TV PROGRAMME DOGS BEHAVING BADLY.

This pilot programme featured Graeme Hall or the ‘Dog Father’ as he likes to be known. I was aware of him as he owns Rottweilers and has been involved in dog training and behaviour work for several years since he gave up his management role for Weetabix I believe. Setting yourself up in business as the ‘Dog Father’ with limited experience takes some gall, I think readers might agree. What’s in a name eh?The first thing I thought was that he had stepped straight out of the fashion supplement of Country Life magazine, dressed as he was in tweeds, complete with designer hair, designer glasses, cravat etc. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dog behaviourist in a cravat before, but there you go. There has obviously been some serious makeover work going on as he was barely recognisable from a year ago! That’s showbiz for you!

Anyway, I was interested to see if he was doing anything radically different (he wasn’t) and watched the programme, in which very much like myself, he visits clients in their homes to deal with dog behavioural problems.

GOOD STUFF

I was pleased to see that, like myself and unlike many new-age behaviourists, he doesn’t rely on a never ending stream of  ‘tasty treats’. I won’t repeat stuff I’ve previously blogged about food reward, but basically it is of little use in dealing with aggression issues.

It certainly has its place in training some dogs, although the ridiculous levels of chain treat feeding one sees at so many puppy training classes these days, is borderline abuse in my opinion. No wonder there is a serious obesity problem in UK dogs these days.  Over use of treats often also results in excessively demanding behaviour from dogs, where the owner ends up having little choice but to continuously feed treats to get some semblance of calmness from their dog. There is JUST NO NEED FOR IT! Sorry, I know I said I wouldn’t repeat myself but………!

He also told the clients that it is actually not a bad thing to tell a dog off if it’s behaviour warranted it. You would not believe that these days there are trainers out there who will never verbally reprimand a dog, no matter how appalling its behaviour and many make a huge deal of even disallowing the use of the word ‘no’. I personally prefer to make an interruption noise myself, rather than get involved in dialogue which can reveal our nervousness, stress or apprehension to a dog when we converse with them at times of conflict. Certainly though, if we ignore bad behaviour and praise the good (if it ever arrives) as so many misguided behaviourists advocate, problem behaviour of any significance is unlikely to be reduced.

BAD STUFF
I didn’t like the way Graeme faced up to and stared down a seemingly aggressive Great Dane, where in my opinion he showed poor judgement and perhaps a lack of experience. Apart from anything else, it sent out bad signals to those watching the programme who might try the same approach and get themselves bitten.I am fairly sure he actually knew that the dog wasn’t aggressive at all and was simply barking territorially, because the small dog gate between him and the dog would have been no barrier to this very large dog if he had really meant it. However, the case was portrayed as an aggression case and there was no warning to viewers not to use such techniques themselves, which is the very least the programme makers should have done.

In another case, a nasty little poodle was coming between its owner and her boyfriend, who it would attack whenever he tried to get near her. Graeme taught the owner that there needed to be a consequence for the behaviour and the dog was removed from the sofa every time it reacted inappropriately. They were taught to praise the dog as soon as it stopped it’s inappropriate behaviour, which I personally would not recommend.

In my experience, if we interrupt inappropriate behaviour then swiftly follow with praise when the behaviour ceases, we are likely to confuse the dog and in many cases the behaviour will continue, as the dog thinks it is being praised for the original linked behaviour.

For me, if the dog behaves inappropriately he will not be praised when he ceases. Instead he will be immediately and firmly be removed and possibly excluded for a short time. To be honest, the poodle in this programme would have long been banished from the sofa if I’d been dealing with the case. This sort of resource guarding of owners by lapdog types is becoming much more frequent now with the popularity of the so-called handbag dogs.

Any effusive praise needs to be given on each and every occasion when interactions which previously would have resulted in aggression, pass without any inappropriate behaviour at all. Timing of praise is key and one has to be careful in aggression cases, even when the dog is not actually growling, snapping or baring its teeth, because we may not be aware what the dog is thinking.

So one also has to observe the general body language and facial expression of the dog, because if we praise it when it is possibly considering showing actual aggression, that mistimed praise can actually trigger an aggressive response as the dog feels it is being praised for its intentions and then reacts accordingly. So just because the growling has stopped, does not necessarily mean we can praise. It’s the same principle reason why we never reassure a dog which is acting fearfully either.

I certainly felt sorry for Graeme regarding the serious illness being suffered by one of his Rottweilers Axel, which I believe has since died. Over the past thirty-odd years, I have endured this many times and have lost two of our Rottweilers in the last few months, which never gets any easier.

Anyway, I’m not sure if there will be further programmes but if there are, I will watch with interest. Graeme has been dubbed Britain’s top dog trainer by much of the easily impressed media. I’m sure he himself knows he isn’t as it takes a lot longer than six or seven years to even be considered alongside some of the greats like John Rogerson, Robert Alleyne and countless others.
PETER MOUNSEY, ASHCLYST DOG TRAINING & BEHAVIOUR DEVON MARCH 2017