Conflict can be so conflicting


I met with a client yesterday who spent most of our consult saying “but that’s not what the other trainer told me.”

There is a lot of conflicting information out there when it comes to dog training and dog behavior. There are at least two trainers in my geographic region who could not be more different from me in terms of our philosophies. Several times I have gone to someone’s home who has hired one of these other trainers in the past and it is obviously very confusing for the person to hear me say something which turns out to be vastly different from what the other trainer told them.

Who is right? Who is wrong?

First, where I live there are absolutely no regulations overseeing dog trainers. Anyone can be a dog trainer. Many of us who are trainers don’t agree about training procedures. We tend to use words that the average person may not understand. And we don’t all agree on the definitions of the words we do use.

No wonder our clients are confused. I try really hard never to bad mouth a trainer who has come before me. For one thing; I’m sure there are times when that trainer is the person who is called after me. I would hate for him or her to bad mouth me. Instead I try to provide information so clients can make up their own minds.

I explain why I use positive training methods and why I don’t recommend dominance based or force based training methods. I can do that without specifically slamming the other trainer.

For example, with the client I spoke with yesterday; the other trainer told the client that he needed a prong collar on the dog so the owner could do a better job of “asserting dominance” over the dog. The other trainer also slapped the dog on the nose when the dog did something the trainer did not like. The trainer told the client that by slapping the dog on the nose, he (the trainer) was mimicking how dogs communicated with each other.

I could explain to my client that what we know about dominance and how it is applied to training has changed dramatically over the years. The dog was not dominating his owner. No resources were involved. Dominance needs a resource such as a mate; food, a place to sleep. Instead the client had an 80 pound adolescent dog that was destroying furniture. The dog was bored out its mind. He wasn’t eating the table because he wanted to dominate his owner. He was eating the table because he wasn’t being walked enough and he wasn’t being given enough to do with his brain.

Likewise, smacking the dog on the nose isn’t going to help the dog learn not to eat the table. It is just going to make the dog know that his owner is scary and unpredictable. Dogs may sometimes nip each other as a warning and a mother dog certainly could grab a puppy by the snout. But, that has nothing to do with boredom. And dogs know their owners aren’t other dogs. So, even trying to mimic what dogs do to each other probably make zero sense to a dog. Plus, we aren’t fast enough. If you watch dogs interact, when they correct each other it is lightning fast. Humans will never be that fast. So, when we do correct a dog; our correction is often so far behind the behavior we are trying to correct that we end up punishing the dog for something else entirely.

Also, when dogs and wolves interact; there is always a choice when it comes to who is dominate and who is submissive. For example, if I am the dominate wolf in a group; and I see another lesser ranked wolf with a tasty bone, I might decide I would like that bone. I am not going to rush in and smack the other wolf on the nose or grab his neck and pinch him. Instead I am going to walk over in a confident manner and look at the bone. I might raise my front lips and show my canines. I could ruffle up my fur to make myself look taller. The entire point is I want to AVOID a conflict, not start one.

The wolf with the bone now has a choice. Does he want to let me have the bone? Does he want to avoid a conflict? Or, has he decided the time has come for him to take over? If the wolf with the bone wants to avoid conflict and if he has decided he can’t win a fight; he will submit. He may roll over and expose his stomach. He may just slink away and leave the bone. But, it is his CHOICE. The dominant wolf didn’t force the issue. The wolf with the bone could decide he does not want to give up the bone. He could whine; show his teeth back; try and take the bone farther away. The two wolves might engage in a lot of posturing. But, whatever happens it almost always ends without a fight. One wolf just says “fine, let’s not fight about it.” Sometimes it might end in a fight if the two wolves both decide they won’t back down. However, it is still a choice.

So, if you alpha roll a dog (force him to lay on his back and expose his neck and stomach); you are NOT behaving like a wolf. No wolf would have forced the other one on its back. Instead you are acting scary. You are not following canid protocol. You are dangerous and your dog may decide he has to bite you.

But, don’t take my word for it. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has some awesome information on the subject and you can take their word for it. According to their website, “The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is a group of veterinarians and research professionals who share an interest in understanding behavior in animals. Founded in 1976, AVSAB is committed to improving the quality of life of all animals and strengthening the bond between animals and their owners.” These people often have very advanced degrees in both veterinary medicine and behavior related fields.

To read the awesome position statements the AVSAB has put out on dominance and punishment click here.

The bottom line is; do your own research. If a trainer tells you to do something that makes you uncomfortable; then ask the trainer not to do it. That’s what happened in my client’s case. He was not comfortable with a trainer hitting his dog on the nose. So, he looked around for a different kind of trainer and found me.

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