Friday, June 3, 2011

Dogs: a misunderstood species

I just posted this on an aggression list that I belong to, in response to someone who said that the most respectful way to treat a dog is to "treat him like a dog," with corrections. I had to reply, and I thought I'd post my reply here because this is an issue that I feel very strongly about. I could discuss this for pages and pages, but I'll spare you all from that :) I'm always trying to learn more about dog behaviour, emotions, etc., and I don't consider myself an expert at all; but I feel so angry when I read about people who still believe the old-fashioned opinions on how to treat dogs.

Treating him "like a dog"? What does that mean exactly? How people treat dogs is often based on tradition, on history, on how their parents taught them, etc. Is using collar corrections treating him like a dog, or is rewarding behaviour with treats treating him like a dog? What about ear pinches, or on the opposite end of the scale, pleasant ear rubs?

I'm not sure if I've made my point or not, but I fail to understand the "traditional" belief that dogs need to be treated as little demons who always try to undermine our authority. If you watch, truly watch, dogs interacting with their people for any given length of time, you'll see that this is not the case.

At agility trials, I see countless misunderstood dogs. I see dogs who lunge at other dogs after showing stress signals, and receive a strict muzzle grabbing from their handler. I see dogs who trot around the ring, sniffing in an attempt to relieve their stress, after which their handler takes them off the course, berating them for "blowing them off." And I see the dogs who painfully walk through the course, appearing as though they would rather be anywhere else than in this stressful environment, but who bear it because they know they are not allowed to leave.

I have successfully diminished my Miniature Schnauzer's genetic-based reactivity to other dogs without any physical or verbal corrections whatsoever. My schnauzer used to start screaming and barking whenever she saw other dogs, whether they were two feet away or two hundred feet away; now, she sees a dog approaching her and turns to me.

Dogs understand reward-based training. What dogs don't understand is being grabbed, yanked, pinched, or jerked for simply being honest. Dogs are always honest, and they always try to communicate with us, but we humans often miss it -- unless we're looking.

I don't pretend to be an expert, but with all due respect, I do wish that people would try to consider the newer methods of dog training.

EDIT: And now I learn that the moderators of the list didn't even publish my response. Talk about bias.


  1. I think this is a great post. We are new to training (kind of) and always appreciate hearing other and better ways to improve and learn.

  2. Very well said!!If we really love them, we should understand them more!