At an agility meet over the weekend I met a young woman who ran a rescue organization. She was at the event to run her own dog, a small breed mix that should be auditioning for the next Disney film it was so darn cute. Between runs we met in the parking lot, she had a different dog, a pom/chi mix that was visibly nervous. It was relinquished by the owners because it had begun to show aggression toward the husband of the couple that had him. It was young and appeared to have a good shot at becoming a good pet for someone.
I chatted with the woman a bit and mentioned that it was lucky that the dog was given up at such a young age, too often people will tolerate behaviors from small dogs that they never would from a bigger dog, until the day they can’t tolerate them and the dog has had years of practicing an inappropriate behavior and ends up being impossible to rehome.
“Yes”, the woman agreed, “Why treat a small dog differently than a big dog”.
The woman told me that she was doing the ‘leadership thing’ with the dog and had not had any problems with the dog. At that point I could only guess what this ‘leadership thing’ technique looked like, but I was soon to see it in action.
Walking back into the building the small dog came nose to nose another dog and began to growl and back away from it. The woman bent down, grabbed the small dog and shoved it toward the other dog saying, “You’ll deal with it and be fine, that’s how you’ll learn.” I stopped, stared and my jaw dropped. Imagine grabbing your growling pittie or GSD and pushing it toward another dog that it was afraid of. Just because you can do something to a dog doesn’t mean you should.
There is no doubt in my mind that the small dog had no understanding that it was to learn that other dogs were not to be feared, or that it actually came to that conclusion. I will only surmise on a few lessons the dog did learn. Only time and the dog’s behavior will tell how that education affected the dog.
People are not to be trusted. The next time someone grabs you it might be a good idea to try to prevent that from happening.
Growling and backing away from something that scares you only makes you land in its face, try something else next time, biting might work or just give up and shut down.
Places where there are other dogs are where bad things happen.
The woman with this dog obviously cares about dogs and the animals that live with her are among the fortunate ones on the planet. But even skilled handlers still hold on to misconceptions about how dogs learn new behaviors and how you change the associations they have with things that scare them.
It’s not about learning to be a better leader, it’s about learning to be a better trainer.