I love my job as a dog trainer and feel enormously privileged to live this life, but I also really wish I could switch off sometimes. I think my friends and family wish I would too!
My walks and drives everywhere have become a verbal (when walking with other people) or unspoken (when alone) tirade against all the ignorant, cruel and stupid practices we inflict on animals, especially dogs. I can spot a shock collar, prong collar or choke chain at a huge distance. A good friend laughingly calls this my ‘ninja’ eyesight but it pains me every time I see dogs being abused in this way. People just can’t or won’t see how damaging and cruel this type of equipment is. My lovely friends and family tend to walk, frown and agree as I go off on yet another rant. Often they rant along with me. There are many difficult observations to make in the dog world:
The dogs who are in pain; obviously lame or walking with very low head carriage, stiff necks and backs that no one seems to notice. They are frequently being encouraged or forced to walk further and faster than is comfortable. Often they walk behind the human, who is therefore even less likely to observe their difficulty with movement.
Breeds that have difficulty moving, drinking, breathing or eating because of the way they are bred by people who apparently ‘love’ the breed.
Runners who run with dogs (this is particularly challenging and damaging for puppies, certain breeds and elderly dogs), not allowing them to stop and sniff, toilet, take a break or drink. Many runners have water for themselves but not for their dogs. Many breeds are not physically suited to moving at someone else’s pace for long periods of time. Do the runners or cyclists consider this?
Hitting and smacking dogs for not coming back when they are called, leading to a dog who is then frightened to come back to their owner.
The relentless fashion to get dogs obsessed with ball play to the point that they can’t think for themselves and lose the ability to act like a normal dog.
Yanking on necks, lack of choices, constant demands, making dogs ‘sit’ for everything without reason.
Dogs walking with low body posture, not sniffing or doing anything because they live in fear (shut down into learned helplessness). Their body language tells a story that often people don’t want to see or hear. For some people this makes them a ‘good dog’!
In human terms if I did any of these things to a child I would be prosecuted (don’t get me started on crate/cage training!). Being an advocate for kind, intelligent, dog centred training can be a curse but also a blessing. For all my rants I have a huge number of wonderful friends and clients who have learned so much and continue to do so. More and more see (really see) what’s going on and will challenge and help others make better choices for the dogs in their care. One of my clients told me that I had spoiled dog shows for her. After learning about and understanding dog body language she stopped enjoying that type of dog event. I am happy to be a spoiler! I know many feel the same as I do, and as more people take time to understand dogs better we can make greater strides in improving the welfare and lives of dogs everywhere. I jokingly suggested to a friend that we create a video of me being treated like a dog in the hands of someone who could benefit from learning more. Watch this space! Happy ranting and teaching in 2016!
Winkie Spiers is a dog trainer and behaviour consultant working in London. www.winkiespiers.com