Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Dog Whisperer Fiasco in South Africa

If you haven't already heard about this story on the news I'm sure you will soon. I'm a little surprised it isn't popping up on more blogs. The video is disturbing but thankfully available as there can be no question of how the dog actually behaved since the "whisperer" in question tried to blame the child for stepping on the dog. Here is the original story:

And one trainers take on it:

I agree with the trainers comments that no dog is simply "cured" of aggression. So much of it is about context for the dog. Like I said before, aggression is complicated. There are many types and therefore different ways to address it. It may be that this dog had completely different issues before. Aggression with other dogs perhaps. One wonders if he took away the dogs communication of growling a warning with that silly "shhht" sound. Either way the handler (self proclaimed shaman/whisperer/whatever) made his biggest mistake by NOT keeping his eye on the dog, especially since the dog was in a public place. Clearly the dog targets the little girl when she left her table the first time. And certainly a service dog would need to be ok with people/children/other dogs running past them in close proximity. The little girl did nothing wrong.
This is also a disturbing look at service dogs who aren't properly trained. I see and hear of FAR to many people using service dog vests just so they can bring their dogs with them everywhere. We have a client at our clinic who passes his golden off as one so he can fly in the cabin. Sadly there is no one to turn him in to for this!! He has a "note from his doctor" that allows it as he has bragged to us. The dog has NO basic training that I can see. Thankfully it is at least a friendly dog. We used to have another client with a small dog they said was a service dog as well. He was on medication for seizures. Not sure how that works exactly since the dog wasn't medically fit. They switched vets so I no longer have to see them thankfully. I also had someone want to work with me with a dog that had severe dog to dog aggression who wanted to use him as a service dog. She was already taking him in public in a vest! While she actually had a need for a service dog, he wasn't appropriate for the work. I shudder to imagine the damage he could have done to a REAL service dog! (because one assumes a service dog is ok with other dogs a real service dog might get to close to him in a store for instance) Sadly I have more stories than this on the subject. While there IS a hefty fine for passing off an untrained and uncertified dog as a service dog, there isn't anyone to turn these people in to. So the threat of the fine isn't really much of a deterant.
It is one of those things that gets under my skin because people are taking advantage of something because they feel like it. Heaven forbid they ever really need a service dog someday. (And catch a clue, if your dog is acting like an idiot in public people will KNOW it probably isn't a real service dog!) Note to business owners, you CAN ask a poorly behaved service dog and their handler to leave your business IF the dog is actually causing a problem. (Barking at other customers, lunging at other dogs, urinating on items in your store, and the like.)
Sadly I must admit when I see a dog in a service dog vest these days, unless the persons disability is apparent, I am suspicious of it. Is it real or a fake for the owners whims? Ignorance is bliss I suppose. I wish there was some sort of governing body to address the issues of fake service dogs. If it were regulated, and I know that would come with its own set of problems, at least there would be a way to keep it from happening as much as it does. At least one hopes.
It is an awful story. Thankfully the girl will be ok tho possibly afraid of dogs the rest of her life. Oh and the "Whisperer"? He is a Harvard graduate of a business program, and a self taught "Whisperer". Another example of why you should be careful who you are hiring to train your dogs. Slick websites and good marketing doesn't always mean the trainer is someone who really understands dog behavior. Anyone can hang a "I am a dog trainer/shaman/whisperer/whatever shingle and take your money for services rendered. Do yourself a favor and ask a few questions about how qualified they actually are before you hire them.
I am so sick of this whisperering bunk. How many times do we have to point out why this "alpha pack method theory" is flawed? (FMI on that check out this link: ) And how sad that the term "whisperer" was hijacked from Paul Owens who happened to be a positive method trainer. (
Enough of my rant, what are your thoughts on the subject?

1 comment:

Jan said...

Sadly anyone can buy a service dog vest and a false "certificate" on the internet and people are too intimidated to question their need for a service dog. Shop owners can only ask if the dog helps them with their disability.

I'm sure we will see more abuses until the laws are strengthened. At least now service dogs need to for the most part be dogs, not goats, monkeys, or snakes as the law used to be.