Tag Archives: dog psychologist

The Great “Dog Whisperer” Hoax

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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  They feel outdated, and much damage has been done to dogs in the name of these theories.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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Two Books That Will Change Your Life – For Reals!

I know, we’ve heard this so many times….”this cake recipe will change your life”, “this job will change your life”, “yoga will change your life”.  Well, the cake recipe only changed my thighs.  The job became the bane of my life.  And the yoga…actually, the yoga did change my life, but that’s for a different post.  That’s why I only have two books on this list, because they actually did rock my world.

1.  The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World :  John Robbins

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I read this book on a boring Sunday.  I really could not have cared less about diet or food, having always eaten whatever I wanted.  I thought vegetables were something rabbits ate and used to tease my vegetarian friends (yes, I was one of those people who I complained about in a previous post). Suffice to say, this was not 50 Shades of Grey – there were no titillating tales, there was no tabloid journalism.

But this book completely changed my relationship to animals and to food.  His book was indeed ‘revolutionary’ at the time it was published.  Since then, there have been countless other books about factory farming.   But in this book, the author gently introduces you to these practices without inundating you with horror stories. He writes at a pace that allows you to digest the information he’s presenting and he gives clear guidelines as to what you can do if you are affected by the book.

John Robbins is actually the son of the man who opened Baskin Robbins, the huge ice-cream chain.  He was set up to be the heir to this fortune, until he understood what actually goes on in the dairy industry.  His book is therefore very personal, and written from the heart, whilst being meticulously researched. I turned vegan that Sunday, despite being a card-carrying meat-eater and ice-cream-lover the day before.  I hate people who preach about their lifestyle choices, so I won’t do that here.  But if this book simply inspires you to have another look at what you’re eating, that’s good enough.

2.  The Other End of the Leash : Patricia B. McConnell

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Patricia McConnell has an incredible writing ‘voice’.  Her humanity, kindness and humour shines in every page of this book.    This is not some fluffy ‘dog whisperer’ type of book.  She really knows her stuff.

I came to this book after spending hundreds of dollars on ‘dog psychologists’, ‘behaviourists’, etc.  I felt that I was getting all these rules and advice about how to train my dogs (some of which was good advice), but my relationship with my dogs was suffering as I wanted to force them to ‘heel’ or whatever.  I had a particularly distasteful experience when I went to a famed dog training school.  The teachers forced us to use ‘choker chains’ to teach our dogs to walk, even though they were perfectly capable of walking on normal collars.  The military-style teacher barked at my husband “Pull the chain harder, you’re too soft on your dogs!” whilst the dogs looked terrified.  We walked out of that class halfway in.

 Don’t get me wrong, there are some fantastic trainers around, but we often ignore our gut feeling about some of the dodgy ones because they are the ‘experts’.    This book is all about how to maintain and enhance your relationship with your dog, even if your dog can’t do a perfect ‘heel’.  Again, it’s a very personal book, written with a great deal of passion.

What books have changed your life?  

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