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My Pet World: Author distressed about dog training

November 08, 2011|By Steve Dale

Author Jennifer Arnold couldn't say it all in her first book, "Through a Dog's Eyes," so she wrote a second book, "In a Dog's Heart" (Spiegel and Grau, New York, NY, 2011; $25). In the new book, she focuses a lot on the connection we can develop with our dogs, and how unwavering and absolute that bond can be — although scientists don't completely understand how.

Arnold also expresses distress about the way some people are training their dogs.

"I'll come right out and tell you, because I do it in the book," Arnold said by phone from Milton, Ga. "Cesar Millan and those punitive methods — I've been criticized for calling him out, but he represents a movement that has been tremendously damaging to dogs and relationships."

Arnold points out that dogs are decidedly not wolves, as Millan suggests. They're also not pack animals. Even in Third World countries where stray dogs travel together, they don't hunt cooperatively, as some wolf species or lions do.

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And dogs that travel together don't seem to struggle to determine who's "dominant" at every turn; the dominant dog often varies, depending on context.

"In any case, dogs know that we are not dogs," Arnold added. "There's no point in acting dominant (toward) them."

She begins to laugh.

"Do you really think that by holding a dog by the scruff of the neck or rolling a dog over, the dog then thinks, 'Oh, now I'll listen because that's what my mother would do?' It doesn't make any sense, but people are buying into this," Arnold said.

"All this demonstrates is that people are unpredictable, or at least you are unpredictable — and a reactive dog or a dog stuck in a fight-or -flight situation may bite. Dogs are then destroyed as a result."

Some argue that there are different methods to train dogs, and depending on the individual dog and personal preferences of the owners, there's really no right or wrong technique.

Arnold paused for a moment — instead of uttering a word which may not be suitable for a family audience —and simply responded: "There is right from wrong. Just follow the science, if not your heart. If every veterinary behaviorist on the planet says a particular approach is dangerous, it probably is.

"Besides," she added, "why in the world would you want to set up an adversarial relationship with your dog?"

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