Not long ago, I got to take a weekend off in San Diego. On the first day, quite by accident, I ended up at a gorgeous little beach at sunset – and it turned out to be a legal off-leash dog beach. Dozens of social, friendly dogs romping in the waves, chasing each other through the super-soft sand, and making new human and canine friends – heaven! I made plans to go back early in the morning, before the day’s agenda had begun, just to take pictures. It was so lovely!
The next morning, I was smiling my head off as I made my way to the water and started taking pictures. I loved everything about the day (I’m on vacation with loved ones!), the place (gorgeous!), and all the dogs (big ones, little ones, fast dogs, fat dogs, purebreds, and who-knows-whats), all having fun on the beach, against a backdrop of incomparable blue skies and white waves. Wow, wow, wow.
And then it happened. With my lens, I had been following a few particularly charismatic dogs as they ran and dodged and wrestled, and one of my favorites was a young white Standard Poodle. She was one of the most playful and rambunctious dogs on the beach, involved in the fastest chase games and a little rough play. As my camera followed her group as they ran past, she made a little grab for the neck of one of her playmates, and the other dog whirled and snapped at her. “Grrroff!” he seemed to say, and she complied, still bouncing along the beach. And that was that; they all kept running along. But her owner, who also was watching her closely, didn’t like that interaction. He called her over – she went to him willingly, out of play! – and he loudly told her to SIT!, grabbed her by her chin hair, leaned into her face, and proceeded to sternly tell her BAD! and NO! and dog knows what else. I wanted to cry! Mood spoiled, I left not long afterward.
No, I didn’t intervene. I have never had much luck at talking to angry people. Also, it wasn’t abuse, it wasn’t cruel – it was just ignorant! What had she done wrong? It was a very normal dog-dog interaction, but he was mad about it. What I did do was continue taking pictures of him, and the woman who was with him noticed this and quickly clipped the dog’s leash on, and they left the beach.
The only things the dog could have learned from the man’s behavior: Maybe don’t go to Dad the next time he calls; he’s scary and unpredictable! There is no way she could possibly make a connection between her brief encounter with the other dog and this minute-long, intense interaction with her owner.
Now, it’s possible that the lovely Poodle has a tendency to get aggressive as she gets tired and overstimulated, and time-outs help her. But a show of physical strength and angry words don’t teach dogs anything but to avoid you next time they see signs that you are upset. That’s not training!