Sometimes, I could just sit down and cry, or maybe just fly into a total homicidal rage, when people tell me about “correction” techniques that are guaranteed to work, but that are unspeakably cruel. Well-meaning idiots will say “Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind,” or “You only need to do it once.” I’m sorry, but cruelty is cruelty. And sometimes people don’t even realize that they’re being cruel. So, this time around, I’m going to talk about ways of correcting your dog that you should never use.
Before I get into that, though, I’d like to talk about one issue that I’ve taken a lot of flack over. It’s the alpha roll. I use it. My friend Neila uses it. Cesar Millan uses it (although I’ve heard more than one person say that he over-uses it). And I know that it works. But I get emails and comments suggesting that anyone who uses an alpha roll, ever, is inherently abusive.
Is the Alpha Roll a Bad Thing?
I talked about alpha rolling in The Dominance Myth Misplaced, and I would respectfully suggest that the alpha roll is not cruel. The dog is not subjected to pain or humiliation – he’s simply shown that his behavior is not acceptable, and it’s going to result in his handler showing him exactly who is going to be the boss in the relationship.
An alpha roll, from where I’m sitting, is a last resort. You use it when you can’t correct your dog during the misbehavior, and you have to do it quickly after the fact. You should use the alpha roll, which is quite simply flipping your dog over onto his back and making him submit, only in cases of serious misbehavior. By serious, I don’t mean that he’s not doing what you’ve asked – I mean that he’s full-on challenging you and maybe even trying to bite you. An alpha roll should never be your first course of action – it should always be a last resort.
When it comes to the alpha roll, do it only when there’s no other way of communicating with your dog. The point at which a dog will usually try to challenge you is when he enters young adulthood (usually around 9 months). If you’re dealing with a large breed, and the dog resists the alpha roll, you could end up being seriously injured. Also, your dog will never forget that he won that particular battle.
If you start training early, you may never find yourself in the position of having to consider an alpha roll. But if you have to do it, make sure you can win. My final word on this issue is, alpha roll if necessary but not necessarily alpha roll. It’s not cruel – not like the techniques that I’m going to tell you about, but it should never be your first course of action.
Now, here are 15 bad correction techniques that I’ve heard and read about. Some are founded in misinformation and old techniques that have since been debunked. Others, I just don’t know where in hell they came from because they’re beyond horrible. Some are moderately harmful. Others are unspeakably cruel. Please, if you recognize yourself in any of these “training” techniques, stop using them. Also, keep in mind that as the law continues to evolve in order to protect animals, some of these techniques could even earn you time in prison.
1. Nose Burning
Yes, you read that right. Nose burning. This is touching a dog’s nose with the flame of a lighter or the tip of a lit cigarette to make it stop nipping or biting. In the first place, it’s cruel. In the second, if a dog is fully latched onto another dog or a human and you use this method, he’s probably not going to stop biting. If he does, he’ll probably turn on you – and you’ll deserve exactly what you get.
This is a method of “correction” that is very popular among sociopaths like Michael Vick (the football player who did prison time for dog fighting) – the dog doesn’t perform the way you want, so you take him off the ground and hold him up while he chokes. You wait until he submits, and then you let him down. If he acts up again, you hang him again. If you’re particularly lazy, you might tie the end of the leash to a tree limb and then go get a coffee or something while the dog slowly strangles.
Is hanging ever appropriate? Well, maybe as a temporary way of protecting yourself if you’re under attack. The trouble is, some trainers use it as a means of controlling any dog under any circumstances, in much the same way as some people take the alpha roll as their first course of action.
It’s just what it sounds like – sticking your dog’s head underwater so he can’t breathe. Some people use this method for dogs who dig holes in their yard – they fill the hole with water, and then duck the dog’s head in the hole, and they actually think this will stop the dog from digging holes. As if. People have been using this method for years. It’s been ineffective for years. If you do this, you’re not a trainer, you’re just an asshole.
4. Bad Long Line Corrections
A long line is used to help you work with your dog at a distance, anywhere from 15-50 feet. Using a long line in and of itself is not cruel, but if you use it improperly, then it can be. If you’re using a long line, make sure that your dog is never outside your line of vision – you could end up pulling himself into something that could hurt him. Also, long lines can get tangled around your dog’s legs, and if you pull back hard, you could break his leg. If the line should happen to break, or your dog chews through it, he could run into traffic and be injured or killed.
I hesitated before including this in the list, because long line training is not inherently cruel – in fact, it can be very useful. But if you’re not vigilant, it could have very bad results. So using a long line isn’t cruel, but using it without paying attention to what you’re doing could be.
5. Escalating Corrections
When you correct your dog, you should do it only to the point where you’ve gotten the dog’s attention so you can change his behavior. If you say “No,” and then shout “No,” and then begin to scream “No,” you’re just confusing your dog. If you’re repeatedly zapping your dog with a shock collar, you’re not correcting, you’re torturing.
You’re mad at your dog, and you jerk on the leash to get his attention. There’s a huge difference between gently pulling your dog back and yanking him off his feet, so learn the difference and stop yanking.
7. Mouse Traps
Oh boy… I couldn’t believe this one when I first heard of it, as a way of keeping your dog off the furniture. Try a little training instead. That way, you don’t have to explain to your vet why your dog has a broken toe (or, with a small breed, maybe even a broken leg).
8. Shaker Cans
This is nothing more nor less than teaching your dog that it would be a good idea to avoid you. How would you like it if when you did something that another person didn’t like, they subjected you to a noise that you found so offensive that it was almost painful? You’d probably end up nervous and jittery, and afraid to do just about anything in case it resulted in the horrible sound. Here’s a news flash – that’s exactly what it’s going to do to your dog.
9. Excessive Scolding
“No, Bobby, no, no, NO! I’ve told you a thousand times to do that outside! Bad dog! Bad, bad, BAD dog!” How about just a firm “No” and then you take him outside? What you want to do is teach him that he’s supposed to go potty outdoors, not terrorize him to the point where he’s still doing his business inside, but maybe trying to hide it from you because he fears your displeasure.
10. Taping the Mouth Shut
You may have seen this one on Facebook – a while ago, a photo went viral where some insufferable idiot duct-taped their dog’s mouth shut, and serious injuries resulted. I don’t care what the misbehavior is – chewing, eating things that shouldn’t be eaten, excessive barking – just don’t do this. First of all, the dog is going to try to get the tape off, and could end up injuring his face with his nails. Second, if the dog vomits while the tape is on his muzzle, he could choke to death. And third, if the Humane Society hears about this, you’re screwed, and rightly so.
11. Throwing Things
This is a way that people often use of distracting a dog from undesirable behavior. The problem is that not everyone tosses light things. I’ve heard of people throwing rocks at misbehaving dogs, or even shooting them with BB guns. As your mother used to say, “You could put an eye out.” Also, the dog might see the thrown object as something to fetch – it’s a game, in other words, and has nothing to do with correction. So, best case scenario, it does nothing to correct the behavior. Worst case scenario, it could result in injury. Don’t do it.
Do I really have to tell you how wrong this is? You should never hit your dog with anything. Not your hand, not a stick, not a newspaper, not anything. All you’re going to do is create fear and resentment, and you’re going to build aggression, not correct it.
I actually had someone tell me that he stopped his dog from attacking other dogs by, and I quote, “Kicking the s*** out of him, not out of meanness, but for his own good.” For his own good? Ohferchrissake! Want to know what happened next? The guy’s dog attacked another dog and turned on his owner when the beating started. Way to control your dog, dude!
Beating never solves anything. Ever. It won’t stop the aggression, and it won’t prevent another attack.
No, this is not the same as beating. This is actually a supposed training method where a dog is hit using a whip or paddle any time that the dog doesn’t do what the handler wants, or even when nothing wrong has been done. The idea is to break the dog’s spirit and make it behave. You’ll break his spirit all right, but will it make him behave? Not likely.
I’ve actually heard people say “Spare the rod and spoil the dog,” and insist that even if the dog has done nothing wrong, it might be a good idea to start the training session with a whipping just to “soften up” the dog and make him more receptive to training. I don’t even know what to say to these people, so most of the time I don’t say anything. I just find out who they are and where they live, and then I report them to the Humane Society or the SPCA, or when there’s enough proof to warrant a conviction for animal cruelty, to the police.
14. With holding Food and Water
Here’s another thing I’ve heard about, and find utterly abhorrent – the idea that you should starve your dog and not let him have water before training sessions. The idea, as I understand it, is that a thirsty, hungry dog is going to be more compliant. No, he’s not going to be more compliant; he’s just going to be thirsty and hungry! And why would anyone who claims to love an animal want to subject him to that kind of treatment?
People who advocate starving and withholding water also suggest that leaving a dog alone for several hours, or even days, before a training session will somehow make the dog more cooperative. The theory is that the dog will be so glad of human companionship that he’ll be far more receptive to training. This isn’t a training method – it’s psychological torture, and no right-thinking dog owner would ever do it.
The Final Word
Any of the “training” methods that I’ve just talked about can harm your dog permanently. Some are going to get you hurt, and if you use these methods and you do get hurt, all I can say is karma came back and bit you on the ass, and you deserved it. Don’t use these methods, and don’t let any self-represented “professionals” use these methods on your dog.
We sometimes ask a great deal of our dogs, and they almost always willingly give us what we want. They’ll forgive us any number of missteps if they’re done out of good intentions. Or even bad intentions – I’ve often heard it said, and I believe it to be true, that a dog will love even the most horrible human being.
If you’re a misguided idiot, that’s one thing – you can learn. Find other solutions. Get help from a professional trainer. People who are deliberately cruel, though, are another thing entirely – quite simply, I wish them a lingering, painful death. And I won’t apologize for that.
You should never abuse the trust that your dog places in you. Never treat him unkindly. Never hurt him. Always use the lowest level of correction possible. That way, you’re not just minimizing the possibility of injury to your dog, but to yourself and to anyone who encounters your dogs.
Always keep in mind that there can be a fine line between training and abuse. If your dog ends up with injuries, or becomes fearful, then chances are that you’ve crossed that line. I’m not perfect – I’ve made mistakes with training my dogs, but my intentions have always been good. That said, though, we know what paves the road to Hell. I don’t always get it right, but with everything I do, I proceed from a perspective of kindness and a desire to educate, not to control or dominate. In short, I don’t abuse dogs. I strive never to cause physical harm or psychological distress. And I think, in the final analysis, all I’m asking is that you do the same.