Showing posts with label aggression. Show all posts
Showing posts with label aggression. Show all posts

17 September 2012

From a whisper to a bite - Pushing a dog too far

Many, many years ago before I knew any different I thought Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, understood dogs.  I used to watch the Dog Whisperer and even bought his book - Be the Pack Leader...Fast forward several years, university studies, many read books about dog behaviour and training, lots of dog seminars, and dog training courses and I realise I was duped. If you're still a fan of Cesar, read on...

National Geographic is screening the last ever series of the Dog Whisperer and the trailers are now hitting TV screens.  One of these is a trailer showing Holly – a Labrador Retriever – who is showing resource guarding around food.  This trailer has already caused quite a stir (no doubt what the TV producers wanted) and has been blogged about very eloquently and succinctly by Nicole Wilde on her blog Wilde About Dogs. Nicole is a great dog trainer and author, her methods are humane and her books are easy to read, practical and grounded in fact and the science behind reward based training methods.

There’s no doubt that Cesar has great communication skills but they’re definitely not with dogs – he often seems to be blind to what dogs are very clearly communicating to him. The video trailer shows Cesar working with Holly to ‘cure’ her of her food guarding…the result?  Extremely uncomfortable and upsetting viewing and a bite to Cesar himself.  One more dog with a bite history…one more dog labelled as dangerous due to out-dated, ill-informed and downright unnecessary training methods.

After 20+ years of working in the PR/media/marketing world, I should know better.  TV programmes are edited a certain way, journalistic bias does exist and in TV land it’s all about ratings.  With the Dog Whisperer programmes, strip away the veneer, editing, emotive music and voice overs and what I’m now left with is a bitter taste in my mouth and tears in my eyes when I see his ‘rehabilitation’ methods in action.  

What amazes me most is that Cesar is heard saying “I didn’t see that coming.”  Really?  I think most pet dog owners could see how upset the dog was and that a bite WAS likely to happen.  Rather than give Holly the space she was asking for, Cesar continued to posture, intimidate, threaten and invade her space.  Any other person would have backed off.  Holly was so clearly showing every warning sign and communication signal in a dog’s repertoire to say ‘leave me alone’… ‘I’m uncomfortable’ … until - in Cesar’s eyes and without warning – she had no choice left but to bite.

Fear, intimidation, coercion and the causing of pain have no place in dog training – ever.  When Cesar says a dog is ‘calm submissive,’ it is really Dog Whisperer code for a dog that has shut down and cannot function.  Cesar often uses flooding techniques when he’s working with reactive/problem dogs.  He continually exposes them to the very thing they are afraid of, with no let out until, in his words, ‘they’re calm submissive.’  I’m pretty sure if you trapped me in a room with my worst fear, with no escape route, and kept exposing me to more and more of the very thing I’m afraid of, I too would become ‘calm submissive’.  I would shut down both mentally and physically to block it out.

In Holly’s video he’s dealing with food guarding.  Let’s look at a human analogy…I like my food, I don’t mind sharing it (most of the time) if I’m asked.  However, if I’d just ordered my favourite pizza, taken a bite and then the waiter came and whipped it away, I’d be a tad confused and somewhat miffed.  If he brought it back and say, I had another few bites, then he took it away again – with no warning – I’d start to feel a little angry (and be making a mental note never to go that pizza restaurant again). I’d probably be trying to ask him why, or covering my plate/holding onto it whenever he walked by.  If this scenario was repeated over and over again during the course of the evening, I would reach the end of my tether and make a scene, or resort to physical abuse as a last resort.  So why would a dog react differently?

Holly's food guarding issues could have been dealt with through a behaviour modification programme, using counter conditioning and desensitisation techniques.  It may not make for the most exciting TV viewing but it would certainly not push Holly over her threshold to bite and, given time, it would make approaches to her food bowl non-threatening and therefore eventually eliminate the need to act aggressively.

If there’s any time that the ‘please don’t try these techniques at home’ warning is needed, it’s with this show.  These techniques won’t make the problem go away. They may seem to work but more often than not they will just suppress the unwanted behaviour, and another unwanted behaviour will take its place.

There are plenty of organisations within the UK that have qualified dog trainers and behaviour experts who can help with training and behaviour problems.  If you have a problem with your dog and you’re not sure what to do, please don’t try to ‘fix it’ yourself.  Both the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers have accredited behaviour counsellors and trainers who can help.

Addendum - Slow motion break down of the video

Watching the video footage of Holly's 'rehabilitation' in real time is upsetting enough but watching it in slow motion, even more so.  So, you may ask, why am I sharing slow motion footage?  Well if there was ever any doubt in your mind about the techniques being used or what Holly was communicating to Cesar, this slowed down video with captions cannot leave you with any doubt.

If you have a dog with a behaviour issue such as food or resource guarding I implore you not to follow misguided advice or attempt to 'cure it' using techniques you've seen on the TV.  Please contact a qualified and accredited dog trainer or behaviour counsellor.

11 May 2010

A pocketful of treats... a diversionary technique

This Sunday, my last dog walk with the hounds before leaving to travel back down South, turned out to be quite eventful and got me thinking about how little us humans sometimes 'think dog' and expect so much from our canine companions.

Me, hubby and hounds had decided to stretch all 16 legs and take the hounds for a bit of off lead time, recall practice and a run in the local playing field. When we got to the field there was another dog - an off lead German Shepherd (GSD) - playing with its owner, so we decided not to go in as Mina can be unpredictable with other dogs.

We carried on walking for a bit and then turned round to head back this stage I could hear screaming and shouting coming from the field, accompanied by loud barks and yapping. We ran back to the field and when I saw what was happening, I handed Stevie and Jasper to hubby and went into the field to help... was quite a sight. The German Shepherd was half lying down, being held and protected by his owner, and was being attacked by two off-lead terriers (a Jack Russell Terrier and a Terrier Cross). The owner of the terriers was frantically trying to catch them, and the owner of the German Shepherd was desperately trying to (a) stop them biting her dog and (b) keep her dog calm, preventing it from biting the terriers.

I know that getting involved in a dog fight isn't the most sensible option, but it did look I could help and the attack hadn't escalated into a full blown fight.

I always carry a pocketful of food treats when I'm walking the hounds, and remember reading somewhere that if a dog starts to attack your dog, try and throw food, a ball or an object to get the attacking dog's attention. The terriers were running around barking and nipping at the GSD, who thankfully was long haired - as it appeared that the terriers were mainly biting out chunks of hair.

The terriers' owner was struggling to catch either of them, so I went across and started calling to them and throwing food treats - in their direction, but away from the GSD. Food can be useful diversion and both appeared to be food motivated. Somehow the lure of the food worked its magic and got them away from the GSD, allowing me to hold one by its harness and the other by its scruff (their owner had taken off his collar/harness).

Thankfully no-one was hurt - human or dog. The terriers' owner clipped them both back onto their leads and the GSD owner was keeping her dog calm.  What made it even more unbelievable was that the owners and their dogs were neighbours...

...and this got me thinking to how much we really know our dogs and just don't think dog.

Just because you may be neighbours, and even if you don't like your neighbour, the chances are you're polite to them - you say hello and exchange niceties about the weather and know how to act socially around them.

But, what if you're a dog and all you see/hear of your doggy neighbour is barking, growling and jumping at the other side of the fence when you're out in the garden? What if that 'big dog next door' is always trying to jump over the fence, or the 'little dog next door' is always poking its nose under the fence barking and trying to nip you?

Just because us humans know how to act when we meet a neighbour, we shouldn't expect our dogs to know what to do. All too often we expect our dogs to be mini doggy etiquette experts, doing what we would do in a strange situation, minding their doggy Ps & Qs, but dogs don't think human; they think dog!

We all want well behaved, well socialised and well mannered dogs but this takes time, patience and training. Next time you think about letting your dog off lead - think dog!
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