In honor of Pit
Bull Awareness Day tomorrow, October 27 , I thought I’d share the
story of how one pit bull changed not only my perception of the breed, but the
direction of my entire life.
It was my very first day volunteering at a local shelter, PAWS in
Lynnwood, WA, when I met Gilmore. At the time I was making a good living as a
master finisher in the hardwood flooring business, but the main focus of my
life was my band. I had been a musician since a young age and was living out my
rock and roll fantasy playing nightclubs, making albums, and going out on tour.
I was never concerned with “making it big” but after nine years we had achieved
modest success receiving airplay and critical acclaim from all over the world,
and even had one of our songs used in a popular video game. I thought that
there was no greater buzz than the feeling of standing on a stage, watching an
audience rock out to the music I was playing. I lived for that feeling.
I had always wanted to volunteer at a shelter but put it off for
years mainly because I wasn’t sure if I could handle it. Just going to the
shelter to pick out a new companion had been an extremely emotional experience
for me. I was overwhelmed by the number of great dogs looking for homes and
saddened by those who were victims of abuse or neglect. But after watching an episode
of Animal Cops with tears streaming down my face I decided it was time to get
tough because I simply HAD to do more.
I got to be a kennel attendant which meant that I helped tp feed
and water the dogs, clean their kennels, monitor post-surgery dogs, and my
favorite part: help to socialize them. The minute I started, all my
preconceived notions of being in the shelter environment vanished. Far from
being a dismal place, it was instead a place of hope where these societal
misfits were given a second chance on life. The truth was that for some dogs,
it was the best place they had ever been because they now had food twice a day,
clean water, and a warm dry place to sleep.
On my first day, after all the cleaning and feeding duties were
finished I got to walk through the shelter and go into the kennel of almost any
dog to socialize with them. I was immediately drawn to those who looked sad or
frightened and it was amazing to watch most of them come around after a minute
or two by just being calm and non-threatening. I had worked my way through the
wards when I came to Gilmore. He was a young male pit bull who seemed really
stressed out, circling in his kennel. While I had an open mind about dogs in
general, I was still wary of pit bulls because like most people, I bought into
all the bad hype that is continually perpetuated by the media. I had never
actually met a pit bull before and Gilmore was a little scary looking with his
cropped ears. Still, there was something in his eyes that made me look past all
that. I took a deep breath and stepped into his kennel.
I was immediately overwhelmed by the happiest, most wiggly dog I
had ever met. His circular pacing was now replaced with enthusiastic jumping,
happy cries, and a determined effort to lick my face. I was caught entirely off
guard and just decided to sit down so he would stop jumping. As soon as I did
he climbed into my lap, flopped over on his back and let out a great big sigh.
He calmed down in an instant and then looked right into my eyes as if to say “You’re
the best thing that’s happened to me today.” I knew right then and there that
there was a buzz much more powerful than standing on any stage, and it was as
simple as helping an animal in need. In that moment I made the very conscious decision
to dedicate the rest of my life to helping dogs and I have never turned back.
Gilmore was sweet, gentle, and goofy -the antithesis of the media
image. This big marshmallow was so content to just sit and snuggle that I
stayed with him until the end of my shift. This single dog opened my eyes to
the real nature of pit bulls: loyal, loving, and eager to please. I have worked
with many, many pit bulls since then and they have become my favorite breed
because of those qualities. The truth is, if you adopt a pit bull from a shelter,
he is going to be one of the best dogs you will ever have because in order to
make it through the shelter system he has to be PERFECT: no aggression, no
guarding, and good with kids, cats, and dogs. Sadly, pit bulls with minor
behavior issues that can be corrected tend to be put down because most shelters
don’t have the resources to rehabilitate them.
It took a few months but Gilmore did find his forever home and I
bet he’s snuggling in a lap right now. I went on to volunteer for several more
years before taking a job at the Seattle Humane Society, graduating from the
Seattle School of Canine Studies and becoming a professional trainer. I still
play music and I still love rock and roll, but now I live for dogs and that’s
the greatest buzz of all.
Recently a client of mine told me they had begun using an
“e-collar” in place of the anti-barking protocol I established for them.
“E-collar” is a rather innocuous term for an electronic shock collar which
emits an electric shock as an aversive “correction” to undesired behavior. I
was horrified to hear this because I know that using harsh aversives to train a
dog can lead to complex behavioral issues down the line, and their dog was
simply a healthy young puppy still learning his boundaries. I did not have much
specific knowledge of shock collars, and she described their use of it as very
limited, so rather than letting our training session get sidetracked with a
long discussion about animal learning theory, I gave her a skeptical OK,
telling her I would prefer they didn’t use it all. I decided to research the
subject further so I could present her with more information and wrote this
letter in hopes of dissuading her:
At your last session we discussed your use of an electronic shock
collar to curb Rover’s* barking, and while I expressed my skepticism and
concern, I did give you the go ahead to use it sparingly. I had limited
knowledge about electronic shock collars, and rather than just giving you a
textbook “no”, I wanted to explore the subject further to see if there was any
compelling scientific research to validate their use. Here’s what I found:
Every article I could find supporting the use of electronic shock
collars was, without exception, written by someone without any scientific
background in animal behavior. They were most often written by trainers
employing traditional methods, which use harsh aversives, who cited their own
experience as expertise. I did find two articles which quoted an actual
certified animal behaviorist, Stephen R. Lindsay, from a book which is 13 years
out of date. I could find no credible scientific research in favor of their
I did however, find a mountain of credible scientific research
against their use and I’ve included some links for you to read further on the
subject. The first describes a scientific study done in 2004. It’s a bit
technical and lengthy, but researchers concluded that:
“Avoidance behavior and fear postures during the shocks indicated
that the shock elicited both pain and fear and, therefore, were not just a
distraction or nuisance.”
“ even when compared to working dogs trained using choke chain
and pinch collar corrections, dogs trained with electronic shock collars showed
more fear and anxiety behaviors than those trained by other traditional police
dog and watchdog methods.”
“Both dogs trained using
electronic shock collars and those trained with other traditional coercive
methods (choke chain, pinch collar, physical punishment) showed more signs of
fear and anxiety when being trained than when on a free walk.”
The second is a compilation of arguments and firsthand accounts
from reliable sources put together by Cathy Toft, an educated trainer
experienced in the use of electronic shock collars. It contains statements from
the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, Dr. Karen Overall from the
American College of Veterinary Behavior, and the UK Association of Pet Dog
Trainers against the use of electronic shock collars. The US Association of Pet
Dog Trainers does not have a statement because, as an association, they are
trying to include traditional trainers in order to create a dialogue between
them and positive trainers. But even their website states:
should not be used by novice dog owners or by trainers who are not properly
instructed in their use. Use of electronic training collars can result in
trauma to your dog and generally are not recommended by positive reinforcement
So clearly, an electronic shock collar creates pain, fear, and/or
anxiety; none of which are effective or appropriate tools for training a dog.
It is also clear that use of an electronic shock collar causes lasting long
term side effects. Other research concluded that the pain from an electronic
shock collar will linger for 2-10 seconds after the initial shock. With timing
being such a crucial element of training, a 2-10 second window of pain
communicates a very unclear message to Rover about his behavior. He is a
healthy well rounded individual; each shock he receives from the collar is a
step towards fear, anxiety, and aggression issues down the line.
In conclusion, after doing extensive research on the subject I am
in complete opposition to any further use. I must recommend that you stop using
the electronic shock collar immediately and return to the established anti-bark
protocol that I outlined in previous training sessions. I encourage you to read
the information and I hope it will convince you not to use this dangerous
shortcut in training any longer. A sweet little guy like Rover will benefit far
more from patience and understanding.
August Henrich, CCS
One Dog at a Time
*names have been changed to
protect my client’s privacy
client recently asked me about reprimanding his dog for undesired behavior.
This is a common question and the answer is usually surprising to people who
have tried traditional methods involving some type of aversive punishment.
I ever say "Bad Dog"? At night
Ruby has started to huff 3-5 times when she hears a strange sound and then lets
out a howl - should I get a shaker can and rattle when she does this?
questions! I don't like "Bad Dog" for a few reasons.
- It almost always contains an
element of anger- not good for bonding.
- It assigns morality to a dog's
actions. Dogs don't have a sense of right or wrong. They are usually engaging
in some drive related activity which, to them, makes perfect sense. Example:
getting into the garbage is a scavenging behavior. Someone leaves the lid off
the can and the dog follows his instincts; he's not thinking about whether it's
right or wrong.
- There are better ways to deal
with undesirable behaviors.
are survival based behaviors that dogs instinctively perform. The six main
drives in dogs are: barking, chewing, digging, dissecting, hunting, and
reaction to strange sounds is a great example. In the wild a dog who alerts
other members of the pack to potential danger is more likely to survive. She is
engaging in a normal drive behavior which, to you, is undesirable. To her it
makes perfect sense. I don't recommend the use of a shaker at all; good for
scaring your dog, bad for bonding, ineffective for "curing" barking.
Ruby has herding breed lineage (Border Collie), barking/alerting is a strong
drive and almost impossible to quash entirely; you can't "cure" a
drive. The good news is that Ruby is giving you fair warning before she starts
to howl by huffing a few times. Here's what to do:
you hear the first or second huff calmly but firmly say "That's Enough."
If she stops barking/alerting offer her LOTS and LOTS of positive praise -
"GOOD JOB! THANK YOU! GOOD GIRL!" etc. The positive praise is 100%
essential and what makes this method work. My Flat Coat Retriever is an alert
barker and I can assure you first hand that after trying everything else
(including shaker cans), this is what finally worked.
does not stop barking then calmly but firmly say "Time Out" and put her in another room
for 10-15 seconds (always keep “Time Outs” short or they won’t be effective).
Repeat as needed. If you are still having trouble then try having some treats
on hand; say "That's Enough" and throw some treats on the ground. As
soon as she stops to get the treats lay on the positive praise. You aren't
rewarding her for barking, you are interrupting her and rewarding her for
With my dogs I use
"That's enough" as an all-around general warning for undesired
behaviors always followed with either positive praise or a "Time Out"
as needed. It sounds too good to be true but it really works. I ALWAYS lay on
the positive praise and rarely have to give "Time Outs".
HAVE FUN TRAINING! - August Henrich, CCS
graduating from the Seattle School of Canine Studies, I was given a
chance to assist teaching public classes at Dogworks Studio in
Seattle, and became immediately hooked. I love it because it gives me
the opportunity to work with up to 12 different families and their
dogs in one hour sessions. As you can imagine this allows me to rack
up a lot of instructional experience in a short amount of time and
the constant barrage of questions really helps keep me on my toes.
This is a list of the most common advice that I give to people who
are new to training.
training is messy. Expect
to get dirty and don’t wear your best clothes. Pack hand sanitizer
or wipes when training outside your home.
be stingy with treats. Pay
your dog off well for correct behavior. Worry about getting your
dog's attention to train first, and phase treats out later.
your dog is not responding to the treat in your hand, try a handful.
More treats = more
smelly = more interesting to your dog.
environments may require higher value treats. Try
a variety of treats to find out which your dog responds best to in
distracting environments. Penny for pound home cooked meats can
often be cheaper than commercially made training treats.
mark desired behavior with “YES”. Don’t
worry if you don’t have the reward ready, capturing the moment is
essential. If you say “YES” by mistake still pay the dog off.
LOTS of praise to reinforce correct behaviors. “GOOD
JOB! GOOD DOG! THANK YOU! GOOD BOY! GOOD GIRL!” etc.
takes time, some dogs learn faster or slower than others and some
behaviors are harder to train than others.
calm. If you are
tense or frustrated your dog will be too. Take a break from training
if you feel tense. Be clear and firm in your direction, but don't
bark orders or be aggressive.
rush your training. The
most common mistake people make when training is trying to achieve
too much too fast. If you find your dog suddenly not obeying your
command, back up a few steps to a point where you know your dog will
succeed and start over from there.
feed your dog before training. A
hungry dog is more focused and ready to work. Keep the size of your
training treats small (pea sized) so your dog doesn't fill up and
your sessions short or break up long sessions with play. Several
3-5 minute training sessions can be more effective and fun for your
dog than one long one.
end on a positive note! Make
the last exercise something you know your dog will succeed at. I
like to have a few minutes of playtime after every training session
as an added incentive.
FUN TRAINING! - August Henrich, CCS
One Dog at a Time does not
currently offer group classes though we are exploring our options to
do so. If you have any questions about this blog or anything else dog
related please don't hesitate to contact us.