Hack Job – Stop Butchering our Dogs

Many of the qualities that come so effortlessly to dogs – loyalty, devotion, selflessness, unflagging optimism, unqualified love – can be elusive to humans.

John Grogan

Who is better looking?

Who is better looking?

I don’t like my daughter’s ears.  They stick out at a weird angle.  Plus, she doesn’t look like other girls her age, and I want to maintain the standard.  So she’s going in for surgery.  They’re just going to cut a little bit off the top and around the sides. She’s young, so she doesn’t need any anesthetic.  She’ll recover quickly and then be happy that she looks like every other little girl now.

I seriously hope that most of you are considering reporting me to Child Services for those comments.  Now, I want you to take the words “daughter” and “girl” and substitute it with “dog” and “puppy”. Where’s the difference?

I have long maintained that tail docking and ear docking were among the more cruel and inhumane practices we subject our animals to, and that’s saying something.  The background for cropping and docking is solid, though.  Dogs were used for fighting, war, and protection:  we didn’t want to give their adversary anything to hold on to or get a grip on.  Fair enough.  Dogs were used for herding or hunting in scrubby, brushy areas: tails were docked to prevent the tails from getting caught in briers and brambles and sometimes literally getting ripped off.  Um, again, fair enough.  A couple hundred years ago, people thought that removing a dog’s tail would prevent rabies.  Wrong, but okay, at least you’re trying.

So, tell me, why is your dog’s tail missing?  Hopefully because your dog was born that way.  Sometimes trauma, like my own Darwin, who got his tail caught in a door when he was about 10 (one of the most horrific injuries I’ve ever seen, and requiring a massive amount of Piloting from me during the emergency vet trip (see here for how to act during such a trip).  There’s always my “favorite” reason: happy tail syndrome.  Dogs with long, bony tails who, through their exuberance for life, keep breaking their tails over and over again against walls and corners.  Yes, please dock those tails – those dogs are causing themselves injuries.

Other than that, though, I’m very hard pressed to come up with a good reason to dock a dog’s tail.  Even more hard pressed to find a good reason to crop ears.  England has banned the practice for more than 20 years.  Maybe for good reason.  People who have their dogs cropped typically point out that it’s AKC standard.  Funny, that’s the same excuse my children try to use for their bad behavior:  someone else gets to do it.  You’re really going to site the AKC as a bastion of putting pet health over “showiness”?  That’s like asking the folks at Project Runway to sponsor a project on helping girls cope with their body image.

When did THIS become fashion?

When did THIS become fashion?

Let me put it plain and simple:  docking isn’t for the health of the dog.  Docking isn’t to make the dog feel more comfortable.  Docking is putting your dog through painful surgery to remove their flesh and bone merely so you can have, what is in your mind, a better looking dog.  End of story.  Pure bred or not.  The excuse of “it’s breed standard” is thin at best.  If you wouldn’t subject your child to a similar surgery, why would you do it to your pet?

I see plenty of AKC dogs in my profession.  Most of them have been chopped up.  Whenever I see a Dane with scars on their ears, or a Boxer who is missing pieces, my hear immediately goes out to them.  I’m sorry we’ve done this to you.  We make a promise to these pets to love and care for them for the rest of their lives, and the first thing we do is go make them look better?  We love dogs for their ability to see through what we may look like, what disabilities we may have, and love us for what we are.  Isn’t it about time we give them the same level of dedication?

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, OHio

Total Recall

“I’ll be back.”  – Schwarzenegger  

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

The other day, a client and I both decided to do some work with our dog-reactive dogs.  We were in the Metroparks walking a lovely path, both our dogs on leashes.  Across the field I suddenly saw a black lab running towards us.  I shouted out to the owner (who was standing idly by with noting less than a bovine look on his face) that our dogs weren’t friendly.  He commenced trying to call his dog back, to no avail.  She charged us (obviously only wanting to play).  She headed straight towards Sparta, who was in no mood for her form of play.

via GIPHY

Fortunately, I was able to control Sparta, and Pilot  her through her questions. Not how I wanted to start my morning, though.  Eventually I had enough control of the situation that I could Pilot the errant dog enough to pick of their leash, and calmly walk both Sparta and the Lab over to the Lab’s owner.  I brusquely handed him his dog’s leash, stating firmly that that was the part one holds.

As the owner of a dog-reactive dog, I have no patience for for the ill-trained beasts running mindlessly around the Metroparks… and their dogs are not much better.  Ultimately, it’s my responsibility to control my dog.  However, if Sparta is on a leash, walking nicely with me, and we are suddenly charged by a dog, even a friendly dog, who is off-leash…there isn’t much to be done.  I Pilot as best I can in that situation, as described here.  Damage control is more like it.

Now, back to the Lab who charged us.  Her name was Abbie.  I know this because her owner was incessantly calling it to no avail.  Obviously there was quite a bit of recall issues going on.  The dog had no idea what the “come” command meant.  Abbie knew  that she was the Pilot, not the human, and therefore “come” was merely a suggestion.  Which was promptly ignored. It was pretty much a “Stop or I’ll Say ‘Stop’ Again” situation from the human.

So what should have been done in this situation?  Prep work.  One doesn’t just let a dog off leash without working towards total recall first.  How to do it?

Start in a very boring, low-key situation.  The dog park is not the place to start working on the come command.  Your house works best, beginning with the dog a few feet from you. Squat down, and while patting your hand against your leg the entire time, simply repeat the word “come” over and over, in your normal voice.  Yes, this is a command, but barking “come” at your dog will have the opposite effect desired.  Utilize Touch, Talk, Treat (calm petting, gentle praise and a treat) when your dog arrives to you. The object is to look non-threatening when you call your dog, so save the strong, dominant body language for other uses.

If your dog doesn’t come to you, stop calling them, silently stand up and walk towards them, take them gently by the collar and tug, tug, tug them back to where you had initially called them, repeating the word come, come, come the entire time you are tugging them.  (NOTE:  tugging is essential.  Do not drag your dog.)  Practice over and over, gradually adding distance between you and the dog.

To work on recall outside, start with an enclosed area:  your backyard, if possible.  Repeat the steps above, but remember, we’ve not added more stimuli.  There are birds, squirrels, noises… you may lose your dog’s focus and they may not come at all.  Instead of getting angry, shouting or yelling, instead calmly stalk your dog.  Silently walk directly towards them.  They will dart in another direction.  Simply change your course and continue to stalk them from location to location.  This takes time and patience, but what you are doing is setting up the stage for future confrontations such as these.  Your dog’s question is: Can I ignore your request?  The answer is “no”.  You must follow through with this answer.

Eventually you will be able to catch your dog.  Resist the urge to punish: it is the worst thing you can do at this point.  Simply tug your dog back to where you first called them, and offer Touch Talk Treat.

An easy way to help with this is to attach a long, cotton rope (like a clothesline) to their collar.  At the other end, tie a huge knot.  Let your dog wander around, dragging the rope with the knot behind them.  When you call them, and they don’t come, you have an easy way to catch them: simply step on the rope (the knot will catch at your foot) and reel them in like a fish, repeating the word “come”.  Touch Talk Treat when they arrive. Once they get good at recall, gradually start cutting the rope into smaller and smaller pieces, until it’s no longer there.  That way your dog will never realize that suddenly they are no longer attached to it.

This is an important command; maybe even a life or death command.  Practice, practice, practice.

I still work on this command with Sparta and Orion.  I will work on it until the day they are no longer mobile.  Both have wonderful recall, but…

I will never let Sparta off leash.  She is a lovely, well-behaved, obedient girl, but she is still a dog; one who has dog reactivity.  She is not a machine.  She was bred to protect, and protect she does.  She isn’t perfect, and the one time she decides to ignore my command could end with tragedy.  So why do I do all this practice and prep work?  Because I’m not a machine either. I’m not perfect.  I may slip up, drop the leash, or fall down.  She may find a hole in our fence that never existed before.  I work on it because I love her and want her safe.  That’s what it means to be Pilot.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio