Everybody’s an expert when armchair-training someone else’s dog, just like everybody’s an expert when armchair-parenting someone else’s child.
When I first got my Shiba Inu (Sephy), I had a difficult time with him. Shibas are stubborn, independent, bold, and energetic – I was unprepared for such a dog. Naturally, friends, neighbors, and even strangers, had lots of unsolicited advice about what I should be doing.
“Just slap him on the muzzle”, “Show him who is boss”, “Say no bite and hold on to his muzzle”, “Wrestle him to the ground and growl at him”, “Use a choke chain”, “Pinch his ear”, and on and on it went.
Much of the information was wrong, some of it was risky and dangerous, and none of it considered matters from the dog’s perspective.
I went online to look for more information, and it was more of the same. “Discussions” had a lot of conflicting information, a lot of personal attacks, and it was difficult to separate what was fact, from what was fiction.
Here are a few things that helped me.
1. Get Information from Multiple Sources
In the beginning, I made many dog training mistakes with Sephy because I was unprepared. However, one of the first things that I did right, was to get information from multiple different, but reputable sources. I called up many different trainers in my area, talked to them about problems with my dogs, asked them a lot of questions about their philosophy on training, asked them for book or article suggestions, and more.
Once I had an overview of the different positions, I could better decide which of those sources are rooted in scientific fact, which are conjecture, and which are complete rubbish.
Some places that I currently visit for dog training information-
a) Scientific studies and articles from schools with a strong animal behavior program.
We can start by looking at the top veterinarian schools in the country. Then, we can further narrow things down by looking at websites and articles to see if they have a strong behavioral program.
In addition, we may refer to this great article by Patricia McConnell on what it means to be an animal behaviorist, and which schools have good animal behavior programs.
UC Davis appears high-up in both of these lists, therefore, if I were interested in dog dominance, I may do a search on “dog dominance ucdavis” or “dog dominance upenn”.
Below are several well-known dog behaviorists, with strong practical experience as well as theoretical backgrounds. Their websites and blogs have many good articles on dog training and dog behavior.
b) Well-respected dog advocate organizations.
Another great resource for dog care and dog training information are reputable dog advocate organizations, such as the –
- ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals),
- RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals),
- Humane Society of the United States,
- AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association), and
- AVSAB (The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior).
Some good articles on how to find a trainer.
c) Breed specific online forums.
During my difficult time with Sephy, I also visited several Shiba Inu discussion forums. These forums had many veteran Shiba owners who have gone through similar issues as I was having with Sephy.
It was very helpful to read about similar experiences, as well as suggestions made by people who are very familiar with the breed.
However, as with any other online public space, there were also some misleading and false comments. Therefore, it is best to temper online comments with a good dose of scientific data and objective facts.
Finally, I also enjoy watching dog training shows on t.v., but that is more for entertainment. Here is why.
Do not attempt the techniques you are about to see without consulting a professional.
~~[ Quote from The Dog Whisperer Show on The National Geographic Channel ]
2. Keep an Open Mind and Listen to Our Dog
During online interactions, I always try to remember my main goal – which is to gather information on training and behavior, so that I can make good decisions for my dogs, and enhance their quality of life. When I get a new piece of information, I ask myself the following –
- Does it come from a trustworthy source?
- Does it fit in logically with other facts that I know about dog behavior?
- If it is true, will it change how I currently do things with my dogs? If so, I will need to do more research to test its veracity.
- Finally, and most importantly, I always try to listen to my dog. I do training and learn about dog behavior to improve his quality of life. Therefore, he can best tell me if a technique is ‘working‘ or not. If my dog starts showing signs of stress or fearfulness, then I know that it is not the right technique for us.
I try my hardest not to let ego get in the way, and to stay out of pointless extremist arguments that lead nowhere. The thing about extremists is that they are always right and they always know what is right for everyone else, therefore, there is no room for discussion and learning.
“The world is a circle that has as many centres as it has men.”
~~[Bakker, R. Scott (2011-04-14). The White Luck Warrior (p. 379)]
3. Beware the Miracle Technique
When I first started my journey with Sephy, I came across many promises for easy solutions and answers to our problems. There were claims of ‘special words‘ that would suddenly make my Shiba obedient.
Others make claim of convenient and automatic tools, such as the electronic collar, that can correct my dog effectively even when I am not there. Proponents of the electronic or shock collar frequently claim that they do not cause any pain, are not risky, have no ill effects, are effective, save lives, and more.
A common meme is that –
Shock collars, choke collars, jabbing our dog, and more, are not painful. They are merely used to get our dog’s attention or to communicate with our dog.
Physical laws tell us that passing an electric current through our dog, choking him with a collar, and poking him hard with our fingers will cause pain and discomfort.
Laws of animal behavior tell us that dogs repeat behaviors that get them good results and stop behaviors that get them bad results. Techniques that apply pain may suppress certain dog behaviors, precisely because pain is a bad result.
The pain applied will have to be large enough to deter our dog from performing what *we* consider to be a bad behavior. Too little pain, and our dog will just ignore it. Too much pain, and our dog may become fearful, overly anxious, and aggressive. No pain at all, will logically have no effect.
If all we wanted to do is to get our dog’s attention and communicate with him, then a whistle should be sufficient to do the job. There would be no need for shocks, chokes, and jabs.
It is true that these techniques –
- Get our dog’s attention, and
- Are a way of communicating our wishes to our dog.
However, this is achieved through pain. Shock collars, collar corrections, and jabbing our dog with fingers all cause pain to our dog. The pain gets our dog’s attention, and the pain communicates to our dog the following message – “Do this, or else …”
Most of us do not want to inflict pain upon others, much less on those we love. When we make decisions that involve causing pain to our dogs, we will naturally shy away from the thought, which is why we create the miracle method that does not cause any pain or stress.
If indeed these techniques were painless, safe, and miraculous, dog advocate organizations such as the ASPCA, RSPCA, AVSAB, Blue Cross (UK), and more, would not be so against their use in training our companion dogs. If indeed such methods were so miraculous, this mother from Utah would not be facing charges for allegedly using shock collars on her children.
Other common myths about dog training –
- Dog dominance is the source of aggression and most bad dog behavior. This is false.
- Hitting my dog and other forms of physical force is more effective because dogs do that to other dogs. This is also false. In fact, this University of Pennsylvania study shows that physical force and dominance techniques have a high risk of causing aggression in our dogs.
There are no miracle cures in dog training. I make the best decisions for my dogs when I consider each technique objectively, based on the scientific data and facts around it. Then, I carefully observe my dog and listen to what he says, so that I can tweak things appropriately based on his particular environment and temperament.