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Jack Harper

Okay I'm not Jack Harper!

Agree with the above. The whole notion of what is and isn't kindness is upside down...whether in relation to children or dogs. Making them "responsible for their own actions"...the great Bill Koehler theory on training dogs is now considered cruelty. Purebred or mutt...put any dog through a program of training that makes them responsible for their own actions and guaranteed, the number of dog bites would be reduced — dramatically and thousands of dogs would be saved from their inevitable fate of death. But instead, it is considered cruel to train dogs in any manner that is actually shown to work and ultimately allow Fluffy a life free of incoherence.


Or maybe, just maybe, it has to do with media fear mongering over the data. Outside of the first couple years of the study where there were pretty wild fluctuations in the data, the past 12 years have essentially stayed pretty steady at between 2.7 and 3.0 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the population. The total number of bites then becomes just population growth (never mind, too, that dog ownership has increased quite a bit over the past decade).

It's sort of a shame that you'd buy into the media hype in order to take a pot shot at shelters (admittedly, they've attacked breeders more than enough to deserve it). But the reality is, hysteria over fear of dogs helps none of us.


I can personally attest to the fact that rescues have pulled and adopted out dogs with known bite histories. Why? Because the assumption was that they deserved a second, third or 4th chance. I have seen countless dogs with bad manners and poor socialization re-homed via rescues or well meaning people. Problem is, (and people can disagree) dogs with bite histories have no business being re-homed with families or inexperienced dog owners OR at all. Very few dog people I have met have the knowledge or ability to maintain dogs with aggressive behaviors. Worse, I think many owners refuse to acknowledge their dog as being aggressive. *case in point my neighbor "rescued" a black lab. She was poorly socialized and very submissive. She would posture, growl and snarl at people she didn't know. If approached would give every indication that she would bite. My neighbor thought this dog was wonderful and a year later while has improved, is still a dog I know would bite with little to no provocation. Interestingly, this dog is never on a leash and generally runs loose.

It seems that dogs more than ever, are being treated like undisciplined kids. Running amuck. Doing as they please, all while their adoring owner sits and watches. I hear owners all the time tell me their dog is so well trained it's "above the law" and doesn't need to be leashed. I cannot count the number of conversations I have had with owners who refused to train their pet or acknowledge their dog was out of control. And now working in an emergency room, see people being bit all the time. I always ask them.... "where did your dog come from", "why did they bite" and "how was your dog trained".... needless to say, I usually hear "a pet store or rescue", "that their dog hasn't really been trained" and "they have no idea why their dog bit or it was unprovoked".


Miss Kodee

Responsible breeding is imperative. Rescue is needed. So sad it became a popularity contest between the two.

Too many inexperienced owners adopt animals that need the care of an experienced dog owner. Too often people don't request written verification of health test from breeders. Either way, dogs suffer because as people we often fail to be responsible dog owners.

National Animal Interest Alliance

@Jack Harper: that is an important observation. One of the greatest things to happen in animal training over the last few decades is the realization that positive training techniques work (and, when used properly, almost always work BETTER), and of the fact that each of our animals has its own unique emotional and mental needs.

In many respects, I think we're actually doing a much, much better job with training than we were a quarter century ago; I would hate to go back to the days where pain and and dominance were upper-tier components of training.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to this (and this is what I think you're speaking to), in that some people take it so far as to view ANY imposition of structure, discipline, training, etc., as "cruel" to the dog. There's even a debate on whether or not crate training is a cruel infringement on a dog's freedoms. People need to understand that there is a point where kindness does more harm than good (for a great example see: young urban couple being "walked" by their dog on the sidewalk)!

@Brent: sorry you felt we were fear mongering and taking a "potshot" at shelters. Personally, I thought there was far more levity than fear in the post, but to each his own. To be clear, our critique was aimed at SOME of the more, how shall we say... "intense" members of the shelter and pet owning community -- not a general slam of shelters. We think adoption (so long as it is handled responsibly) is an absolutely wonderful option for prospective pet owners.

So if that got you at all riled, sorry for the misunderstanding. We're definitely not going to apologize for looking into whether "adopt at all costs" is contributing to dog bites, though. It's a totally legitimate question, with more than enough anecdotal evidence to justify pursuing it.

@Jes: well said. In defense of everyday pet owners, with the advancements in training techniques and resources available nowadays, there really are a lot of highly knowledgeable, responsible pet owners out there. The good apples are as good or better as they've ever been, and we think that's great. The problem is how much more prevalent (and in-your-face) the bad apples have become.

@Miss Kodee: couldn't agree with you more. The most important thing is to be responsible in your dealing with animals, and that it has become some sort of "popularity contest" is tragic!


I have to agree with the blogger, but more so, 'not Jack Harper'.

Traditional methods of dog training - notably, Bill Koehler's methods, but also Winifred Strickland's, (I cite these two because their books are so clearly written, I'm sure there are one or two others) are not 'harsh', and did not exclude kindness. Koehler trained dogs for all purposes, from protection dogs to movie dogs. Strickland trained for competition obedience. These methods are not 'punitive'; they just let the dogs know when they are wrong. Any method or tool may be misused, or used incompetently, this is no reason to exclude them from use. Do we outlaw hammers because they can be used for murder?

Another great trainer/instructor, still active, whose method can be found on line, is Lou Castle; he uses e-collars which are probably even better than the traditional 'choke collar' - I prefer the Brit's name, 'check chain'. Activists will seize on any minor detail, even the common name of a useful tool, to characterize it as abusive.

Lou's instructions and articles can be found at http://loucastle.com. Dog owners should read his entire page; it's enlightening.

Oddly, though the new 'purely positive' methods are often ineffective, no one is allowed to criticize them, and it is now very difficult to find a 'traditional' trainer. Often these methods involve the use of no-pull harnesses or halters, which are not training tools, they are merely restraints. The manufacturers of halter devices include a disclaimer on their packages which says they take no responsibility for injuries sustained to the dog from their use. Why would anyone use such a device? Does this sound 'kind'?

Harsh or abusive handling does not produce well trained, realiable dogs. Professionals are still using traditional methods; dogs in mission critical positions must absolutely be reliable. The basics of these methods still produce well mannered happy pets, and should never have been abandoned by the pet owning public.

Animal rights activists focus only on the most negative aspects of dog ownership they can find or imagine, (and much of their concern is for imaginary problems), ignoring all else. Their basic position is that animal ownership IS animal abuse; if we don't re-learn the necessary skills to train dogs, we can soon expect to lose them.


@ NAIA - Please don't give too much credence to the 'harsh' training of 'past' methods. There always have been some heavy handed trainers, and probably always will be, but those who have successfully and reliably used those traditional methods to train many dogs over a long period were not heavy handed nor harsh. Condemning a good method for the sins of the few is no better than adopting a method which works for a few, denying the rest the use of methods which were proven over at least a hundred years.

I know an animal rights oriented behaviourist trainer who uses clicker training on her own dogs, but doesn't teach it to the public. She says it's too difficult for most owners to grasp. What she recommends to most owners is the e-collar, which she also uses on her own.In fact, most successful trainers using primarily positive reinforcement methods are tempering those with a solid dash of traditional, whether they admit it or not. You can't afford to make those admissions in these very judgemental, politically correct times.

Let's not help the activists throw out the baby with the bath water. Even in competition obedience the new trend is obviously and clearly not as effective as the traditional methods. Go and watch a novice competition, few of those dogs would have qualified thirty years ago, much less scored.


@NAIA we do have great resources available now to people, more than ever. Great point! I think the issue is getting people those resources (most aren't free) and many people who need them cannot afford them.

In total agreement that more investigation is needed to determine where the bites are occurring. What population of dog. It's difficult to fight BSL, mandatory spay and neuter and over handed aggressive dogs laws w.o scientific facts. Not just anecdotal evidence.

<--- actually has some ideas to accomplish that... let's chat.


@ Jes - One problem is that there are very few 'scientific facts' to support any of this on either side. One has to depend largely on observation over time. A very long time, now. Animal husbandry and training have always rested in the hands of those who owned and trained the animals. The AR activists have successfully discredited them, in most cases. They want to be the go-to source for all animal related information. But certainly their 'research' is NOT credible. And for the most part, that's all we have.

I don't know how you go about rehabilitating the practise of purposefully breeding dogs, either, but that is the other half of the equation. The public believes just as surely that buying a breeder's dog contributes to the overpopulation problem, as they believe the culture is rife with animal abuse. They buy into the emotional blackmail concept that going to a breeder for a dog 'kills' a shelter dog. That they are thus indirectly supporting the worst of the breeders, instead of the best of them escapes them entirely.

The reality is that almost all the animal legislation passed over the last thirty years doesn't protect animals, it merely provides a tool to limit animal ownership. It does, however, fill up the shelters at an increasing and alarming rate.

I really don't know of any source of 'credible evidence' to support this position. You might consider that if HSUS et al was actually targeting 'puppy mills', the high volume commercial breeders share of the market would have shrunk noticeably over the last thirty years. The opposite seems to be happening. Likewise, the shelter and rescue populations should be shrinking, but that's not happening either. Instead, the good, knowledgeable breeders are taking the hit. The reality is that the AR position is that anyone who breeds even one litter is a 'puppy mill'. Therefore any serious fancier fits the bill.

Demanding evidence for something which is not well researched is a common AR tactic. Please, let's not play their game. But I'll be glad to hear any ideas you have.

National Animal Interest Alliance

@Lynn: thanks for the great input. I think what you bring up is of such great importance that it's worth its own blog entry, so for the time being, I'll just nod in agreement. This:

"In fact, most successful trainers using primarily positive reinforcement methods are tempering those with a solid dash of traditional, whether they admit it or not."

This is especially true -- though most trainers I've met personally have zero problem admitting they're trying to mix the "best of both worlds" (i.e. traditional and positive). I do realize that there are places where that isn't a politically correct admission, though :)

Also, please don't worry about us being too harsh or critical of the past, Lynn. NAIA doesn't view training as an all-or-nothing venture; we don't turn our backs on past techniques with proven track records just because we are interested in or excited with a new technique!

@Jes: the issue of resources is also very important, and again this warrants its own blog post... what use are all the advances in science and technique if the people who need them most are unaware or unable to utilize them?

Geneva Coats

Coincidentally, I was searching today for information on the effect of neutering in regard to aggressive tendencies in dogs. In the AKC CHF conference in 2005, researcher James Serpell discussed his study related to temperament/aggression, involving thousands of dogs. He discovered a troubling fact. Neutered dogs were more likely to be aggressive than their intact counterparts, and spayed bitches were more likely than intact bitches to be fearful.
The vast majority of owned dogs...75%...are sterilized...according to a 2009-2010 survey by National Pet Products Manufacturers Assn.
Could the conventional belief that neutering
decreases aggressive tendencies actually be wrong? Not just an error, but an actual paradox?

Geneva Coats

Perhaps the problem is not whether or not dogs are "rescues", but whether or not they are sterilized.

A 2007 in Philadelphia, Behavioral assessment of child‐directed canine aggression, conducted a retrospective study on dog aggression toward
children. The study showed that of the 111 dog bite cases involving children, 93% of the dog bites were from neutered males, and provides,
"A total of 103 dogs had bitten a child under the age of 18 years. Three quarters of the dogs were male (n = 77; 75%), and all but four males and
three females had been neutered." The study concluded that, "Most children were bitten by dogs with no history of biting children. There is a high rate of behavioral abnormalities (aggression and anxiety) in this canine population. Common calming measures (neutering, training) were not routinely effective deterrents."

Geneva Coats

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=9227747 Abstract: ―Effects of castration on problem behaviors in male dogs with reference to age and
duration of behavior‖ Neilson JC, Eckstein RA, Hart BL. (J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1997 Jul 15;211(2):180-2.)
―CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS: Castration was most effective in altering objectionable urine making, mounting, and roaming. With various types of aggressive behavior, including aggression toward human family members, castration may be effective in decreasing aggression in some dogs, but fewer than a third can be expected to have marked improvement.‖
(Castration made little or no different in aggression toward unfamiliar humans, and less than 35% showed significant improvement in aggression toward human family members! yet castration is still advocated by vet orgs/humane groups as a way to decrease aggression....)


@ Geneva Coats (1) - Hi Geneva! Temperment is hardly the only poor outcome possibility with s/n; Incontinence in both genders is by no means uncommon. On the whole, the cancers that result from s/n are more difficult to treat and more painful than the ones s/n avoids. Mammary and testicular cancers could be called the lesser of the evils. Bitches do seem to get a little more protection than dogs, but the eagerness to sterilize dogs is as zealous as the eagerness to spay bitches. And juvenile s/n is just plain irresponsible, to my mind.

But I'm not sure there is any paradox in this issue. The braintrusts who have been insisting all this time that s/n improves temperment, or at least is a 'fix' for temperment problems don't care what the actual outcome is, apart from the impossibility of breeding sterile pets. I think that the AR interests decided that one of the best tools for getting rid of pets - only 2% of the population engages in the full vegan lifestyle which holds that animal ownership = animal abuse - and that's the only aspect of the thing that interests them. How they have sucked the vets into this travesty is anybody's guess, but the high percentage of s/n dogs couldn't have happened without their compliance. In some areas, the voluntary s/n rates must be nearer 90%. There are a lot of mature dog owners in my part of the world who have never seen an adult dog with testicles.

The best interest of the animals is not what is driving any of this; the driving force is imposing the full vegan lifestyle on the rest of the population. The long touted benefits of s/n boil down to only one that really matters: fewer entire dogs mean fewer litters. At least among the dog loving public; well over half the population. I'm not sure that the whole movement hasn't increased the number of high volume commercial breeders, but that's a temporary problem. Once the conscientious, knowledgeable breeders have been done away with, it will be relatively easy to get rid of the HBCB.


@ NAIA - I may be a tad touchy about the training issue; I have spent too much time, perhaps, trying to explain 'Balanced Training' to the purely positive adherents on various forums where they go to swap training information. I have, in fact, been accused of 'jerking my dogs around' because I learned to apply appropriately scaled collar corrections early in my dog owner life, and can't afford the e-collar option. My experience has been that even my reputed 'difficult breed' works reliably and happily for praise alone, though that's a case, of course, where ymmv. As Lou Castle says - and it is Lou who most often uses the term 'balanced training', whatever works for you to produce a reliable, happy, dog, whatever his task, is the right combo.

I think, though, that the phrase 'works for you' means that the result is a happy,. enthusiastic dog, and the reality is that harshly trained dogs generally aren't at the top of the results heap.

That is to say, I have nothing whatever against positive reinforcement, in fact it's my mainstay tool, but to imply that there is anything new about it is, I think, to perpetuate an AR myth. It has always been acknowledged by good handlers that praise is the most powerful tool. And the simplest.

Geneva Coats

Hi Lynn!
Yes I am well aware of the risks associated with sterilization particularly when performed at an early age. Here's an article I recently wrote on the subject:


I didn't focus much attention on the fable about neutering decreasing aggression, but I'm thinking that's a good topic for the next article....since the knee-jerk reaction to these reports of dog bites is to push for more neutering. Which, it would appear, would definitely be counterproductive based on the evidence.


@ Geneva Coats (2)(1 of 2) - Wow. That is even worse than I thought. I'm sure that you are right in thinking the issue is s/n, not rescues. It would be really great if we could establish that as knowledge; maybe one, tiny benefit we could get out of all this would be that people would become very careful about their breeding practises. It's certainly true that one of the early tools of the AR movement was the fact that there were people whose attitude was 'everybody wants a puppy', they'll be fine, but didn't really do much to hook owners up to them. I think the biggest problem we have now though is the depth of ignorance of the average owner; apparently intelligent people (who adhered pretty much to the tenets of Good Dog Ownership, as they knew them), who thought that putting their bitch out in their yard unsupervised when she was in heat would be fine (but they understood that they had missed that dog biology course, and confined and supervised her when she did come in), a woman whose Saint was in whelp to her 'rescued' whippet (must have been a small puppy at the time of rescue, or he wouldn't have kept the wherewithall), and recent high school graduates who all had dogs who were completely unaware of a dog's breeding habits. That's not all, but it's been so consistent that I would think it's fairly typical. Of course, most people's dogs are incapable anyway, so it's not important to know that stuff, right? All you have to know is when to s/n.

The woman who was looking forward to a litter of Saint/Whippet crosses (would kind of like to see those - I'm not sure my imagination is up to the task) told me that it was an 'accident', she knew the bitch was in heat, but because they were 'like brother and sister', and anyway, she couldn't believe the Whippet was big enough to breed the Saint ... lol! It's funny, but the depth of ignorance is appalling. This woman was probably a professional at something - not uneducated.

I have also heard, from a woman who told me with a bewildered and somewhat distateful look, that " ... It never occurred to me that they'd do that. I mean, they are brother and sister!"


@ Geneva Coates (2) (2 of two)

But it could work out very well, if no rescue or shelter or breeder or petshops - let us not forget them - let a dog go to anyone who hadn't had a fairly extensive course in the breeding habits of canines. Or even pass a test. If I were selling puppies that would be one of my primary screening points: anyone who expressed disinterest or distaste or outright wouldn't qualify, period. It's a necessary part of dog ownership. To ignore it is irresponsible. Even those who want to avoid a bitch's heats by owning a dog need to know this, and particularly anyone who isn't interested in thoughtful breeding. Ideally, ultimately, I would like to see no bitches spayed except for medical reasons.

I think the best way to get puppies out of pet shops is to make that a requirement. Everybody else who handles dogs is regulated, over regulated, even. If that was a requirement for them to sell puppies, I suspect that they'd pretty soon stop doing it. And it would go a long way toward weeding out those who aren't commited to a lifetime home for the dog, and care if they were forced to rehome him.

So - if rescues and breeders and pet shops would take on that bit of the education effort, it would work. Actually, conscientious breeders are doing a good job on that score already, except that they skip all that messy breeding stuff; they just put a strong s/n clause in their contract. This is insufficient.

Education is the key, and that would be an effective way to deliver it, I would think.

I suspect that putting that plan into operation would require some sort of magic, though :-)


In addition to his comment above, Brent has some great insights into the actual meaning of the dog-bite data in this entry on his KC Dog Blog:

In brief: the incidence of dog bites has not increased in proportion to the growth of human and dog populations. The media, however, ignore that reality because the sensational "dog bites increase" headline sells better.

I mean, who wants to have their mind cluttered with all that *information* ??

Geneva Coats

@Elaine....thank you for the link to Brent's article. Puts the issue in proper perspective.
But I'm STILL looking fof hard proof that neutering has any effect on aggression in dogs. One study from the early '90s cites neutering as reducing aggression against non-household members but why in the world would that be an issue? Aren't dogs (at least some breeds) SUPPOSED to guard their domain against intruders?



I've never seen anything very credible either way on the neuter/spay affect on aggression. It often seems that people on both sides seem to try to take what info is there and try to shoehorn the information into supporting a particular point of view.

From my experience, it seems that regardless of the intact status of the dog, a major attack is nearly always the result of a human failure -- either in failed ownership, or failed judgment by the victim or victim's guardian (or both).


I would suspect, completely without any scientific evidence to support said suspicion, that the link between aggression and neutering has to do with the change in our culture originally addressed in the blog. John Q Public is getting "rescue" dogs, a significant percentage of which I would put a needle in for temperament issues right out the gate, and of those that probably could be made into decent pets with proper training and socialization, they are being told that spay/neuter will reduce negative behaviors and then they go to class and get cookied to death. It's a recipe for disaster for anything but the most biddable and middle of the road temperaments. Personally, I love motivators when I'm trying to teach a new skill. Positive rewards (cookies, toys, praise, whatever) have a huge role in dog training. OTOH, in the case of aggression,a good strong, "behavior extinguishing" correction is entirely appropriate and may save a dogs life.


@ Peri - I don't know about s/n's likely effect on an agressive dog, but I've seen rather a lot of documentation out there to indicate that s/n does tend to produce some temperment issues. How much is hard to say; nobody wants to hear it. Even so, coupled with the other known negative outcomes of wholesale s/n, particularly of juveniles, I would advise people to think very carefully about the decision to arbitrarily sterilize, if only because if your dog *does* suffer incontinence or temperment issues, you can't go back.

Having said that, though, I wholeheartedly agree with you on the training. I subscribe to several training lists, and for a while moderated a list for pet owners, and it was horrifying. Fair enough, these were people who were looking to solve a problem, but many of them were afraid to train at all, not just for fear of hurting the dog, but for fear of hurting his feelings! Many had taken three or more 'obedience' classes, only to be told they weren't using enough treats, or they needed to find a better treat. This is irresponsible! They also seemed to think that a dog that wasn't hysterical with joy wasn't 'happy'.

The AR activists have been successful in totally sabotaging dog management, and I've thought for a long time that this accounts for much of the shelter population, particularly in dogs who keep coming back. And it must be contributing heavily to the number of euthanasias.


@ Geneva again - This is something that I take exception to, too. A lot of people seem to believe if your dog doesn't LOVE everybody, you haven't done your job with him. But that's not what a dog is about; there is no reason why my dogs should love everybody; I'm not planning to give them up. They are my dogs, they are bonded to me, and that's the way the dog-human relationship is supposed to work. I don't see why I should have to apologize because my dogs aren't thrilled to be handled by any stranger who passes by.

Mary Burch

The AKC's Canine Good Citizen Program was designed to teach "good manners" to dogs. From the standpoint of dog bites and problems with dogs in our communities, the most important part of the program is the Responsible Dog Owner's Pledge that says responsible owners always properly confine and control their pets. We need more programs that effectively change the behavior of dog owners.

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