There are way too many ‘experts‘ on dog training floating about Social Media, and way too many pet parents searching for answers to questions that should be asked of their veterinarian or licensed trainer. I can’t emphasize enough how dangerous this is for the dogs, not to mention the people who will be around them.
Between the requested and given medical advice and ‘bad parent’ shaming, it becomes increasingly clear that reliance on lay advice is still very much in play for the population of dog owners who frequent pages dedicated to dogs in general or the many specific breeds. The other day I saw a post of a puppy with a hernia near his testicle. The owner was asking what the bulge was and what she should do. Amid the chorus of advice was few words of sanity: TAKE YOUR DOG TO A VET! A hernia can cause serious complications in your pet, even kill them, but the owner wanted to take the time to survey a group of other owners who may or may not have experienced a hernia in their dogs. Bad idea! Maybe it was a knee-jerk reaction in a fit of panic. Regardless of panic, there is nothing anyone on social media can tell you in regards to your pet’s health that will fix the situation. You need a vet to do that. Most often, the owner is looking to duck an expense. Dog medical care is pricey, indeed!
In the end, the dog is going to be the one who pays for the owner’s actions–either with injury or life. Opinions from armchair trainers and armchair vets should never be sought when trying to deal with a behavioral or medical issue. There are veterinary websites that exist to provide owners with further information once they have a diagnosis from a medical professional. The same with behavioral training. Your neighbor or social media buddy do not count unless they have that certification that gives them the right to diagnose your animal. People who are certified don’t spend their spare times frequenting social media to dole out free advice.
Please take into consideration that owning a pet has a lot of nuance that we don’t consider when we first fall in love with those puppy eyes. Each dog will be unique in their needs. One thing you can be certain of: they’re expensive and you better have a good savings plan in place to meet their needs. My own, Sadie Sue Shagbottom is far different on the health/behavior spectrum than was my special needs Jack Russell Terrier Max, who suffered with Cerebellar Hypoplasia. The diagnosis was made at an emergency vet appointment for a seizure and then followed up with his regular veterinarian. It affected his behavior in ways I couldn’t even count, and for all the years of his life (13).
Taking advice from social media ‘experts’ on dog behavior would have made matters worse for me and Max. He heeled beautifully, unless there was a squirrel, or a human nearby and then he wanted to play with them and didn’t return on command (he was 100% Jack). However, he never went far, but how much is too far when a car is coming?
Sadie Sue is far different in many ways. She doesn’t have a bad temper, no tremors and training her takes a few easy minutes and cookies (preferably peanut or bacon flavored). However, Miss Shagbottom is a bit of an air head. She’s not stubborn or stupid, just easily distracted and super excited about everything out of doors. When we go for a walk, her focus is on that walk–pure business speed walk. I’m left holding on for dear life. She’s very very strong and has torn the structure of my back and shoulders, and hips, and even my knees. The only help came in the form of a head collar. Stop and start did nothing to help the situation, because controlling her attention in this situation has proven impossible. Sadie Sue is a rescue, so a lot of her behavior was instilled before I got her. She was neglected by her original owners, left to fend for herself basically. Thanks to the dog warden who took her away and helped her to find a home with me. She’s everything to me and I probably spoil her a little too much because of her background. That said, I simply cannot live in pain for the amount of time it would take to get her focused, energy spent, and loose leash trained by traditional methods – positive reinforcement. The amount of cookies it would take would likewise bankrupt me and make her into a health problem ottoman. So I sought the advice of those who could help: my vet and trainer (Thank you, Gina Bardi!)
On the topic of Head Collars — they are walking assistant developed by trainers who understand that stop and start loose leash walking cannot always be achieved by the steps that armchair trainers beat other dog owners over the head with. There is a danger in not addressing a behavior problem: injury to owner and/or dog or even a bystander. Dogs are best trained when they are tired, but the best way to tire them is to take a long walk. Sadie walks a hundred times better toward the end of our walk, so I know this is true, because her spurt of energy has been spent. She’s ready to do whatever I ask, tongue lolling, gate slowed. Spending her energy also spends mine, so I don’t have the go get em spirit after 1/2 hour of near straight running in the hot sun. If you do, or you feel that I should, that’s on you–not me–even the dog is tired at this point. let’s be real! I do praise her at this time, after twenty or so minutes of exhaustive correction of which she certainly does know she’s being bad but doesn’t care a hoot. It’s been like this for 4 years, every day. There is no change in how she walks on leash, snow-rain-or-shine. Dogs can be easy to train in every aspect but choose to be willful in another. There really is nothing you can do about that. Yet, the armchair expert will blow out their chest and say they know how to deal with that, while simultaneously shaming the owner for not doing enough, cause they’ve been there with them every step and can so judge that. However, their tactics are almost always exactly what you don’t want being used on your dog–usually aggressive and borderline abusive. They don’t know what they’re talking about! Most of their advice is a regurgitation of something they heard somewhere, and because they have a dog, that makes them the expert–not anyone else in the same spot. Where does this ego come from?
Armchair trainers are definitely on a power trip. In most cases, I gauge them to be people who really need to be that top dog in the field, yet they do very little to actually achieving it. They’re not certified and haven’t taken the courses to become certified. Having a dog license is not certification of training expertise. Neither is owning a couple dogs, or having dogs your whole life. Most of us who own dogs now have owned dogs prior to the current pet. Since most people settle in with a specific breed, or adopt mixes from the shelter, our experience with dogs is limited. A real trainer knows most breeds, inside and out, understands the latest techniques from using them on a daily basis with clients, attends seminars and training of their own and carries a license or certification. It takes a lot more than just owning a dog to get there. Other owners should not be cowed or take abuse from these armchair trainers–who almost always turn out to be the worst of pet owners.
Anyway, back to head collars, which help to keep the dog in the control of the person walking them. The device prevents injury to the person’s limbs and body as well as keeping the dog safe–not in traffic, not breaking away, not choking him/herself, etc. When installed properly, the muzzle loop should be loose. The head strap should be snug (one man’s finger can fit under it. This is where the ‘steering’ is). When they pull, it draws the head down and away, back toward the walker. You can gently life the loose leash to correct them when they pull ahead. When they do pull, they can’t see where they’re going or the leash in the person’s hand alters their direction, while they’re simultaneously propelled forward by the walker’s energy. You’re right, it does leave a mark in the fur across the muzzle, just like when you pin your hair back or wear a headband. It’s lying on the supple fur and it’s weight compresses the fur slightly. It doesn’t squeeze the muzzle. They’re able to open their mouths completely (oh, how I hate when someone asks if Sadie Sue bites because of her head collar – it cannot hold her jaws closed and sets on the muzzle too far back to do such – ignorance of the product, anatomy and reason).
The reason I use the head collar? Because it was suggested by my vet and professional trainers. Professional trainers with the help of veterinarians developed the product to help problem walkers, like my Sadie Sue, and me stay safe. The harness version rubbed her under her front legs leaving her raw. It was not an option. The improper use of the head collar product that people sometimes highlight is due to owner/operator negligence. There is an instruction video that comes in the package. How many owner/operators actually view it? Probably 1/4 to 1/3. That is not the product’s fault. Those who use the product properly have happy safe dogs who can go and are welcome to go all sorts of places again. They’re tired out with exercise and more easily managed. Everyone is happy. No more frustration for either of you.
If a dog is aggressive, and happens to wear a head collar or other walking-aid, that is not the walking-aid. Some dogs are aggressive, regardless of training. Remember the rules, dogs aren’t on the street for you to approach as you will, anymore than women are. They have limits and expectations as well. And, it is not the responsibility of an owner to make their dog nice for you to play with. When they warn you that their dog is aggressive (there are tags for the leash that can indicate approachability and you should watch for them). Please stay back from other people’s pets and do not judge the owner or dog erroneously because of something you heard, or you see something you wouldn’t do. Unless violence is being committed, there is nothing that the police can do and you’re causing an unnecessary scene. (I reported a blind man for abusing his assistant dog at the UAlbany Campus and because the cops didn’t see him doing it, there was nothing they could do for the dog–at least they investigated. I didn’t report him until I saw the behavior clearly several times. Believe me, though, he behaved very differently with that animal from then on.)
My armchair trainer advice is to seek the advice of a professional in all medical cases (dogs are expensive, so get used to paying $200 a vet visit and doing it frequently if you’re inexperienced. They get sick just like us!). For training, seek a well reviewed facility nearby and pay the fee to join. You’ll thank yourself later. As for the social media sites, they should refrain from doling out advice which is dangerously wrong almost every time, inconsistent and uncontrolled by the moderator. Share pictures of each others’ pets, information about recalls, where you can go on vacation with your pet and things of that nature. Recommend trainers and vets in your area, if its an area specific group. But stop being Armchair Trainers and Armchair Vets. It helps no one.
If you really want to be the ultimate responsible pet owner — you’ll take my advice and stop fluffing up your ego on the charred remains of reason. Using people’s vulnerability over a sick or suffering pet to build yourself up is just so dangerous for the dogs, and it shows how little one really knows of dog training and medicine. Sit back in your armchair and relax. There’s always going to be someone who is better at Dog than you.
If you think I’m stretching things a bit, read this actual Facebook advice conversation (thanks to Gina Bardi, certified dog trainer, for sharing this):