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02/05/2013 / Julie

Defeat

What do you consider a defeat as an instructor? Is your main

goal to help your clients manage their dog no matter the cost? Would you consider using pain just so the owner can see that there is a calm dog in reach?

I’d consider it a defeat when chokers and kidney ropes (as illustrated here) would have to be used. Which is why I’d ban them in any of my classes. They hurt, and they’re dangerous to the dog’s body. It’s that simple. They do nothing for the relationship between dog and owner, and they are the easy way out. There is nothing wrong with the easy way out, when there are no side effects, or when you can benefit from it. However short term pain leaves ever lasting memories in a dog, and while your arm may be given a rest the dog has now learnt that leashes hurt, moving forwards hurts (which, granted, may be what you are after), and last but not least; people and dogs make it hurt. And that last one is something that can really give you problems later. It can cause serious aggression issues, and if you have learned to deal with pulling through pain, you are likely to pour fuel on the fire.

A short case study of two similar dogs (not as objective as a case study should be)

Dog A, a German Shepherd, about 6 months. He is from working lines, has a ton of energy and his head is always working out what is going on and making connections. He is easily motivated, but has a short attention span. A lot of loud noises, does nothing half way.

Dog B, a Dalmation, about 15 months. A calmer dog, but also a lot of energy. Easily motivated, but he has some fears which leads to him needing to control his environment. He has a hard time to focus with dogs around. When he gets face to face he stiffens.

A working GSD. Pic from http://www.gramanns.se

Dog A came to the training area bursting with energy and ready to go. He came screaming out of the car, with and owner haning some yards behind. The owner had brought very good treats, and she was working well. They had been to a class somewhere else before. There they had been told to stand a little to the side, but not what to do there. They weren’t happy with that treatment, which I can understand.

Here they got to stand on the line with the rest, they got to work with the rest. It was a hassle. Dog A was, for the first two and a half nights, howling and singing in excitement and frustration. They got some good work in, though. He was learning sit and stay, heel, recall (on a long line). To mention some. A few times the instructor went over to dog A and tried to help the owner out by showing her how she could get control over her dog by standing in front of him, giving more of herself vocally and physically (moving the treat more, making it more interesting). And they worked, but he had a short attention span, he was only 6 months old. Working for half an hour + straight is too much to ask, and he would consequently loose focus and start making noise again. He did calm down a lot in the few first class nights, but he was still screaming in frustration and excitement.

A few times the instructor also took the dog a little away in an effort to calm A, when he didn’t listen she grabbed his collar and held it tight under his jaw. He snapped back, made louder noises. Instructor said he was fighting back because of the “drive” in him and that he was throwing temper tantrums because she was telling him to calm down. What I saw was a scared, frustrated dog that didn’t know what was expected of him.

On the fourth night the instructor brought out a choker, not a chain choker but a rope choker, and put it on him in conjunction with a kidney rope. There was no active yanking from the instructor, she just stood there, but the dog was moving around, and this was clearly uncomfortable. Dog A stopped moving around as much, but his focus was still outward, and not on the owner.

Dog B, the Dalmatian, he came with much the same problem as dog A. He did have a longer attention span, and was a calmer dog all in all, but he also had a lot of noise the first few nights. However it was dealt with differently. The owner was told that she should be calm with him, reward him for making contact, make a fuss of him, and not yell at him for staring at other dogs, but call him away. She should keep an eye on his tail as well. It was a very good indicator of whether he was being curious or tense. The owner used a clicker as well, but mainly as a marker, not as a principle.

Dog B made steady progress. He got steady rewards, he got to work below threshold and always got a reward. He still had an outward focus at times, mainly because he got tired by the long sessions. He learnt what he needed to and worked hard, because he liked it. On night 4 we found out that he really loves to play, and that made him even easier to reward. He was a darling that night, and completely exhausted at the end of the evening.

Night 5 with a city walk

Dog A showed up with the same amount of noise as usual when in the car. As the owner got him out she put on the kidney rope (no choker), and the dog changed. There was not as much noise anymore, and the noise heard was different. It had changed from whiny, frustrated howls to sharp, short, high pitched barks with teeth whenever another dog came within 6 yards, or it was quiet for too long. Whenever he did this the owner told him “no” in a sharp tone. If he didn’t listen she performed the same little dance with him as the instructor had on previous nights. Grabbing his collar, pulling it tight under his jaw, and holding on until he was quiet. He responded by fighting back. It was painful and scary, and he wanted out.

His body language was no longer a continuos bounce with ears forward, relaxed mouth and happy tail. The ears were more often back, he was licking his lips, pacing and the tail was hanging. All in the name of calm in a 6 month old working GSD. On the outside he seemed calmer. He did very well on the walk. He found out that gnawing on treats next to mum’s hip is preferable to having your kidneys squeezed, and he walked nicely for much of the walk.

Dog B did excellent on the standing still and working part. He worked well, was motivated, and didn’t care a lot about the other dogs around him. The owner was the coolest thing. He did react when one of the puppies had to throw some warning barks at people with hoodies passing by in the shade, but apart from that he did very well. It was clear dog B was having fun. When they started the walk his biggest weakness became clear, he couldn’t walk on the lead. So the instructor put the kidney lead on him. “To show him what “no” means”. And sure it worked ok. He walked calmly through the town. When the walk was done he was no longer as upbeat as he had been. His head was low, his extremely expressive eyes gave the impression of being defeated, and he didn’t initiate contact with his owner.

If it had been my decision, dog B’s expression and dog A’s body language and new found reactivity would have been felt as a defeat. I would have taken it personally that the dogs have lost their joy. It takes a toll on me to be around people that believe that putting demands to a dog means telling it what’s not allowed, and saying “no” when it stands from a stay or a sit, or is pulling toward something. When I want my dogs to give me more for a reward I withhold the reward, and task them to try harder. I want them to figure out what I want by using their brain and taking responsibility of training. If they aren’t paying attention, we take a break and reconfigure our settings, so to speak. What do we need for the dog to get it right? Higher reward frequency? Lower demands? Let him get it wrong until he gets it right, and then a huge jackpot? More help? Better reward? Different suroundings? Shorter sessions?

I’m pretty sure dog A would have been a star pupil if the owner had on the first night given space, increased reward frequency and taken more breaks. He is a demanding dog, but he is only 6 months and full of energy. More than most puppies. He is a working dog, and the owner will most likely have issues with reactivity if she keeps up the punishment.

Dog B’s biggest issue is lead walking, and as most of us know with dogs with lead walking issues; it is one the most frustrating problems there is. It takes time, patience and consistency. You want a quick fix, but there rarely are any quick fixes that work in the long run. Apart from owner getting frustration out. Go kick a tree instead. But he got a quick fix with the kidney rope. It worked there around familiar dogs and people.

I’ve found that if you keep trying there is always a different way, and there is always a better way than pain. Just keep trying, ask for help, and think. Brainstorm at night before you go to sleep. That’s my most productive time, anyway.

A and B feel like defeats to me. It’s in no way my resposibility how they end up, but I feel defeated by the outcome. Hopefully they meet some smart people that will make them change their minds about chokers and kidney ropes.

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