…then just get the hell out of dogs.  Seriously.  Somebody called us yesterday looking for help with her on-leash dog-reactive malamute.  She was frustrated because she had worked recently with a well-known, well-marketed, national training chain that I won’t name here. Anyway, these yahoos that call themselves dog trainers told her to throw water baloons at her malamute when he bark-lunged at other dogs on walks. Yeah, that’s right, WATER BALOONS.  Trust me, I couldn’t make this crap up if I tried.  The exasperated woman wanted to know if we knew how hard it was to accurately throw a water baloon at a lunging, large-breed dog.  No, in fact, I’ve never thrown a water baloon at a dog before, and frankly, I’m upset anyone has. 

Now, not only are water baloons just a silly impractical solution to a problem that actually has a highly successful treatment plan using reward-based training, it falls under the camp of positive punishment (if the dog hates the water baloons, which I assume is the idea) and will likely make this problem (usually based in insecurity) worse.  This is not a blog about healing the leash-reactive dog, there are plenty of fantastic resources on that available, like this one http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/product/the-feisty-fido.  No, instead I decided to talk about several absurd bits of advice I have heard regarding dogs, either directed at myself, my friends, or my clients before they came to me. 

I recently had someone at an agility trial tell me to alpha roll my dog, and this is not the first time I have heard this, nor the first time one of my clients or friends has heard it, and unfortunately I am sure not the last.  The “alpha rollover” is a harmful technique loosely based on faulty observations of captive wolves in the 1940s, in which the trainer flips the dog on her back in a display of “dominance,” usually yelling, and sometimes scruff-shaking. The Monks of New Skete were the first to popularize the technique (along with a bunch of other crap) and it has since stayed around.  This maneuver actively invites your dog to become physical with you, since you have engaged in a threatening gesture toward him.  It has spurred violent attacks from dogs (since, isn’t it a violent attack against the dog in the first place?) and has created aggression where there was none in numerous dogs.  In short, don’t try this at home. Ever.

Throw a can full of pennies at a barking dog.  Who hasn’t heard this one? If the dog finds the sound of the shake can aversive enough, this might stop some of the barking, but if the dog finds the thing that punishing, it’s cruel, in my book.  Most dogs find shake cans to be an annoyance, at best.  Others, like my now-passed dobe, find it kind of funny, and would like to have it as a toy.  To conclude, shake cans are a gimick, they are not for training, and usually not worth the effort in management.

Spray Binaca in your dog’s mouth if he’s barking or trying to bite.  WOW. What a terrible thing to do.  Spray that stuff in your own mouth.  Feel the tingling in your sinuses? Now imagine having about a gajillion more olfactory cells. Feel it then.  OUCH.  Most dogs find this really punishing so with luck you’ll stop the barking, and the biting, and probably get a dog that won’t let you open his mouth again, runs at the scent of mint, and might even get aggressive toward anyone chewing gum or pulling a tube of Binaca from their purse.  What a bonus! Yay!

That’s only a few of the harmful bits of advice that definately won’t help a damn thing.  This industry is full of “experts” who actually don’t have a leg to stand on.  I may sound cocky here, and believe me, I don’t think I’m the greatest trainer on earth.  But I do think the consumerism of dog training needs some serious help, and it could start with a little common sense.  Start with this: if a dog trainer tells you to do something to a dog that you wouldn’t dream of doing to a child, walk away.  If a dog professional advises you to do something that seems absurd, it probably is, and if their advice seems scary, it probably is.  Real dog training is not scary, real dog trainers do not accept being bitten as “part of the job” (in fact when we are bitten it is because we screwed up, and we try to learn from that), and real dog trainers provide dog owners with practical advice that may involve some practice, but will never involve water baloons.