Sometimes people ask me, “Are your dogs perfect?” And my honest answer is: no. In large part, this is because there are things I just don’t care enough about to put in the training time. But another large part is that nothing stays the same, including dogs.

For instance: I think Lily’s losing her hearing. For a long while I thought she was just being stubborn when I called her to come, but now I’m not so sure. I’m not tuning up her recall because, well, what if she can’t hear me? So her recall is failing and until I know one way or the other, I’m just not going to worry about it.

Another for instance, and the point of this particular post: Doc got possessive. I’ve had him for a year and a half now, which means any issues he’s still dealing with probably don’t have to do with him being a rescue, they have to do with him and me. (Note: this is a rough rule of thumb, with a lot of exceptions.)

He’s never shown signs of possessiveness before, but about six months ago he started getting possessive of bones with Lily. He tried some growls and snaps, and he got in big trouble for it (poked by me and chased off, his bone given to Lily), then rewarded for tolerating her (praise and pets when he had his bone and he wasn’t being a bully to her while she was wandering around/sniffing it, etc.). The praise worked better than the poking with him, so I used that a lot more once I noticed, and he got over his issue in a couple of weeks.

Skip to six weeks (or so) ago, and he’s trying to be possessive of ME, with Cash. Mostly when we were snuggling or I was petting him, and Cash would come up to say, “Me too!” Doc would growl and try to nose Cash away, and went as far as snapping at him a time or two. Because I was standing right there, I’d push Doc away (to the other end of the couch, or chase him off a few feet if I were standing), then pay attention to Cash, THEN call Doc back over and love on him, too. Again, when Cash came up and I could see Doc wasn’t happy about it – turning his face away, ears pinching along his head, whites of the eyes showing – I would praise Doc for tolerating it. After a week or two, that went away as well.

Skip to two weeks ago, and it’s popped up again: this time being possessive first over Patience (my sometimes-helper and the dog trainer in the East Bay I refer people to), then Margo (my assistant) and finally Quin (my honey). In each and every case we did the same thing: push Doc away, love on Cash, bring Doc in and love on him. We also added a couple of things:

For Patience, since she’s also a dog trainer, I asked her to start making Doc calm down and think. One thing I’ve noticed about Doc is the more wound up he gets, the less he thinks overall. Now, it’s normal for a dog’s brain to turn off when they’re super wound up (with either excitement or aggression or anything else), but his brain turns off even when he’s not wound up, if he’s spent a lot of time wound up. Things that wind him up: not exercising enough, some of my playful boarders, fetch, the wild peacocks, squirrels. It’s a full time job keeping him centered! Getting a wound up dog to pause so they can think again (and guiding them gently but firmly through what to do until they CAN think) is key. So I asked Patience to get him thinking around her, adding in little brain-working things like sitting and calming down at doors before he goes out to play, sitting to get petted, things like that. That calmed him so his possessiveness also dropped.

I asked Margo (who does some minor training for me, but firmly insists she’s not a dog trainer!) to use a squirt bottle if he got possessive of her. It’s a good consequence: not emotionally very powerful, certainly not painful, just distracting and annoying.

With Quin, we put Doc in time out when he got possessive, in an x-pen in the house. After twenty minutes (which I judged to be enough time for his brain to wander off his possessiveness), he re-joined us. He was put in time out a couple of times before he got the point!

In all instances, when he became tolerant of Cash or wasn’t possessive, he got rewarded with lots of love and pets. Ex: I petted Cash, Doc watched but didn’t come over to push Cash away, so after a minute – before he lost his patience – I turned and loved on Doc. Repeat ad nauseum! For every time he got busted for naughtiness, I want at least five rewards. If I’m busting him too much, that’s my signal that I’m asking too much of him. I need to reward BEFORE he puts himself in trouble, so he knows what it is I’m looking for, not just what I don’t like.

It took a couple of weeks for him to cycle through everyone and figure out no one was going to let him get away with it. I’m still praising and loving on him when other dogs butt into “our” space to get pets, just to reinforce his good behavior.

During his possessive phase, I used different techniques for different people, depending on how he reacts to the people in question and what they were more comfortable with/capable of, and what worked best for him.

No dog is ever perfect. Even when a dog trainer owns them, even if I spent all my time making them perfect to everyone’s standards, living animals are always changing! I wouldn’t have it any other way. 😉



Research dogs

Hi! Been awhile, I know. Did I mention I moved? The dogs settled in just fine (I was able to bring them by to visit the place before I moved, and that plan worked brilliantly — though there was less exercise and I forgot the rescue remedy! Thankfully, my dogs are used to change, and I got their beds, bowls, and toys set up right away so things were normal for them) and we’ve all been enjoying the new space! You can check out Cash and Lily’s Facebook page for photos and whatnot.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about! You might have seen the following video; it’s become VERY popular.

Now, you should know that I HATE being manipulated, and I’m very good at spotting it. This video sends me to my own personal red-zone every time I see it.

Here are some facts about research dogs:

1. They get more attention and training, by far, than most pet dogs.
2. They’re socialized with other dogs as well as people, at all the right stages.
3. They’re generally loved and adored by the people doing the research.
4. They provide answers for people we love and know, and should be held in high regard for that. For instance, you can thank research dogs for the life of every diabetic you know, as well as the people who suffer from narcolepsy finding treatments.
5. Research dogs are NOT kept in tiny tiny kennels. They sleep in them, yes. They also have spaces to run around and play, and specifically socialize with people and other dogs.
6. Most research dogs, due to federal laws, are better treated than most pets.
7. Research dogs, if they’re researching something non-deadly (ie, not cancer) are retired to homes after a few years so they can live out their days fantastically after helping people across the globe. (In fact, I’ve worked with several. They were lovely, and young — it’s not like these dogs are ancient before they’re retired.)

Here are some facts about this video in particular:

1. These dogs have probably never seen grass. If you take a dog who’s never seen tile to a tile store, they will act this EXACT SAME WAY. Is the dog who has never seen tile mistreated? No. Is the dog who has never seen grass mistreated? No.
2. These dogs are in great physical shape, which means they’ve been running around, playing, and exercising. Clearly, then, they haven’t been locked in kennels.
3. These people took the dogs from the researchers they knew, put the dogs in kennels, drove them who-knows-how-far, put them on something unfamiliar with no one familiar around to reassure them, and filmed it. These “rescue” people should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. A much kinder thing would be to keep the dogs in the kennels they sleep in, take them wherever they’re ultimately going, and let them have the run of a larger concrete kennel (more familiar) and the option of going outside when they feel safe. I can’t even begin to tell you how disgusted I am with the “rescue” people for putting the dogs through this much stress for the sake of a video.
4. These dogs are not, as the video would imply, covered in their own feces. Therefore, they clearly had somewhere else that they got to go out to potty. THEY WERE NOT TRAPPED IN THEIR CRATES.

While I would love it if we never had to use research dogs, the truth is that I would rather my uncle, who has type 1 diabetes, live than these dogs be “free” to live in a home for their entire lives that maybe isn’t as good as the lab they lived in for a few years. Lab dogs are VERY well treated and cared for, and generally quite adored by their human lab counterparts. Yes, they give up a part of themselves to help us humans, and yes, we should ensure they have awesome lives for that gift. But they are NOT abused or neglected, as this video would have you think.

Rather than blindly believing what this video and the media in general would have you think about research dogs, here are some links to give you an idea of what it’s really like. Note that links contain further resources, and are often government sites:


I believe, whole-heartedly, that we should continue to make research dogs’ lives better and better. I also believe we should not watch a video and make grand assumptions.




Dogs and respect

One of the very common themes I hear among laypeople and dog trainers alike concerns respect.

“Your dog should respect you,” or “I want my dog to respect me” are common statements.

I like to think my dogs respect me. However, consider this. I’m standing in a burning building. A local teacher, S, whom I greatly respect, is saying, “Jenna! Jump through these flames! It’ll be all right!” I think to myself, Have you lost your mind, S? It won’t be all right! In that moment, I don’t need respect. I need trust.

When someone says to me, “I want my dog to obey me,” that really has nothing to do with respect. Respect is a sense of admiration for someone. Am I going to obey someone I admire? Welllll… maybe. It depends, doesn’t it?

So what do people really want when they say, “I want my dog to respect me”? They’re saying, “I want my dog to listen to me and obey.” That’s a much different ballgame. And hey, I understand it. I feel the same way. If I’m in a burning building, I want my dogs to do what I tell them when I say, “Jump through these flames to safety,” even though they can’t fully understand what I’m saying.

The question really becomes: how do I get my dog to listen and obey?

Well, obeying is easy. Enforce what you say, and reward when they comply. This really depends on the person (not the dog), and how consistent they are. Essentially, we’re teaching our dogs human language. They only learn things if those things mean the same thing every time. If I say, “Lily, get off the couch,” and then I grab her collar, make her get off the couch, then praise her for getting off the couch, she knows what I meant. If I say the same thing, but then decide, “Eh, too much effort,” and walk away, she has no idea what those words were that I said. So, first big step to a dog who listens? Command, enforce, praise, consistency. Do it in a lot of different situations. Don’t give up just because your friends are visiting. (Then your dog just learns that with people around, that same phrase means something else.)

Next: trust. If I want my dog to leap through flames, it’s not respect I need. It’s the consistency of listening to me in all situations and trust. Trust is a tricky subject, and goes back to respect. But not in the way we’re used to thinking.

Today I was working with a sweetheart of a dog, Hannah. Hannah is afraid of people. When she was willing to walk through crowds confidently, we upped her work to taking treats from humans. When the first human tried to pet her and she said no, what did we do? We agreed. We supported her decision to say she wasn’t ready for that. We said, “no problem, honey. We’ll back you up here, and we won’t let that person touch you.” In short, we respected Hannah’s decision. Eventually we might say, “hey, really now, let’s try something new,” but for now? For now she said, “This TERRIFIES me!” and we said, “Then don’t do it. That’s fine.” We’re building trust. We’re respecting her, and she’s learning that we won’t ask her for what she can’t handle. If we’d forced her to be petted, she’d have been terrified. It would have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. She thinks it’ll be terrible, she’s so scared when we force her into it that it is terrible, she’s proven right, and we can’t be trusted. Instead, we respect her, and she can trust us: when we do say, “hey, you’re pretty calm around people. Just let this one touch your chin. It’s not so bad.” Then she can start to say, “Hey, that’s not so bad. You let me escape when I needed to. I got a treat. It was only a brief touch and I can handle that. I guess you’re right.”

Now, back to the fire. “Cash!” I say. “Come!” Through flames and to me. He would probably whine. I would say it again. This is the command we’ve worked on in every scenario I can find, so he knows what it means. More importantly, though, he knows that I’ve never asked of him something he can’t do. He trusts me, because I respected what he was telling me.

He leaps, and we escape the burning building. Was it because he respected me? Heavens no! It was because I’d respected him, and I’d taken the time to build trust.

The next time you’re thinking you want your dog to respect you, stop and think. Do you really want them to look at you with admiration? Or do you want them to listen, obey, and trust you? If it’s the latter, start working on that. You have to give them a reason to trust you. The best reason to trust you is the knowledge that you respect them and their limits.

Go for it guys! Go build some mutual respect.


Boarding FAQ

Okay, some important information to answer some questions regarding boarding dogs here at Feathers and Fur.

1. What happens in a typical day boarding at your place?
In the course of a day, we work on getting along with other dogs, walking nicely, leaving food, clothes, shoes, etc alone, sharing with dogs, pottying outside, good manners inside, good manners outside. If there are other things someone needs work on, we do that, too. (So if a dog is naughty with visitors, I invite people over. If a dog is chewing baseboards, we try and solve that. If a dog is aggressive, we work on being friendly. Etc.)

Usually, 3 days per week I work outside the house. If you’ve scheduled boarding in advance, I work short days (5-6 hours). If you haven’t, I work normal days (8 hours). While not under supervision, all dogs are crated or x-penned so they don’t have the chance to be naughty, and so that everyone gets down time (including my dogs!). If I have a dog not used to holding it that long, my assistant trainer comes by and lets everyone out.

The other four days per week I work from home (or I’m off) and the dogs are in full training.

2. Gosh, boarding with you is expensive. Why is that?
Several reasons. One is that I shorten my work days to spend time with your dog. Another is that I’m working twenty-four hours a day when I board. A third is that I can only board as many dogs as I deem safe: it might two or three dogs from one or two households that are all pretty good, or just one aggressive dog who isn’t safe with others. How much time and effort and sleeplessness I put in all affects the price.

3. I heard you live in the east bay area. I don’t really want to drive my dog all the way up there.
I don’t blame you! I wouldn’t, either. I do live in the East Bay because it’s where I could afford to buy a large, dog-friendly lot. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and weekends I will pick up and drop off your dog for free. If you need a pick up or drop off any other day, there is a fee.

4. Will you take my dog to your classes?
Not likely. I have a lot of other dogs to watch in my classes without paying attention to one in training. More likely I’ll take your dog to downtown or park areas where there are other dogs, and I can focus solely on him or her and his or her training.

5. I don’t like the idea of my dog being crated or x-penned for more than a few hours.
We can discuss it, but safety always comes first with me. I don’t want anything happening to any animals under my care.

6. What the heck is an x-pen?
It’s like a large doggie playpen, for dogs who aren’t used to being crated.

7. My dog uses a doggie door. Can you accommodate that?

8. My dog doesn’t use a doggie door. Can you accommodate that?

9. My dog has allergies. Can you accommodate that?
I can pretty much accommodate everything.

10. My dog doesn’t really need training, but I want to board with you anyway. Will you cut me a deal?
No. Because I can take on limited numbers, everyone gets treated the same. Otherwise I just stop boarding the “nice” dogs, and only board the dogs who need it. I’m happy to suggest some other places who board dogs in their homes without training, or I am happy to take on “nice” dogs at training prices.

11. My dog is aggressive with other dogs, and I’m worried about your dogs. Will you still take him?
Yes, after an evaluation. I worry about my dogs, too!

12. My dog isn’t aggressive at all, but pees in the house. Can you fix this?
Yes. It takes about 4 weeks.

13. How long will it take to fix x behavior?
Without a consult I can’t even guess. In general, housebreaking takes around 4 weeks. Everything else depends on the problem, the severity, and how close to perfect you want your dog before you take over.

14. Do you offer guarantees?
It depends on the problem. Call for more information.

15. Why should I board with you and not a training kennel? Training kennels are cheaper.
Indeed they are, and oftentimes they’re exactly what you need. If you’re looking to solve problems in a house, then it’s better to board in a house. If a dog is in a kennel and they pee, no one really cares. In a house, it’s different. In a kennel, no one knocks at the door or rides by on a skateboard to induce barking. In a house, they do. Whether you should board with me or in a kennel just depends on what training you want done.

16. Do you trade for board?
It depends on the length of boarding. Most times, no. Occasionally, I can trade for up to 1/4 of the cost of boarding.

17. How many dogs do you board at once?
As many as I deem safe. Typically, no more than two households. (If someone has two dogs in the same family, I will count that as one household.) This changes depending on the dog and what behavior we’re working on. Aggression cases are far less likely to have anyone else boarding. Housebreaking cases with no aggression are more likely to “share space.”

18. What should I bring with my dog when they board?
Their leash, training tools (collar, typically), and food, so they don’t get an upset stomach. If you want to bring something that smells like you or a toy, you’re welcome to do so. (Warning: Lily likes to destroy toys, despite my best attempts to keep other peoples’ toys safe.) I have plenty of beds, crates, bones, bowls, and toys for everyone.

19. Will my dog miss me?
They will be very happy to see you and tell you about their adventures, but while you’re gone they’ll be so busy with work and play that they won’t have much of a chance to miss you. Dogs get a little extra TLC if they’re stressed, and occasionally some Rescue Remedy (a flower essence supplement). Rarely are either of these needed.

20. My dog is/is not allowed on my couch. Will that be true at your house?
Whatever rules you have at your house we’ll do our best to follow at my house. My goal is to keep your dog comfortable while in training, and not un-train anything you’ve done.

21. Can I ask for updates?
Of course! I try to send out picture messages when able, and update Lily and Cash’s Facebook page as well. I like to know my dogs are happy; I assume you do, too!

If your question wasn’t answered here, feel free to contact me at jenna.b.mcdonald@gmail.com or (951) 704-5766!


Affection and dogs

A week rarely goes by without someone telling me, shamefaced, that they let their dog sleep on the bed or a couch, or give their dog love just for the sake of giving them love. I know that this stems from a training theory I’ve heard from others: that giving dogs too much affection can cause problems. Some theories say that it makes the dog believe you’re not the alpha dog. Some theories simply say that it creates spoiled behavior. Other theories say that if we are to use affection as a reward, it must then be limited to your dog doing something. I say, phooey.

First of all, if we stop and analyze these theories there’s not much evidence for them.

“It makes the dog believe you’re not the alpha dog.” Aside from the fact that the status of “alpha dog” is highly debated among trainers and those who study dogs alike, this is simply untrue. In groups of dogs it was found that any dog higher in the pack hierarchy was perfectly willing to console another dog. (Often after a scuffle, the winner would go console the loser.) Of my two dogs, Lily is definitely higher than Cash, yet she consoles him when he’s upset, gives him attention even when he’s not, and generally rains affection on him. Clearly, it’s not affecting whether or not he thinks she’s top dog; he still treats her with deference, and I don’t enforce that. This pattern is repeated over and over, with clients who tell me, “Fido beats up on Fifi all the time, but then turns around and is so sweet. It makes no sense!” Alpha or not, dogs give affection to each other.

“It creates spoiled behavior.” I snuggle with Lily when I’m sick or when her special red blanket is on the couch. Lily has four different sweaters, one of them hand-tailored for her. She puts her head on my knee and demands attention when I’m writing, and I usually give it to her. Cash likes to put all 110-pounds of himself in my lap. He breathes in my face when I’m writing, hoping I’ll give him attention (and oftentimes I do). They both get pets and love just for looking at me in the middle of the night when I’m having insomnia. They both also get treats for doing tricks, but sometimes they just get treats because I feel like it.

Are they spoiled? Absolutely! But they’re not spoiled rotten. If Cash is breathing in my face and I tell him, “Not now, go lay down,” he does (or at least wanders off to find a toy!). If Lily is cuddling with me and I need her to move, she does. If I tell Cash to get off my lap — yeah, you’re getting it. So, has this become a problem? No. If I don’t mind, then it doesn’t really matter. You can’t call a dog spoiled when the owner is enjoying the behavior.

Finally, “[I]f we are to use affection as a reward, it must then be limited to your dog doing something.” This might be true. Maybe affection is more powerful if you limit it. But here’s the thing: have you ever had a friend, a boss, a coworker, or a family member who didn’t offer praise and affection? Have you had one that did? Quin, my beau, is one of the most loving and affectionate people I’ve ever met. I’m the lucky beneficiary of this affection most of the time. I could get affection from her* for doing nothing, but I find that the affection makes me more likely to do things that will make her happy. I’ve also worked and been friends with people who weren’t affectionate. When they did give me affection or praise for a job well done, it was far less motivating than it was with friends or bosses who were more praise-giving. I didn’t know when it was going to come again, and in general I just wasn’t as interested in pleasing them (because they were difficult to wring praise from), so I didn’t bother.

I’m anthropomorphising, here, but maybe dogs are the same way. I’ve never had a well-loved dog turn down yet MORE love for performing something. I’ve seen plenty of non-adored dogs refuse to try, or refuse to keep trying even after praise was given.

Now, a caveat to all this: if you give a dog affection when they’re being rude, demanding, or needy, it will make them more rude, demanding, or needy. But if your dog was being a sweetheart, hanging out, doing not much at all, and you want to love on him? Love on him! You don’t have to make him work for that. Love is unconditional, and the more you love, the more your dogs will work for you.

As for being on the furniture… sure, why not? Packs of dogs all sleep together. There’s no alpha-rule about that, even among studies that do find alpha behaviors. If you enjoy it, do it. And while you’re at it, give your dog a nice belly-rub. It’s good for both of you.


*Quin is in the midst of transitioning, so you may start hearing me refer to him instead of her. Don’t worry! We didn’t break up, we’re still getting married. It’s just a pronoun, and I couldn’t be prouder of her/him for being true to her/himself!

Review: head halters in general, Sporn head halter in particular

First, head halters in general:

Head halters are based on the same haltering idea used for horses. The difference between a dog and a horse, however, is important. Both major differences stem from sheer size: a horse is large. A dog is not. When you pull back on a horse’s halter, the horse’s nose comes into the chest, keeping the spine in alignment. If for some reason you pull sideways, the sheer strength, muscle, bone structure and tendon mass are going to ensure you can’t hurt them. (In fact, with a toss of that great big head they could hurt you.)

A dog doesn’t have that size. When you pull back on a halter with the lead attached under your dog’s chin, it twists his face back and up, putting a great deal of pressure on the spine. In addition, his spine isn’t nearly as strong as a horse’s spine; he simply doesn’t have the bulk necessary to protect it from us humans. For this reason alone, I generally consider head halters to be far too dangerous to use. All it takes is your dog bolting after a squirrel once, you tripping, or constant pressure as your dog pulls against you for damage to be done to the spine.

When I saw the Sporn head halters, which clip in the back and keep the spine in alignment, I decided to give it a try on Cash and see what I thought.

I got Cash used to the head halter via treats so that he was no longer trying to get it off (itself a danger, since dogs can injure themselves attempting to remove it), and took him and Lily for a walk. He was equally stressed/calm as when I use the stop-and-sit method, less stressed than when I used a slip chain. When I pulled gently back on the halter to bring him by my side, it did keep his spine in alignment. These are all pluses.

A minor downside was that if he stopped to sniff something and I pulled gently, because it attaches behind his ears he still felt like he was being pulled backward. Same for if he ducked his head to try and take it off; pulling his head up created more undesirable pressure. This was resolved by not pulling at all, but rather calling his name and offering a treat. If that didn’t work, I tapped his side to get his attention. I would imagine that halters that hook from underneath don’t have this problem.

More importantly, I realized how much pressure there is against his nose. Proponents of head halters usually suggest they are a more humane method of controlling a dog who pulls, but after feeling the pressure Cash brought to bear, I’m not sure I agree. What amazed me even more is that when we finished, his face didn’t bear the little mark across his nose that comes from a dog pulling, which means he was pulling far less than other dogs do.

Because Cash is trained to walk on a loose leash, he really doesn’t pull a lot. I decided to ask him to walk farther back simply so I could see if he’d be bothered by me bringing him gently to my side. While it didn’t bother him, he didn’t figure it out, and he was happy to pull. If I had added in treats I’m sure he would have figured it out, but I was more interested in the ramifications of a untrained pulling, and what that would be like.

In addition, though I never worry about my dogs taking off after squirrels, I did today. As we were walking Cash saw a squirrel race up a tree. As he always does, he stood up tall and ached to run after it (but stayed beside me). The difference this time was purely in me: I suddenly realized that if he bolted, when he hit the end of his leash his entire body weight would come slamming forward onto the thin bones of his face, right below his eye sockets and over his nasal airway, with no muscle, cartilage, thick skin, fur, or tendons to help absorb the impact or support the bone. Perhaps the ones that attach under the chin would work a bit better here, swinging the dog around, using his head as the focal point. However, that would put the pressure against the spine where it joins the skull and is the weakest part of the spine, so I’m not sure that’s any less dangerous overall.

I shortened my leash so that if he did bolt, it would pull him up before he gained much speed for impact, and we kept walking.

In short? Cash was better than I would expect from most dogs, and I still felt like even though it kept his spine in alignment, it put him at more risk than I was willing to take (especially since he, unaware of the risk, was far more willing to pull).

I would recommend this product for someone with a young adult or older dog (where the bones are fully formed) that is having trouble not pulling and has tried all other options, to be used very gently, on an only slightly loose leash, in conjunction with positive reinforcement training. (The goal being to get them off it eventually.)

I would strongly suggest avoiding any of the face harnesses that attach under the chin, as both the face and the spine are in danger. (And that’s not mentioning the slew of dogs who pull so much their faces end up raw. I would think those dogs should be taken off them RIGHT AWAY when the owners realize their dogs are starting to get injured.)

Having now worked with these, I can honestly say… I don’t see how they’re supposed to be more humane. I’ve used prong and slip chains on myself; I’d rather that than a string across my face that could actually cause serious damage, and frequently causes raw, angry skin across the bridge of the nose.

If you MUST use a halter-type harness, use something that attaches in the back to protect your dog’s neck. Otherwise, don’t use them at all.

Does anyone have studies on these? I’ve looked, and found only anecdotal evidence for nearly everything.


Fear mongering, or, when to run, not walk, away from a dog trainer

It’s been a day. I mean, it’s been A Day. I know better than to go reading dog stuff when it’s been A Day, because invariably something annoys me and I start link hopping the things that annoy me, and then I’m in a foul mood.

Like now.

In most of my life, I’m excellent at avoiding or ignoring fear mongering. “What’s fear mongering?” I hear you cry.

Fear mongering is when instead of making logical, fact-based arguments, people try to sway you by frightening you. You see it in politics ALL THE TIME. Rather than saying, “Vote for X for all these awesome reasons!” They say, “If Y is elected, taxes will rise, jobs will decrease, the schools will shut down, people will go hungry, and we’ll all get eaten by plague zombies! Better vote for X so that doesn’t happen!” Someone is trying to force you to make a decision based out of fear.

I see it in dog training fairly consistently. (Mostly, I’m sorry to say, from trainers touting positive reinforcement only methods. Makes me wonder.)

Now, don’t me wrong: positive reinforcement only methods work on a significant number of dogs. I know some fantastic trainers who use only those. I also know a significant number of owners who can’t get positive reinforcement only methods to work. I can. Any other trained professional can. But they can’t; they don’t have the time to devote to it. (The answer many positive reinforcement only trainers give is, “Then they shouldn’t have a dog.” Maybe that’s true. I don’t think it is. I don’t think I should have to devote hours a day to training my dog, just to have them be decent. I want a life outside my dogs, and I think most other people do, too.) Do we just give up on those dogs and those people? I don’t think so.

Anyway, I’m getting off track. When I start link hopping on things that annoy me, invariably I end up reading a lot of fear mongering. Stuff like this:

If you use a prong collar, choke or slip chain or line, martingale, flat collar, or _________, you will bruise, choke, or puncture your dog, or cause spinal injury and tracheal collapse.

Fear mongering: we (rightly) fear injuring our dogs. I want to yell this at my computer screen: “What the hell?! What kind of awful, abusive, horrible training are YOU doing to cause all those things with those collars?!”

I’m sure it’s happened. There are awful, horrible, abusive people out there, infiltrating every section of every profession, including the dog training profession. Therefore, I’m sure it’s happened. But they talk as if it’s a given that it WILL happen. In ten years of dog training, the only instances of any of those I’ve seen were: 2 instances where we stopped using a prong collar (in the case of minor abrasions on the neck due to the dog not caring about whether or not it pulled), and three cases where there was tracheal collapse for other reasons, and no training collar was used.

If you tug on the leash when your dog starts to be aggressive, it will make them more aggressive.

Fear mongering: We fear “turning” our dogs aggressive. Umm… in a very small number of cases, yes, it’s possible to make them more aggressive that way. It’s far, far from likely, and doesn’t happen unless they’re already aggressive. Or, y’know, you’re one of those awful, horrible, abusive people taking your anger out on your dog. Don’t do that.

If you tell your dog “no” you will, at best, break their trust and, at worst, make them attack you.

Fear mongering: “break their trust” and “attack.” And once again I resort to profanity. What. The hell. Are you doing to that dog.

The other hallmark of fear mongering is the use of fear-eliciting words. Words like “Slavery,” “torture,” “abuse,” “fear,” “hit,” “kick,” “strike,” “blood,” etc. Any time I start hearing words like this, I know I need to walk away. My logical side reminds me that if they had any actual evidence, they would use it. If they don’t have actual evidence, they use things to make us so afraid that we don’t stop and examine their argument; we just agree in horror and run away.

Any time you do research on anything, watch for those words. If you see them, run, do not walk, to your nearest sound, sane, logical, evidence-based resource. (Sometimes they try to trick you: they provide evidence or “evidence” while using their fear mongering. These are the worst, and even if they have real evidence, I avoid them anyway: they are not reliable, and if they’re fear mongering that badly then they may not trust their own evidence, and are hoping you won’t look too hard. At best, I look for proof of said evidence. If they’re right, there will be someone else out there who is presenting that evidence without fear mongering. If they’re lying… there won’t be someone out there presenting evidence without fear mongering.)

What kind of evidence should you look for? Well…

1. Studies. Studies are awesome, and usually quoted without sources. Beware these: anyone can mis-remember (or make up) a study they don’t quote. An abysmally small number of studies have been done on dogs (and many of those I can pick apart, sadly).

2. Anecdotal evidence. This is mostly what you’re going to find. It’s not the best, but it’s often the best you can do. In this case, find other trainers or vets who are seeing the same thing. Try to read up on them a bit and see if they’re sound, sane, and logical. Anecdotal evidence should be personal, or at most one person removed. Anyone can SAY it’s personal or one person removed (ie, “my vet,” as opposed to, “a vet”), so you just have to hope they’re telling the truth and trust your own instincts. Again, try to verify with other people saying the same thing.

Remember: if one person has something horrible happen, it’s an outlier. If a lot of people are seeing it, there might be something to it. If people are fear mongering, they’re likely hiding a lack of evidence, or so lost in near-religious fervor that they’re probably not looking at things rationally.

Now, I’m going to go watch some bad television and try to stop being so cranky…