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By Published On: December 23rd, 2010

brown dog with leashI am a member of different online chat groups pertaining to training dogs, some geared specifically for fearful dogs.

Online communication can be dicey at best. The printed word, without the benefit of inflections or facial expressions can be misinterpreted. Offense can be easily taken and the response often seeming more like road rage than thoughtful discourse. I have been guilty of being both terse and sensitive.

I bit my tongue (or tied my fingers as the case may be) recently when someone made a comment that by not forcing a dog to face their fears we keep them ‘living in their fear’. Lucky for me the moderator of the group in her infinite wisdom addressed the concept that force fixes fear (it usually doesn’t).

So much depends on the dog and what skills they bring to the table. When forcing a dog to ‘suck it up and deal’ works, handlers and trainers come to the conclusion that it is the approach to take with any dog. The irony of this to me is that even professed dog lovers will readily accept that dogs are like cookies, cut from the same dough, and in all their beauty and wonderfulness, are not unique and are without their own individual capabilities or needs.

Following is my reply to a comment, which I chose not to send, but feel strongly about.

The comment:

“And in regards to another post, one might consider it more cruel to have a dog live in fear for years instead of pushing him a little and shorten that time he has to live in fear.”

What I would have said:

I am trying hard not to be offended by the inference that I (whether you were directing your comment to me or not) am like some zealot blinded at the alter of counter conditioning and desensitization and have chosen to be cruel and let my dog suffer rather than embrace alternatives.

If you understood what desensitization and counter conditioning entail you would know that no one is suggesting that we ignore a dog for years while it suffers. If you read the files you would see that teaching a dog to target, or play the magic hands or cookie person games, are not about leaving a dog to suffer with their fears. If you read any of the recommended books on the suggested reading list you’d know that as well.

The idea that pushing them a little is going to shorten the time they are going to be afraid only makes sense if you have given them the skills (or they already have them) to progress from the shallow end of the pool to the deep end. How can anyone suggest that someone force their dog to do something without knowing what skills the dog has? Or that there is a stable enough relationship between the dog and handler that not all trust will be lost should that little push be misjudged?

No-kill shelters have dogs that will never be adopted, not because there are not homes for them but because they have behavior problems that will never be resolved enough by a training or behavior mod program to ensure that they will be safe with people or other dogs. Some of us are living with dogs that should never have been adopted out or sold, and those dogs are lucky that their owners found trainers who advocate using positive techniques.

To suggest that any of us are causing our dogs pain and suffering because we have chosen to follow techniques that are recommended by top trainers and behaviorists would seem cruel to me if it wasn’t just so wrong. If someone has indeed ignored their dog for years while it suffered they didn’t get that advice here.

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