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The Great “Dog Whisperer” Hoax


The Myth Of The Dog Whisperer

When Charlie was a puppy, we decided to shell out hundreds of dollars for a visit from a ‘dog psychologist’.  She came, she saw, she did not conquer.  His problem behaviours were jumping, nipping at our clothes and barking.  Her solution? Keep him outside and ignore him.  I wish I was kidding.

In time, and with experience, we came to realise that Charlie’s ‘problem’ was loneliness. Keeping him outside, as per her advice, was the worst thing we could do.  A labrador thrives on  human company. “Ignoring” him only added to his sense of isolation and frustration.  This lasted a few days, until we decided to bring him indoors.  Miraculously, all his problem behaviours subsided.  Charlie has remained a happy and loving pooch.

This “dog whisperer” came with a ton of qualifications.  She presented as extremely professional.  She had great reviews on her website.  All this served to make us ignore the fact that she was just plain wrong about our dog.

The Media

There are now an abundance of TV shows which feature famed dog whisperers or dog psychologists.  Their ‘techniques’ appear so impressive on TV.  This, in addition to the trainer’s charisma, makes for compelling television.  But invariably, when the dogs are visited a few weeks later, the problems have recurred.  A one-hour visit from a dog trainer will usually not solve serious behavioural issues.

What worries me is that we take advice from these people.  People will watch these shows and try and emulate the dog trainer’s technique on their dogs at home.  This is inevitable, despite the legalese saying “Please do not try at home”.  It’s human nature.

Do not ignore your gut feeling when choosing any trainer for your dog.  Remember that often, the emperor has no clothes.

What makes a good dog trainer?

A good trainer takes time to work with your dog.  She gets to know your dog’s personality so that she doesn’t adopt a blanket training approach.  She gives you practical information that you can use and will keep you safe (NOT ‘alpha rolls’).  Most of all, she will respect the bond between you and your dog.  This means she does not subject your dog to unnecessary pain or distress, all in the name of ‘training’.

Dominance theories

I’m not a big fan of the ‘dominance’ theories or pack theories.  They feel outdated, and much damage has been done to dogs in the name of these theories.  There has been a huge amount of research into dog behaviours since these archaic theories were formulated.  There are more humane ways of training your dog.

What you can do

One thing I found very helpful is educating myself on dog behaviour and training.  I read tons of books. I visited dog forums.  I became obsessive about knowing things for myself, rather than blindly trusting the experts.  That way, I was armed with more information when meeting a trainer and I knew what I would find unacceptable in training.

I have personally found Dr Sophia Yin’s website very helpful.  She’s got lovely, positive methods of training dogs and writes great articles.

But make up your own mind. Whatever you do, stay educated on what’s best for your dog.

What are your thoughts on dog whisperers? Have you had any bad training experiences? What’s worked for you and what hasn’t?

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Looking back, I was completely unprepared for having a dog in my life. I was a newlywed, we hadn’t moved in to our new house, and I was starting a new job.  Life was busy and stressful.  Although I had vague thoughts of having a dog ‘at some point’, it certainly was not my reality.

But when I first met Charlie, he looked at me with his sad green eyes and I knew I had to make it work.  I won’t lie, the first few months were tough.  I hadn’t done my research. I didn’t know that labradors were balls of energy, especially as puppies.  Charlie took to nipping at my clothes – now I know that he was just being a playful puppy, but at the time, I was nervous around him.      He took a long time to toilet train, mostly due to our inexperience.  There were many times I was in tears, thinking we made the wrong decision.

But I couldn’t give up on him.  There were moments where he fell asleep  and I just found my heart opening with love for him.  You couldn’t be sad for too long, because he has an insatiable appetite for life (and everything else).  And after a few months, before I knew what happened, I was head over heels in love with him.  I read everything I could about dog behaviour.  I learnt how to train him, in a positive and kind way.  I learnt that if I respected him, he respected me in turn.  I received the best help possible, especially in training him to walk on a leash, which was challenging.

Charlie has tested us in so many ways – he needed surgery on his hips at one point, and needed months of rehab afterwards.  This was an incredibly difficult time, because we hated seeing him in pain.   But his courage and resilience were so inspiring.  He also had a bowel obstruction when he was a puppy and required more surgery.

But all this means that he’s even more precious to us.  All of Charlie’s puppyish behaviours have settled down.  He knows a million tricks, such as grabbing tissue for me when I sneeze 🙂  I love the way he smells and I love his semi-snores at night.  I even love his  “Charlie Specials”…which I’ll tell you about another day. Let’s just say it involves an olfactory offence.

I could go on forever, but I will need to tell you about Hannah, Charlie’s best bud and partner-in-crime.

Tell me about the dogs in your life and why you love them.

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