Yes, I really AM that crazy!

Crazy times with my angel, Monte

I choose to avoid violence in all my interactions with animals.  I don't use oxygen deprivation as a consequence to undesirable behavior, I don't grab dogs by the scruff, I don't spank dogs, I don't pinch ears or toes, I don't knee dogs in the chest, I don't do anything to try to mimic a bite.  I try to avoid the use of auditory aversives as well, including shouting at a dog.  Personally, I find those things to be disrespectful.  My human interactions have taught me that it takes respect to get respect, and I can't yet find evidence that this does not hold true in our relationships with canines as well.

I also choose to act ridiculously silly with my dogs in the pursuit of enthusiastic, willing, confident working partners and canine best friends.  I make ridiculous, high pitched cheering noises on our walks, am frequently squeaking as I walk, toys hidden in my pockets, change directions unpredictably, teach my dogs to walk backwards, and can often be seen doing jumping jacks as my dogs practice a sit or down with duration and distractions on walks.  I never walk when the leash is tight, so sometimes you can see me just standing on the side of the road, admiring a neighbor's flower garden or a passing butterfly until my dogs choose to remove tension from the leash.  Sometimes, I can be seen chasing squirrels with my dogs, then growling with them as we play tug after treeing the loathsome varmint.

In short, I appear quite insane to most of the people in my community and many of the people in my circle of family and friends.

Long-time readers already know this common perception to be true, as I admitted my tendency to Be the Crazy Dog Lady on Karen Pryor's website last year.

Having read all of this, if any of you are picking up your phones to have me locked away, hold that phone.  It gets worse.

I'm so crazy that not only do I avoid being an aversive stimulus in my dog's life, I also avoid allowing my dogs to be in the presence of people who use these training techniques with their dogs.

If I know someone uses a shake can to "correct" their dog's barking, I won't bring my dogs there.  If someone yells at their dogs a lot, my dogs stay home as well.  If someone jerks their dog off his feet by his collar, cutting off his ability to breathe, my dogs don't go there.

Do I still go to these places without my dogs?  Yes, and I'll tell you why - it's my job as an educator.  At the very least, I can offer an alternative.  However, I chose this profession.  My dogs would never choose to be in that type of environment and remember, I really do try hard to respect their wishes.

Crazy or Common Sense?

While many people really do think that these standards are crazy, I hope that others understand where I'm coming from.  As someone who works with dogs, these things are just common sense to me.  Here are a couple of reasons:

  • Dogs learn by association - through classical conditioning, aversive experiences in the presence of a certain stimulus or while in a certain environment can create permanent negative emotional response to the stimuli in question.  If someone is yelling at his dog while I am at his house with my dogs, how are my dogs supposed to know that the screaming is not directed at them?  If they find this experience aversive, whatever behavior they were doing at the time Screamy Pants yelled at his dogs will be punished.  What if that's a nice, desirable behavior, like focusing on me or offering relaxation behaviors?  What if Mokie, who is normally shy around children, was relaxing while accepting friendly petting from a young child?  I work way too hard on my dog's training to run the risk of an inadvertent poisoned cue or developing reactivity or anxiety problems when I could so easily prevent this through management.
  • Dogs are sensitive to human emotion - this is exactly why we like them so much.  They naturally seem to "get us," due in no small part to an extensive history of coevolution.  Dogs can sense when their owners are stressed, happy, frustrated, or anxious by our body language.  (Although I don't have any evidence to back it up, I bet they can literally "smell" these emotions as well, their powerful noses perhaps able to detect hormonal changes associated with mood.)  Seeing this kind of human behavior toward animal stressed me out, and I want my dogs to learn that mom is one cool, calm, and collected  cookie lady.  Additionally, the person delivering the correction is obviously stressed out as well - who screams at their dog when they're mellow and relaxed?  Only someone even crazier than me, I'd wager!
  • While I admit this is purely anecdotal, my observation of both dog and human behavior leads me to believe stress in conspecifics is contagious.  I have seen a domino effect in multidog situations where one dog is stressed and the other dogs in the group manifest stress signals as well in a variety of different ways - overarousal, reactivity, displacement, calming signals, etc.  I know that I have experienced "trickle down stress" myself and probably caused it, when the people around me are stressed, I get stressed too.  It gets passed around like a yawn or the chicken pox.

For these reasons, I choose not to bring my dogs to places where dogs are being disrespected by their owners.  If that, and my devotion to positive training, make me "crazy", it's a title I'm proud to bear.