Letters and Corrections: June 2015


In the May issue, we published an article, “Outfoxing Foxtails,” that included an endorsement of the Outfox Field Guard, a protective hood for dogs that is made out of a fine mesh, allowing the dog to run and breathe freely while protecting him from getting foxtails in his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. We failed to include a phone number for the company that makes and sells the Outfox Field Guard, however. That number is (800) 261-7737. Orders may also be made online at outfoxfordogs.com. We regret the omission.

I want to thank you for your article, “How to Prevent a Bad Adoption” (WDJ May 2015). Having recently driven two and a half hours to see a rescued Border Collie who was nothing like his description, I found it very pertinent.

I’ve had multiple experiences during my search for a new dog that have led me to give up for the time being. I’ve decided, when I’m ready, I’ll buy a puppy from a reputable breeder. That way, I’ll have more of an idea what/whom I will be getting.

I am finding, from both my own and friends’ experiences, that it is more and more difficult to find a relatively sane dog to adopt. I have a theory about this. I think the rescue groups are focusing more and more on the dogs they perceive as “victims” and less on finding good pets who will fit decently in the home of the average owner. So, in order to place these damaged dogs, they have to cover up the truth about the extent of their behavioral and emotional problems.

I am very concerned that since so much room is being taken by the more damaged dogs, more adoptable dogs will end up being euthanized because there won’t be space for them. A case in point: the Korean dogs saved from being eaten a few months ago and shipped to several rescues in the U.S. Until recently, I was a volunteer at a shelter that took some of these dogs. The adults were adopted fairly quickly – and many were returned because of their extreme behaviors. The puppies were feral and dangerous and underwent intensive socialization. I don’t know the outcome because, frankly, I couldn’t stand to volunteer there anymore. But those dogs took up pens, and many hours of the staff trainers’ time. Both were limited resources that could have been devoted to more happily adoptable dogs.

Name withheld by request

Via email

I just read “Snake Aversion Without Shock” (WDJ May 2015). We live in Nova Scotia, where there are no poisonous snakes, but we do have porcupines. Our young Husky recently had to make an emergency trip to the vet for a face full of quills; thankfully we were just a car ride away. If the quilling happened on a camping trip it would have been very serious. The same training for snake avoidance would work for porcupine avoidance I should think! We will be giving it a try.

Peggy Hopper

Via email

Thanks for your comments, and sorry about your dog! The article mentioned that the exercises taught by both shock-free trainers mentioned in the article are also useful for dealing with dogs who chase toxic toads, skunks, or porcupines. While the dangers presented by the abovementioned are dramatic, it’s no less important to teach your dog to resist chasing cats or cars, or demonstrating a reliable “leave it” behavior when you drop one of your prescription medications or a chunk of dark chocolate.

I think my take on “Snake Aversion without Shock” will be unpopular. Although the idea sounds interesting, I want my dogs to be afraid of rattlesnakes, and stay away if they see, smell, or hear one. I live in the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, and avoiding rattlesnakes is a matter of life and death in the Sonoran desert.

I don’t have a problem using a shock collar for rattlesnake aversion training; it is quick and will save their lives, maybe the dog owner’s life too. Force-free positive/clicker training is my choice for agility, tricks, obedience, etc. Force-free rattlesnake avoidance training would take too long, especially when you needed that training last week.

Colleen DeGrado
(Comment on WDJ website)

Thanks for the opportunity to respond to your concerns. Lots of owners regard force-free training as great for tricks and games, but not “serious training.”

However, force-free methods are used with great success to train dogs for very serious tasks that are also a matter of life and death. The best example is probably explosive detection training. In this type of training, the last thing they want to train the dogs to be is afraid. A dog that ran away when he detected the odor of certain chemicals would be of no use to anyone. Rather, in this training, they want the dogs to halt immediately and alert their handlers to the odor; then the handlers can give them a cue for the most appropriate next thing they should do, whether that’s continuing to hold still, back up, return to the handler, or continue forward.

That’s exactly the type of training that we described in the article. The goal of shock-free snake avoidance training is to train the dog to recognize the sight, sound, and smell of snakes, and to regard any sign of snakes as a cue to go to his owner immediately.

But as you said, and as noted by one of the trainers we quoted in the article, Jamie Robinson (who is based in Tucson, by the way), this training is not a quick fix; it requires commitment. If I lived in the Sonoran desert, I think this training would be my top priority!

Finally, there is no guarantee that a dog who is subjected to one of those shock-based snake avoidance training sessions will associate being shocked and made afraid with the sight, sound, and/or smell of the snake. He may, instead, associate the shock with a group of people standing around a parking lot, or the smell of the snake handler’s cologne (bummer if it’s the same one your husband wears), or the snake handler’s cowboy hat.

There just isn’t any way to instill fear in your dog in a precise or reliable way – and if it goes awry, and he develops “irrational” fears or phobias as a result of a crash course in shock-collar-based snake avoidance, you may never be able to help him completely shed those fears or phobic behaviors.