The Connection Between Dog Training and Dog Advocacy Part 2
This also appeared in the Pit Bull Advocacy magaizne No More Lies printed in the UK Spring 2014.
Real Life Lessons
Between 2012 and 2013 my two businesses Urban Dawgs and Pit Bull Guru worked with over 700 dogs. We work with all sorts of dogs, all breeds and types, all ages, from puppies of 8 weeks, adolescent and adults and senior dogs; we see all pathologies of behavior, you name it and we have worked with it.
In all of those cases no matter the type or breed, or the training needs, when non-aversive, proper dog training and behavioral modification was implemented the dogs and the people did better. This is 100% of the time. The stress was reduced and the dog and the humans learn better. Over time, behavior changes and life gets better. When humans did not follow a plan based in proper training and “made it up” with a mixed bag of this and that, and or used aversive methods to “train” and maintain; the dogs did poorly.
As Jean Donaldson opined recently, “ There’s a sad irony in advocating for a maligned group, while simultaneously inflicting pain on them”.
I have yet to meet anyone that wants to cause their dogs pain or fear when interacting with them. If anyone has instructed you that you are a “weak leader” or that your dog is “dominating” you to “gain rank” they were selling you fiction. If you then set about using fear and pain based approaches you were or are abusing your dog and taking advantage of their natural deference.
Indeed you need to be proactive and maybe the dog is challenging, but there is not a moral imperative by the dog to disobey you, the dog is simply responding to the environment and the history of reinforcement in the context. This can be proven every time. It is science and math, not a magic convergence of “energy” that obtains better results for dogs. Having safe fun along the way should be the approach and the mindset should be one of a guide, a guardian, or a referee, don’t take it personally.
Remember, dogs can land 25 bites in 4 seconds and a 30 pound dog could easily pick up and slam down a 200 pound man with ease, yet they do not do this the vast majority of the time, in fact even when it goes horribly wrong it is usually a small child or an elderly person unsupervised with a dog that had shown signs of behavioral concern in their history and the humans have shown negligence of some sort in their history.
What is the difference between a person causing a dog pain and fear to “train” them or abuse them? Nothing except the person’s perspective and level of empathy. Calling fear & pain “ dog training” is like calling date rape “love”.
I have detailed all through out my advocacy for dogs, that proper non-force, non fear based training is the foundational aspects to a safe community and for dog guardians to build sound dogs. This is what all people want in reality, even the dog haters, even the “pit bull” haters want sound safe dogs in the hands of educated and responsible humans, because dogs are here to stay. The dogs, any type of dogs, are here, and as far as I can see they will be here forever.
When you are the guardian of a bully breed dog or a large type dog, judgment will come at you and the dog at some point, no mater what. It would suit all dogs’ guardians, and especially those of any dog that may be looked upon by some with trepidation, to get the skills and education needed so that no matter what, when people see you with your dog, or any dog you are in the care of, they are assured you are in control and treating the animal with respect and kindness. By obtaining behavior in a sound safe way, you and the dog will look amazing, and people will be impressed. That is at the heart of advocacy victories, people need to feel empathy and sympathy and at least respect the animals life in order to motivate them to help.
Your behavior will influence the dog as well as the people watching you, so please make sure you are always acting in ways that will automatically defend the dogs simply by your actions. It can be said without a word being uttered to the people watching you with your dogs; you are treating the dog well and working to obtain compliance without force or intimidation, and the dog is sound and complying willingly.
When the dog is not wearing gear that will possibly allude to some intrinsic need to “control them” due to their “dangerousness”, such as prong or shock collars you show people what history knew before electricity and molded metal, dogs do well with humans that are safe and that provide reinforcements. People will judge how humans act, react and respond to our dogs. Make sure it is always in ways that advocates for their innocence and their safety all the while teaching the dog and guiding the dog.
The banning and restricting of certain dogs will one day go by the wayside. It is simply not effective and it’s too expensive. The White House weighing in on BSL being a “bad idea” will only further that direction of one day having breed bans removed and replaced with education.
The culture of caring for and training dogs is something that remains constant regardless of what laws say about certain dogs, and it will be proper, non-aversive training and humane care for dogs that must be the single focus in the efforts of advocating for dogs, all dogs. If they are to be set free from prejudice then dogs need to additionally be set free from the bonds of mistreatment under the guise of “training”.
When communities are educated in safe ways to train and care for dogs, bite incidents are reduced and concerns are lowered, it is that simple. Proper canine education can be implemented in many cases for free, or very low cost. Certainly less cost than banning dogs.
When media stops sensationalizing dog bite incidents the collective consciousness of dog guardians and the general public will remain at more common sense levels, thus reducing hysteria and fictional assessments of why things may have occurred. This means more common sense shelter and rescue practices. This decrease in hysteria has already been seen occurring in many areas including the media.
The goal in dog advocacy is not to merely be a “cheerleader” of cut & paste facts. Many people do that and it has it’s place, however the rubber meets the road when you can supply facts about dogs that illustrate their plight along with teaching tangible skills to train and maintain dogs so they are taught properly due to their human guardians knowing what to do and how to do it without the use of fear, pain or coercion.
Remember simply saying, “I don’t know”, and finding someone that does will be smarter than making something up. Your words may or may not hold a dog’s life in the balance. Make the safest decision about a dog and you make the smartest decision about the dog. Just arrive at that decision after you have thought through things critically.
You do not have to be a professional dog trainer and behavior consultant to achieve this; you simply have to start becoming educated by way of legitimate means in the sciences of dog behavior and training for your dog. It is fun and it is very helpful for dogs, after all that is the point, right? It is not as hard or intimidating as you may think, but it is crucial if you’re considering becoming an advocate or are already advocating for dogs.
Anyone on the street or in public with a dog that may be viewed as “dangerous” or concerning by some is an advocate by default. Make sure your actions and your words are always in line with your ethics by learning about behavior from legit sources.
If you have a prong collar or shock collar on your dog, or you train and interact with a heavy hand approach, no matter how much you love your dog, there will be people that perceive your actions as a result of owning a “dangerous dog” and make the assumption that is why you need to use these harsh approaches as the dogs are thought to be “what ever euphemisms people attach”.
If one does not want unreasonable restrictions placed on dogs then they should consider using reasonable training practices with them, to illustrate that the dogs they are in charge of need no special devices or overly heavy handed approaches to maintain them, other wise they are playing unwittingly into the hands of the people that want certain dogs banned and or done away with.
If you do not know about behavior, human and canine, and how those two species are to best co exist, so there is less stress and more success in the dynamic, then you may simply be advocating on fumes of emotions, and sooner or later emotional arguments die.
If you are suggesting that people need to “dominate” the dog in order to “break the dog”, you need to rethink the whole process, as you are creating unsound dogs to some degree. Those two mindsets are adversarial, and dogs are our best friends, by way of their legendary deference to us, that is why they can literally live alongside us unlike any other animal, ever.
It bears repeating; roughly 6,000 “pit bull” type dogs are euthanized every day in the USA. Many of these dogs are in shelters due to them being misunderstood in one way or other. This “misunderstanding” is the result of behavior issues, housing restrictions, also a result of misunderstanding, and of course breeding abuse. Some that advocate using harsh and heavy-handed approaches with certain dogs because they are “naturally challenging” due to their “genetics” also perpetuates the cycle of canine misunderstanding in culture this all trickles down to the media and even in the shelters and rescues.
As we know not all dogs will make it, however we owe all dogs the legitimate science, math and knowledge we have about dogs to date, in order to make the final determination if they live or die.
When the dogs that live go on to a home it should be top priority to educate the humans in safe and effective ways to keep that dog in their home forever. Once that is the way of the world we’ll see things improve greatly.
Watch what you say and how you say it
When I interviewed Dr. Karen Overall (UPenn) she said she tells her students of dog behavior to “be careful” when they speak, as people will listen, this she says, is even more crucial for people that are charismatic, she goes on to say, “they’ll be influential”.
Every time someone opens their mouth and says anything about a dog those words hold the dog’s life in the balance. It may hold an entire type of dog in the balance, as we’ve seen with “pit bull type” dogs. It may not always be that intense but it is always that important. Dogs get reputations due to people talking about them.
Dogs get undeserved reputations based on ignorance and fictional anthropomorphic attachments, such as “`ol fido is stubborn, jealous, aggressive etc…”, well actually `ol fido was built by way of his history of reinforcements” is really what should be said, then further add, “his humans created his environments”, but alas the world still needs more education.
We have come a long way in the past 30 plus years since the first breed bans and media bashing of “pit bulls” began. We have also come very far from the choke & shock school of “training” dogs. We have a longer way to go still, in order for all dogs, to be properly understood. The “pit bull” will no doubt lead the way for all dogs to be better understood, for what dog has had more misunderstanding associated with it?
Please think about what you say, how you say it and whom you say it to when discussing dogs. All dogs get reputations based on humans placing things upon them that many times are just out and out lies, fabrications based on the persons biases and many times the determinations of dogs behavior pathology are based on feelings, not facts.
It is a lie that dogs are out to get us, and it is a lie that dogs need to be “trained” using fear and or pain based approaches so they “learn”. This is fictional nonsense and once people start doing their homework and not just taking a bunch of advice from the shelter parking lots of the world, or TV “trainers”, dogs will be getting a fair chance at living a good life, with the appropriate people implementing safe training practices to teach dogs how to live with less stress and more success along side humans.
It is a lie that all you need to do is put cute pictures of dogs on the Internet and say they are “good dogs”, in order for them to receive proper and fair treatment. One needs to know the intricacies of human dynamics and how those affect dog behavior, so forever homes are just that, forever. The humans in the equation are the ones that need to change in order for the dogs to get a chance.
Indeed all the dogs are innocent, but not all the dogs are the same or can simply be “loved into happiness”. Many times dogs require specific training and behavior modifications that could be implemented if the stations of education that are supposed to exist at shelters and rescues were flush with educated people that had the dogs best interest placed first. Alas, that is not the case; the world is filled with self-educated self-credentialed “experts” that give advice and tips from the perspective of their biases and not from the use of asking proper questions and issuing safe protocols.
Sadly many dogs are not “assessed”. Most times dog “assessments” are not based on the intake of information from proper questions asked or from legit observations. Thus, the human in care of the dog in the shelter or a paid pro trainer does not issue protocols based on the dogs history and the environment and the abilities of the current humans in the dogs charge, it’s a bunch of hooey and talk about “leadership” and “dominance”.
We don’t need any more lies about dogs, be they small fabrications or bold-faced lies. We have enough and have had enough. No more lies indeed. People need to learn to say; “I don’t know”, more often than spouting what they “feel”.
One of the things I was taught at the Academy for Dog Trainers and was also instilled in me by other mentors in dog advocacy and dog behavior is learning to say, “I don’t know” and start asking questions, then do some critical thinking and set about doing things better and more efficient for the dogs.
This is a call to arms for all dog advocates to learn and to start doing more critical thinking and to say “I don’t know” and then find out based on proper research. Look to people that have done quiet a bit for dogs already. Usually when they are approached honestly and in a calm fashion they will help you to avoid mistakes. If the dogs are the real concern, then humans need to remember their actions and words hold dog’s lives in the balance.
Obtain and implement proper educational efforts to help dogs, be it training, or advocacy, don’t be a cut & paste advocate all the time, learn to expand and personalize advocacy. Find your talents and adjust your mission so you are effective and protective when you speak on behalf of dogs.
Your talents can help save dogs even if those talents are not in the areas of training and behavior. The ripple effect starts with you and your dog in your travels, and when you are doling out safe, smart, verified information that has been vetted for quality. Then you’ll be spreading the proper gospel, and helping to save many dogs. You will be a proper voice for dogs because you will have the proper information to defend them.
By helping to dispel this myth about dogs “dominating” humans, and replacing it with the truth about dog behavior, which is, their learned history and environment led them to what ever their pathology is, you’re helping to build a legitimate foundation in dog culture for the post BSL world, so dogs are treated fairly in full, not in part. This can to occur right away, even before BSL is eradicated.
Then when you defend the dogs, which are conduits of the truth, you will avoid many disagreements with sane common sense people, the dogs and or people you do “loose”, or more so the people that fail to see where things can be improved, these dogs will at least be honored with you having done the best most thorough job you could do, based on math and science, not guesses and gut feelings.
The reason why so many dogs are still in trouble is that they have no voice, and the small window into the voice they do have is distorted and muffled by pseudo science and myths perpetuated by hack trainers and the media, and sometimes the people that speak for them are not always equipped to do the best job, as they are not fully educating themselves, they are running their mouths on fumes of emotional feelings.
All it takes to change, people, culture and dogs, is proper education and a desire to implement it daily. Anyone can do that. We have the proper info. No one is stopping anyone from changing their mind, changing their behavior and or changing the culture of dogs for the better. No one, and that is not a lie. It’s up to each one of us to do our job as best as we can, everyday, so dogs do the best they can always.
Here are links to further your education about dog training and dog advocacy.
Urban Dawgs You Tube channel
Dog Training & Behavior Consulting
Pet Professional Guild
The Heavy Hand Myth – You Don’t Need Fear & Pain to Train Dogs
Leash Walking Information
Dog Training Courses
Jean Donaldson’s Academy For Dog Trainers
Karen Pryor Academy
Pit Bull Guru You Tube Channel
Stop Verbal Violence Against Pit Bulls - Video
NCRC National Canine Research Council
KC Dog Blog - one of the best resources on the web for truth about Pit Bull news.
Your Pit Bull and You
Pin Ups For Pit Bulls