I am definitely a country girl. I feel safe and comfortable with fewer people and more animals and fields. I would be happier to walk alone in a wood than walk down a busy high street. I know this and am very grateful that I live in a quiet village surrounded by countryside.
This fact was really brought to my attention when my husband and I went to Wembley. We have been a few times before, but Jon wanted to be in the crowds on the pitch area – so no seats. I agreed knowing that this wouldn’t be my choice and that I may not be able to cope being surrounded by so many people, but I was willing to try.
So, we got the train into London, my stress levels are already slightly higher, checking the map to see what underground to use, what time and which platform – I am out of my comfort zone. I have been to London often, and I do love it, but it causes me stress as it’s not my normal. I have to concentrate more, and I worry about things I don’t usually. So I am in a heightened state, but this doesn’t mean I’m not excited as well, but my adrenalin is definitely pumping.
A few train changes and we then walk into Wembley. We work our way to nearish the front (well Jon would have been closer I’m sure) and I was doing ok. There was some space around us, and we started to enjoy the warmup acts. Over the next 2 hours more and more people were arriving and our space that we thought we have ‘claimed’ was shrinking. Then Coldplay come onto the stage, the crowd erupts and the dancing starts. I love dancing and was initially doing ok. Yes, I kept being bumped into by the surrounding crowd, but I was telling myself to keep calm! I was enjoying myself, but just really wanted a bit more space. My back started to complain that I had been stood up for many hours. All this started to ruin my enjoyment of the show and after about an hour, I told Jon I needed space. We managed to squeeze through the crowd and get to the edge. Fresh air!!! Wow I hadn’t realised how tense I had actually got, and the relief felt amazing. I was able to stretch my back, to have no one in my personal space and was actually able to see the stage clearer, so was able to finish to show feeling so much better.
However, my anxiety hadn’t finished yet. Because as the concert started to come to an end I was thinking about the underground. Most of these thousands of people will be leaving at the same time and all heading towards the station. The walk towards the station was a real challenge to me. Thousand of people all working their way around stairs, barriers, security staff and then a train platform and the train itself. Sardines came to mind. Jon was of course doing his best to help me, to sometimes create a barrier between other people. A few stations along, the train gained space and I was able to sit and travel back to the hotel.
So why did I put myself through this?
Simple; I choose to.
I knew that it would find parts of it challenging but the overall outcome would be enjoyment. Yes, being on the pitch area wasn’t for me, and yes if it was possible, I would choose not to do big crowds, but I really enjoy live music and I really wanted to see Coldplay.
So why I am telling you all this?
Well, it got me thinking about dogs that need space. We usually call these ‘reactive’ dogs. You’ve probably seen them or might have one yourself. These dogs when too close to a ‘trigger’ such as other dogs or people, will bark, lunge and react in a way that we would choose they did. Well. I felt like a ‘space’ dog during my trip, but the difference is that I choose to do it. I made the decision, I knew what was going to happen, I was able to plan ahead, I was also able to change my mind and move away when I needed to. I didn’t need to ‘bark’ to get space, I simply moved away or was able to talk to myself and keep calm and work through a situation, knowing there was an end coming.
What if I wasn’t given choice? What if I didn’t know what was happening? What if I couldn’t just move away and to make myself feel better? What if I was attached to another species that didn’t understand my communication? Now can you see why I am comparing my experience with that of a ‘reactive’ dog? A dog that struggles in certain situations. Dogs that aren’t given the choice. That aren’t understood and are just seen as disobedient?
Some dogs would prefer to be a county dog. Some dogs love the busyness of town life. Some dogs are social butterflies, some prefer their own space. I believe we can help either version of dog to adapt to living in any environment, to have skills to be around their ‘triggers’, but it may take time and understanding on how to help them cope if this isn’t easy for them. We also need to understand that they all have their own personality, and we should be their advocate, so they don’t have to experience daily stress.
Will I go to Wembley again? Yes!
Will I still probably struggle with the crowds? Yes!
Will I choose seats next time? Yes! (sorry Jon).
However, I gain confidence in that I have choice and know I will be with people that can help me if I need it. Your dog might need some help and support too, so watch, listen, are they doing ok with what you want from them? Do they need something more from you to reduce their stress? If you would like any support, then don’t hesitate to get in touch.
I have been wanting to write this for a while but due to me not wanting to risk the criticism I have stopped myself. There are very strong opinions on this subject.
I have previously written about making sure people do their research before working with a trainer or behaviourist to make sure they are accredited and use force free methods, but I have always made my posts quite ‘polite’.
However, I keep seeing so many balanced trainers posting videos on Facebook or Instagram that I have to speak up. I want to make sure as many people as possible know that there are other options when training dogs (or any animal) that don’t cause fear or pain.
So let’s clarify what a balanced trainer is. They will usually say they are based in science as they use all the quadrants of learning. That means they will use reinforcements and rewards as well as punishment and fear equally, hence the ‘balanced’ term. Their argument is that science shows that an animal can learn by using these methods and therefore get the wanted results so why would they not use them. However, when I read these arguments about the best methods to use to train a dog, the subject that is missing from balanced trainers is ethics and welfare of the animal.
Does punishment work – in short – yes! If you threaten me with violence or a knife, I will most likely comply, and I’ll do what you want me to do. However, do I trust you now? Do I want to be near you? No! Am I doing the behaviour due to fear – yes. The prediction of pain – the sound of the buss from an electric shock collar, or metal jangle of the prong collar – I would do my best to avoid the pain. So over time can you see that although the behaviour might be learnt (why risk causing pain) I would live in a world of fear and intimidation. I would shut down and wouldn’t feel that I had choices and therefore just wouldn’t engage. The risk of making a mistake would be too great, so I would simply stop. This might look like a very well-trained dog – to me all I see is a broken spirit; the light has gone from their eyes.
Or the other possibility is that I would learn to fight back. To not accept that I had to comply and would react, show aggression by growling or biting. That would most likely result in that person having to use more intensive punishment to get the same result. I would be branded as stubborn, or wilful, or not knowing my place in the pack. Perhaps I am a certain breed, and I need a firmer hand (this isn’t true by the way). The ‘explosion’ of a dog that has just had enough, and the bite that comes out of nowhere. The behaviour is suppressed, not resolved, and it’s likely to rear its head at some point.
Dogs are sentient beings which means they have emotions. They can experience stress, anxiety and fear. This can impact their physical and mental health. If humans are the more intelligent species, it is up to us to make sure we use that brain power for the better. We must treat animals with respect and understanding. Punishment, fear and intimidation should not be in any trainer’s toolbox. The consequences of using such methods should be highlighted. The ‘fallout’ is rarely talked about.
Yes, we do need to train our dogs to listen and respond to us for their safety and to have manners to live in our human world. However, there are proven force free reward-based methods that achieve these goals and doesn’t cause any negative fallout. We keep our loving relationship with our dogs, and they can trust and rely on us. We work together to achieve the goal behaviour.
Ethics and welfare of the animal when thinking about methods used to train are a must.
I know most of you on my page will already agree with me, but I can honestly say most of you will have family or friends that aren’t aware and it’s up to us to help educate people. Can I therefore encourage you talk, to have conversations about focusing on having a relationship with your dog that is of trust and respect and not fear and negative consequences. Let’s do our part to change what is considered normal or even needed in training. Let’s be the change!