Recently, one of my Facebook peeps linked me to this article and asked for my thoughts. I couldn’t respond as well as I’d like on Facebook, due to not wanting to write a novel, but we all know I have no compunctions about novel-writing here!
The beginning of the above article starts with the same guilt-inducing fear mongering I’ve gotten used to, with such fear-based statements as “They may commonly label their dog ‘aggressive’ and resort to using force, which makes matters even worse. Without realizing it they are giving their dog no other options but to behave aggressively and he may even be pushed to redirect his frustration/fear/anger onto them.” and guilt-inducing statements as, “This is very damaging to their relationship.” or, “Not only is it cruel but also it is inefficient.” My favorite part about statements like these is that there’s no actual information to back them up. At no point in this article does she say, “This is cruel BECAUSE…” She just makes the statement, gets the emotional reaction, and moves on.
Many of these statements are also flat-out incorrect. “[G]iving their dog no other options but to behave aggressively” — really? Then why, exactly, does an aggressive dog STOP being aggressive when you give them a quick tug? While there are all sorts of trainers out there that use more adverse techniques than I feel is necessary, or use them to the exclusion of any other techniques, the fact is that they’re using what they have found to work. No one keeps doing something that doesn’t work!
Anyway. What really struck me about her article was the “parable” she uses to explain how a dog feels. I’m going to de-construct this parable, because you’ll hear some version of it (relating to dogs as well as other things) over and over, and it’s good to stop and think critically about them.
So, here’s “The Parable of the Gorilla in the Lion Park,” italics added by yours truly.
Gorilla takes his Human for his daily walk in the Lion Park. Yaaaay! …except, are we assuming that reactive dogs are so dumb they don’t recognize a dog as a dog, but rather see it as a lion? I mean, I agree that dogs might be too stressed out to read another dog’s body language, but they still know it’s a dog.
A Prong Collar around Human’s neck is attached to a heavy chain. The Gorilla holds the heavy chain tightly in his Big Hairy Hand. How terrible! This is excellently written, with all sorts of negative words, if you want me to be horrified and not look at the facts. So let’s look at the facts: any type of restraint you use on a dog and any type of leash will feel this exact same way. In fact, would I rather be attached to something via my neck, or via a contraption wrapped around my face so I can’t even turn my head and look at what I’m afraid of, like the gentle harness leaders?
Human knows there are Lions about although he can’t yet see one. He thinks, if I walk QUICKLY we will get out of here sooner and he Strains on the Chain. This is a good point. EXCEPT — it doesn’t take into account dog body language. Fearful dogs have low tails. Some of them will pull forward; others will not. Reactive dogs almost always have HIGH tails, which indicates high confidence or a willingness to engage, not fear. The vast majority of reactive dogs have high confidence, and little to no fear. So… this makes no sense.
Pulling ahead Hurts his Throat. Well, that would be true no matter what was on it. Pulling ahead on a harness would make the shoulders ache, and pulling ahead on a face halter would hurt the face. This is why it’s so important to walk on a loose leash.
Gorilla Yanks him back and SHOUTS at him. He holds Human Tightly beside him, tightly next to his Big Hairy Leg. I don’t know any trainer, adverse or otherwise, who would suggest you do this to your dog. So, basically, this is here to make us more horrified and not think about the facts.
Human is now so scared he barely feels the prongs piercing his neck. My goodness! This really is excellent horror writing! Have you worn a prong collar? I have. Everything I do to my dogs I do to myself. They can certainly be uncomfortable if you tug sharply, but “piercing his neck”? I don’t think so. Also, we’re back to fear. Is this a fear aggressive dog, in which case they’re significantly less reactive? Or the usual run of the mill reactive dog, in which case they’re not fearful? You can’t have it both ways.
Human’s eyes dart to the Right for Lions; Human’s eyes dart to the Left looking for Lions; Human struggles to turn his head to look Behind for Lions. But… even if someone is doing this badly, and does have the dog on a tight leash to keep them nearby, their HEAD isn’t actually restricted. With a collar around the neck, their shoulders might be restricted.
Then a stick snaps somewhere. Human JUMPS. I never see reactive dogs jump in fear. I do see them jump with aggression.
There is a Lion lurking. <–These italics aren’t mine!
Human feels Very UNSAFE. He’s Very Scared. And again: what’s the body language? Tail up = high confidence and a willingness to act (no fear, the usual reactive cases) tail down = fearful (rarely the reactive cases).
Then in the distance……from the undergrowth……coming towards them……….emerges a……………………LION.
Did you mean a dog? Or, in the parable, another human?
Human is TRAPPED.
He can’t Run. He can’t Hide. Sure, as would be the case on any restraint. The question is: are we still assuming that most reactive dogs are afraid, when their body language says otherwise?
THE LION IS GETTING CLOSER……….and the Gorilla just keeps on walking!
The Chain tightens. I thought it was already tight… Come on, now, even your parable is losing cohesion!
In Fear for his Life, Human Yells and Screams, GO AWAY, GO AWAY, GO AWAY OR I WILL KILL YOU, so we ARE assuming the dog is afraid, even though reactive dogs rarely show fear signs, and almost always show over-confidence signs. whereupon Gorilla makes Loud Angry Noises and KICKS Human with his Big Hairy Foot. Whoa! Uh, kicking is BAD. I totally agree there. You see someone kick a dog, and you should call the humane society. I don’t know ANY trainers who would kick a dog. I do know some trainers who might bump a dog, BEFORE they start lunging, with the SIDE of the human’s foot. The goal is to make the dog take a sideways step at most, to get their brain back here. Of course, the implication in the parable is that this is normal practice with adverse trainers. I’ve also never seen an owner kick a dog (if only because the dog is pulling so hard at this point, they need both feet on the ground to hold on).
Then he Grabs Human by his Hair with his Big Hairy Hand and Forces him to his Knees. I… what? Okay, now you’re just making shit up. Actually, I do know some people who do this, and it isn’t effective. I stop it whenever I can.
He holds him there.
Human waits for the Lion to POUNCE. He holds his breath. He freezes………
This time Lion merely Sniffs him and walks on. WOW, Gorilla is strong! I know few people who are strong enough to hold an aggressive dog down while the dog wriggles, attempts to lunge, writhes around trying to get free while another dog sniffs them. So, this typically doesn’t happen.
Another time Human knows he may not be so lucky. Another time there may be Two Lions, or Three Lions. There may be Lions in front and Lions behind as well. I think I’ve pointed out the fear fallacy enough, right?
Anyway, the next day Gorilla puts a GAG over Human’s mouth before they enter the Lion Park. Fear fallacy. I have, in fact, used muzzles before, in cases where the dog is already so aggressive that it’s not safe to NOT use a muzzle, regardless of the type of training you’re doing. But not at dog parks. If someone is unthinking enough to bring an aggressive or reactive dog to a dog park, I really hope they use a muzzle.
That will fix him now, thinks Gorilla.
Thus ends the Parable of the Gorilla and the Human in the Lion Park.
So… what have we learned? Well, either that the woman writing this doesn’t know her facts, or that she’s willing to toss them out the window to shamelessly manipulate her readers to her side, OR that she truly believes this because she, herself, was told this story and didn’t apply critical thinking to what she read. That’s the point of stuff like this, see: to so overwhelm you with emotion that you don’t stop and think it through.
How would I, a holistic trainer (which means sometimes I use adverse techniques and sometimes I use positive reinforcement techniques) handle a reactive dog?
1. Adverse techniques to let him know that being aggressive is no longer acceptable. I might walk with a loose leash, then give a quick tug when I see him start to be aggressive. If he really gets out of hand, I would likely turn around and gain space until we can go back to the quick tug method. I might do a lot of quick tugs in a row.
2. Positive reinforcement techniques to tell him when he did it right — be that after we get by and he calms down again (reinforce calming down) or as we go by and he keeps it together.
3. Showing him what I want, be it ignoring another dog or walking away from a dog he doesn’t like, and positively reinforcing that.
If I have a fearful dog, we’re going to do a lot more avoiding and positive reinforcement to build up confidence. If I have a dog with an over abundance of confidence, we’ll use more aversive measures (tug on the leash, bump with the foot, turn around) to say, “Don’t be a jerk” and then tell him how proud we are when he succeeds.
I’m tempted to write my own parable. I will! Here we go:
Gorilla (who is the average joe and not a dog trainer) takes his Human for his daily walk in the Human Park.
A Collar around Human’s neck is attached to a leash. The Gorilla holds the leash in his Big Strong Hand, being sure to give Human plenty of room so it doesn’t pull on him.
Human knows there are Humans about although he can’t yet see one. He thinks, I can’t wait to yell at those humans! They yell at me, and this time I’m going to yell at them MORE! If I walk QUICKLY we will get there sooner, and he Strains on the Chain.
Pulling ahead makes the pokey collar poke him. It’s not comfortable to lean on, so Human stops leaning on it, and therefore stops pulling. He supposes he should go back to walking beside Gorilla and be patient.
They get closer. Human is so eager; he knows those other Humans are around somewhere!
Human’s eyes dart to the Right for people to bully; Human’s eyes dart to the Left; Human turns his head to look Behind.
Then a stick snaps somewhere. YES!! His prey is nearby! This time he’ll tell them who’s boss!
Human surges forward and the pokey collar pokes again, but he’s so excited that he can barely feel it.
Then in the distance……from the undergrowth……coming towards them……….emerges a……………………HUMAN.
Human is getting ready.
That other Human can’t Run. Can’t Hide.
THE OTHER HUMAN IS GETTING CLOSER……….and Human is ready to attack! Gorilla keeps on walking!
The Leash tightens more, and the pokey collar pokes, but the adrenaline is going and Human can’t feel it.
They are close enough! Human Yells and Screams, COME ON OVER HERE, I COULD TAKE YOU AND YOUR GORILLA IN A FIGHT, I WILL BEAT YOU UP, YOU UGLY FACE!, whereupon Gorilla makes Loud Angry Noises, helping Human yell at the other Human, and pulls Human back with his Big Strong Hand.
They keep walking together, searching for the next dog to yell at. This is so much fun! Human loves his walks with Gorilla, and can’t wait to tell more of those other nasty humans off!
Thus ends the Parable of the Gorilla and the Human in the Human Park.
So, nothing productive happened, but none of the doom and gloom happened, either. There is your typical reactive dog walk, with someone who doesn’t know how to train their dog.