Reality versus ideal
I’ve tried, as a baby dog trainer, to sit down and listen more than I talk.
I caught criticism lately for the fact that my dogs followed the commands of an (apparently mentally handicapped) electric company man who decided to open my front door when his knock wasn’t answered. Instead of running out the door, my dogs lay down at his command and he was able to close the door.
This understandable criticism comes in the form of two parts:
1) That a good dog should attack somebody who is intruding into your house, they should be home protectors.
2) Your dog should never follow another strange person’s command.
Let’s address the first criticism.
One of the things I’ve gleaned from my attempts is that, back in the day, if a dog bit a kid, it was accepted that the kid had done something stupid to provoke the dog. People had a certain respect for dogs as beings that were capable, just as horses, cows, other livestock, and people, of inflicting damage on those who were stupid. It was accepted to use a dog as a guard, under the assumption that the dog was behaving appropriately in attacking an intruder.
This was an appropriate ideal, and true. Ideally, people should respect your dog, they should respect the training and time that you have put into them. They shouldn’t run up to service dogs or working dogs or any dog, hand outstretched and mouth cooing squeaky nonsense. If a dog attacks an intruder, it is something that used to be normal, even encouraged.
But that’s not the reality.
The reality is that my master trainer, Marjorie Satterfield, sat as an expert witness on a case where a burglar had been held by the family’s Rottweiler until the police came, the family’s television on the ground next to him. The burglar was unhurt other than some scratches on his leg.
The dog was held by animal control for a year while his status as a vicious dog was debated. He never recovered from this imprisonment, and was so destroyed by the experience that eventually his family made the decision to put him down.
The truth is that dogs cannot be encouraged to use aggression in an appropriate manner in today’s reality unless they are being used by law enforcement.
The truth is that dogs are also nearly useless in the event of an actual break-in. Their value in preventing crime is in their very existence in your house – if a criminal knows that you have a dog, and they make the decision to come in anyway, they’re simply going to kill your dog.
(As can be found by a simple Google search: http://www.wmctv.com/story/19493630/dog-shot-killed-in-cooper-young-home-robbery; http://abc6onyourside.com/shared/news/features/top-stories/stories/wsyx_police-search-teen-suspects-out-robbery-dog-death-25864.shtml; http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2013/04/smoke_the_dog_killed_in_syracu.html)
Is this reality something that I like? No. Our culture has infantilized dogs out of being animals, and has no forgiveness of an aggressive animal, even if a person really tries to earn a bite. And I would much rather get robbed blind than lose my dog.
As to the second criticism, I can entirely sympathize – you’re competing, and some asshole in the audience decides to try and screw you up by throwing commands at your dog.
And if somebody was dangling around a piece of pizza, I’m pretty sure my dogs would be really tempted to abandon ship similarly.
My only caveat to the idea that a dog following another person’s command is bad, is in emergency situations. If my dog is ever lost, I want them to go to another person for help (versus becoming one of those ubiquitous Facebook pictures “Saw dog on the side of the road. Tried to get it to come into my car. Wouldn’t. Hope your dog doesn’t die.”
The best of both worlds to me would be a dog that looks to me when I’m there, and will look to another human in abnormal situations. I have worked towards this goal with intent in my dogs and I feel I have achieved it. I do understand that with some dogs, this state would be either impossible or not desirable.
Many won’t agree with me about either of these conclusions. Ultimately, my training decisions are based on what I think is best for their welfare.