In a recent conversation with another dog owner, I heard this phrase: “She’s being a little s#*%!” When I asked what the woman meant, she replied that Ginger, her very mini, long-haired mix, wasn’t at all compliant when she tried to groom her around the head area. Ginger, she related with indignity, thrashed and threatened to bite! Although the woman had been a vet tech and certainly knows how to restrain dogs, the task was almost impossible. Then she mentioned the buzzing noise, and I realized she’d been using clipping shears, which make a noise that can be frightening to some dogs. In the end, she had decided to leave Ginger’s head area alone. Still, she was clearly distraught over the episode.
Part of the reason the woman was so upset is that she follows the philosophy that if a dog doesn’t allow us to do something, or disobeys a request, that he is being dominant. She believes we should be able to do anything we want to our dogs and they should, without question, let us. This is a point that’s worth considering. Does this all or nothing philosophy really serve us or our dogs?
Dogs are living beings who have fears, likes, and dislikes, just like we do. Should another person be able to do anything they like to you, in whatever way that they like, whether it scares the hell out of you or not? I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t be able to handle our dogs. Of course we should. I came in from a walk just this morning with two wet, muddy dogs. Had I not been able to handle their paws and towel them off, I would have had an even messier house than usual. Certain things are non-negotiable but, even in those cases, if a dog reacts fearfully, the kinder, more productive thing to do is to use desensitization techniques to get him accustomed to the “scary thing” gradually. Besides, what if your dog isn’t complying because he’s feeling unwell, or because what you’re doing hurts? If you didn’t stop to consider that and simply pushed through, you’d never know.
I remember watching a popular television show years ago. This particular episode featured a maltipoo with very shaggy bangs that were obscuring her vision. The man had the dog up on a table and was brandishing a pair of long, pointed scissors with one hand while attempting to hold the dog still by squeezing his other hand around her throat. The dog was thrashing her head from side to side as the man darted in with the scissors here and there, attempting to make little snips. The owner looked on, clearly horrified. I too was horrified, watching with my hands half covering my eyes, afraid that the poor dog was about to be blinded. After a few snips, the man handed the scissors to the owner and then restrained the dog with both hands around the throat as the woman made a half-hearted attempt to trim the bangs. So, what did this all accomplish? The dog was scared out of her mind. And what do you think will happen the next time the owner tries this on her own?
Forcing a dog accomplishes nothing. Sure, in an emergency situation we should do whatever it takes to keep our dogs safe. But should you, without question, be able to do anything to your dog? For me, the answer is that you should be able to do the things that are necessary for your dog’s well-being, and the things that are important in your everyday life together. But, if your dog becomes frightened or reactive when you do those things, rather than becoming indignant or angry, the kinder and more productive route is to take the time and make the effort to help your dog learn that there’s nothing to be afraid of; in the long run, it will make things easier for both of you.
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Absolutely! Great article 👍. Back when I was new to having a dog, I remember a former agility instructor telling me he was being disrespectful and dominant when he didn’t want to do something – in hind sight, I realized how he was actually scared and shutting down, not remotely “defiant”. Thankfully, it was determined that I was too nice, too soft, for letting him off the hook and would just have to deal with it. I was labeled a less than competent trainer for being soft but he is a wonderful biddable, happy and sweet boy who had a great agility career, so I’m not sorry 😃 for being “soft” and respecting my dog’s feelings.
and then people wonder why they get bitten!
Excellent article. Every day I have to tell someone almost exactly what you are saying. Thanks again.
Great article! It’s so easy to train them gradually to accept things, especially routine grooming procedures. I have to confess that I also do photo ops with my dogs especially for holidays. For example, they posed, albeit grudgingly, for St Patrick’s Day wearing various headbands etc. IMO doing silly things like this also helps them learn that although I may do strange things with them, they can trust that I will never hurt them!
The answer to your question was biased by the way it was stated. If you had asked should I expect total willingness instead of total compliance you were going to get a very different answer.
It is the same sort of poor problem definition that sets trainers up for failure. How do I change my cat to get off the kitchen counter sets one up for failure. Asking how do I teach my cat to stay on the floor sets one up for success.
Douglas, this is a blog, not a textbook. Blog headlines are designed to entice viewers to read them. The actual point of the blog was quite clear to those who took the time to read it.
I know this is a dog blog, but I have a story similar to this one about my cat, Rajah. I bought a new brush to comb his fur one day after getting it recommended by his vet. This was three years ago. At first, Rajah was curious, then when I tried to brush him, he ran from me. Instead of trying to force him to endure the grooming, I used positive reinforcement with treats. I explained what the brush was used for and praised him when he was brave enough to touch it. We did this for the next two weeks. Soon, he let me gently touch him with the brush. Soon after, he allowed me to brush him with no resistance bc I had taken the time to desensitize him and go at his pace. Now he comes running whenever I get the brush out and call him.