By Jessica Ring, Unleashed Joy Dog Trainer
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about judgment. Dogs and dog training are not immune. “Dog people” judge one another, and “non-dog people” judge dog people, and dog people judge non-dog people, and…you get the drift. Sometimes it is a real struggle not to judge. I must admit, I cringe when I see a dog wearing a prong collar or choke chain. I try to remember that many people do not realize that these punishment tools can be very physically and emotionally damaging to the dog. There are much more humane methods that are just as effective. Even though this information has been “out there” for many years, people are slow to change and, shockingly, there are even trainers who still insist on the necessity of these and other punishment tools. So, is it really fair for me to judge those individuals using them? How about once they have the information and still choose to use harsh tools and methods?
Recently, I had a conversation with a “non-dog person” about their friend, who was described as pretty much going off the deep end with a new, 8-week old puppy. The owner was spending a lot of money on things like building a fence and preparing a raw diet for the pup. And, the owner asked to bring the dog along to family members’ and friends’ homes for visits and vacations. (Or, as this individual described, they were pretty much forcing their crazy 8-week-old puppy on everyone, because these other people were too polite to say no to the pup tagging along.) The person I was speaking to just found all of this to be ridiculous and could not believe their typically rational friend had committed such errors of judgment. Furthermore, someone else at the table agreed, and added that they should have taken the pup to a kennel while they were away, rather than bring the pup along. “They are just such terrible dog owners!” Now, I don’t know this friend and certainly didn’t have all of the information. Nonetheless, I could not help but make my own judgment when I blurted out, “Actually, I think they were being really good dog owners by trying to socialize their dog, and by providing a fence and healthy diet!” What I failed to do was sit back, consider why I had this reaction, and prepare a more thorough explanation, beyond my one sentence exclamation, to convey all of the knowledge I have gained in my dog-training studies and experiences. I’d like the other person to think, “Wow, I hadn’t really considered that viewpoint. It makes a lot of sense,” instead of “Wow, what a nut!”
Hey Mom and Dad, let’s do lots of stuff together, go lots of places, and meets lots of people. I’ll be such a good dog and so well-rounded for all your attention in my early life!
For example, I could have explained that at 8 weeks, there are only maybe 8 more weeks before the puppy’s socialization window closes for good. There isn’t a day to lose! The pup must experience as many new people, objects and environments as possible, as long as it is fun and positive for the dog. Otherwise, the deck is stacked in favor of the puppy growing into a dog with behavioral issues and fear of novelty. If every dog trainer in the world could agree on one thing, it would be that socialization is critical.
And how about that suggestion to place the puppy in a kennel? Well, anything negative or traumatic during this time is very impactful also. I might include fun visits to the vet and kennel as part my socialization plan, but I would avoid leaving a young puppy there for a long period of time. Not to mention the whole illness/disease issue for puppies who aren’t yet fully vaccinated. (Please note, while care must be taken to make sure the puppy is safe, it is crucial to get the puppy out and about for proper socialization, including to a well-run puppy class.) On the other hand, if these were large gatherings, perhaps the puppy should have stayed home instead of becoming overwhelmed by a large throng of people. Remember, it is essential that the experiences are fun and positive for the dog, not overwhelming and terrifying.
We all judge. I’m as guilty as anyone. I’m passionate about dogs and positive-reinforcement training. However, the scenario above made me feel like one of the dogs in our reactive dog class. Consequently, I am striving to be less impulsive, to learn skills to cope when put in uncomfortable positions, and to change my emotional response when in such situations.