Sunday, April 3, 2011

the double standard

Watching that Corgi get alpha-rolled in agility class has gotten me thinking a lot about dog behavior and about how we train. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about human behavior and why we expect so much more from our dogs than we do from ourselves.

I thought it was fairly obvious from watching that whole situation unfold what was going to happen.  I knew from the moment the Corgi put the brakes on that it wasn't going to end well.  And when he started pulling away from the girl to get away, I honestly thought she would give up.  But I knew when the girl stopped saying he was “just being stubborn” and her face turned bright red that she was completely mortified, and it was probably going to end even worse than I initially thought.

When she reached down to scold him after he growled, I couldn't believe my eyes. What possessed her to reach towards a growling dog that was backing away from her, I'll never understand.  He made it very clear from the growl and the backpedaling that he wanted nothing to do with whatever was going on.  The growl was a warning, sure, but the backpedaling coupled with the growl was a very obvious sign from the dog that he didn't want confrontation, but he was prepared to defend himself if necessary.  And on top of all of that, didn't it cross her mind at some point that the dog's next step may be to bite?

To me, a good trainer will do everything they can to prevent the dog from getting to the point where it feels it needs to bite. Those are the types of trainers that recognize a dog growling is a warning sign that screams, "I'm not comfortable with this situation, back away!" That growl lets the trainer know they went too far, too fast, and they need to rewind.  The others, the ones that feel that a dog should never growl and subsequently feel as if they have to respond to that act with an equal or more aggressive act in order to show the dog who is boss, continue to baffle me. They shrug a dog bite off as if it's bound to happen sooner or later without regard for the consequences the dog may face and they show no remorse for the dog whatsoever.  Worse yet, some of these trainers act on impulse because the dog's noncompliance hurts their feelings.

The situation with the Corgi was the latter; it was very obvious that the girl became agitated and embarrassed that the dog wouldn't comply so she felt she needed to show it who was boss.  Her response to the dog was purely emotional.  It was equivalent to a second grader saying, "She made fun of me in front of the whole class, so I'm going to put gum in her hair!" There was nothing good that could have come from the dog being yanked around and flipped on his back... the only lesson that dog learned was that his growl was not an effective means of getting his message across, so he needed to escalate to a bite instead.  And since that bite didn't get the message across, it's possible that he will feel the need to be more aggressive in order to convey his message the next time around.

Personally, if I were to push a dog so far that he bit me, I would feel a tremendous amount of guilt from doing so.  Not only have I completely ignored all the dog's appropriate warning signs, I've taught him that his warning signs mean nothing to us humans.

Another problem with all of this is that the dog was not allowed to react to something that made him uncomfortable.  He had complete control over his actions, his growl and bite were calculated to deal with the current situation, but the handler lost complete control over her emotions and her actions.  She allowed her emotions of frustration and embarrassment to control how she responded to the dog.  Why is the dog acting in emotions and growling unacceptable, but the human losing control okay?  Why the double standard? I can't figure out why some people can't accept that a dog's growl is equivalent to our "Stop that!" or "I'm not comfortable!" or "I'm scared!"  The Corgi wasn't trying to "dominate her," he was trying to get away from her. 

I don’t understand it.  All of this and I wonder why we expect more from our dogs than we do of ourselves?

We, as humans, all react to different situations in different ways.  Some people are more emotionally charged than others, and react more emotionally than others.  It's okay for us to get mad and yell or cry to express our frustrations; yet it's not okay for a dog to growl or snarl when he's frustrated or scared. Dogs can't give us a detailed explanation of what they are feeling, they can only do what they know how to do:  they lay down and refuse to go somewhere, maybe they go belly up, or maybe they growl or snarl when we continue to push them despite their objections... and when we push the dog past it's breaking point, we punish them for acting out.

So, I ask you this:  why are dogs expected to control themselves and behavior appropriately despite their emotions, but humans are not held to the same standards? We constantly suggest that we are more intelligent than them; yet we expect them to be able to do something that we, as humans, are often incapable of doing?

Dogs have the same emotional reasons that we have for acting out, yet we expect a dog's behavior to be perfect regardless of their emotional state of mind.  Why do people push dogs to their breaking points and still expect perfect behavior?

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