Last week I did something I probably shouldn’t have. It seems I am constantly admitting things like that on here. Last Wednesday night I was tired and up late by myself, as my practically husband had to work at three-thirty in the morning. Shiva was sleeping on the couch and I was on the floor – a not atypical arrangement. As I flipped through the channels, I came across a show I haven’t seen in a long time. It was a newer episode. Newer in that I hadn’t seen it before. Thankfully, I think they have stopped filming completely. (ETA: Unfortunately, according to the website, a new show is in the works. Yay…) For some stupid reason, I decided to check it out again.
Masochism is a tricky thing. It sneaks up when one least expects it.
A lot has been said and a lot will be said about a certain whispering Mexican. It is not my intention to add to that particular dialogue. Everything I could write, people smarter than I have already written. Besides, in my opinion, this other television experience is a lot worse. I understand that on some level this kind of show is entertaining. Heck, I used to find it entertaining. There was indeed a time I even found it informative.
Years ago, before I ever thought of adopting a dog, I started watching a Canadian program called At the End of My Leash. I knew absolutely nothing about dog training back then. I watched it because I liked dogs and because I guess I liked making fun of people. That seems to be the overall purpose, now that I am looking at it with new eyes. Because it doesn’t have much to do with dog training.
The host of this show is mean. Essentially, he is a dog-training bully. There is no other way to put it then that. When he is not yanking around the dogs, he is berating their owners and making the people cry. No wonder I was mega intimated when we finally called a trainer for Shiva. He tells people they are useless and then puts video cameras throughout their house so he can monitor their every move. This “trainer” and “life coach” also goes through each house with the owners waiting outside, searching for signs of dog treats. Dog treats, according to this television host, are worse than evil. The people who use them are worse than criminals. Treat-training, he often says with disdain, is nothing but a bribe. This host adheres to the all-too-common belief that dogs should obey their owners because they like them. End of story.
And I used to think he was brilliant.
I am so glad to say that I don’t any more. That after ten minutes I had to turn it off because I couldn’t watch the poor shepherd mix struggle to get away any longer. Nor could I stand the woman looking at the host like he was her saviour (gag). But the important thing to remember is that I did. I thought this “trainer” knew what he was doing. I thought what he said made sense. Sadly, I even tried to apply some of what I saw. (I am very sorry, Roach.)* I will even go as far as to say I probably still would follow these directions blindly if they had even remotely worked.
Sometimes they do, after all. Some dogs are naturally confident enough to adapt to any form of training. Some dogs really will sit and heel just because they like their owners. Shiva wasn’t one of those dogs. Fortunately, she was hardy and wasn’t affected by my goof-ups. Instead of getting freaked out by my horrifying attempts at leash corrections, instead of running away from me, she just didn’t respond at all. I would correct her and then she would still go ahead to lunge at another person on the sidewalk. It was as if I didn’t exist. Shiva knew a lot more than I did. Thank goodness she didn’t give up on me completely.
The reason I am saying all this is because I used to like this show and follow its trainer’s precepts. When they didn’t work, I sought outside help. Luckily that help was in the form of a positive trainer and not a “Certified Educator Trainer” from the television show host’s school. (Yes, he has a school for trainers. No, I don’t know what an “educator trainer” is.) It may not have been. What about all the other people out there just like me? How are their dogs doing now?
One of the major reasons dogs are surrendered is due to lack of training. The dog chews the house, pees on the floor, barks too much, steals food, or bites a child. Off to the shelter she goes. Obviously we know most of these problems can be fixed or prevented. But does everyone know that?What about the people who watch this show, try to train their dogs in this way, find out it doesn’t work, and then give up completely?
My question is, how do we reach these people?
It was mostly luck that turned me around. Luck and a very supportive trainer. My dog trainer didn’t enter my house and start yelling at me, which is what I feared. She came in, listened to our concerns, complimented us on the things we were doing right, and offered positive, real-world solutions. She also stayed much longer than the scheduled hour and told me to email her any time I had a question. When she left, I felt good. If I cried it was because I was so happy someone understood our dog. Someone even liked her. It was one of the most uplifting days of my dog-owning life.
In my opinion the host of the aforementioned show is not really a big fan of the dogs he trains.** Nor does he even seem to like people. It worries me that this is how many viewers may view dog trainers. I totally understand not wanting to call someone like that. How do we convince them otherwise?
There are a lot of questions here. I realise the average dog owner doesn’t care all that much about tricks or obedience. As long as one’s dog will walk on a leash, pee outside, and greet everyone in a friendly manner, a lot of people don’t care about much else. That’s fine. But those three things aren’t always easy to attain, despite what the media portrays. Every dog requires some level of instruction. As someone who has become very passionate about positive reinforcement, I want to help others find the right way.
How do I do this without sounding like a total harpy?
Or, one better, how do I get shows like At the End of My Leash off the air? How do we make positive reinforcement training just as entertaining to watch?
Pamela at Something Wagging This Way Comes wrote a much less long-winded post on finding the middle ground. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. She makes a lot of very good points. And doesn’t ramble nearly as much about herself.
In the meantime, here is an ancient photo of Shiva being “treat-trained”. If you look closely, you can tell she is totally planning to bite my hand off.
* I am even sorrier I actually considered submitting an application to appear on the show. It makes me wince to remember.
** I’ve read his book as well. Mentioned it in this post. While reading it on the bus, I actually took off the jacket so I wouldn’t advertise for him. Probably a sign I shouldn’t have read it at all.