Would you jump off a cliff if someone asked you? How about give your hard-earned money to strangers in the street, just because they told you you should? Simply acting on other people’s advice can be risky if you don’t know what that advice is based on and you don’t consider the possible consequences. Sadly, many people seem all too keen to take the advice of others when it comes to their dog’s behaviour, and whilst there are plenty of experts out there who can give you all the help you need, caution is always required, no matter how much authority the advisor may be seen to have.
Mickey is an 18-month-old Japanese Akita. He came from a good breeder and was well socialised as a baby puppy. His owners had done a lot of research before getting this breed, and were proud of the fact that they had really done their homework when it came to his care and training. All was well until Mickey was due for his second vaccination. While waiting for his turn in the veterinary surgery he was subjected to the lunging and barking of another dog who was clearly very stressed, and this upset both Mickey and his owner before they even got into the consulting room. Once there, the vet prepared the injection, and called in a nurse to hold Mickey still. Already a big puppy, Mickey struggled, and when he was held tight, he growled. The vet immediately rounded on the owner, telling him that the dog was clearly dominant and that he needed to be shown who’s boss. He then showed him how to perform an ‘Alpha roll-over’ on the dog – which meant flipping him onto his back and holding him down, while standing over him if possible. The owner was told to practice this three times a day, and certainly where any ‘resistance’ from the dog – such as not complying with commands – prompted it.
No matter how well-meant this advice was, it couldn’t have been a worse prescription for Mickey. Over a period of only a few days the dog became wary of his owner’ approach and started to avoid being near him. Within a week, Mickey would growl if any of the family approached him, touched him or tried to move him into another room. Seriously concerned, the owner called the vet again only to be told that an escalation of such behaviour could be expected – and that it proved Mickey was a dominant dog. The vet advised the owner to increase the number of times and duration that he should ‘dominate’ the dog to enforce ‘submission’, as well as implementing a strict ‘rank reduction’ programme in the household. Sadly, the consequences of this advice were catastrophic. Less than a month later Mickey had finally had enough and bit his owner on the arm while he was being held upside down. The bite was not severe, but it frightened the owner so much that he sought advice on rehoming the dog. Thankfully, en route, he found a trainer who helped him to understand how much he had inadvertently alienated and threatened the dog in the name of training, and started a relationship-rebuilding programme – which is still in progress today.
Mickey’s case is an extreme one, but it’s certainly not isolated. Every year myself and my colleagues see cases of aggression and other behavioural problems that have been exacerbated, if not caused, by advice that should have been left in the ark! Just as bad, in my opinion, is the fact that such advice is usually given on the basis of some kind of ‘proven’ theory – when often the truth tells us just the opposite. Alpha roll-overs are one such example – those who advocate them frequently cite wolf behaviour as the premise on which they base the action – but this is simply not the case! Dogs are not wolves, anymore than we are the same as apes, but even despite this the idea that one wolf would ever force another to show ‘submission’ is absurd. Wolves are social animals: appeasement gestures are voluntarily offered in order to reduce conflict – much like a human smile – and no one would dream of forcing another human to offer a smile and assume that the person then feels friendly!
Question everything – your dog will thank you for it!