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Totally Flabergasted…

I should have blogged yesterday but some crazy events occurred during the weekend and I was simply too bothered by them to be able to sit down and write.

I’ve been replaying the events in my head and been contemplating whether or not to blog about it. A part of me thinks it’s totally unprofessional but another part says that maybe people can learn from my story.

I know I harp on the idea of being your dog’s advocate as being a critical part of responsible dog owners ship; well, this weekend I really had to put my money where my mouth is. I’m pretty sure advocating for my dog contributed to a potential student withdrawing from a class but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I bring Rio with me during my orientations as a demo dog. He demonstrates the skills we will cover, he demonstrates the homework for the first week, and we generally play a timing game with him so students can work on their timing with their marker words/clickers. He’s been my demo dog for over a year with hundreds of students, there has never so much as been a flicker of a problem. He is a gentleman when working the crowd, responds beautifully to me when demoing, and is willing to work for students if I have time to play a second game where they each get him to do a behavior.

I always make sure the group is okay if I let him off-leash to mingle before I do (and if someone isn’t comfortable, I don’t) and am very aware of what he’s doing while I talk. If he’s getting too lovey with someone or is being a distraction, my assistant will keep him busy or I’ll give him a Kong.

I was left absolutely flabbergasted and fumbling for words after an event this weekend. A potential student attending class was trying to get Rio to sit. She was leaning over him, staring into his eyes, and very forcefully telling him to sit. He looked at me and looked confused so I called him to me to demo something. I kept him busy and with me for most of the remainder of the class but I then used him to demonstrate greeting people appropriately using a hand target and afterwards let him o back to saying hi to the group (which he really likes to do).

He had been avoiding the student who was a bit inappropriate with him but she called him over and tried again to get him to sit. She leaned down even closer to his face, staring at him and forcefully telling him to sit. I was watching this and was about to call him back over to me when I saw her grab his collar and move her hand to start pushing down on his hips to push him into a sit. It all happened so fast and I was SHOCKED by what I was seeing that it took me a second to react.

Before she could do anything more than grab his collar I stopped, mid-word, what I was telling the class and requested that she not yank on his collar like that, “Oh, please don’t pull up on his collar like that. He doesn’t know that means to sit and he’s very sensitive.” I called him away once she let go and explained that he wasn’t trained to respond to his collar being pulled on and his butt pushed to the floor. I told her that he was probably not responding to her for a few different reasons. Leaning over him wasn’t body language that is friendly, that she had an accent and that he may not understand what she was asking, and that he had no motivation to respond to her. I hated calling her out and after the initial interaction was planning on talking to her after class but Rio is my first concern and her behavior was really unacceptable and potentially dangerous.

Ignoring for a moment that she was going to yank up on the collar and push his hips to the ground, she is extremely lucky that Rio is the dog that he is. Her body language alone could have easily caused a dog to bite. She was leaning over a strange dog, staring into the eyes, forcefully saying a command, all with a very stiff body posture–even a friendly dog could react quite negatively to such inappropriate interactions from a stranger.

I didn’t want to offend the student but I had to advocate for Rio. I knew that there was a good chance she would drop out of the class as a result but I’d rather deal with those ‘consequences’ than have Rio start to fear people or stop enjoying coming to work with me (though it is not the only reason there were a few other issues involved). It’s my job to be Rio’s advocate and this was a moment where he really needed me to advocate for his well being.

Anyhow, I was extremely flustered after this and have been replaying this in my head for a few days… should I completely stop bringing Rio to class? Should I have stopped letting him mingle the first time I noticed the inappropriate interaction? What could I have done differently?

Fortunately, what’s done is done and there’s nothing to do about it now besides learn from it. I’m not totally happy at the outcome (losing a student and probably offending her) but at the same time, I will always advocate for my dogs.

18 Comments
  1. Tena,
    You said it nicely and you saved Rio from being forced into a sit. Good for you. I don’t think you should stop the way you have been doing the demoing because of one incident when there have been hundreds that did NOT have troubles.
    What you may do in the future is use that as a teaching moment..why Rio didn’t sit in the first place, discuss body language and dog communication..have the same person do it in a relaxed manner or demo it yourself so that she can understand what went wrong. The potential student was frustrated and needed guidance..so yes, you advocated for Rio, next time let the student know why you had to do so. It is NOT inappropriate to let them know they’ve made a mistake…it just needs to be done in a nice and educational manner. Then it is up to them to take it in anyway that they feel. You did your job.

    • In a very rushed and surprised manner I did mention WHY he may not have been responding to her–her body language, the fact that he had no reason to listen to her (history of reinforcement or desire to please a stranger), and that she had an accent that he may not have understood what she was asking (which in itself is probably offensive but true).

      So it was a bit of a teachign moment but i was SO caught off guard that it wasn’t very cohesive… I was just so shocked.

  2. I very much agree with the comment above- you had to do something, but you could have used it as a training moment for the students, to show them why he didn’t sit, why he was confused.

    • I didn’t write about it but I did mention why he probably wasn’t listening to her–though it probably wasn’t very in depth because I was so flustered (which is also probably why i didn’t remember to write it)

  3. Tena,

    You are an excellent teacher with excellent people skills. What you did was appropriate, but I know how things can weigh on one’s mind. After having hundreds of students who’ve behaved appropriately, this one might be an anomaly. Next time, though, as soon as you see something you’re uncomfortable with, maybe you could keep Rio on leash right next to you for the remainder of the class. Hopefully, there won’t be a next time.

    When I get those eyes from my pup, I wonder if I’m reading her correctly, but I’ll try to gently say to the offending person, “She’s saying, ‘Mum, I don’t want to be bothered.'” What I’ve noticed is that people get offended when someone advocates for their dog. They seem to think, “It’s JUST A DOG!” Teaching class might be a lot easier if people weren’t involved, huh? šŸ˜‰

    Now, the only problem is that this person probably NEEDED to take a class so she could learn how to behave around dogs.

    The suggestions about using it as a teaching moment are great!

    • Thanks Susan, I do try hard to be as positive with people as I am with dogs so I feel I let myself down a bit by getting so flustered and not really being able to think of a more appropriate way to talk to her but it is what it is–I had to stand up for Rio. I do plan on keeping Rio with me during demos… everyone seems to really love him, he does a great job being a demo dog, and he really does like to demo for me.

      But lesson definitely learned… if I experience a similar situation he’ll be put away with a Kong to prevent the problem.

  4. I’m flabbergasted too. Why would you do that with somebody else’s dog? In his face, then collar grab and force him? And what it is with people wanting to get stranger-dogs to sit? That. Is. Not. Your. Dog. I’m sorry that you may have lost a student, but it’s better sooner rather than later, I guess.

    Frequently, if somebody says Elka’s name, she whips her head around to me like “Hey! They know my name!”

    • Yeah… I understand that there are indeed still trainers out there who use those methods and I can accept that….but to try to do that to a dog you don’t know, that’s just dangerous. I’m lucky Rio has been desensitized to collar grabs so he wasn’t totally freaking out but he was definitely not happy about it.

      It wasn’t going to be a good match anyhow, regardless of the explanation to why we use treats and why we don’t use choke chains, she was not very keen on not using her choke chain and not using physical punishments.

  5. Bravo! to you for standing up for Rio! He counts on you as much as you count on him, in different ways but you both work together. I am sorry you lost the chance to help the other person learn how to better communicate with dogs, but I am glad it was not at the expense of Rio doing something good and fun and helpful. I wish more people would be strong advocates for their pets, kids, elderly family members. Please DO NOT feel bad that you stood up for him.

    • I don’t feel bad that I stood up for him…because it IS part of my job (and a part I take seriously) but I do feel badly that I had to call her out publicly and that in doing so I probably didn’t make the best impression on the other students (though it seems they were unphased). I’d do it again in a heartbeat but hopefully there won’t be a next time and if there is, I’ll to better at managing the situation and preventing it in the first place. Thanks for the support!

  6. I think you did the only thing you could do in this situation. It’s a shame you lost a student, but truly, what else could you have done? Rio has to be your first priority. You took care of your dog, which was exactly what you should have done.

    • Thanks for the support and encouragement. Other than being better at preventing the issue at hand (lesson learned) and being less flustered (so I could respond in a better fashion) there wasn’t much else to do. Hopefully there won’t be a next time …but I’ll also advocate for Rio and try to keep him safe… he’s a monster but is a SUPER sensitive guy and I would hate for him to start not wanting to come to work with me and stop being so lovey with all students.

  7. Well done Tena, you definately did the right thing.

  8. I just want to add in with the others that I think you absolutely did the right thing. Rio is such a social little guy and what this woman was doing was more than inappropriate, it was just plain rude. Rio is not her dog and forcing any dog to sit in this manner, especially when the dog is not your own and the actual owner is right there, is nothing short of obnoxious. I only hope I would have the guts to speak out in the same situation. Rio has to come first.

    Do you know for certain this woman was offended? Maybe by calling her out you taught her an important lesson on appropriate canine interactions. You never know but I wouldn’t be surprised if she came back.

    • Thanks Kristine. Yeah she won’t be coming to class … before this even happened we had some issues with getting her proof of vaccines (rabies in particular) and she didn’t feel she need paper proof of vaccines (she brought in a tag) and when we insisted (and explained WHY a tag wasn’t sufficient) she said that she would not be coming to class if she had to provide paper proof.

      Rio does have to come first and I really don’t feel warm and fuzzy about what happened but I do have to stick up for my sensitive little man.

  9. Grabbing the collar of a strange dog? seriously? Gwynn’s friendly with everyone, but he would freak out the moment he felt as trapped as that. Your description of her almost sounds like she was trying to get a rise out of him on purpose!
    it’s tough, but it sounds like this woman wasn’t interested in training the way you do anyways, so she’s unlikely to have been a great addition to your classes.

  10. I see TOO many people not standing up for their dogs and this turns around and ends up hurting the person. Maybe you felt bad about embarrassing her, but she was in the wrong and obviously not as dog savvy as she thought. If someone handled my dog that way, it is very likely they would lose a finger. Rio is YOUR dog who has been trained with YOU and doesn’t need any help from her. I hate to sound harsh and insensitive to your training class, but she was being harsh and insensitive to Rio. In short: you took care of Rio and now he can go on being a shining social example while she goes on doing whatever she does.

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