There is little doubt that the world of dogs and dog ownership has changed drastically over the years. With the advent of online forums, blogs, training articles and television shows that focus on training Fido to do behave properly; the amount of information out there available to anyone who’s looking, at just a click of a mouse, can actually be quite overwhelming for many.
Whether you are looking for information on what to feed your dog, or how to potty train, the vast amount of opinions is enough to make anyone’s head spin. Many are left wondering, “Why does it have to be so complicated?”.” How can there be so many answers to one simple question?”, and “Which answer is the right one for my dog?” Each area of raising a dog is fraught with debate from so many experts and training guru’s, that it’s little wonder that the vast majority of average everyday pet owners just throw their hands up in the air and go with whatever they have seen work in the past. Even if those methods are not what we today call “the right way” of doing things.
For those of us who are active in the online dog world, who interact daily with hundreds of fellow dog owners, many who are highly experienced in anything from general dog behaviour to professional levels of training, it can be easy to forget that we are not the majority. No matter how large our numbers, we are still the minority when it comes to dog owners around the world. The vast majority of average pet owners are not spending hours reading up on training articles, nutritional studies, breed profiles and breeding practices. They are not spending hundreds of dollars on professional training classes, agility courses, and other dog sports. It would be safe to say I think, that the overall majority of dogs in this world know only the basics, IE: “sit”, “come”, “stay” and “paw”.
I would be willing to bet a good amount of money, that if I were to walk through the streets of my city, polling the general public to see how many know who people like Ian Dunbar, or Patricia McConnell are, they wouldn’t have the slightest clue. Yet go online, into any of the hundreds of dog forums out there, and you’ll see those names touted often in regards to the behaviour and training of our dogs.
I already know for a fact that most people I run into while walking Luke, haven’t a clue what Orijen is, or what breeding practices to look for when buying a puppy. Most have no clue as to what health issues are common to their breed of dog, or what a clicker is. Yet, if I ask them who Cesar Milan is, they can tell me in a heartbeat. And the vast majority of those who know of him think he is brilliant, and that his methods are THE way to train a dog. Go online into one of those forums however, and you will see a totally different story.
There is a good reason for this. Human nature plays a huge roll for one thing. We live in a society of “we want it all, and we want it NOW”. The easiest path and the method that gets us to our destination the fastest is generally the most popular choice. We also live in a society where the more something is advertised, the more bombarded we are with certain images and ideology; the more apt we will be to follow it. If it’s on TV, on commercials, if it has a cute little jingle or it makes the least bit of sense, and if the method is easy and works fast, you have a winner. Cesar’s methods seem to do just that. They make sense, and work fast with relatively little effort. So it SEEMS. There is little understanding among the general public on what negative effects can be seen from training dogs in the manner in which he does things on his show.
People are busy today. We have families who have to work long hours in order to make ends meet. Time is a luxury. Anything we can get to make that time more efficient, allow us to do more than one thing at once, is gold. All you have to do to realize this fact is take a look at the technology we have at our disposal now. We have Iphones and Ipads, gadgets that can do anything we want or could ever need them to do at just a push of a button, so we have more time to focus on other things. So, it makes total sense then, that so many people are going to take the path of least resistance when it comes to dog training doesn’t it?
If you can train a dog to walk on lead properly within a few minutes using the prong collar, why not use that? Why take time we don’t have, trying to train a dog that pulls and yanks us down the street, to walk properly using positive only methods, methods that may take weeks of repetitive and frustrating attempts when it can be done almost instantly? When you’re pressed for time and you have a family to raise, kids to get off to their various sports and school functions, a nine hour work day; most people just do not have the time to spend taking multiple baby steps when one big one will do. Even if those smaller, longer steps might lead to a happier, healthier and better behaved dog in the end, time and patience is always a big factor in our lives these days.
There is no doubt about it: the culture of dog ownership is changing every day. The amount of accessible information is staggering. Education is only a tv remote or mouse click away from our fingertips at any given moment. There are enough books on raising dogs on the market now that it would make your head spin. More and more obedience classes and other types of dog training and fun activities are being opened up in cities and towns across the globe. Yet…there still remains a vast amount of the population who see dog ownership in much the same way they did fifty years ago or more. Even my generation, when looking back at how our family dogs were raised, can see a dramatic shift in the thinking behind how we raise and train our dogs.
Dogs were not furry people. They didn’t require play dates and dog parks, nor did the owners go into emotional meltdown at the idea their pooch might not like every dog in the neighbourhood. Behaviorists and trainers weren’t called upon and paid fifty bucks an hour to evaluate whether the dog had fear issues or to fix social problems. They didn’t need to meet a dozen new furry friends a day in order to be happy, fulfilled dogs. Many slept on the floor of the home with no expensive dog bed or even a blanket in some cases. Many slept outside the home altogether. They weren’t fed organic, holistic blend kibble costing an arm and a leg. Owners didn’t spend hours online or at the pet food store reading labels and studying ingredients on the back of food bags. The dog ate scraps from the kitchen table if it was lucky; otherwise the cheapest bag of kibble, which could change weekly, was thrown into a bowl without a second thought as to the nutritional value. Nobody worried about allergies and cancer, whether Fido was getting too much or too little exercise or none at all. Building six foot privacy fences just to keep him secure was probably unheard of. Vets were for emergencies and maybe a few vaccines if that.
Pedigrees and researching breeders was something only a very few worried about. If you wanted a dog, you got one for free at the neighbour’s house when they’re dog happened to have pups. Or you came across a sign on the side of a road somewhere, saying “free pups”, and stopped to pick one. There was no waiting two to three years and signing contracts more complicated than getting a mortgage for a home, to get a pup. There was no worrying about back yard breeders or puppy mills or genetic health testing. Today to not do all of these things is to be considered an unworthy owner. If your dog isn’t involved in some sort of activity, exercised at least an hour or two a day, trained to do a dozen tricks, and socially adept with all other dogs and people, you are considered a failure to Fido.
There is little doubt that with all the new information out there, positive changes are taking place in the dog owners’ community. We now have a much greater understanding of a wide spectrum of issues; like the topic of breeding for instance. We have more insight into how health issues are perpetuated in the lines of breeding stock, how temperaments are genetically passed on. We now understand why some dogs behave in ways that prior to these past few years when behavioralism started to become popular, were just passed off as the actions of a “bad dog”.
Yet….as with so many other areas of our world where we are in possession of so much more knowledge, we still make so many mistakes. There are still so many problems that you would think, knowing what we now know, we wouldn’t have. It seems though that nowadays every second dog we see or hear about, has some sort of behavioural issue. Excessive barking, biting, chewing, digging, separation anxiety or severe fear issues, are just a few of those issues. It would appear, that now more than ever before, dogs in general are having more problems, despite all the hundreds of methods we can use to train them, all the scientific research to explain why they behave the way they do; the more understanding we have, the worse the dogs behaviour gets.
Perhaps this is why it is so difficult at times, to convince people that the new ways are the best ways. Scientific research and results are great, but they have little value when set against anecdotal evidence or previous experience the person we’re trying to educate may have. If Jane has raised a dozen dogs before, none of whom had any of the behavioural problems she is now seeing in all her neighbour’s dogs, dogs who are being trained with the “new ways”, it’s going to be pretty hard to convince her that her ways are wrong isn’t it? It’s like going to a person who’s never been sick a day in their life, telling them that the lifestyle they lead is unhealthy; all the while the person preaching is running to the doctor’s office every week.
It’s hard to convince people who have owned and raised the farm bred mutt their entire lives, dogs who happened to live long, healthy lives, that spending thousands of dollars on pure bred, health tested dogs from “reputable” breeders is the best way to go. Especially when every pure bred dog from those top of the line breeders they’ve ever met or come across in their life has been dead by the age of 8 or 9, racked up thousands in vet bills; while their Heinz 57 lived to 15 while seeing the vet only for emergencies or vaccines. It looks good on paper, or online in dog forums, but harder to convince those who’ve lived long enough to see years of anecdotal evidence to the contrary. This is why education can only go so far. Experience counts a lot more to most people than words on a page in a magazine or in a forum online. Even if those words happen to be actually true.
To be continued……………………………….