A Journey Through Desperation - The Dark Side of Seeking Help for your Dog

The squeaky wheel gets the oil or so they say. Often we try hard to push problems to the side until they are too large to ignore. However doing this with our dogs usually only leaves us with desperation, disappointment and suffering. 

Not everyone gets a dog to have a companion. In fact owners who are not exposed to dog sports or dog centered activities from a young age, generally don't look for them later on in life. Instead they just want the dog of their childhood, or in the case of their first dog, they want the dog that they experience in passing. This tip of the iceberg of the human-dog relationship, leaves many owners frustrated when they realize how much work a dog is. Rarely do owners realize that a dog is just as much work as a toddler and most are frustrated when they are faced with this reality.

When problems strike, owners lash out. "NO!", "BAD!", "KNOCK IT OFF!" become common vocabulary. We try to wallpaper over the problem and control it with our frustration. Invariably the transitions over to sequestering the dog for longer and longer periods of time, intimidating, and physically manhandling the dog. I don't blame the owner for this, because these are the only tools they have. Owners are forces to navigate a fog of mystery, misinformation, mythology. Even the most highly educated, don't generally know the truth and finding it can be a miracle in itself. 

 Sound familiar?

Sound familiar?

So what is an owner to do? Here is the experience of most owners today...
Problems crop up, so you ask for suggestions in a Facebook group. You receive 50% good advice and 50% bad advice and flip a coin on which you pick. From there you only get mixed results, so you ask a friend who shares a book with you. It's even less likely this will be good information since so many of the top best sellers are filled with terribly outdated and unsubstantiated ideas. From there things escalate and it must be the dog's fault so we pull out the big guns and start digging around Google. The information there is just as much a crap shoot, since depending on the keywords you've been fed previously, you are probably getting a lot more of the same, plus a few counter arguments. Due to your degree of desperation, you are going to try anything to solve a problem that has evolved into misery for all involved.

The sad truth is that the good and valid information is hidden behind academic paywalls, buried in poor decipherings that don't give tangible meaning, or beautifully explained and articulated in articles that are presented on dreadful websites with almost no functionality to be found by the Googling public. Meanwhile archaic ideas are regurgitated all over flashy websites that use modern search and sales methods, to get you buying in on their snake oil. And in the end there are two outcomes for the vast majority of "problem dogs". They are broken down into shells of themselves or they are surrendered to a shelter or a new home.

While this is the majority, this isn't the rule. There are many dogs who win the lottery. Their owners receive good and accurate information either through a referral or a lucky Google search. These dogs get to maintain their spirit and personality while receiving help and guidance. And owners receive effective instruction to meet their needs. 

It shouldn't be a coin flip or a lucky click of the mouse. But tradition and bias die hard. Too many "professionals" in the field of dog training base their work on what they call "an art". The dog is a canvas where they try to create something they deem acceptable. But this does not honor the dog, nor advancements in the scientific understanding of cognition, or even critical thinking. Instead it simply waxes the anecdotal ego.

My heart aches for owners. The process of learning about dog behavior is a painful one. You will be told lies and myths by family, friends, the tv, and even "professionals".  You will be at your wits end and results will be the luck of the draw because there is no way for you to know if the information you are getting is any good. 

Every day, I wake up hoping that professionals work hard to hold themselves to humbleness and higher standards. I pray that good professionals improve their public speaking, communication, and advertising skills. And I hope that the sub-par professionals have an epiphany to learn more and catch up. For Dogs Sake.

For owners looking for quality professionals, if you're in NJ or Eastern PA, shoot us an email. If you're too far, stack the deck in your favor and look for a professional at IAABC- International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.