Monday, September 28, 2015

I Refuse to Take a Training Stance

This has been sitting as a draft for several weeks.  I've been fearful of publishing it, for a variety of reasons.  

I might be the only one who has noticed this, but I don't write about training.  I write about my dogs' behavior on occasion, but not training.  Why is this?

Short story-my dogs are dicks.

Seriously.  And for this reason, I refuse to pass judgement on the behavior of other dogs or the training methods of their owners.  For the most part.

For the record, I am a huge fan of positive reinforcement.  But I am NOT a huge fan of dogs being euthanized because, for whatever reason, they did not respond in the necessary ways to positive reinforcement.

None of my dogs are capable of loose-leash walking.  Not that I haven't tried.  Neeko went through three different series of strictly positive reinforcement classes, each one eight weeks long.  Bruce has worked with three different positive reinforcement trainers, including an eight week basic obedience class, to the tune of nearly $1000.  Faolan has had one on one sessions with two different trainers, each costing me over $100. I have worked exhaustively with each of them.

But I have to be able to control my dogs when on leash.  Neeko wears a Gentle Leader.  Faolan wears an Easy Walk.  And Bruce wears a prong collar.

Yes, I put a prong on my dog.  He is uncontrollable otherwise.  I have yet to meet anyone (including the three trainers) who were able to control him with a flat collar, head collar, or any kind of harness. I don't issue corrections.  He self-corrects with it.  Guess what?  He gets super excited when he sees it, and rushes up to have it put on him, because he knows he is going for a walk or a car ride somewhere.

Neeko and Faolan are good out in public.  For the most part.  But they are also stubborn, strong, and headstrong.  They don't go anywhere without a full treat pouch on my waist.  I bribe my dogs all the time.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.  Neeko occasionally bitch barks at other dogs. Faolan will occasionally try to jump on people.  Does this make them bad dogs?  No.  Does it make me a bad "trainer?" Maybe.

Bruce doesn't get to go anywhere except for the vet and occasionally DQ.  He is 90+ lbs of unpredictable muscle.

I could write an entire post about a fairly well-known trainer whom I know personally who has dogs sent to him from all over the country with severe behavioral issues.  He is their last chance.  He "fixes" many of them. Sometimes he uses prongs, and sometimes he has to use E-collars.  I do not judge him.

All three of my dogs know plenty of behaviors.  Sit, shake, high five, double high five, wait, watch me, down, bang, treat on paw/impulse control, etc.  However, they only perform them if the reward is worth it to them, and there isn't something more interesting than me around.

My dogs resource guard.  From each other.  From me.  They have killed chickens, guinea fowl, rabbits.  They are incredibly vocal. (Read-loud barkers/howlers/talkers.) They jump on the front window, the fence, the furniture, the doors. Sometimes they counter surf. They are pushy, demanding jerks.

So when I see a dog pulling on it's leash, barking, walking it's owner, getting a bit excited or having a meltdown, I refuse to pass judgement.  I've been there, done that.
There's the motorcycle wave, the jeep wave, I even think there is a Subaru wave. Us people with dogs that are occasionally out of control need a wave too.  A show of unity, solidarity.  A "Hey, I know what you're dealing with, and it's ok" wave. A "my dog is a dick, too" wave.
Now for my conditional clause.  I will judge you (but not your dog) if you put a fearful, anxious, or aggressive dog in a situation in which you cannot control it, and the dog is at risk of harming itself, a person, or another dog.

My name is Rebekah, and my dogs are big, strong, and occasionally jerks.  But I am able to control them.  They are also happy, healthy, loved, and well-cared for.


  1. Thank you for this. I love your blog, but this really resonates with us! My rescue dog has also been through obedience classes and we have an ongoing private trainer for her...and yet she is so cat obsessed that my neighbors (with outdoor cats) give me the stink eye every time I walk her. We use a Freedom Harness and a Wacky Walkr leash, and I carry a treat pouch for every single walk, yet I find myself dragging a whining, growling, & lunging, pitbull down the sidwalk and away from the neighbors cats every day! (Of course the breed stigma is not helping us any, and in my dogs defense, the cats are probably taunting her.)

    Hi, my name is Jess and my dog is also sometimes a jerk. *waves*

  2. Thank you so much for writing this, I tend to agree with the exception that I do write about training but I try to do it in a non-judgmental way. I'll just say "this worked well for us" and leave it at that since I'm not actually qualified to give real advice on the matter anyway.

    And I don't like to judge people on their training methods either. There are occasions where I'd consider certain things abusive where I'll say something, but that's another story.

    I have a good friend who has a German Shepherd that wears a prong collar all the time & because of his training ( protection ) he needs to wear it. I remember posting a photo of them and people were saying things like "that poor dog, he's wearing a prong" and I was so depressed about it. He's the most loved and well cared for dog I can think of.

    OK enough rambling, thank you for posting this.

  3. My dog is a jerk too! *waves*

    I have to use a Gentle Leader on her every time we go for a walk, and I am also the proud owner of an e-collar. (Seriously, this is the best tool EVER) I get the worst looks and even gasps (oh my goodness!) when people see me using them, but without them, my dog can be unbearable.

    I will say, she is an absolute gem inside the house, out in our fenced yard, and when it's just the two of us, and that's the way I prefer it. She's a German Shepherd and I'm not trying to train her instincts out of her. She wants to protect me, and for the most part I let her do the job she has given to herself, but when we do occasionally go for a walk, or when people come over, I need a little help.

    We've been to numerous training classes, and even had a trainer come into our home. I decided to choose my battles, and I know others have done the same. I don't judge either, for just that reason.

  4. I really enjoyed this post! So often we see posts on training and how well dogs are doing with training etc etc... I know because I have posted several of those myself! LOL! But rarely do you ever read the parts where training doesn't go so well, or about how our dogs are certainly not perfect etc... I think you have inspired me for a post!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

  5. ah you made my mom laugh today, and we tell you lately those have been far and few between, we can all be rather jerky also, and mom always thought it was because she was the problem, but maybe now after reading your post, it is really just the way it is and so be it, cos we are really good hearted also and so is she, and right now in the moment that is all that matters.....and yes it is the brown county that is close to you so of course we must Meet!!!!!!!
    stella rose and momma

  6. My name is Oz and sometimes, I am a jerk dog! I have been trained positively but when an off-leash dog approached and bit me, my positive training for walking on a leash went out the window. Ma tried a static collar for training after that, having learned from a trainer how to use one appropriately and that has helped. We wrote a post about it and were sad when some people left nasty comments; we don't say people have to agree with us but surely you would think one can be honest and "stable" while making their disagreeing point. Not so at all. I am glad you wrote this post. I don't judge anyone for how they train their dog...unless they aren't training it at all. That is just unfair to the dog.

  7. OMG it's like I'm reading about myself and now I want to write a response to this post on my blog, because I can so relate.

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. May I borrow your image for my post?

  8. Good for you for getting up the nerve to say what you think!
    I prefer positive reinforcement training, but I never close my mind to anything, and I try not to judge what others do either (if I have a "judgy" thought I keep it to myself!). I would like if everyone tried positive reinforcement first, but if that doesn't have to try something else, right, for safety reasons?
    I don't like being judged about my reactive dog. I've seen it in my own house when I gated my dogs in a room when we had company, because Luke doesn't like strangers or crowds. Even though some people don't come out and say it (my sister's boyfriend), I knew he thought we were mean for confining them. They were fine. I gave them treats when they were quiet. And everyone was safe from a fearful dog who could potentially bite. My goal in training is to prevent that from ever happening, and I'm going to try whatever I think might work, that I am comfortable with, and respect everyone else's right to do the same.
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

  9. I really, really enjoyed this post. I can definitely relate. I used to use a prong collar with Bain, and I don't judge others that do. As long as they have a reputable brand of collar and know how to properly use it.

    Some of the members on a couple of Dogo Facebook groups use E Collars successfully, though I wouldn't use one for Bain, again I'm not going to judge them if they're using it correctly.

    Bain is very big, very muscular and can be stubborn as hell. Walking him with a flat is absolutely out of the question for the safety of both of us. Even walking him with his halti can be difficult at times. Squirrels like popping out in front of us, off leash dogs have invaded our bubble, and so on. He loves other dogs, but it's like having a football player run up trying to give a dog 90lbs less than him a chest bump.

  10. This is a great post! I wanted to try a prong on Brut for a long time until I realized I wouldn't be able to control my temper with him and would probably hurt him using one. We found a happy medium with a no-pull harness. I used to judge, but once I had Brut I realized I had no room to talk.

    Thank you so much for posting this. So nice to relate to somebody else. :)

  11. OMD, Rita can be a jerk too! She's gotten way better - through the use of a lot of positive training, a lot of bribery cheese and the use of a prong collar as a training tool. But she still ocassionally goes ape over certain other dogs. We used a prong collar for about a year, and like your dog she would race to it and thrust her head into it. I know it didn't hurt her because she is a Drama Queen with a capital Q and will scream at the slightest thing that hurts/scares her and she never acted like that with her prong collar. Seriously would practically dive into the thing. Anyway, we are now using a 2-Hounds Design collar, but sometimes when we see her "nemesis" on the street, I wish she was in her prong collar again.

    And, yes, nothing like having a dog that acts like an asshole to cure you of being judgey of others with their dogs! And we do need a wave! Usually when I see someone else walking a dog who goes nuts like Rita we exchange a "whaddya gonna do?" shrug with each other.

    If only more people were less judgey! Great post!

  12. I think we all have certain areas with our dogs that we struggle with. My dogs are hunting dogs and they want to kill stuff, too. They get overly excited around prey and the scent of prey animals and they struggle with LLW in certain situations, too. I work on it all the time. I work on building better impulse control. I work with Zoe to make sure she doesn't resource guard things. We are constantly working on stuff. Whenever my dog does something that I consider not so great or think, "Wow.. my dog is being an asshole today", that just gives me more motivation to work harder to keep trying. Any failure on my dogs is a reflection of me and my training. I don't blame anyone else for it. I take full responsibility for Zoe pulling on the lead. When I first got her I used to use a flexi leash, it's not her fault she learned to get where she wanted to go by pulling.

    I do want to caution you about using the prong collar on Bruce, especially since he has been aggressive towards you and has bitten you. When you use an instrument of pain on a dog, it makes their aggression worse. No matter how happy he is to put it on. He's happy because he is getting to go somewhere. It doesn't mean he likes the collar. If it didn't hurt him, it wouldn't work.

  13. I take the same general idea, too, though I will fully admit to judging people who slap, "poke" and alpha roll their dogs. That's just asking for trouble.

    My dogs don't have many issues. Nola is so aloof it borders rude. She's not aggressive, not reactive, ect. She just doesn't care to interact with anyone but me and a handful of other people. She's a snob.

    Pike is very soft tempered and it's easy to shut him down. I can raise my voice and not even be speaking to him, and he freezes. He's also weird about the crate: sometimes he loves it, other times he hates it. He's weird about life, period.

    Olivia came to me hand shy and timid (5mo old). I've worked with her on it, and she's gotten better, but if you startle her she'll still shy. I've had people glare at me or even comment about how I "shouldn't hit her". I've never put a harsh hand on her.

  14. This is a great post. It's all about knowing your dogs - what they can handle and what they can't.

  15. Great post. I admit to judging people but only to the extent that they pick a training method (usually something that makes them feel good) and then stick to it regardless of results. They refuse to consider a training tool that could really make a difference. The prong collar is a great tool because as you say, the dog corrects itself. It has gotten such a bad rap which is unfortunate. Don't feel too bad about what you spent on training. When we send the dogs away for field training, it is like $600 a month and they usually good for 3-6 months at a time. But the training they get with a pro is very beneficial for their field work, and it has an added bonus of instilling confidence in them. :) I jumped over here from Jenna's blog (yes I am very behind :) ).

  16. I have tried several dog walking tools throughout the 4 years with our pups, and have flat collars, sling collars, prong collars, martingale collars, and also gentle leaders (actually it's the british version, the Halti, because I like that their nosebands are padded unlike the ones of the gentle leader).

    I found that the Haltis work best for us; while the pups don't pull on leash, they do get very excited whenever we walk past a small, fast moving animal (cat, rabbit, squirrel, you name it), and we walk every single day (stress-reliever for me, love it). The Halti offers me enough control over both pups to manage their excitement and keep them moving away from the distraction.

    We did take a basic obedience class 2 years ago where the trainer introduced Prong Collars. We did learn to use them correctly - a lot of prong collar users place them on their dog's throat, where it will definitely do damage. Prongs need to sit right behind the ears, far up on the dog's neck, and nowhere else.

    Now, the pups both tended to be a little dog reactive prior to taking the class, and the prongs DID help us correct this issue. Maybe they just made us feel more confident when we walked the pups because we knew we were able to effectively control any reactivity.

    We no longer need them these days, as we are equally able to control them with the Haltis now - it's almost as if the prongs taught us to be more confident when passing other dogs.

    Either way, every dog is different, and so is every owner. Everyone has to find what works best for them, and should work on their own issues before addressing those of others (that's my humble opinion).


Thanks for the howls!!