Sunday, March 13, 2011

Must have had a bad experience.....

I realize I am far behind in keeping up with this blog, but I heard a conversation yesterday that I felt compelled to expound on.  I was in an *unnamed pet store* and overheard a couple talking to the pet store employee and asking for advice on grooming because their dog doesn't like to be brushed.  The woman said he moves away and tries to avoid it, to which the clerk responded "he must have had a bad experience."

First, let's examine our source of information.  A pet store clerk.  While it is possible this person is an experienced dog trainer, the odds are against it. Particularly in view of the comment, "he must have had a bad experience."
What this couple will take away from the conversation is an excuse for their pet's bad behavior, which they will likely pass along when they relate their brushing woes to friends.  It ranks right up there with the "he must have been abused" suggestion that accompanies any shy dog.

It is certainly possible that they used the wrong brush, or pressed hard or just caught a twisted piece of hair and it caused pain to the dog.  But since they did not admit to being the culprits, they appeared to be blaming whoever had the dog before them-- the breeder, store, rescue organization or shelter.  It is also possible that the dog simply didn't want to be restrained and protested by moving away or trying to nip at them to stop it and they released him.  Behavior that is rewarded is likely to be repeated.  Therefore, if the dog learned misbehaving equals freedom, he will likely do it again.  And a little behavioral phenomena called the "extinction burst" means that his attempts will persist longer and more fiercely the next time, and things will get worse before they get better. Much like an episode of Super Nanny.  And the poor, bewildered "pet parents" fall back on the suggestion that their darling was abused, when what he really is, is simply a dog acting the brat.

Some dogs love to be groomed and some learned to tolerate it.  Either way, they generally do not start out standing like little statues whilst you pull and comb at their hair.  They need to be trained, and hopefully using positive reinforcement.

What I did not hear the clerk asking is "what brush do you use, and how do you use it?"  The clerk did not suggest rewarding the dog for small successes. Or elevating it to a position where it felt less secure and likely to run off.  Why? Because the clerk probably did not know.  That isn't her job. Her job is to sell the products that their company tells them to stock and sell.  She has no choice in the quality of those products. In one case, I advised a store that a food they still had stocked on their shelves had been recalled.  But for some reason,  on many occasions I have heard people in the pet stores asking clerks for training and feeding advice.

In your life with your dog, many people will offer advice. Quite often, the least knowledgeable offer that advice because they are thrilled to finally find someone who knows even less than they do! If you seek out advice, ask the person what their experience and training is in that area because you want to make certain that you are doing the best by your canine partner. We all start out not knowing anything, and there is no shame in that. Whether you remain that way is up to you. Choose your mentors and resources wisely.