Answers From Experts July 1998 Issue

Answers From Experts - 07/98

Puppy Training Dispute
Can you mediate a dispute that has arisen between me and my husband regarding the training of our four-month-old Boxer? Sam is a typically rambunctious and scatterbrained pup, but he is very eager to please. My husband is growing tired of Sam’s misbehaviors and has begun training Sam. But I think Sam is too young to absorb what my husband is trying to teach him, and I think his methods border on abuse – things like jerking him around on a leash, and shaking Sam by the scruff of the neck or rolling him over onto his back and holding him down by the throat when Sam has been naughty or inattentive.

Sam will sit, lie down, and come when he is called about half the time he is asked to do these things (which I think is pretty good), but he does not always comply as quickly as my husband thinks he should. I think he is too young to expect much. What do you think?

-Kathy Merrill
Columbus, OH


We directed this question to Dr. Ian Dunbar, a veterinarian and dog trainer residing in Berkeley, CA. A native of England, Dr. Dunbar is the founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, the creator of the K9 Games, and is best known for his renowned SIRIUS Puppy Training program, which he describes in his popular books and instructional videos. (See Resources for ordering and contact information.)


Well, Kathy, I’m going to agree and disagree with both of you! I agree wholeheartedly that puppies should not be put to task over training, but that is not to say that you shouldn’t train them, even at an early age. I support the concept of training even very young puppies, but I must take issue with calling your husband’s methods “training.” Here I agree with you; those methods are utterly combative and abusive.

Puppy and dog training can and should be accomplished without any type of physical coercion or prompting whatsoever. I have successfully trained hundreds, maybe thousands of dogs off-leash using lure/reward training – from puppies as young as four weeks old to old dogs. My methods work because they are fun, and the dogs want to do what I want them to do.

But I also agree with your husband that puppies need to be trained in order to live with us without driving us crazy! And, I must admit that I, too, am an absolute stickler for immediate compliance. However, that doesn’t mean to say you should push the dog around to get compliance; quite the contrary. Force only motivates the animal to dislike training and the trainer.

You can make this quite clear the next time he flips the dog on its back. Say to him, “What do you want the dog to do? What is this about?” Most people will answer that they want the dog to respect them. So, say, “What is the acid test of respect? That the dog is happily, reliably, and promptly compliant, right? Has this exercise taught the dog to happily, reliably, and promptly comply with your commands? No, all you’ve got is a puppy piddling with its tail between its legs and it doesn’t like you anymore! You might have proved ‘You’re the boss,’ but now your puppy wants to quit his job!”

Instead of this ridiculous and pointless show of power, let’s concentrate on training the puppy to come here, sit, lie down, and roll over, and do it off-leash. The notion that you can train the puppy to do these things off-leash will be a much better testament to your power and the puppy’s respect! Let’s talk about kind, appropriate, and effective puppy training, and how it differs from your husbands’ methods, which are characteristic of people whom I call “trainers from the Dark Side.”

I divide training into two parts. The first part is really ESL, English as a Second Language, giving human words to doggie behaviors and actions. If you teach the animal that “Come” means come, “take it” means take it, “go to” means go to, and the names of family members, you’ll be able to talk to your dog in a perfectly constructed English sentence, “Rover, come here, and take this to Johnny,” and the dog will do it. It sounds like Sam is already familiar with ESL.

After this step, the dog will know what you want him to do, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll do it. So the second stage is teaching the dog to want to do what we want him to do, by associating what we want him to do with really great doggie things.

To me, the big issue in training – whether the trainee is a dog, a cat, your husband, a child, your boss, or an employee – is not necessarily training them what to do, it’s teaching them to want to do what you want them to do. This is a real motivational, cognitive approach to training, which takes in as its main directive the dog’s point of view. The dog is not an object, a sort of Descartesian, mindless, mechanistic structure that gets pushed and pulled around; he’s an individual who has feelings and needs. But we can set things up so that it’s fun to work for us.

We accomplish this by rewarding him amply with praise, food, toys, or other pleasurable rewards when he does what we ask, and we set up situations that are pleasurable in themselves. For instance, “Sit! On the couch!” “Sit! In the car!” “Sit! Here’s your dinner!” “Sit! Here’s a tummy rub!” Soon, the dog thinks, “Oh! ‘Sit’ is a good number! Good call, coach! I can do it; put me in!” And your husband will quickly get the instant compliance he wants from your puppy.

At first, I suggest rewarding the puppy every time he does what you ask. Both you and your husband should keep a few treats with you at all times, so you can make and reward dozens of requests every day. As Sam progresses, you can stretch the reinforcement schedule to something like five to one, and later still, ten to one, so that you praise each success, but only give him his treat or his toy every few times. Men love this part of the process, because they love to be irritating and powerful, and to withhold and dispense the important commodities in the world at their will! And as long as he still has the treats on his person, and dispenses one every so often when Sam does well, Sam will be sufficiently motivated to comply with his requests, quickly, every time.


Editor’s note: WDJ heartily recommends Dr. Dunbar’s books, videos, and classes as a source of detailed, step-by-step instructions for teaching your dog basic obedience off-leash, especially, his video, “SIRIUS Puppy Training,” and his book, “How to Teach a New Dog Old Tricks.” For purchase information, see Resources.


My Cocker Spaniel, “Awesome Dude,” is just two and a half years old, but I feel like we’ve been through a lifetime of health difficulties already. It’s frustrating, since I made an effort to find a breeder who was selling dogs that had been raised holistically. (I was told that he had never been vaccinated, but later I was told that his first show handler might have given him vaccines, and there was no way to find out for sure.) Dude is physically lovely and had been shown in his first year, but he is also a nervous wreck and wouldn’t hold up his tail after getting scared at a show. Also, he had his tonsils removed as a young dog, but again, I didn’t find out about that right away.

Right after I bought Dude I noticed that he had a terrible problem with burping, and his stools were very large. A friend suggested I give him digestive enzymes, but these made his tummy make horrible noises and made him very uncomfortable.

A veterinarian examined his digestive system with an endoscope and diagnosed him with “slight evidence of irritable bowel syndrome.” He gave Dude antibiotics for three weeks, which made him ill, with terrible diarrhea. When they suggested giving Dude cortisone for his problems, I said no. Now Dude is under the care of a holistic veterinarian who uses homeopathy. She has given him one remedy, to no avail, and wants to try another remedy soon. I feel better about using this type of medicine than cortisone and antibiotics, especially for something as vague and generalized as Dude has, but I wonder what I should expect from this course of treatment. How long should you wait before homeopathy works?

-Toni Partridge
Camden, South Carolina


To answer this question, we turned again to veterinarian Pat Bradley, of Conway, Arkansas. A graduate of Louisiana State University, Bradley practiced conventional veterinary medicine for 10 years before opening an all-holistic practice five years ago.


We have several clues this dog has a pretty deep-seated disease, even though he is young and beautiful:

1) Oversensitivity to drugs, and to the digestive enzymes.

2) Tonsils removed as a pup which I assume was from chronic, severe tonsillitis. (I don’t recommend doing this since the tonsils are one of the body’s first lines of defense against bacteria and other microorganisms that enter the body through the mouth. Taking them out may improve the throat symptoms markedly, but overall I think the body is losing one of the most important lines of defense.) I would also assume that at least several rounds of antibiotics had been used before the surgery – the ultimate in suppressive treatment.

3) He had fear after getting scared at a show, which he didn’t recover from. This suggests to me that the disease is on an emotional level, as well as physical. In homeopathy an emotional disease is considered to be more deep-seated than a physical disease. This makes sense if you consider that a mentally ill person, even with no physical symptoms, often can not function in society, whereas a mentally healthy person with lots of other physical ailments can often function just fine in a relationship or a job.

What should you expect from homeopathic treatment? First, it will probably take a long time – probably several years because of the nature of the disease. I can’t tell for sure, but I suspect that disease in this dog has a strong genetic component because he was sick at such a young age even though he had been given only a limited number of vaccines, if any. I don’t mean to castigate any particular breed, but you are probably already aware that Cocker Spaniels are one of the breeds that are having to cope with the results of generations of inferior breeding practices.

Your dog’s recovery will likely take quite a few remedies, and in response to successful treatment, the disease may possibly focus somewhere on the outside of the body for quite awhile, manifesting itself, for example, in problems with the ears or skin lesions. You need to be prepared for this; even though it may seem alarming, it’s actually a good thing. While the disease is on the inside of the body where you can’t see it, it is much more likely to cause a problem that’s life-threatening. It’s much better for it to be on the outside of the body where it can be monitored, and is not likely to be life-threatening. (Although a dog with severe ear problems is not an easy thing to live with!)

The progress will most likely be gradual and slow. Sometimes it takes years. But I have often said to a client, one or two or even three years after taking on a case of this difficulty, “Let’s look back at the list of symptoms and the severity of the problems when we first started and compare it to now. Look how far we’ve come!” Even though the animal is not symptom free, often only a few symptoms are left, and they are much decreased in severity than when we started, and the overall health and vitality of the animal has tremendously improved. I wouldn’t expect dramatic, fast improvement in a case like this, so patience and trust are extremely important.

My best success in these cases comes when my client and I share common goals for improved health on a long-term basis, for this helps them to be patient when improvement is not immediate as it often is with conventional drugs or surgery.


Correction:
In the May 1998 issue, we reported an incorrect address for the American Mixed Breed Obedience Registry (AMBOR), which moved recently. To contact AMBOR, write 10236 Topanga Boulevard #205, Chatsworth, CA 91311; or call (818) 887-3300.

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