Wednesday, February 3, 2010

News Reel Rants - Dog Bites Family and Biting Dog

Sunday was the first time I've picked up a newspaper in months (aside from our local community news - I always check up on the Humane Society's column). I don't usually like the dog training columns in the paper because they don't generally give advice that I agree with. The unfortunate thing is that other people will read the article and then apply whatever advice given to their own dog(s). Usually it's the total opposite of what you should do or it's only partly correct. I couldn't believe it on Sunday ... I read the article Dog Bites Family and actually agreed with the columnist!

Holy Jumpin. It's a day for celebrations. Here's the quote that I ABSOLUTELY love ... "I class all truly abusive and positive dog trainers in the same category. They both hurt dogs. The former does it in an obvious way and the latter an insidious way." Beautifully written. I couldn't have said that better myself. If you have time, check out the article. There's some good info in there.

Then I get an email about this article, Biting Dog Needs to be Desensitized from a different paper and a different columnist. I read it and couldn't believe what I was reading. Basically the article said not to use punishment (positive or otherwise) because it doesn't work or if it does, it is only temporary. Check out what this columnist published ... The blue is her published work, the Red and Black are my comments:

"Leash corrections are in the same category as spanking" WTF?! Are you serious? That's one broad statement. So if a person has a dog on the leash and the dog is aggressively charging the TV (the example given - what if it were another dog or a child??), you should not use the leash to correct? What the heck do you suggest the person do? Let go? Do you even know what this "correction" is that the person who wrote in used?

The most interesting thing is that by using the word "spanking" as the comparison, the columnist has half the readership already nodding in agreement not because they disagree with leash correction but because they disagree with spankings.

Watch what you read.

Most good writers are taught what's called persuasive writing ... In fact - did you know that most grade school children are learning persuasive writing?? I have the pleasure of sitting in on some of these classes during my day job - interesting stuff ... wish I could learn some of it! HA.

Then she wrote this "Research indicates the effects may be temporary unless the punishment is immediate, consistent and severe". What research? I would like to read some research studies that prove this - it would be interesting. I don't agree with this statement. (This is where I'm going to have all sorts of readers up in arms about what I've written) Again, it is far too broad and doesn't explain spit. What does "severe" mean? Each dog will view punishment as different so you really can't make such a statement. I also don't agree that punishment needs to be immediate for everything ... while I have many examples I could use, this is the best and most recent one I can think of ...

You better believe that the day I walked in the door after work to see my nice new cat pillow shredded all over my livingroom floor, my dogs knew exactly what was going on when I picked it up and said "What is THIS?! Who ate my pillow?!" (I knew exactly who it was because only one dog was new to being out of the crate throughout the day and she is a "destructor dog".) (Granted ... living with 5 dogs I really should have KNOWN that a CAT PILLOW would not be on their Top Ten List for decorating our house but I think of it sometimes as MY house). I didn't catch them in the act. I did give them trouble about it - all of them. They haven't done it again (I have a matching pillow with a DOG on it and they seem to think that one's just fine). It's all part and parcel of training. If I had expensive crap, I wouldn't have dogs. What's the point of this story? My dogs received verbal correction, then got the cold shoulder until dinner time. The punishment was not immediate (it was possibly even hours after the behaviour), consistent (it didn't happen more than once) or severe (not physical in the slightest; all they got was me tossing my arms around my head in frustration, a bit of yelling and then the ignore button) but it worked.

"Although punishment may work for some, it can be ineffective and even has the potential to backfire" At this point in the article it sounds like this columnist is lumping all punishment in the same box. You have to think outside the box when you're training dogs. Punishment is different for each and every dog and when you find out what works for that dog, it is quite effective. You sure wouldn't use the same template on every dog. Not all dogs are the same. For some, I could use verbal. For others, I could put them on ignore. For others, I would put into isolation. For others, I can use a leash correction. For others, a time out where they aren't isolated but are limited in movement works. You can't assume that the thing that works for dog number one will work for dog number two and if you have assumed this than of course you would make a statement as above.

While this columnist has some good points ("Systematic desensitization is one effective choice. Instead of waiting for the dog to fail and then correcting it, the dog is set up for success"), these shining rays of hope are overwhelmed by the huge amount of crap she has written. It honestly sounds like she picked up a Behaviour Modification book and cut, copied and pasted certain key phrases to be interspersed with the crap. That way it sounds like she actually knows what she's talking about. She uses key phrases like "positive punishment", "learning theory", "Systematic desensitization", and "anxiety-provoking triggers" but then puts in the sentences as outlined above.

Here's what really bothers me ... when you get someone giving advice in such columns and they have no idea what they are talking about. The scary thing is that people at home will take that advice and apply it to their own dogs, often making the problems worse.

If you have a dog at home that exibits any aggressive tendencies (or other negative behaviours) you wish to resolve - PLEASE go to a trainer! Don't just read an article in the paper and assume you can fix it yourself.


Melissa said...

You mean to say you can't teach someone how to train dogs in one newspaper article? No, really? That's almost as shocking as saying that you can't train a dog with rewards only. :-)

Hint: You can't train a child with rewards only, either. I'm looking at you, miss 'I'll-give-you-a-candybar-if-you're-good' mother.

Viatecio said...

Wonderfully said! Just wonderful and I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who is willing to agree fully with that columnist in the Dog Bites Family link.

Someone posted that on a pet forum on which I spend time...and oh dear, it seriously degenerated into debate (albeit friendly) about which actions constituted positive/negative punishment, which ones were reinforcement, what is a positive trainer, what tool uses the most punishment, etc. There's a reason I stay out of those debates (although I did put in a few words on this one), and it's not because I don't know anything.

If you want to put in an opinion, I'd be happy to post the link, but if not, that's completely understandable. I myself get a headache if I read the whole thing at one.

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

Melissa ...

Yeah ... those chocolate bars work well. Love those screaming kids in the carts who are told that if they stop screaming they will get a toy.

*Headdesk headdesk*

Viatecio ...

Sure, post the link - I would be interested to read the debate. Whether or not I post an opinion remains to be seen. It's not a new debate and will be one that will exist for years, I'm sure.

Viatecio said...

I think it starts degenerating around post #14, although there are signs in earlier posts of impending debatey goodness...