How NOT To Train Your Rescue Dog

As a professional dog trainer I am always studying and learning, be it from a new dog I am working with, a fellow dog trainer, a new book or tv show. I like to keep learning because the day I think I know it all will be the day I fail at my job. Training dogs is an ever evolving practice and is always moving with science and research.

I started and finished reading a book yesterday called Rescue Dog to Super Dog – Ultimate Rescue Dog training guide. Its Brand new, only being released in June this year. Obviously rescue dogs is the area I specialise in and I like to see how others work, if there is something new or things improve upon. This book has left me angry, furious and feeling the need to write this blog.

The Author calls himself The Rescue Dog Whisperer so I guess that should of clued me into his method but I didn’t want to assume that because he uses the word whisperer he’d be like Caesar Millan aka out of date with modern dog training. Turns out I should of gone with my first instinic, this author is all about dominance dog training,

This entire book is best described as how not to train your rescue dog. If you want to add to your dogs stress and anxiety then go right ahead, Let me explain why I think this is a bad book……

What you need to train your dog.

The Author lists a number of things you need to train your dog these include

  • Halti 6ft training lead – no complaints here. I use these leads and they are great versatile lead. You can make the lead longer or shorter according to your needs and being double ended you can clip to the front and back of a harness, to aid with training a dog not to pull.
  • A half check Chain collar – the reason the authors uses these is they make a horrible noise when you tug on the lead to pull at the chain, which you do when the dog does something you don’t like ie pull. The idea being you scare the dog with the noise so they won’t pull.
  • Long Line Lead – no complaints here, I love to use these when teaching recall. It safely provides freedom for your dog while still attached, enabling you teach recall over 5,10,15,20 meters.
  • Verbal correction – you make a low loud sound like a growl, that apparently informs the dog to stop what they are doing that it is wrong. This negative sound is used on its own, with a loud hand clap, or with stones or water.
  • A squeezey bottle of water – the author uses this as a way of punishing the dog. If the dog does something you don’t like for example pulling on the lead, you squirt the water into his face. The idea is the dog wont like it and therefore will stop pulling. Again this is scaring the dog into behaving.
  • A bottle full stones – the authors reason for this is as a way to startle the dog into listening. For example you call your dog back he ignores you so your throw the bottle to land near your dog, the fright will cause your dog to stop doing what they’re doing and look to you. Again this is scaring the dog into behaving.

I will be honest here and say these methods do work, with limited success and you need a lot of time. By continuously scaring a dog for actions he naturally does causes most dog to shut down meaning they stop doing EVERYTHING until they are told to do something. I mean who’d do ANYTHING when the consequences of any action could mean you’re going be frightened.

Let’s face it if you have to scare a dog into behaving then you have no buisness having a dog. I actually cant stand the idea that my dog Erick could be fearful of me, that he couldn’t be his normal daft self because he will only do what I told him to do. There would be no making me laugh with his clown ways, no spontantous fun and no part of him getting to be the super sniffing dog he is. THAT IS JUST SAD.

You Have To Be An Alpha

I Practically hit the floor when I read this in the book. You have to be the alpha with your rescue dog….What a load of fucking bollocks. The author asks you to imagine a leader board or points board between you and your dog, everytime the dog is ‘ dominant’ over you he gets a point on the board and everytime you are ‘Dominant’ you get a point. The one with the most points is the Alpha.

This is an out of date debunked training method, that no one should be using. For those of you not in the know in the 1930s and 40s a Swiss animal behaviorist called Rudolph Schenkel observed captive Wolves to understand how the pack work, live and survive. His research went on to inspire humans how to train dogs, based upon his Dominance Theory.

This theory told us that wolves fight to control their pack, the winner becoming the Alpha of the pack aka the leader. The flawed logic of dogs are descended from wolves must mean they also have need or are an alpha leader, therefore to train ours dogs us humans must become the Alpha. While yes dogs are descended from wolves they are seperated by thousands of years of evolution meaning into todays world what is applicable to the wolf is not applicable to the dog.

Also under this dominance theory if the dog fights back by continuing the behaviour you want to stop and doesn’t submit to you, then you should increase your threat. As mentioned above, the author tells you to use a verbal correction, if that doesn’t work use the verbal correction and loud clap, if that doesn’t work the verbal correction and the stone bottle, if that doesn’t work use the water bottle and if that doesn’t work poke the dog in the back of the legs. I mean WTF.

While again this method of training can produce results they tend not to be long lasting, some dogs can get accustomed to the correction to the point they can ignore it, so if you’re at the point of poking your dog in the leg and he still ignores you what are you going to do next….Hit the dog? Some dogs will only put up with a water bottle to the face before reacting by attacking the water bottle (and you as you’re the one holding it). Hell some dogs actually like water being squirted it becomes a game.

Here is another kicker against this dominant training, if you are the one always handing out the correction but your partner or child aren’t, does that mean the dog won’t do anything you don’t like in your absence? for example you’ve trained your dog not to pull by ensuring the scary noise happens by tugging the lead sharply. Now your partner walks the dog, chances are he will pull because here is no scary noise or lead tugging by your partner. So has your dog really learned anything or simply to be scared and fearful in your presence to the point they won’t do anything other than the bare minimum required?

Thankfully it was revealed that these captive wolves fought to gain dominance because they were not a natural family and were forced to live together, this was the source of the tension and fights for control. A behaviourist called David Mech debunked The Dominance Theory in 1970’s as he was able to show that in the wild aka the wolves natural enviroment, wolves live in family units containing a mated pair and their off spring. There is no Alpha or wolf trying to be an Alpha because the mated pair aka mum and dad take care of the family.

You Should Train Your Dog By Setting Them Up To Fail.

This was another thing I couldn’t wrap my head around, to teach your dog not to do something you keep encouraging them to do it until they respond and stop to your verbal correction. I think I actually screamed at the book at this point. The example the author uses regarding jumping up, I get it I don’t like a dog to jump up uninvited.

In this book you are actively told to encorage your dog to jump up, get excited and pat your leg for your dog to jump up, once their paws are on you, you should then use your vocal correction and keep repeating it until your dogs paws are on the ground. Keep on repeating this and if your dog doesn’t jump down start loudly clapping your hands together as you use your vocal cue, this will startle your dog off and if that doesn’t work move on to the water bottle, then the leg poke.

What you will end up with is a dog to scared/frightend/worried to jump up when invited. So in essence the training has worked but you have done it by using fear. My own dog Ally loved to jump on me when I got home, what did I do… I ignored her by moving out of the way, she really wanted my attention so she would follow be into my flat. Everytime she attempted to jump I moved out of her reach, once her feet were on the floor for more than several seconds I would bend down and stroke her. She learned really fast that if her paws stayed on the ground she got my attention faster, my attention is what she wanted.

Reward Based Training.

This is the method I use, this was discovered/developed by Karen Pryor in the 1980’s and become more mainstream in the 1990’s by Ian Dunbar, This approach uses kind friendly methods to train your dog. This way we teach the dog the behaviours we WANT them to do and reward them with praise them. Further more it has been scientifcally proven to be an effective long lasting way to train your dog.

My favourite part about this method is that you don’t have to ask your dog to do something in order to reward them ie if I ask Erick to sit and he does I say good, if he greets someone calmly and politely I also say good. What gets rewarded gets repeated in the world according to dog.

Am I always giving treats out for my dog behaving, nope I am not. When I am teaching something new I use a lot of treats, but any good trainer will tell you that you MUST phase the use of treats out as soon as you can. Instead of a treat I may give Erick a good bottom scratch – his favourtie spot – or I might grab the tugger for Ally and have a play. While yes I still will give out treats simply hearing good from me is enough to make my dogs happy.

Does that mean I ignore all the behaviour I don’t like? No it does not depending on the situation I will ignore the dog like with Ally’s jumping up or manage the stituation. For example Ally used to bark like a lunatic when she saw a bike ride past, now I couldn’t ignore this behaviour instead I praised her for seeing the bike, the very second she noticed a bike, I’d say good she would then turn to look for a treat. I managed her by rewarding her for looking before she could esculate to barking. Now she can be around bikes off lead and doesn’t react, she gets a good girl and from time to time a treat too.

Dogs are smart souls and training them to think and make their own choices, is not only fun but really wonderful. To see a dog finally grasp a training game and love to play it is amzing. Further more working with and training rescue dogs it is vitally important we support them help them feel safe, build their confidence and gain their trust. I fail to see how any of that can be achieved causing a dog to be scared instead of happy, training them though fear instead of being their partner in their new life.

Last Thoughts

I am genuinely horrified that in this day and age, with the advances in science and research there are still people in the world earning a living by training dogs through fear. I can only see how this book can cause the rescue dogs it is aimed at fear, stress and unhappiness not to mention confuse their owners, I can see future behaviour problems from the dogs who get put through this training. This book belongs back in the 1940’s where it would still be alsorts of wrong.

My final thoughts are When working and living with dogs you should consider yourself partners, granted you’re in charge because you’re the parent but you are partners non the less. You should have a friendship with your dog with mutal love and trust, one that does come with rules and boundries that are taught in a simple way without the need for fear, pain or punishment.

Lastly I welcome any discussion on dog training and If you’d like to know more about what I do or need help with training your dog please do get in touch.

Kind regards

Suzanne aka The Rescue Dog Ranger™

Author of The Rescue Dog Rangers Road Map.

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