Friday, September 02, 2011

Rage Against The Machine

I'm pissed off. No other way to describe it. It's been at least two years since a call from a dog owner left me feeling this way but that streak ended abruptly just twenty minutes ago. Long enough to get home, feed the dogs and get to the computer. Earlier I'd received a voice mail from someone asking for help "Scolding their dog". I've never heard someone phrase it quite that way and of course on it's face "scolding" is a word subject to interpretation. Are we talking Spanish inquisition or my son losing his IPod for a day scolded? Curious to find out I called back. The dog was described as a four year old female that came from an abusive home. The owner had great success training her with a shock collar,...wait, what? Had I heard that right? Best money they'd ever spent I was told.

Honestly folks, I try in earnest not to pontificate. After all there was a time I'd turned to shock collars etc. to curb behaviors but the truth is that I've had far more success since I stopped using them. It doesn't matter what anyone's feelings are about them, the science doesn't support their efficacy in any meaningful way and in fact provides us with empirical data to support that they do more harm than good. Dr. Sophia Yin's website, click HERE is a great place to start understanding why. Something I tried with all the sincerity and non-judgmental zeal I could muster to communicate to this dog owner. To no avail. I was talking to someone who steadfastly embraced dated and cruel notions that include sticking her dog's nose in her excrement when she had an accident; doesn't work, never has. Worse yet was that this dog has been "rescued from an abusive home". I tried to reach across the divide; explaining my experience with shock collars before and since; I tried to share the data, explain that there were locking trash cans she could get at the local home improvement store that effectively manage garbage surfing and the response was, "I don't want to have to shut doors in my house while I'm not at home, I am my dog's master" Holy shit! Where to begin? Uhhh, you're not. The notion of "Master" is the worst kind of dated nonsense. It shares a place in history with other nutty ideas like phrenology and spontaneous generation. It reminds me of the witch scene from Monty Python's Holy Grail, "If she weighs as much as a duck, then she must be made of wood, and therefore a witch". I'd bet my house that my dogs have no notion of what a "master" is. Even if they did I'd have no interest in playing that role. My dogs are family and in that dynamic there are rules but those rules are realized through a sense of cooperation and reciprocity.

I wanted so badly to reach some common ground with this dog owner but there was no getting through. I failed and now a bad situation is likely to get much worse. A dog who, if the account of her past is accurate, has no reason to trust humans, is now getting all the wrong signals from a yet another human counterpart uninterested in learning anything. Quite the contrary, she was clearly upset with me for trying. Will this dog end up at the Veterinary Clinic that referred her owner to me only to be euthanized for a bite? That's a distinct possibility (I did contact them to fill them in on the details.) More likely first will be calls to other trainers in an effort to find one that won't challenge her to think about it first. This poor dog has some misery in her future and there's nothing I can do to stop it.

Worse yet is that this is not an isolated case. This dog owner is in dubious company with countless other vapid, empty headed twits. Who am I to judge? An old friend once told me when he was asked that question, he responded with, "Someone has to, it may as well be me." Owen, if you're reading this for some strange reason, I get it now. I don't judge dog owners remotely as much for what they're doing so much as what they refuse to do. It's infuriating to be asked for help and subsequently resented for trying but I'll have a couple of beers tonight and get over it. I'm no slave to a "Master" bent on finding more effective means of scolding me.

The word's getting out that there are better ways, not better feeling ways, not ways that are much nicer, capital "B" Better, demonstrably better but every one of us in the training community has a responsibility to get that message out more effectively. Tonight was a wake up call that I need to do that. Tonight left me enraged, I'm still boiling, typing, deleting, and retyping so this doesn't end up just an angry rant. There are lots of good trainers out there, some of them I'm happy to say are my friends. If you call one of them for help, don't be afraid to learn something. Age has provided me with perspective and the blessed ability to be at peace with sometimes (often, if you ask my wife) being wrong about something. James Joyce once said that mistakes are the portals of discovery. This time it wasn't but if for no other reason than the dog I failed tonight, I'll do a better job of bridging that divide the next time I get the chance to. Good luck girl, I'm sorry.