© 2018 Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC
Things had changed for Patches (not his real name) by the time I saw him. But let me start at the beginning.
Patches is an All American dog of many breeds it seems – and he is beautiful. The original owner had to surrender Patches to a rescue organization because of her failing health. She could no longer take care of Patches. To say she was sad about this separation would be a significant understatement.
"Things were spiraling out of control."
The rescue organization quickly put Patches in a good foster home while they searched to find him a forever home. The foster family loved Patches so much they considered adopting him, but they already had four other dogs and felt they couldn’t realistically add another dog to their family.
He was with the foster family for less than a month before a handsome couple adopted him. We’ll call them Mark and Rebecca (not their real names). The rescue organization did all of the background checks required. Everything seemed great. Everyone was excited.
Three days after taking Patches home, Rebecca called the rescue organization saying that Patches was beginning to act aggressively toward Mark. When Mark would get near Patches he would growl, show his teeth and stiffen up. Mark and Rebecca were very upset about this but said they would work on it.
Mark found a dog trainer who said she could help get Patches’ aggression quickly under control. Mark told the dog trainer in their initial phone conversation that Patches was just not fitting into their home. Right from the beginning he had urinated in the den and jumped up on a visitor. Mark said he had harshly spanked Patches for both of those infractions but it didn’t seem to do any good. In fact, his urination in the house had picked up – especially when Mark was around.
Mark was at his wits end; the more he spanked the worse the behaviors seemed to get. And lately Patches had been acting increasingly aggressive to Mark. Things were spiraling out of control.
The dog trainer finally showed up for her first appointment armed with a shock collar and a clear understanding of what it means “to be alpha” to a dog. She was confident she could get these behaviors under control very rapidly. She showed Mark how to use the shock collar any time he saw something he didn’t like in Patches – especially the aggression.
Let’s fast-forward three months to when I first met Patches – or what was left of him. Mark and Rebecca had returned Patches to the rescue organization. He was urinating any time any human approached him. He never walked standing tall any longer and he was always cowering. The trembling in his rear legs never stopped.
Any time dogs are brought into a new home it’s common for them to have some behavior issues that need to be properly addressed such as housetraining and attention-getting behaviors (e.g., jumping on people). These and other unwanted behaviors are normal and can easily be remedied by teaching dogs what we want them to do.
Unfortunately, I see dogs like Patches all too often, and I see them after a lot of damage has been done. A normal happy dog is brought into a home where every unwanted behavior is addressed with punishment. In Mark and Rebecca’s home the punishment was spanking. Spanking is a particularly destructive type of dog-owner interaction because dogs have no idea why the owner is hitting them. They’re not able to make the connection between their “crime” and the punishment. They just learn to be afraid.
When dogs are afraid they frequently use aggression to keep the scary thing (i.e., Mark) away. It starts a very bad death spiral within the household.
This situation is exacerbated by the plethora of “dog trainers” who masquerade as knowledgeable experts. Using a shock collar (or any kind of punishment for that matter) to treat fear behaviors demonstrates gross incompetence on the part of a “dog trainer”. The whole concept of “being alpha” is so outdated and unscientific that it’s embarrassing when I hear someone who should know better say it out loud.
How is Patches doing today? I wish I could say he was 100%. He’s not. He’s back in a loving foster home that, with my assistance, is working to build his confidence back so he can hopefully once again be adoptable. Dogs are resilient and at one time Patches was a happy loving dog – let’s pray that he can get back there again.
For further reading:
7 Things you Must do When you Rescue a Dog
Pretenders Who Claim to Treat Aggressive Dogs, Buyer Beware
Don’t do to Your Dog What Some People do to Their Children
3 Words I Wish Dog Owners and Dog Trainers Wouldn’t Use