Sunday, April 1, 2012

Have An Attitude

As a dog trainer who specializes in aggressive, reactive, fearful, and overall "hoods" of dogs, the attitude of which you carry yourself is of the utmost importance.  Not just your composure with the dog, which is obviously important, but your overall attitude with their owners will always dictate how successful they will be with their companions. When I work with a client, one thing is always in the forefront of my mind. And that is, "These people are paying me to help their family."  No, I am not so naive to believe that dogs are children, or humans at all. In fact its hard to find something that irritates me as much as people treating their dogs like kids. And the term fur-babies makes me want to slap someone.  But, those facts aside, dogs are a part of our families. And when I work with someone I keep this thought present in my attitude and actions.

Recently I had the pleasure of hanging out with a couple of talented dog trainers from opposite ends of the continental US. One from Los Angeles, and another from Rhode Island. Both are successful in their work with aggressive dogs, and both have slightly different methodologies than I do. One of these trainers said something that really brought me back to what I have believed for a long time.  That is, "We aren't in the dog business, we're in the people business." This makes a lot of sense.  I have seen many good, and many not so good trainers.  What the good ones have is a great attitude about what they can do with the dogs owners. And the confidence to stick it out with a dog who may literally want to eat your face. This confidence, is not just important for the trainer who is trying to rehab the aggression. It is 10 times more important for the client to feel that they can actually make a difference, and change their dogs unruly or outright dangerous behavior.

Enter Ian Dunbar. Ian Dunbar is a dog trainer who in the world of dog trainers needs little introduction. He pioneered the idea of puppy classes, and therefore revolutionized the training arena forever.  He also founded the worlds largest pet dog training association in the world, the APDT. But let's take a look at his attitude towards dogs owners.  This is a member of their family, and it is trying to put holes in them for one reason or another. Our job is to give them hope, actually not hope, results and confidence.

I read an interview with Dr. Dunbar about how important it is to start working with a puppy as early as possible.  I agree 100%! (Here's the Article if you'd like) Ian gives some great advice in the interview. Ex."He taught me that to touch an animal is an earned privilege. It’s not a right." He was referring to his grandfather in that quote.  This is something I wished more people would really take to heart. Here's a link to a great article about just how important this idea is: Pause...Listen. But when reading this interview, it became clear to me that Dunbar has a very negative point of view about a lot of things relating to dogs and their owners.
One of the questions asked of Dr. Dunbar, "How do you deal with a dog that bites?" Results in one of the worst answers I could think of giving to someone who is looking for help with their dog.

ID:"If it causes damage you’re pretty much screwed. It means the dog did not develop bite inhibition in puppyhood. And there’s no way to teach the dog bite inhibition safely. And there’s no way to teach the dog bite inhibition toward dogs and other animals at all.

There ain’t no cure. The only thing you can do is manage it, keep him indoors and never let him off leash. Or euthanize him. I grade bites on a scale from one to six and once you move from a three to a four, there’s nothing you can do for this dog. He’s going to die

WOW! When I followed the link, it turns out that number 3 differs from number 4 by the depth of the bite wound, and possibly some bruising. My issue, aside from telling people on a mass scale that if their dog has bitten and caused damage they're "screwed" when proof that this issue can be solved is the fact that I have a job, is that his attitude towards the dogs and they're owners is outlandishly negative. Going back to his little bite scale, you can read in number 4 he explains his prognosis, and basically states that no one listens to him. He comes across as though because your dog bites you are in fact an idiot. "ID: Prognosis is poor because of the difficulty and danger of trying to teach bite inhibition to an adult hard-biting dog and because absolute owner-compliance is rare."

Other parts of this article that lend more to my suspicions that he cannot competently train a dog include him admitting it has taken him a year to house train a 10 month old dog. Are you kidding me!?! A year? Now, I will be honest, when I talk to someone about house training a dog I am not just talking about potty training.  There are a multitude of other things that go into making a dog a fully functional member of my home. Not only don't pee in my house, but don't steal my food, don't chew my things, don't jump on or bite people etc..  But Ian has differentiated these things from "House Training" already!
If you can't get a dog to stop going to the bathroom in your home in less than a year, you have no business whatsoever telling people to euthanize their animals.

Overall, I have very little patience for Mr. Dunbar, or his antics.  I have heard him on more than one occasion talk of killing dogs with his "Purely Positive" training approach. His utter lack of respect for the human beings that have come to love those dogs as family is mind blowing. Henry Ford said that if you think you can, or you think you cannot, you are usually right. That comes to mind a lot when I read, or watch something of Ian's. Because if as trainers we don't remember that we're in the people business, and not just for the dogs we set our clients up for failure from the beginning.

1 comment:

  1. This is a fantastic piece, Josh! Beautiflly written, and you give me great insight into your work, and the philosophy you hold about people and dogs. I very much appreciate your positive, hopeful attitude. Blog on!!

    Lisa Drysdale