Saturday, November 19, 2005

Seventeen Corrections You Should Never Use On A Dog

Sometimes I am hired to help turn around a dog that has been abused. I have worked with many situations where a family member was abusing a dog, either intentionally or unintentionally. Sometimes I am like the family counselor, having to deal with family issues before I can get to dealing with the dog issues they are having.

I get calls from distressed family members, telling me how a family member is harming their dog. I set up appointments to talk to these folks to try to persuade them to either do things differently, or to find the dog a new home. There have been times when I have had to put it on the line: what you are doing is against the law.

Just because your dog is just a dog, doesn’t mean you can use torture to solve behavioral problems. A lot of so-called trainers have devised lots of inhumane methods to deal with behavioral problems. I’m going to list a few, but not all of them. I’ll just educate and caution you to not let anyone do this to your dog. You can permanently hurt your beloved dog with some of these methods. Some will backfire and get you hurt. Seek another solution. Forfeit your money and pick another trainer if you have to. Don’t abuse your dog.

We ask a lot of our dogs, and they will take a lot of abuse. We want them to love us unconditionally, and often they will. They will forgive us for doing some of the most horrible things done to them. We shouldn’t abuse their trust just because we have a short temper and a lack of knowledge about dog training. We should appreciate the good things in our dogs and learn how to properly deal with the bad things. We often don’t deserve the devotion and affection that we receive from them. You should never betray your dog by treating it roughly.

The following Corrections have the greatest potential for damaging a puppy physically and psychologically. You should avoid using them, except as I have mentioned herein.

1.) Alpha Roll Over: This is a form of punishment which consists of rolling a puppy and pinning it on its back. The theory goes: since dominant dogs discipline submissive dogs this way, we can use it to discipline our dogs. I have four problems with using this type of correction. First, it’s Punishment. Punishment is a correction after the behavior, not during it. Punishment should only be used as a last resort because of its potential for harmful side effects. Punishment can backfire because the dog might not be able to figure out why they are being corrected. Second, lots of trainers use this form of Punishment without really thinking about how to use it. Dogs and wolves use the Alpha Roll Over as a way of settling dominance challenges and to organize the pack order. If your dog isn’t doing what you want, but isn’t challenging your dominance, then it would be inappropriate to use the Alpha Roll Over. It’s a teaching problem, not a dominance problem. Third, I’ve seen dogs that liked it when you did the Alpha Roll Over. My dog Kate loved it. She thought it was great that I was giving her my undivided attention! It was a positive reinforcement for her bad behavior! Finally, humans do it wrong. Either the dog doesn’t get it, or the dog sees it as a fight and we are going to be bitten. I will only use this method to gain leadership over an extremely dominant young adult dog that lives with me. If you have purchased a good puppy and breed, and done what I have recommended herein, you probably won’t ever have to deal with this kind of problem or use the Alpha Roll Over. I know of a man who was mauled by his dog after trying this correction. This kind of thing should only be implemented as a last resort.

2.) Burn The Nose: This is a form of negative reinforcement in which you burn the dog’s nose with a lighted cigarette in order to make the dog release its bite. This is animal abuse. Do not do it.

3.) Drowning: This is a method of punishment in which you shove a dog’s head under water for digging in the yard. If your dog digs holes in the yard, some trainers will advise that you fill the hole up with water and shove the dog’s head in it to create in the dog an aversion to having it’s head under the ground. This method is cruel. It’s animal abuse. Do not do it. There is a popular, old time dog training book still stocked in books stores recommending this solution. This is why I don’t recommend dog training books to my customers. So much of it is bad, that I’d rather they stay away from all that garbage.

4.) Hanging or Helicopter: This is a method of Punishment in which you lift the dog off the ground by its leash (Hanging), or swung around on its leash (Helicopter), until the dog nearly loses consciousness. This is animal cruelty, not animal training. I would only "Hang" a dog if the dog was attacking me and I had no other immediate way to keep myself from being mauled. Afterwards, I would use more sophisticated training methods to deal with the aggression. "Hanging" is not a training method, it is only a temporary method of self defense when you can’t avoid being attacked by a dangerous dog that you are attempting to train. Some trainers still use this on ALL dogs, even the nice ones (not just the dangerously aggressive one that just tried to kill them), to "teach them a lesson." You can still find trainers doing this in their dog training classes to all the puppies and dogs! You can teach these trainers a lesson by quitting their classes and reporting them to the police for animal cruelty. Now, sometimes, you will have a dog that is pulling so hard on a leash that they will push with their back legs and get their front legs off the ground. This isn’t Hanging. This is just an untrained dog straining at the leash. This dog needs to complete Basic Obedience or is a dog that has an aggression problem that should be addressed.

5.) Beating: Never beat your dog with a hand, foot, rubber tube, belt, stick, newspaper, flyswatter, or anything else. If you beat your dog, then your dog will eventually become a biter. Do I need to say more? I include in this category Shoving A Dog’s Face in poop if it defecates in your home. That is abuse, not dog training. Stop doing it!

6.) Improper Long Line Corrections: A long (or lunge) line is a very long leash. It can be anywhere from 15 to 50 feet long. When properly used, it can help you gain control of a dog’s behavior at a distance. I use them all of the time instead of using an electric collar. An improper Long Line Correction is one that will hurt your dog. When you are planning on giving a dog a correction with a Long Line, you must take the following precautions. First, you must never correct a dog without seeing what the effect will be on the dog. If the dog is around a corner or not in your direct line of sight, you could pull the dog into an object that could hurt your dog. You would feel awful if you jerked on the line and pulled your dog into a sharp object that poked out its eye! Second, you must never trip the dog. Long lines have a tendency to get caught up in, and wound around, the dog’s legs. A hard correction could trip and break your dog’s leg. I learned this lesson the hard way. I once corrected my own dog improperly and really hurt one of his hind legs. I resolved thereafter to never again trip a dog with a long line. Third, you must make sure that the line will not break. Because the lines drag along the ground as you use them, they will eventually wear out and break. Always inspect the lines before you use them. You don’t want the dog to break the line and run into traffic. And fourth, you must not let the dog use the long line as a Chew Toy. If your dog ever learns that they can bite through the line (and a lot of dogs can do it in a split second), you dog could run away and get hurt. So, you must train them to keep their teeth off of the line.

7.) Ever Increasing Intensity or Duration of The Correction: Corrections shouldn’t become a form of enforced torture. You shouldn’t keep increasing the pain or lengthening the duration of the correction. You should use just enough force, whether physical or psychological, to get the dog’s attention so you can switch the dog to another pro-social (Positive Opposite) behavior.

8.) Jerking The Dog Around: This is a form of punishment in which the trainer gets angry with the dog and repeatedly jerks on the leash to hurt the dog. This is not dog training, it’s abuse. Don’t do it.

9.) Mouse Traps: You’ll read a lot of books that recommend using mouse traps as a way of startling a dog and keeping it off of furniture. I think this is a dangerous method of teaching a lesson to a dog. All the trap has to do is catch the dog’s paw, and you could break the dog’s toes. Worse, if it is one of the small breeds, you could break one of the dog’s legs. I think it’s a terrible solution and there are easier ways of teaching the proper behaviors.

10.) Scolding: Nagging or Shaming or Cussing won’t get you better performance in the future. Everyone knows that the more you Nag someone, the more they will tune you out. So, it doesn’t work, even with your dog. If you shame your dog, by scolding and carrying on, all you are going to do is cause your dog to want to avoid you. That’s counterproductive.

11.) Shake Cans: Noise Shyness is a serious genetic fault. It can disqualify your dog from breeding, dog shows, and working obedience trials. It causes your dog to startle and run away from a loud noise. So, if it’s bad naturally, then why would you want to TRAIN your dog to be afraid of noises? Well, that’s what you will do if you use a Shake Can as a Correction tool. Some trainers suggest that when you say "No" to a stubborn dog, that you simultaneously shake a penny-filled aluminum pop can. The shaking sound is very disturbing to the dog, and when paired with your "No", becomes a powerful Negative Reinforcer. But, I’ve found that many dogs can’t handle the Shake Can and then become jumpy around loud noises and sudden movements. So, you will correct one problem, and create another by using the Shake Can.

12.) Squirt Bottles: I don’t like the use of Squirt Bottles or Squirt Guns. I don’t want my dog to dislike water and I don’t want to train my dog to run from me. There’s no need to use them. I would only use this as a last resort on an adult dog.

13.) Stepping On The Toes or Knee In The Chest: This is a form of negative reinforcement in which a person steps on a dog’s rear feet or knees a dog in the chest to correct it for jumping up on them. I think that there’s too much potential for injury to the dog for using this method for correcting jumping. Other methods are more effective and humane. On the other hand, if a big dog jumps up on you, you might have to defend yourself from injury. That isn’t what I’m talking about here.

14.) Surgical Removal Of The Vocal Cords: I know of one person that has the vocal cords removed from all of their dogs to keep them quiet. I think this is a form of unnecessary surgery and a form of cruelty. There are other, more effective ways, of preventing unwanted barking. It is amazing that judges will still mandate vocal cord removal involving barking dogs in legal cases.

15.) Taping The Mouth Shut: This is a method of Punishment used to prevent destructive chewing. This method consists of taping a piece of the item in the dog’s mouth for a few hours in order to teach the dog to avoid chewing the item. The concept is that the dog will become so sick of the thing that the dog will never touch it again. I think that this is cruel. First, the dog will try frantically to get the tape off, which might cause the dog to tear up its face with its nails. Second, you’ve got to figure that the dog will become afraid of you, since you are doing a very aversive thing to you. Third, the dog could choke on the item and die. There are better ways of preventing chewing. This is recommended in some dog training books. Stay away from dog training books!

16.) Throwing Objects: This is a form a negative reinforcement which consists of throwing or shooting an object (light chain, slipper, newspaper, magazine, shotgun pellets, BB’s or rocks from a slingshot, or bean bag) at the dog while the dog is doing some undesired behavior. It’s been traditionally used to teach a dog off leash obedience and to correct bad behaviors at a distance. I find that throw objects make many dogs jumpy, which is a definite disadvantage in a working dog. Second, some people will hurt the dog. They will either throw the object too hard, or hit the dog in the eyes as the dog hears the thing flying at them. There is one exception to this: I will occasionally use a small, soft bean bag if all other methods have failed. I don’t like using them. It also takes some training and experience to know when it is appropriate to use them. I would recommend avoiding tossing anything at your dog as a correction. I haven’t had to use the bean bags on a customer’s dog more than once over the past three or four years.

17.) Whipping The Dog: This is a form of Punishment in which a trained dog is spanked with a belt, or some form of whip, for dominance challenges or to "break" the dog. A whip or paddle is used on a trained dog that refuses to work in response to a direct command, or to so thoroughly demoralize the dog that it will do anything that the trainer demands. Either way, the purpose is to force the dog to submit to the Master. Some old time hunting dog trainers will tell you that all dogs will need a good 5 or 10 minute whipping at the beginning of hunting season, just to soften them up and to get them ready to work. This is cruel training. It is also lazy. If you have a dog that is extremely dominant, then you’re at fault for not picking the right dog. Don’t abuse the dominant dog. If he (it’s usually a male dog) can’t be trained for your purposes using humane methods, then find him another home and get a more cooperative dog. Or, find a good trainer that understands how to work with a dog like yours. Spare the rod, or you’ll spoil the dog. If you have a dog that has gotten rusty on its commands, because you have neglected your weekly maintenance lessons, then don’t abuse the dog. Get into a class and start brushing up on your lessons.

Copyright 2005 by Sam Basso, All Rights Reserved

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