To Beat or Not to Beat

To Beat or Not to Beat…  that is the question.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? To die: to sleep.

What is harsh handling and is it needed in training our dogs to do agility?

We all have different opinions/ definitions of what each word means to us, I love an ice cream but I also love my family. Before I took up teaching agility fulltime I was a builder and I worked flippin hard physically, I saw others work “hard” or their version of “hard work”. Somewhat different to what I’d call hard work. Some peoples definition of poor or rich would be very different to mine, (if I have £20 in my wallet I feel well off).

How do we determine what harsh is? A quick look in the dictionary and the meaning is ….

adjective: harsh:

  1. unpleasantly rough or jarring to the senses.
  2. cruel or severe.

Number one seems to cover more physical and number two covers a much broader range potentially covering mental, physical, emotional etc.

Personally I try to only use positive reinforcement with my dogs at all times but in reality we are all going to use all of aspects of learning theory no matter how much we consciously try not to.

On occasion I have been training someone and asked them to use the word “go” for whatever reason maybe a release command etc, they have then said I’d rather not because it sounds like “no”.

My own dogs hopefully do not know the word … “no”. I try to never use it but of course I do sometimes in the heat of the moment. Do they know the word? I don’t think so but maybe we all get tonality when we use the word No which they respond to rather than the actual word. I much prefer to ask my dog to do something than have a go at them for doing something. So if they are jumping up me I’d ask them for a down rather than saying no, or maybe send to their bed, sometimes if we don’t let the dog have some instruction on what to do they potentially may find their own destructive thing to do. Many working breeds can be in such a neurotic state they have no idea what to do with themselves so rather than keep saying no to them at everything they try to do it’s better to tell them what to do, ie sit, stay, down, heel, walk.

Every week at least one person says to me they think it is important their dog understands the word “no”. Some of you will agree with this and I am not disagreeing I just don’t find I ever need it. When they say this to me I ask them this …. If you see it as important they “understand” it how did you actually teach it to them? No one has yet given me an answer because the answer is..  they didn’t teach it they just shouted it when the dog was stepping into the coal fire or when the dog was trying to steal off their dinner plate.
So does saying “no” to your dog constitute harsh handling? Of course not. Does shouting “no” loudly and aggressively constitute harsh handling? Yes it does in my opinion.

I am not anthropomorphic but I do treat my dogs as though they are children. As I have said before I do have qualifications in psychology and I use child psychology in all my dog training. I treat my dogs as though they are children that can almost rationalise but are at an age that can’t be quite trusted to behave themselves and do the right thing all the time. I keep them on leads near the roads just as you’d hold a child’s hand, I trust my dogs will walk by my side along the path and not run out in the road but I don’t trust them enough to take the risk so on lead they will stay. If my dog is pushing things in training trying to do the things they find extremely rewarding and not showing the impulse control,  I show them to the naughty step, ie their crate or just to the side so they are no longer playing, the same as you would a child. Oh wait wouldn’t we scruff the dog and drag it with hind legs bouncing and front feet off the floor potentially damaging its trachea and throw it to the naughty step? Would we do that with our children? Grab your child by the hair and drag them for their naughtiness.

Is frogmarching your dog out of the ring for their “naughtiness” harsh handling? Yes it is, it’s potentially damaging the throat, it’s mentally damaging and it is not the way I want my relationship with my dog to be. It’s also ugly to watch and setting totally the wrong example for the whole sport. Basing training and relationships on fear and intimidation is a bizarre concept that doesn’t compute in my little brain:

  • Smacking the dog in any form = harsh handling
  • Grabbing the dog aggressively by the scruff = harsh handling
  • Throwing something at the dog = harsh handling
  • Giving the dog a good yank on lead = harsh handling
  • Threatening the dog using intimidation = harsh handling
  • Certain “dodgy” collars = harsh handling

If you witness any form of what you deem as harsh handling at a show then please report this. Please do not stand by and moan to others how bad it was, stand up and be counted even if it doesn’t go further, then at least you can hold your head up and not turn your back and walk away. At Kennel Club shows you can put something in the incident book, the incident book gets glanced at by the kennel club but in my experience nothing more gets done which comes to the second option. You can make an official complaint so if the show secretary tells you to put it in the incident book and you see it as quite severe then tell them you want to make an official complaint and this will get looked at in more depth. Get as many witnesses as possible but you do not need witnesses if only you saw it. Please help protect our dogs as things seem to be getting more acceptable and as the sport grows it can go in one of two directions, one that allows this aggressive forceful, Victorian dog training style or we can go down a path that promotes totally happy dogs that are reward based.

We all get frustrated because our dogs cannot read our minds and I am certainly included in that, I get frustrated as much as most others, but the best thing to do is take deep breaths, get things in context, smile and remember its only dog training. Use child psychology on your dog and treat them as though they were your child, find how to communicate with them and get rid of any negativity, reward the correct behaviour and enjoy them.

Lee Windeatt