Dogs I Have Known (Part 3)

…or, why I choose not to use an electric shock collar on my dog. I know some might take offense at my dim view of electric shock collars, it may have worked for your dogs, but this is my own conclusion after having tried it out on my own dog.

Continued from yesterday’s post about dogs I have known, written as part of my assignment for the Diploma in Canine Psychology Course with the ISCP:

My dogs are always inside dogs, who get let outside to run around and do their business, play fetch, or go swimming in our pool. Scruffy has a habit of barking intermittently when let outside. At first I thought he was barking at strangers passing by the gate, but I began observing him from behind the curtains, and noticed that he was actually barking once, then turning his head to look in the direction of the front door. And when that elicited no response, he’d repeat the actions again, until I shushed him. I realised he was doing it to get my attention, that he simply wanted to let me know he was ready to come back inside the house.

Anyway, when Scruffy’s barking habit was at its peak, I went to the pet shop, where an electric anti-bark collar was recommended. At this time I hadn’t done much research into canine psychology, so I went along and bought the thing. Poor Scruffy had no idea what was in store for him, as I slipped the collar on and let him outside. Scarcely a minute had gone by, when he decided to start barking. I heard him let out two barks, then a whole string of terrified yelps, going round the outside of the house. The collar had zapped his throat, and, not knowing what it was or how to get away from it, Scruffy had tried to outrun it, while trying to bark it away. Of course, barking only made the zapping worse, hence the yelping.

This aversion therapy worked for a few days. But I noticed that Scruffy was becoming withdrawn and not his usual enthusiastic self. It also seemed to disturb Shelagh, who would slink off and cower whenever she heard Scruffy’s pained yelps. So, I stopped using the electric collar, and now I just let both dogs in when Scruffy starts “calling” from outside. Sometimes, the dogs are only out for a few minutes, before they’re in again. When this happens, I simply wait a while, then let them out again. I would rather have my dogs happy and noisy, than cowed and quiet.

Before this, I’d read a few books on dog training, or, more accurately, about teaching dogs how to perform parlour tricks. I’d also read some books by popular dog trainers such as Cesar Millan and Jan Fennell. However, I found myself disagreeing with some of their techniques and concepts. And now that I’m doing this Diploma in Canine Psychology, I’ve started thinking more and more about how to get into the dog’s head, to know why it behaves the way it does, and if that behaviour is detrimental to its wellbeing or its adoptability, to try to figure out ways to change that so both its human owner and the dog itself can live happier lives together. I’m looking for that “Magic Switch”…though I rather suspect it’s more like a series of little switches, like a Mind Map to Good Behaviour.

As a volunteer at Shenton Park Dogs’ Refuge Home in Perth, Western Australia, I’ve observed how dogs have distinct personalities, much like humans. Some are afraid of everything, to the point of being defensively aggressive. Some are mouthy, some like to hump, some are nonchalant to the point of ignoring you. Some are dog social, others are dog reactive. Some seem to hate men, others women. Some resource guard their bedding or food. And yet there are some that are totally adorable and affectionate, eager to please and would roll over on their bellies for you in an instant, just for a treat. I believe that every dog, no matter how difficult its background, can be rehabilitated to become either a happy companion, or a service/therapy/assistance dog.

If I ever came into money, or if someone with the clout offered to help, my dream is to set up a dog sanctuary with acres of land around it. I’d build individual chalets there, to provide housing for the homeless, and in return for food and lodging, they would help look after the dogs there. I would then work to rehabilitate the dogs so they could be useful to society, or else just become much loved pets, as all dogs deserve.

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(Image source: Pinterest)

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