The Real Time Canine II

After spending 2 years writing the Real Time Canine, the adventure continues with The Real Time Canine II. Read along as I look for just the right puppy to continue the experience. After false starts with Tim and Jed, I am currently training young Tam, and Spot, which are both off to a strong start. Please visit the RTC II to read about training sessions as they occur.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Disarming Canine

Cotton, pre-disarming surgery

This is what happens when well-intentioned, but inept dog owners act on their egos instead of their intellect. This is the story of Cotton, a dog that underwent dental surgery to have his teeth cut down as a means of transforming him from a dog that bit people into one that is submissive. Prior to this drastic decision, the owners attended puppy and basic training classes, tried suggestions gleaned from self-help books and videos and paid for an expensive dog-aggression expert who prescribed desensitizaton drills, a low protein diet and the herb, St. John's Wort. None of it worked, it never does, and in my opinion, it never will.

Reasonably intelligent people, the attorney and his wife who own the dog also tried a clicker, pepper spray, electronic tones and soda cans filled with rocks. All to no avail, and when the photographer came to take these pictures for the accompanying news article, the dog broke free and bit him. They also enlisted the services of famed "Dog Whisperer," Cesar Milan, who was able to completely transform the dog for exactly 1 day. A later episode of his television show revealed that the owners were not able to successfully implement the man's successful techniques. I have never watched the show and don't know what they were, but can you imagine how much that little visit must have cost? At one point they made the all too common decision to surrender Cotton to a rescue. Rescue organizations have their hands full with thousands and thousands of unwanted well-behaved dogs, and no one wanted to take on Cotton's problems and hazards.

The American Veterinary Medical Association does not endorse disarming dogs, because the procedure does not address the underlying cause. No big surprise there and a conclusion I came to immediately upon reading the first few lines of the story. Taking weapons away from violent offenders does not make them any less violent. How could it possibly and how could any reasonably intelligent individual assume for a minute that it would? Dogs cannot not possibly reason that because their teeth have been shortened and they can't inflict as much damage, that they should give up the fight. Aggression is behavioral, not structural.

What is that saying about an ounce of prevention being better than a pound of cure? Cotton and other dogs like him are a glaring example of the truth in that. My puppies are raised with respect. I respect them, and I create an atmosphere where they are required to respect me and I make it absolutely clear that I make the rules so that they don't have to. I have written and talked about this many times, but after reading about Cotton, I think it bears repeating. I also read a journal about another border collie that was killed (euthanized) as a result of aggression abetted by well-meaning owners who had simply spoiled it rotten.

When owners can't, or refuse to take steps necessary to raise a well-mannered dog, it is without a doubt the dogs that lose. But, the fact that those same owners almost always blame the dog is what raises my ire. They blame the breeding, the early nurturing, or lack thereof, they claim the dog is unbalanced or just plain crazy. In other words they make excuses for their own ineptitude and not only fail to correct themselves and their dogs, but also perpetuate an inability in others to simply train their dogs with correction and limits. They put their dogs on tranquilizers, buy clickers, books videos, hire experts and do everything except take responsibility for their own actions and correct the dog, and it just drives me nuts. While these owners are making excuses, people are getting hurt and dogs like Cotton are getting maimed and killed.

When I raise pups, they are not allowed to jump on me. They are not allowed to pull on the end of the leash and they learn early to come when they are called. All of this is accomplished with nothing more special than consistent, repetitive correction and reward, or pressure and release, if you prefer, that is neither harsh or scary. If a young pup jumps up, I gently brush him aside, every single time. If a pup pulls on the end of the leash, I gently tug back and release, every single time. When a pup plays the keep away game, and won't come when called, I stay with him and go after him while giving a verbal correction, every single time. As soon as he submits by stopping and lets me touch him, the verbal correction stops and he is praised up like crazy.

It is not enough to distract a misbehaving dog with a clicker and a treat. You may temporarily alter his behavior, but you have not taught him that what he was doing is wrong. You have not eliminated the problem. Correct what you don't want, then praise when they get it right. Like Cotton and his filed down teeth, you can put a bandaid on with a clicker, a treat or a tranquilizer and call it good. You can muzzle your dog 24/7, but you have done nothing to stop the underlying behavior. Until you do, it will persist, it will get worse and eventually it is the dog that will suffer. Remember too that it is much, much easier to properly raise a youngster than it is to rehabilitate an older dog. Having said that though, it's never to late to begin again and create a good dog.

Star exhibited agression one day while I was in the dog yard cleaning my kennels. The daughter of my gardener, a 3 or 4 year old toddler, ambled over to the gate into the yard, and Star rushed towards her aggressively growling and barking. My first thought was "I'll deal with that later," quickly followed by "don't be lazy, not good for the dog." I immediately came after him with a meaningful verbal correction. I scruffed him and propelled him through the gate, out of his comfort zone, and onto his back where I continued the verbal correction while looking him directly in the eye. He submitted entirely, we both settled and I asked the little girl to come pet him while keeping a firm grip on his rough. Star's expression and his demeanor became happy and his tail flopped as the girl gave him some love. My correction was short and sharp, and I bore no lingering resentment what so ever. It was over as soon as it began, Star was back on his feet happy in the little girl's presence, and he has never again demonstrated aggression of any kind.

I can already imagine the comments this post will get about frightening reactive dogs, the detriments of fear-based training and other excuses for ill-mannered dogs. I'm sure I'll lose a few more subscribers to the blog. So be it. I will happily pay that price in exchange for well-mannered, obedient, respectful and safe dogs with a mouth full of healthy teeth, that are confident about their place in this world and happy to be in it.


  1. You know the saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" applies here. Dogs are not born being angels. They are born being dogs, who need to be taught rules. They also need structure, and leadership. I believe that most of the "bad dogs" out there were good dogs who were not trained, and expected to behave properly. Oops, we didn't put in any work and now we have a problem. It's as simple as getting your butt off the couch, and training, and raising your dog.

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  3. Too true, my friend, and the dogs always pay