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Why cookie cutter advice doesn't always work; AKA sometimes google isn't the answer!

I am a HUGE fan of the internet. Even though it can sometimes be a cesspool of misinformation and bad attitudes (hellooooooo social media!), it can also be a wonderful source of unlimited information that we would never have imagined having access to 20 years ago (helloooooo google scholar!)! Remember card catalogs? I do! I even consider myself the self proclaimed queen of google with my super power being that I can find information within seconds of a question being asked (ask my fiancee, Phil, I'll often have the answer before he even finishes asking the question!)

 

 

HOWEVER. There are several things we need to consider about getting information from the internet. It's one thing looking up one of the supporting actors in Titanic or what the number one song on the day you were born was, it's a whole different ball game asking google something like "why is my dog growling?" or "is my dog dominant?" (I'll save you the google search on this one and give you the short answer: no, he's not). Dog behavior is fluid and doesn't fit neatly into boxes like other facts do.   

 

Just one example is with my dog Regis. When I first started training as a hobby I would look up advice on how to train polite leash walking. Regis was a MEGA puller. Some dogs are sensitive to leash pressure and when they hit the leash naturally stop or move back towards you; Regis did not do this, especially if there were prey animals around. He continued to lean into the pressure of the harness, digging his feet into the ground as hard as he could and somehow managing to choke himself despite the fact that the leash wasn't attached to a neck collar. This was easily the most difficult behavior I had to work on with Regis. 

 

 

So, what did the internet say? First they recommended leash corrections. I already knew I wasn't planning on doing that, knowing what I did about the negative behavioral fallout of corrections-based training, AND Regis was already displaying behavior issues with dogs, unfamiliar people, and bikes on leash, so I didn't want to add to that issue.

 

Then, the internet recommended stopping and standing when he hit the end of the leash, waiting until Regis returned to me or even checked in before moving forward. This advice had me standing and waiting upwards of five minutes for my beagle mix to choose to look back at me. Regis is a scent hound, which means he pretty much finds sniffing the best thing to do in most circumstances. So, where some dogs would take the stopping of forward movement as punishing ("Hey, why did we stop moving forward? I want to keep exploring!") which would cause them to return to their person and diminish future pulling, Regis just hung out 6 feet ahead of me at the end of his leash and sniffed the air to his hearts content until I got sick of waiting.

 

So what did I do that eventually modified this behavior? First, I had to do a good amount of preliminary work with attention at the beginning of each walk, making sure we started the walk with his focus and attention on me. Basically, I needed to make sure that he remembered there was a human at the other end of the leash! Then, I proactively taught him the skill of walking politely on leash next to me without distractions, adding in distractions as he was successful. And lastly I applied what's known as the premack principle to our walking, teaching Regis that he could have his FAVORITE life reward (treeing and howling at squirrels!) if he did a less likely behavior first (walking politely to the tree the squirrel was in!)

 

 

 

So, the internet had the right idea but because I was reading a stagnant article rather than working with a trainer I didn't understand the preliminary work necessary or the finer points that went into polite leash walking, or even that there was a difference between polite leash walking and formal heeling! 

 

And then there's the information that simply isn't true. A quick google search of "dominance in dogs" produces 10 results on the first page, and SIX of those ten results have completely inaccurate, outdated information that suggest incorrect and often times dangerous methods. I always advise clients to take everything they read on the internet with a grain of salt, and to consider the source. I've mentioned before that anyone can proclaim themselves a dog trainer and start selling their services without any kind of certification or licensing; the same thing goes for advice about dogs on the internet.

 

So, as the self proclaimed google queen I advise being careful with the information that you find online, and to always look for professional advice when the behavior is potentially dangerous. Please, don't ask google to help you with your biting dog, seek out the help of a trainer, certified, humane professional before things get worse.