Warning: 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?
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.