The one bite I’ve gotten in the last 25+ years of dog training came from a 5-month-old puppy who had been hung by the last “trainer”. Yes, hung. It used to be done a lot more than it is these days but it is still done by some. There is never an excuse for it.
Hanging a puppy by the collar off the ground is abuse. Period.
And that leads me to the point of this blog: What is abuse?
Understanding what it is (and what it isn’t) makes it easier to make choices in dog training.
The most useful definition of “abuse” I found in Steve Lindsay’s opus Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Vol. 1: Adaptation and Learning.
If a method/situation is:
- emotionally overwhelming to the dog
then it is abuse.
A puppy does something. Anything. And it is hung up by the neck off the ground – that moment, to the puppy, is completely unpredictable. Nothing he does can control it or stop it and it is terrifying. Therefore, it is abuse.
The dog learns nothing except that periodically, for no reason he can imagine, humans try to kill him.
So that puppy enters my training room and I reach down to adjust his normal puppy collar on his fuzzy little neck and he bites me. As hard as he can. And he holds on.
Now, some other puppy might have collapsed in submissive-peeing confusion and another might have gone into class-clown mode but this one went on offense. Fast and hard.
Why am I on this diatribe today? Because I was talking to a trainer friend in New York earlier. Her client just had an underground fence put in and the installer “trained’ her dogs by holding them then instructing the pet person to go to the other side of the fence and call her dogs.
Her dogs – running happily and trustingly to her - ran smack into the correction field. They didn’t have any idea what was happening. They didn’t know what to do to stop the shocks and they are truly frightened. Worst of all, to me, is it made the joyful act of coming to the person they love most in the world frightening.
I rarely get deeply angry.
I am deeply angry about that.
That is an abusive approach to underground fence training.
And underground fence – explained to the dog coherently – is predictable, controllable, stoppable and not overwhelming at all. There is, by this definition, nothing “abusive” about such a fence system. How someone teaches the system to the dog can be abusive though, as painfully illustrated above.
Using this definition, you can quickly assess whether some technique is abuse or just something you don’t particularly like.
If a dog understands the situation, can control what is happening with his behavior, and is calm then you’re on safe ground. If the dog doesn’t understand, can’t control anything and is becoming upset, then you are heading toward darkness.
Find another approach; adopt a better attitude; phone a friend.
There is always a better way.