Not too long ago!

Having Ray move in with us in March 2013, was an education in so many ways. Him being my first dog dictated a significant education in dogs and dog behavior in general and, with Ray having his own personal issues, the anticipated education was significantly expanded! Details have been covered in various Posts and, of course, in his book “Who Said I was up for Adoption?”

What I have not however addressed before have been my revelations, triggered by my frustrations of other people.  I think it is common sense to acknowledge that in order to understand dog ownership, one would have to have owned a dog. While I am sure that all dog owners would agree with that, I can well imagine that some non-dog owners would challenge it. (That would have been me not too long ago).

Walking Ray through a park in a town where all dogs are supposed to be leashed, has had its moments of concern. In Ray’s early days, when he was fearful of pretty much anything that moved and handled it with a display of aggression, an approaching off-leash dog was a concern which I freely expressed to the dog’s owner. So many people would not have seen the problem, after all, they’re just dogs. (That would have been me not too long ago).

Walking past a dog that starts frantically barking as Ray passes by is interesting because, whereas my thoughts are in the area of “That poor dog is probably frightened and wants Ray to go away”, other people in the area could just look at the dog making all the noise and make a detrimental comment about its disruptive behavior. (That would have been me not too long ago).

Seeing a dog wearing a muzzle makes me wonder whether the necessity for the muzzle is based on an uncontrolled/unpredictable aggression, or is it to give the dog some personal space. So many other people would just look at the muzzled dog and wonder why it is even out in public! (That would have been me not too long ago).

Understanding the negative aspects of shock collars; understanding the inherent shortcomings of an”invisible fence”; understanding the implications of positive reinforcement training, as distinct from punishment techniques, have all been part of my education. Other people may well think that shocking a dog into not barking makes sense; that an electric fence is a great discreet way of controlling a dog’s wanderings, and that there is a time when physical punishment is quite simply necessary. (That would have been me not too long ago).

Then there are dog selection… and vet bills. So many people simply cannot understand why anybody would go to a shelter and adopt a clearly troubled dog. So many people probably put limited value on shelters and do not understand why “troubled” dogs are even allowed to live, and when it comes to vet bills? I am sure we have all heard of people who are appalled that a dog owner just spent a few thousand dollars on a vet procedure! (That would have been me not too long ago).

Not too long ago, I was not only very naive about dog ownership, but I was not even aware of the radically different perspectives possible between a dog owner and a non-dog owner. Not too long ago, I accepted dogs (reluctantly) as part of the streetscape, and never thought much further than that. Not too long ago, dogs were just “out there” and were often rather annoying.

It is interesting how ones perspective can radically change when put in the position of dog ownership! What I have to do now is to be consciously aware of the infinite number of other circumstances of which I have little or no experience, and be as understanding as possible. It is just too easy to criticize a situation when you have very little, if any, understanding of the details of said situation.

Compassion and understanding are so important for us all to live together, and yet it is so often hidden as a result of preconceived  and unfounded opinions. Today we may unfairly criticize a dog and/or its owner. Tomorrow it could be a teenager and/or its parent!

Food for thought.

26 thoughts on “Not too long ago!

  1. You​ ​don’t​ ​know​ ​what​ ​you​ ​don’t​ ​know.​ ​​ ​People​ ​cannot​ ​know​ ​the​ ​difficulties​ ​of​ ​a​ ​fearful​ ​dog​ ​until they​ ​have​ ​had​ ​experience​ ​with​ ​a​ ​fearful​ ​dog.​ ​​ ​One​ ​of​ ​the​ ​most​ ​difficult​ ​aspects​ ​of​ ​owning​ ​a​ ​fear aggressive​ ​dog​ ​(for​ ​me)​ ​was​ ​worrying​ ​that​ ​people​ ​would​ ​think,​ ​”She​ ​should​ ​not​ ​have​ ​that​ ​dog” or​ ​”She​ ​cannot​ ​control​ ​that​ ​dog”​ ​or​ ​”She​ ​is​ ​a​ ​terrible​ ​dog​ ​owner”​ ​etc.

    It​ ​started​ ​with​ ​a​ ​few​ ​negative​ ​comments. When​ ​Liezel​ ​was​ ​barking​ ​in​ ​the​ ​car,​ ​”You​ ​need​ ​to shut​ ​that​ ​dog​ ​up,”​ ​and​ ​while​ ​out​ ​on​ ​a​ ​walk,​ ​”…before​ ​I​ ​get​ ​my​ ​gun​ ​and​ ​kill​ ​that​ ​*******​ ​dog.” Those​ ​comments​ ​manifested​ ​into​ ​so​ ​much​ ​anxiety.​ ​​ ​It​ ​makes​ ​my​ ​heart​ ​race​ ​thinking​ ​back. It​​ ​​took​​ ​​a​​ ​​long​​ ​​time​​ ​​for​​ ​​me​​ ​​to​​ ​​realize​​ ​​that​​ ​​other’s​​ ​​perceptions​​ ​​were​​ ​​not​​ ​​for​​ ​​me​​ ​​to​​ ​​worry​​ ​​about. And​ ​in​ ​that​ ​time,​ ​reflecting​ ​on​ ​all​ ​that​ ​transpired,​ ​I​ ​came​ ​to​ ​realize​ ​just​ ​how​ ​much​ ​words​ ​can affect​ ​another​ ​person.

    I​ ​recently​ ​chimed​ ​in​ ​on​ ​a​ ​conversation​ ​about​ ​”people​ ​and​ ​their​ ​uncontrolled​ ​puppies​ ​/​ ​dogs.” There​ ​were​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​critical​ ​comments​ ​about​ ​what​ ​the​ ​person(s)​ ​should​ ​have​ ​done​ ​and​ ​should​ ​be doing.​ ​​ ​I​ ​felt​ ​compelled​ ​to​ ​announce,​ ​”Listen.​ ​​ ​I​ ​felt​ ​the​ ​same​ ​way​ ​about​ ​people​ ​and​ ​their​ ​dogs before​ ​Liezel.​ ​​ ​I​ ​was​ ​the​ ​one​ ​to​ ​think​ ​’THAT​ ​is​ ​the​ ​wrong​ ​dog​ ​her​ ​HER/HIM.’​ ​​ ​I​ ​was​ ​judgmental and​ ​quick​ ​to​ ​point​ ​out​ ​what​ ​others​ ​were​ ​doing​ ​wrong.​ ​​ ​But​ ​that​ ​was​ ​before​ ​Liezel.”​ ​​ ​Prior​ ​to Liezel,​ ​my​ ​only​ ​dog​ ​owner​ ​experience​ ​was​ ​with​ ​a​ ​perfectly​ ​behaved​ ​Rottweiler​ ​and​ ​prior​ ​to Liezel​ ​I​ ​did​ ​not​ ​understand​ ​why​ ​everyone’s​ ​dog​ ​wasn’t​ ​as​ ​perfectly​ ​behaved​ ​as​ ​mine.​ ​[Note:​ ​my part​ ​in​ ​creating​ ​a​ ​perfectly​ ​behaved​ ​dog​ ​was​ ​minor.​ ​​ ​Having​ ​a​ ​good​ ​genetic​ ​temperament​ ​is what​ ​allowed​ ​training​ ​to​ ​be​ ​so​ ​easy.]

    I​ ​also​ ​judged​ ​people​ ​for​ ​their​ ​choice​ ​of​ ​training​ ​devices. We​ ​worked​ ​with​ ​many​ ​trainers​ ​-​ ​all​ ​positive​ ​reinforcement,​ ​and​ ​made​ ​no​ ​progress.​ ​​ ​Liezel continued​ ​to​ ​get​ ​more​ ​and​ ​more​ ​fearful​ ​and​ ​more​ ​and​ ​more​ ​fear​ ​aggressive.​ ​​ ​It​ ​wasn’t​ ​until​ ​we found​ ​our​ ​current​ ​trainer​ ​who​ ​implements​ ​correction​ ​did​ ​we​ ​see​ ​any​ ​progress.​ ​​ ​I​ ​do​ ​not​ ​agree with​ ​physical​ ​punishment;​ ​however,​ ​when​ ​there​ ​is​ ​no​ ​opportunity​ ​to​ ​reward​ ​good​ ​behavior, teaching​ ​that​ ​there​ ​are​ ​consequences​ ​for​ ​bad​ ​behavior​ ​is​ ​the​ ​only​ ​other​ ​choice.​ ​​ ​In​ ​other​ ​words, there​ ​was​ ​no​ ​safe​ ​distance​ ​for​ ​Liezel​ ​to​ ​see​ ​a​ ​stranger​ ​and​ ​not​ ​react​ ​so​ ​there​ ​was​ ​no opportunity​ ​to​ ​praise​ ​and​ ​reward​ ​her​ ​for​ ​not​ ​reacting.​ ​​ ​We​ ​had​ ​to​ ​give​ ​correction​ ​when​ ​she reacted.​ ​​ ​When​ ​she​ ​looked​ ​away​ ​from​ ​the​ ​scary​ ​thing​ ​-​ ​in​ ​that​ ​split​ ​second,​ ​she​ ​was​ ​praised​ ​and rewarded.​ For​ us,​ ​it​ ​took​ ​positive​ ​punishment​ ​in​ ​order​ ​to​ ​get​ ​any​ ​behavior​ ​that​ ​warranted positive​ ​reinforcement.

    Now​ ​here​ ​we​ ​are,​ ​using​​ ​techniques​ ​I​ ​at​ ​one​ ​time​ ​thought​ ​were​ ​unnecessary,​ ​even​ ​cruel.​ ​​​I didn’t​ ​know​ ​what​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​know. Sometimes​ ​it​ ​does​ ​take​ ​a​ ​dog​ ​to​ ​teach​ ​human​ ​life​ ​lessons.

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    • Wow! That is quite the response! I would just like to offer three comments for consideration:

      1. “You don’t know what you don’t know” is often used as a way out of a sensitive situation. If you know my background (from earlier Posts), you will know that I knew nothing about dogs..except that one bit me a long time ago! However, I did know that I knew nothing about dogs, and therefore had the option to ask lots of questions. So many people will not ask questions for fear of looking silly, but that is usually an insecurity issue which really should be addressed.

      2. The other point is your position that positive reinforcement training does not always work. I have neither the expertise nor the experience to dispute that however, although it may be just semantics, you seem to infer that there is a case for corrective punishment. Our Ray was a difficult dog in so many areas and, after 4 years with us, he is still a work in progress however, when positive reinforcement training did not produce results, it was usually because we were missing his signals. When all else failed, then we removed something that he liked. There has never been a need for corrective punishment per se.

      One of our current challenges is his recent habit of politely accepting treats from people, and then demanding more by barking. Given that his desired intention is pretty clear, we are now simply turning him around and taking him away from the situation. We are pretty sure that he will soon catch on that barking does not get him treats. He did learn that a long time ago with us!

      3. We have come across a number of professed trainers who disagree with some aspect of positive reinforcement training, just as there are still some “old school” (Ref Cesar Millan) methods being used. Ultimately it is the dog owner who must decide how to train their dog, and my “fall-back” position is simply the question “Would I do this to a 3 year old child?” If the answer is “No”, then perhaps I should not be doing it to a dog.


  2. Even though I am a cat person and was once guilty of such feelings about dogs that you mention, I now tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the dog. I think this is due to reading your posts and such books as Racing in the Rain, which explain the dogs’ points of view. As I pass a dog (on a leash) who bares his teeth at me, I TRY to think, “Oh look; he’s smiling at me.” LOL

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  3. So true. The same can be said for cats. Animals care most about surviving. They don’t create plots in their brains. I’ve never been a fan of punishment. They don’t always get the connection between what they did and what you are doing.

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  4. What clear observations. How much better everything would be if people only realized their perspective colors their thoughts.
    Your post has brought to mind all the orphan dogs ( and a couple of cats) who have lived with us by mutual choice. The “used” dogs in shelters (a 4 yr old girl gave me that terms as she hugged her new “used” dog), those creatures seem to have not arrive at the appropriate home for them with owners that were not a good match – so behavior was confused and often destructive.
    Adopting a mostly grow/full grown shelter or rescue dog means there must be a commitment to untangle the animal’s often defensive behavior and reestablish a trust with humans. It’s hard and not for everyone. It’s the same with unruly/”bad” children in the school room – the teacher of pet owner has to see what is going on and be something of a behavioral specialist. Not every one wants to bother or has the time – for either species.
    But if you’ve the patience, skills, and determination to win a rescue dog’s heart, you’ll never find a more devoted and forever grateful companion.
    I must check out Ray’s book.
    Paw waves from Molly Malamute

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  5. I have read a couple other posts Colin and you have a great handle on the training part. I love the “Intuitive Dog Training” and the hello part. Dogs are smarter than us a lot of times and keep us all on our toes.

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    • Thank you Ron. My main “assets” have been to readily observe Ray; ask questions; listen to the answers, and pay for services as necessary! Our Humane Society dog trainers have always been so supportive and free with sharing their expertise. In fact my book about Ray “Who Said I was up for Adoption?” would not have been written but for all the expertise that was shared with us, and which I in turn wanted to share with anybody who was interested.


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