was money well wasted to know this was the wrong approach.

  14. Anu says:

    My two year old Papillon, Remy, is afraid of strangers, and most new experiences. A couple of weeks ago I was out walking our neighborhood when a visitor said she wanted to come over and see my dog. I said that Remy was fearful of strangers, and put my hand up to stop her approach. She kept coming and asked me “You mean I can’t pet your dog?”

    I told her that that wasn’t going to happen. I then reversed direction to put more distance between us. This happens on a regular basis, with most of the time strangers insisting they must interact with my little dog because “he’s so cute”. They act as if their compliment entitles them to face time with my dog. They’re shocked when I inform them it doesn’t.

    When I refuse such interactions I’ve been told I’m “over protective”. I just smile, and without apology say “Yes, you’re right, and that’s what Remy needs.” I’m sure I’ve been called worse behind my back. Don’t care.

    I won’t risk Remy’s well-being to satisfy the whims of people who don’t respect the word NO. Two years learning how to train my fearful little boy have taught me that advocating for Remy is crucial to his progress. My earning his trust was hard won. I’m not about to sacrifice it because of the clueless people we come across.

    And I’m happy to say that protecting Remy is slowly building up his confidence. The neighbors who know us don’t reach to grab or pet him, cute as he is. Now Remy’s started to solicit attention from some of those kind people who let him initiate contact.

    Nicole, you put it perfectly – My dog is infinitely more important than what . . . anyone else might think of me.

    Great post, and thank you for your wonderful book “Help for Your Fearful Dog”. It’s been a huge help to me raising Remy.

    • wildewmn says:

      Anu, I am standing up and clapping for you! It’s awesome that you’ve been such an advocate for Remy’s protection, even when others have something less than positive to say about it. Kudos to you, and I’m glad my fearful dog book has been a help to you, too. 🙂

  15. Evelyn Haskins says:

    Well Said, Nicole!

    And unfortunately something that needs continual saying. There is too much of this ‘guru’ status given to presenters and professionals, which does inhibit reasonable dissent.

    But this is one of the advantages of age — we worry less about what people might think of us, and more about what we think of ourselves.
    Unfortunately I am a wimp face-to-face and just tend to get up and walk out.

  16. martie13 says:

    Standing up for my fearful dog has been a tough course to follow but it does get easier with practice. It’s extremely frustrating when people just don’t “get it” especially when they are close friends or family members. I am constantly bombarded with “you just need to make her face the scary things and she’ll see they aren’t so scary,” or “You need to stop coddling her,” and “I wouldn’t have a dog like that. I’d want a normal dog.” Well, folks, heaven forbid you ever have a “normal” dog who turns out to have “issues” despite your wishes and best efforts to prevent it. What is “normal” anyway? To most of us our dog is our family member and should be accepted and loved for who s/he is just like our human family members no matter what issues make up her personality. Picking a happy, normal-acting puppy doesn’t guarantee s/he will grow up to be the perfect pet. Sadly, this is part of the reason why there are so many discarded pets, people expecting the “ideal” who are not equipped for anything less. Sorry to stray from the original topic, but perhaps this is a topic for another day.

    • Karen DeBraal says:

      Thanks for this article. I am glad I found it again in my email. I am often pressured to let one of my dogs, who is part heeler and part pointer, off leash and her prey drive is incredible. I cannot do it. I am told all kinds of things, even from people I think should know better. I am blamed for not training her to come. She loves to come but not in wild areas — the last time I let her off several years ago, she eventually came back with a mouth full of fresh blood and it wasn’t hers. It has come to the point where we just do city walks unless I can go somewhere where I won’t see anybody and we can do leashed walks without the commentary. And it isn’t like she is strangling herself either. She is on a sensation harness and is just fine.
      I have another dog, a part pit, who was so stupidly treated at one vet hospital, that I left them forever. The vet grabbed her leash from me and began to walk her around the room, giving her commands and telling me she was showing her who was in charge. This served to make Ella very nervous and Ella is a very social gal, who loves other dogs and people and is normally very calm and stoic. At this visit she was suffering from a skin rash that hurt and the vet, after I asked her to stop this “training,” got Ella on the table and began prodding her. Ella gave a warning whale eye and growl and then the vet informed the tech that this was an example of a very poorly socialized dog. She was rough, loud, inappropriate and I am glad to say that we have a much better vet now.
      Thank you for the validation. I am a former vet tech and zookeeper and shelter worker and not an idiot. I am here to protect my animals and give them a good life.

    • Karen DeBraal says:

      I like your post. I find myself often in the same position.

  17. Stephanie says:

    Thank you, thank you, a million times thank you!

  18. fatmammycat says:

    My dog is not fearful or timid, in face he’s very pro-people ( I think he views them as human pez dispensers) but because he is a GSD and a restricted breed – here in Ireland- I am very vocal about people leaving him alone . Recently a small child- about the same height as my dog’s head- was practically swinging out of Archer’s head as I stood and had a chat with said boy’s father. I had to move Archer repeatedly until finally I asked his father to ‘please tell your son to stop that.’ The dad was genuinely shocked that I might worry. ‘He’s used to dogs’ he said. ‘Great,’ I said, ‘but your lucky my dog loves children, the next dog might not be so placid’
    This man is a nice man, as is the son, but my job it to make sure nothing can happen to put my dog at risk, and that includes making sure kids don’t nick themselves on his rather large teeth.

  19. Sue says:

    During a second herding lesson with a trainer who had said all the right things about R+ during our first lesson, the trainer hit her in the face with a rake. I said “don’t hit my dog.” He did it again. I told him to get away from my dog, that I don’t hit my dog, and I don’t let other people do it. His assistant said “oh, that’s a plastic rake, it won’t hurt her.” I told her that was not at all the point. We left. Never went back.

    I’m glad I stood up for my dog. I think I realized from an earlier situation that the guilt I’d feel over not doing so was much worse than peer pressure. With my first dog a few years earlier, a trainer we’d gone to was throwing a frisbee for my dog. When he didn’t drop it right away, she grabbed his ear and pinched it. I honestly didn’t know what she was doing, I was new to dogs and had no idea this was a thing people did to dogs. I didn’t speak up. And 9 years later, I still wish I had. But I won’t make that mistake again.

    • wildewmn says:

      Sue, good for you! I love hearing stories of how people have stood up for their dogs. What a great example you’ve set. 🙂

  20. Pat says:

    Our latest rescue, Chula (a Siberian Husky) went to our regular Vet office for an initial health check-up and allowed our regular Vet to go all over Chula’s entire body while sitting on the floor and talking softly to her. She loved the gentle, thorough exam and the Vet.
    We took her back when she was due for an immunization and found we were to see the new male Vet in the practice (up until then an all women office). He walked into the exam room with a Vet Tech and proceeded to give Chula a complete exam while standing over her. When he reached his exam of her belly, he poked just a little too hard and Chula yipped and turned her head in his direction. I guess he thought she would bite (she didn’t), as he snatched his hand away and ordered the VT to “hold onto her”. I offered to hold her for him, but he refused saying, “If she bites you, the State of NY will allow you to sue me even though it’s your own dog.” I said, “If you’re that afraid of being sued by a dog’s owner, you are probably in the wrong profession.” I then asked if the Vet Tech could administer the shot and he could stand back and watch me hold Chula for her. He refused. I then asked if another Vet could come in and take over. Again he refused saying they were too busy for that nonsense. I asked him to please get away from the door which I opened and walked out with Chula. I stopped at the desk to offer to pay, but the receptionist said that one of the female Vets would see me in a different exam room. The visit went smoothly from that point. Since, I have requested one of the female Vets for any subsequent visits for any of our dogs. I don’t know if I’m the only one to have this experience, but it was so different from our usual visits that I wonder how long he will last in the office. He can’t leave soon enough for me.

    • wildewmn says:

      Pat, I give you so much credit for standing up to that vet, and for keeping on trying to find a solution that would work. I’m glad you were able to see the female vet, and hope the male vet isn’t causing other dogs to become more fearful and aggressive.

%d bloggers like this: