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A Page from the Dog Trainers Diary

Two cases, one theme...displaced frustration!

Since I began my , I’ve received many personal emails from readers. Some were sad memories of missed opportunities—readers who see now what they could have done differently in difficult situations.

Others were seeking clarity and direction to improve their dogs’ behavior. Two readers invited me into their homes to work one-on-one with their dogs. Before I conclude this series and move on to the next (Ain’t Misbehaving: A Look at Dog and Puppy Frustrations), I want to profile these two very different cases from my private dog training practice.

In both situations, I was called in as a second opinion when both dogs failed to respond to harsher “training” methods. 

The first call came from Sadie’s family. Their year-old Labrador Retriever was showing signs of , growling whenever anyone approached her while she ate or slept. Sadie’s original trainer recommended a dominance-based solution, pinning Sadie on her back whenever she showed signs of aggression.

Although her family dutifully (albeit nervously) tried to follow this routine, Sadie’s aggression grew worse and she was growing fearful of even the friendliest contact.

Later in the week, I heard from Mason’s distraught family. Mason, an exuberant Labradoodle, had bitten a delivery person and was showing . During our initial consultation, I learned that Mason wore a shock collar recommended by a local trainer. The family was instructed to “electronically correct” Mason for inappropriate behavior – without euphemism, this means Mason received an electric shock to his neck for barking, jumping or begging for food.

Mason certainly stopped these common behaviors, but he didn’t learn any appropriate replacement behaviors. Unable to express his natural enthusiasm, Mason was becoming neurotic and dangerous.

Both of these dogs were suffering from similarly ill-advised training strategies. Sadie and Mason were not learning positive and appropriate alternatives to natural dog responses. They were simply being intimidated. Their aggressive reactions were not surprising.

In Sadie’s case, only the trainer was able to successfully pin this large, strong dog to the floor. But Sadie was not feeling too positive about any human after a few trips to the mat. In an effort to control her environment and prevent the weaker members of the pack from trying to bully her, Sadie started to proactively bully them. 

Mason, on the other hand, was deeply confused and fearful. Wouldn’t you be if you received a series of random electronic shocks throughout the day? That’s how Mason felt; he did not understand the purpose of the shock. He stopped jumping or barking because, But…what now? 

The good news is that both of these dogs are beginning to trust the cheerful, routine kibble approach, a training method that stresses good behavior. It teaches Sadie and Mason what to do instead of what not to do. And it does so with a tasty bit of kibble rather than a body slam or painful shock. The right behavior is rewarded while the wrong behavior is targeted with an uncomfortable but non-threatening response. Both of these dogs and their families need to learn positive interaction skills of offset defensive, fearful reactions. 

I am very hopeful but it is too early to tell the future. The dominance training model used on these dogs has seriously affected their trust levels. Regular readers of my column know that I am a tireless advocate for sensible, compassionate training. Sadie and Mason are sad testaments to the damage that comes from harsh, inappropriate “training.”

Share your stories: happy, sad, hopeful.  We are a community of dog lovers...sharing, listening and learning from one another.  

Sarah Hodgson March 13, 2012 at 12:56 AM
Thanks for the comment. I'm glad to be invited in and a conduit for positive change!
Sarah Hodgson March 13, 2012 at 12:57 AM
There is really so much damage done when people use fear and intimidation to train dogs. No one in their right mind would do it if they had the right instruction in the first place. If you wouldn't do it to a child, don't do it to a dog!
Sarah Hodgson March 13, 2012 at 01:03 AM
Glad you enjoy them as much as I love writing them!
Kelly Jancski March 15, 2012 at 05:06 PM
It's great to see you sharing your love for dogs and positive methods with a greater audience. Too often frustrated and inexperienced dog owners default to negative reinforcement when they don't know what to do. I'd love to see a column about stopping a dog from stealing food from plates, kids and counters!
Sarah Hodgson March 15, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Tune in next week: I'll make it one of the lead behaviors in my series, called Ain't Misbehaving!

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