Sunday, December 6, 2009

Does the end justify the means?

My husband taped an episode of a certain dog show for me recently because there was going to be an akita on it. It is not a show I normally watch anymore because of the frustration level it causes me. Apparently I am either a slow learner or a glutton for punishment because it had the effect I thought it might and I just have to vent a little now.

The akita in question was a 2 and half year old named Roscoe. Here is the episode on Hulu so you can watch for yourselves: The dog was scared of strangers and was to afraid of many things to go for walks off the property on leash. Their other dog Jupiter was fine.

First I hate that they show the owner doing stuff to the dog with the stupid music in the beginning. You can see that the dog is trying to avoid a problem and is super tolerant of bad handling. Many dogs would have at least growled a warning or maybe even snapped or bitten by that point.

So said behavior expert tries giving some treats which the dog doesn't take while near his doghouse. He then climbs into the dog house with the fearful dog. (and thankfully does say not to try this at home verbally out loud as he is doing it) He starts explaining how we need the dogs brain to be forward and not backward. Ok I understand english isn't his first language but what I am hoping he meant was that when a dog is in a reactive state they are not learning so we need them to NOT be in that state when we are teaching them something. But watching the dogs body language I am not sure he totally understands the concept himself.

Now one of the first things I noticed and that he also mentions is that the dog walks with an odd gait and has muscle atrophy. He says it was probably from the dog having distemper as a puppy. (so now he is a vet too) Clearly something is going on with the dogs hind end and should be checked out by a vet and probably x-rayed. If my dog walked like that I would definitely want to know why and if it caused pain in any way so I could address it. If I were there as a trainer I would insist they get it checked out before any real training could be done. If there is any pain happening at all it NEEDS to be addressed first! Certainly before any physical manipulation is done to the dog.

Next he uses a leash as a makeshift collar and lead and tries forcing the dog to go for a walk. This is considered flooding when you force a dog to do something they are afraid of. Most times all you will get is a compliant but mentally shut down dog because they go into what is called learned helplessness. It does NOT change the emotion of the event for the dog! The dog clearly was in panic mode and stressed and while he said that "you need to hold the leash a certain way so you don't hurt the dog", I only saw the dog being choked by the leash which certainly looked like it was painful.

Sidenote: There are other collar options out there that could have been used, can he not afford to take the correct tools along with him? A martingale would have been a good choice because it tightens so the dog can't escape but doesn't cut off their airway if adjusted properly. Or even a harness would have been a better choice. Nothing that cuts off the dogs airway. (Tho some trainers do that because it makes the dog give up sooner. When you can't breathe you can't fight.) Also he kept patting the dog on the head with hand tapping which dogs typically do not enjoy. Someone needs some dog communication language lessons.

When dragging the dog for a walk didn't work, because the dogs nails started bleeding from clawing at the pavement, he loaded the dog (muzzled) into a car to take to the park where the ground was softer. When the dog got to the park (unmuzzled) he refused to walk. So the expert lifted his back end up and did a wheelbarrow move to force the dog to start walking on his own. Once he did he acted like he had cured the dog of his fear. (see it only took 4 minutes to get him to walk!) Uh ok.

While the dog was sniffing around after starting to walk he peed, and the expert said the dog was owning this new area which showed he was comfortable. (Maybe he just had to pee.) Back at the house he then addressed the dog not wanting to jump into or out of the back of their pick up truck. (remember those hips?) He lifts the dogs front end up and gets the dog to pull himself up the rest of the way. "Make him do 50% of the work" he tells the owner. To get him out of the truck he PUSHES him out, using his special wheelbarrow technique again when the dog refuses to jump down. He did this at least 3 times I think. (You don't want to check his mobility issues first, seriously?? Please kick me in the head now.) The dog clearly wasn't comfortable jumping down from the truck.

They discuss the fact that the dog hasn't been to the vet because it was to hard to get him there. The expert says that this should be the goal for the dog. The next step the expert decides is to take the dog to his "center" for some pool therapy. He doesn't explain why this is needed. Again more flooding as he carries the dog into the pool and down the steps all the while the dog is defecating. (If you watch the episode yourself watch the beginning of the pool scene closely. The camera man tries to cut that out of the shot.) One wonders why he doesn't have a dog ramp into his DOG pool. The dog swims because he has to and you can see him try to escape when he gets the chance.

A couple weeks later they go to the experts new dog center and they take the dogs for an off leash walk and to meet some of his dogs. (Not sure why this was done other than to show off the new place being constructed.) The dog does jump out of the truck but lands oddly. (and I swear I heard him yelp) They don't show much of the dog on this other than when they were trying to locate him because the two dogs took off ahead of them. They didn't really show any interactions with his other dogs that I remember. When it was time to go the akita TRIES to jump in the truck and can't make it. (It's his HIPS people for crying out loud!!!)

TWO MONTHS LATER they take the dog for a bath at a local self serve dog wash and the dog screams while they are carrying him in. He refused to walk in himself. (Perhaps those hips that were never checked hurt when he is being carried?) The bath itself looks like it goes without incident tho he recovers a little slow afterward when they put him down but he does walk out. Then they take him to the vet.

The vet visit looks like it lasts about the time it takes you to read this post. A rabies vax and I think a distemper shot and he walks out. NO check of the hips AT ALL. No mention of the odd mobility by owner or the expert. No real exam that I can see. No mention of the muscle atrophy. The dog walks on the floor oddly as he leaves but it has the look of scary floor walk which a lot of dogs do at the vet which may be why the vets don't notice the odd gait. I cannot believe this was not addressed. What. The. Hell.

Overall the ending of the story was that the owners could take the dog to the park for walks and the dog was getting out more and getting more attention. So the dog did get some help, regardless of the methods used. My daughter who was watching mentioned she was angry that they never seemed to praise the dog at all. (by either owner or expert) She is 14 and figured that out on her own.

What do you think? Does the end justify the means? Or is this just another case of how lucky we are that some dogs are very tolerant of our species idiocy and ignorance? Should we only care about the results and concentrate on the silver lining? Could there be some fallout hiding in that cloud? The things we do to dogs in the name of training or changing behavior sometimes makes me sad. This was definitely one of those times.

Don't get me wrong, I am happy that the dog has an improved quality of life now. It was just hard to watch knowing there is a better way to get there than what that sweet dog had to go through.

***This would bother me so much less if he were just another trainer doing what he does to his own local dogs, which would be bad enough, but he isn't. He has a worldwide audience who assumes he knows what he is doing simply because he is on a TV show. And unknowledgeable people imitate his stuff. The disclaimer only means they can't then sue the show when their own dog bites them for trying that malarkey on them with disastrous results. He isn't wrong about everything: dogs need exercise, rules, and to be treated like dogs, but he is wrong about a lot of other stuff like how to properly handle them. Just my opinion as a professionally trained dog trainer. Do some research before you let someone handle your dog. Anyone can hang a shingle and claim to be a professional. Anyone. ***


Lauren Hinsman said...

Yeah, he's pretty entertaining and it does make me nervous how many people just adore him.

Question: in the part where you talk about flooding and moving "forward", etc.... when I was walking Orli yesterday on Main street, we had to walk past a firetruck that was in idle, but lights were flashing. She was fine until we were quite close, then she planted her feet. I took her by her collar (plain rolled leather) and sort of tugged on here and sweet talked her through it. Is that not okay? There was nowhere to go but forward or back (no side street) and I assume turning back would teach her to just bolt when something is scary.



Mrs. Lazaro said...

Excellent post, Marie. Wow. Definitely bookmarking this!

Marie said...


That is fine. There are times where flooding is either nessasary (in a true behavior modification plan) or unavoidable. I like to try jollying them past it too. Talking in a silly upbeat voice "Oh look at the pretty firetruck" as you pass. What you say isn't important, its that you don't act freaked out yourself.

I think it is ok to back off something scary. Especially if it is a puppy in a fear period. If possible you can then work the dog under threshold to learn it isn't scary. But that entails having treats on you or something that the dog considers valuable at that time. If not leave the training session for another time.

It always comes down to context. What can you do at that moment, and what do you need to do. Passing a scary thing with no options is going to happen at some point. Life just isn't always predictable.

themacinator said...

you know, i've seen a bunch of people go "ch ch" and the pinching thing, but i can't wait for people to start wheel-barrowing their dogs into the shelter. i'm so glad i read this post, now i'll know why!

(insert eye roll)

Lauren Hinsman said...

*phew* Yeah, I do a sort-of ridiculous dance and say, "Oh sweet puppy! We are walkin' down the street and we're havin' fu-un!" to get her to keep going. Works pretty good, but I'm certain I look like an idiot.


terra said...

an under socialized puppy that the matriarch didn't want, and oh boy he has some sort of nuerological issue what an awesome present for a family!! < shakes head >

I couldn't get past where he was trying to DRAG the dog out into the street. Granted, this could have been a longer period of time than the whole 5 mins it took the tape to get there.. but when Jupiter walked up and was "helping". i was waiting for Jupiter to bite him in the face! Why do they have to surrender, how bought they work with us?

I cannot believe that this family allowed themselves to be seen on national tv as ignorant to their dogs health. I am not a dog expert but i spotted that weird gait for myself before reading the rest of your post. His head carriage is off also, but i had chocked that up to fear and not maybe something wonky with his "nerves".

Yrro said...

From the episodes I've seen, it seems to really depend on what kind of behavior problems you're having. A dog with dominance problems and a family who enables them? Cesar's methods aren't too bad. But you have to use entirely different techniques for a dog who is scared to death (or even worse, in PAIN as is the case here) than with a dog who is just too full of himself.