Spreading the Gospel – Hearing Messages from Dog

Honey the Golden Retriever

How's the stick, Honey? Not "Bah'd"

A family with a beautiful, young German Shepherd sat at the picnic table beside us. “Bah!” “Bah!”

I asked Mike, “Is that the same German Shepherd Honey was playing with at the dog park this morning?” “Bah!”

Mike: “I don’t know. Does the guy have a French accent?” “Bah!” “Bah!”

Pam: “I can’t tell. Maybe.” “Bah!”

The mom and two daughters walked to the swimming area leaving Dad to handle the barking hurricane that whirled at the end of the leash.

Watching out of the corner of my eye, I continued to hear, “Bah! Bah!” and saw the Dad jerking up on the leash. He  also yelled “Sit! Sit! Sit” which the dog would do for about a second before hopping up to bark at the next sight that caught her eye.

Pam the Evangelist

Honey wasn’t fazed by the display so after an internal debate, I picked up my clicker, filled my pocket with freeze-dried liver and went over to meet Dad and Shepherd. He didn’t have a French accent and the dog had not played with Honey earlier in the day. But we had a nice chat for about fifteen minutes in which I learned the following:

  • Rosie (the Shepherd) was six months old.
  • Their last dog, also a German Shepherd, had recently passed away at fourteen years old.
  • The Dad was familiar with clicker training because they had hired a trainer who used it. They didn’t go back to the trainer because he charged $200 per training session.
  • Instead, they found a franchise training program that was much cheaper. I don’t want to drive any business to the alliterative training business–let’s just call them Arf Arresters.

Messages from the Apocrypha

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Dad was very impressed with the Arf Arresters trainer who was able to do amazing things with Rosie right from the start. He told me how they taught Rosie to listen to no one but her family by having the Arf Arrester trainer call Rosie to him while the Dad threw water balloons at her and shouted to show that it’s not good to go to a stranger who is calling her. Dad was really proud that pretty soon she wouldn’t go anywhere near the trainer when he called her. (I resisted asking Dad if Rosie would go anywhere near him if he called her after having water balloons thrown at her.)

Oh, and the random shouts of “Bah!” that we had been hearing? That’s the Arf Arresters method of getting a dog’s attention. Sort of like that other guy’s–what’s his name? Kaiser Florence?–trademark “Sschhhttt” sound.

Sharing the Good News

I wanted to tell the Dad he was really missing out. That he’d never have a really close relationship with Rosie as long as he acted like a crazy person around his dog. But I wasn’t sure I could do it in a way that would sink in.

Instead, I clicked and treated Rosie while she sat, and stayed, and lay down.

I complimented Rosie to the Dad. I talked about how smart she was. And how it wouldn’t take much for her to become a perfect dog. I told the Dad it was obvious Rosie loved him and was glad to be outside with all the exciting things to bark at. I encouraged him to try clicker training on his own. And I offered to watch her for a moment while the Dad went to get Rosie’s tug toy out of the car.

I don’t know if I did anything good or not. I know that Rosie got a few liver treats. And that for at least twenty minutes, no one shouted “Bah!” at her or jerked her choker collar.

I hope that the Dad loves Rosie enough to learn how to communicate with her better. And who knows. Maybe someday he’ll learn to hear messages from dog.

How do you respond when you see people using outdated or inhumane training methods? Do you try to be as blunt as possible or do you try to be persuasive?


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  1. Arf Arresters… you’re too much. No one’s going to figure THAT ONE out. And it took me a minute to figure out why “Kaiser Florence” (I knew who), but I got there.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I always figured if I’m calling my dog and a stranger is calling my dog, he’ll respond to me first. And maybe it’s just my dog, but he’ll only go to people he likes when they call his name. I know some dogs will go to anyone, but I still think their owners win over strangers. I never found water balloons necessary.

    I gotta get me a clicker– or a $200/hour trainer…

  2. WTFudge? I was waiting for a sheep to appear in this story. I must say that I’m completely dumbfounded at both the Dad and the Arf Arrester…but that doesn’t answer your questions.

    I have never (since getting the Corgis and trying to educate myself about proper training techniques) have encountered anything “questionable” out in public. I did see some things (with other dogs and owners) in the first couple sessions of some training classes, but the trainers always worked to correct those issues.

    I don’t know what I would do in your situation, but I think you handled it really well.

  3. You have no idea how close I was to paying Arf Arresters my hard-earned money to help me with my dog’s problems. I’d even sent them an email. The only reason I didn’t go through with it is that I was too scared to return their phone call. The trainer we did go with communicated via email only before she came to our house, much more comfortable for me.

    Thanks for reminding me that I really need to write that post about how to find a dog trainer… $200 is definitely prohibitive. I am not saying it’s not worth it, but I am sure there are other positive trainers out there that charge less. Our trainer charged $85 for the first home visit – supposed to be one hour but she stayed at least two – and then she would continue to communicate for free via email. If we needed her to visit again, the price would be negotiable. Even without the discount because Shiva was a shelter dog, her prices were incredibly reasonable. Considering how she changed our lives, I would have paid hundreds more!

    But I am rambling and I still haven’t answered your question! I love the way you handled the situation. You were kind and understanding, you offered advice without acting superior. You complimented his dog and didn’t act like Rosie was a monster. If I encounter a situation like this in the future, I hope I will handle it with as much kindness and class. Since I am a coward, I usually don’t do anything – just try to show by example. Maybe you have inspired me.

  4. Posts like this make me proud to be a part of such a great dog community, Pam.

    My heart always breaks a little when I see people doing the best they can for their dog and just missing the mark completely. I usually try by introducing myself, telling them a little about Kol’s former bad-boy status. If they seem receptive, I might offer to spend a few minutes with them & their pup. With a few treats, I (and most “dog people”) can usually bring out a convincing sit or down in only a few minutes. I find that showing people an alternative way and how EASY it is – gently and kindly – is more effective than trying to beat them with their own mistakes. Especially for those yarding on their dog’s collars, I also mention that collar pressure has been linked to neck injuries, front foot lameness and thyroid issues…things that might cost them a pretty penny somewhere down the road.

    Although, in that instance, my temptation to watch from a distance, pelting Dad with a water balloon every time he jerked on the leash or shouted “Bah”‘ would have been almost overwhelming. Kudos to you for not giving into it.

  5. Wow… water balloons? You can’t make this crap up.

    I think you handled this situation perfectly. I’ve (luckily) never encountered anything quite this questionable, but I hope that if I ever do I can handle it with half the grace you displayed.

  6. Well, I’ve learned that different kinds of dogs react and train differently, and have different motivations. The Greyhounds are happy if you’re happy with them, but if it comes right down to it, and you’re NOT happy with them, they don’t care and they’ll just become more aloof. They NEVER work for free, so if you want something from them, you’d best have treats handy. The German Shepherd is a different animal. We got Morgan at eighteen months old when her body had grown, but her brain wasn’t finished. Shepherds are people pleasers, if you’re a member of the pack. A few months after Morgan came to live with us, though, she went through a very difficult “teenage stage.” She was completely unruly and ruled by her instincts. The worst was the night, a few days before Christmas, when she broke a kitchen window. She went to obedience class with my husband, and she does wear a prong collar, but she’s not corrected hard with it. For a while, I did have to have it on her to take her out the door or I was going down and she’d have been loose to do who knows what, but now I can take her out in the buckle collar and she heels very well.

    We had to use a combination of reward training and correction, which isn’t necessarily what I would have preferred, and might have been different if we’d had her from puppyhood. The bond we have with her is amazing, though, and I know that she works hard to please us. We’re working on not barking at people that walk past the house right now, and she does very well with a down stay to redirect her attention, but we wouldn’t have gotten there without the combination we used in the beginning. I do know that there are people who misuse prong collars and other training aids, but I also feel that there are times when they’re necessary and effective if used the right way.

  7. Oh, you did such a good job! Yay! Click Click!

    I can’t believe how many people I still hear praising Arf Arresters, not to mention ol’ Kaiser. I have agonized for years about how to deal with these people, and I love your solution.

    The sad thing is that these big business “trainers” have the resources to market themselves so effectively that everyone believes they not only get results, but are kind and helpful toward animals. It is beautiful that through you, this Dad got to see a different way and got to see how well it works. Hopefully some part of him is aware that there’s something not quite right about the way he’s doing it, and you will have inspired him to change.

  8. My encounters with dogs are rather limited and I honesty I probably wouldn’t have the guts. Guess it would depend on how well I knew them.

    I am so impressed with how you handle the situation and the way you approach dad and Rosie. Frankly, I’m blown away by your tactful actions. I don’t know what to say, but thank you. Thanks for taking one for the team. :)

  9. I can’t think of a better way to handle this sort of situation. Bravo! I probably would have been too chicken to do or say anything. Here’s hoping you’ve got ‘Dad’ thinking about alternative methods of training and seeking some clicker training ideas out.

  10. Being blunt hardly ever works, only gets people defensive. Once they get defensive they will resent anything one might have to say.

    I think the best way to convince anybody is by example.

    Since the title has the word Gospel in it, I think it’s the same with Christian Gospel also. They preach and preach, but have nothing to show for most part. Their lives are just as miserable as anybody else’s. No wonder nobody listens.

    So I think, talking less and showing more is the way to go.

  11. ‘Bah’ and water balloons??? Gosh, I’m surprised that dog got anywhere near him…She must have thought he was complete bonkers. Beats me how a person of – let’s say – average intelligence would go along with such stupid ‘techniques’ and expect them to work…Well done you for taking the initiative to show him he was wrong in the nicest way possible…
    We’ve never used a clicker, but I always have liver cake in my pockets, which George is very responsive to. We’re also lucky that he’s very focussed on us and keen to please, and not at all interested in people and dogs he doesn’t know.

  12. Thanks for being a good human and helping that dog train his human!

  13. The closest I’ve come to something like this was seeing an older gentleman with his pointer at PetSmart. The dog was clearly overwhelmed by all of the sights/smells/activity (as evidenced by her cowering body posture) and the man began speaking loudly to her/jerking her leash to try and get her to get up. My husband and I were in line and several other people in line were upset at what they were seeing and hearing.

    I got out of line and went to the dog. I knelt down, treat in hand and spoke to her softly. She crept over to me, sat down and took the treat. As I rubbed the back of her neck and told her what a good girl she was, the man said, “I’m sorry she’s so bad. She doesn’t get out often.” I replied that she is a great dog, just a little overwhelmed by everything around her. All the sights and smells made her unsure, and she could tell he was feeling anxious, too, which made her more nervous. That didn’t make her a bad dog, that made her a dog trying really hard to be good in a confusing situation. He agreed that she was a good dog (who, at this point was up on all fours and seemed to be relaxing just a wee bit) which is why he brought her along. I told him new situations like this sometimes take a little getting used to and he might want to try bringing her on a Tuesday evening, rather than a Saturday afternoon, to give her a feel for the place so their Saturday trips can be more fun for both of them. Then, I went on my way.

    A couple of people thanked me for intervening. He wasn’t a bad person and she wasn’t a bad dog – they were both just in a little over their head. I’ll always try persuasion first because I don’t think putting people on the defensive is going to help matters.

  14. Kudos to you Pamela, such grace and diplomacy in a really hard situation. I never know what to do. Sometimes I’ve done nothing and then beat myself up for days for not intervening, other times I’ve bluntly said something (like the argument in front of our local Sam’s Club because the guy had his dog unsecured in the back of a pick-up truck during a winter rain storm.) But lately (ah with age some wisdom has come) I try to take the route you took. By being a bit diplomatic and trying to show the proper way of training. Unfortunately so many people still buy into the old way of training (which was me up until about a year ago.) If I ever get to be a trainer I am going to practically give away my services. LOL

    Great, great job! I’m sure Rosie felt the same way.

  15. This is such a spectacular example of the craziness that hides in the dark corners of the dog training world. It sounds like your approach was awesome. I too am a bold giver of unsolicited advice, and sometimes people are receptive and sometimes not. I try not to be too prescriptive and instead approach others from a perspective of empathy, and they tend to be more open. Sounds like you’re doing the same. Hard to know whether this guy will give up AA and the ol’ Kaiser, but once in a while something you might say will click with a stranger, and they will go seeking a different approach. Way to go!

  16. I’m so glad that you even tried. The people I see walking their dogs fall into a few categories: 1. I don’t want the dogs anywhere near Elka, as they’re clearly out of control, so we don’t interact

    2. The dogs are completely fine, and the people are fine, and we just smile and say hello and go on our way

    3. The people have it in their minds what is RIGHT and don’t want to hear it.

    I was in the feed store once when a lady asked the cashier where the collars to “choke her dog with” were. I once drove past a girl walking an obese pug, on a harness, with a bait bag on her belt, giving said pug leash corrections. The second you open an interaction with some people, their faces close right up, and it does nothing for the dog, good or bad.

    I really hope that you did some good! Poor Rosie.

  17. I love the way you handled the situation. So gently and kindly. It would have done no good to rush in and tell the man that you thought he was handling things poorly. Your good example was the best way. And I love that you complimented Rosie and pointed out the positives. I hope we meet you in the park some day!

  18. I love the way you handled the situation (lead by example, right?) I have always been turned off by Arf Arresters because they offer a “one size fits all” type of training – which I think is total crap (sorry!). I had a dog walking business for 5 years and worked with many different dogs and nothing works for every dog. I am a huge believer in clicker training and consistency.

  19. I think you did wonderful with this situation and applaud you for even taking the time to approach the man when many people probably would of just blown him off, which is why methods like this exist.
    I have never heard of Arf Arresters before and from what you explained don’t think I would care to get to know them or their methods.
    Setting a good example like you did is the best way to go!

  20. Yeah. I am not a big fan of Arf Arresters either (love the name you picked for them though!). I’m completely appalled at the balloon training method. WTH?

    Actually, you handled the situation WAY better than I would have handled it. Sadly, I’m more the passive-aggressive type when it comes to outdated training methods. I would have given him the stink-eye and then said something totally lacking in political correctness or tact or maybe kindness. To be honest, I wish I could be more like you. Demonstrating in a non-judgmental way is a far better approach. I am hoping that what you did and said resonates with the man and his family.

  21. Jolanta Benal says:

    Like the other commenters, I applaud you for your kind approach to this man and wish I could always have your graceful aplomb.

    I want to take up something you quote him as mentioning, and that one of the commenters also mentioned: the fee charged by the first clicker trainer, $200. The feeling seems to be that this is high, and that the trainer who charged $85 and stayed for 2 hours AND gave unlimited support afterward was a more generous and better person.

    I won’t say what I charge per hour, but it’s a lot closer to $200 than to $85. That fee covers not only the visit, but also my travel time and the considerable time I spend developing personalized training and behavior plans for my clients, as well as between-meeting support. I also read a lot of books (and academic texts cost a lot of money) and attend a lot of seminars with a view to making sure that I’m as up to speed on the science of dog behavior and animal learning as I can be. I give discounts for shelter dogs and I also do free or very low-cost training for a local program geared to keeping animals out of shelters. When a client hires me but can’t afford to work with me on a regular basis, I gladly steer them to free and low-cost resources.

    If I charged anything remotely like $85 an hour, I couldn’t stay in business.

    • I’d suggest that the reason the man brought up the fee was because he was expressing something about himself and his priorities. His financial situation was secure enough to afford a purebred dog. And he could afford to live in the NY metro area and vacation in the Finger Lakes.

      To him, $200 a session was expensive because he didn’t value the service and not because it was overpriced.

  22. As soon as I saw the “Bah” in your post, it brought about an all too familiar scene. My parents too hired these Arfs.

    Our dog is a hyperactive lab mix who is nearly uncontrollable at times. We’ve found the best way to train her is to exhaust her. Agility classes or jogging usually allow us to have a great dog that we can then work with to shape into the dog we want. I’d love to get more involved with the clicker, but can’t seem to get the hang of it. Anyone willing to give me a simple rundown? Izzy is conditioned with it so she knows it’s a good thing, but I’d love to work on her leash reactivity with the clicker. I can’t seem to hold the leash, the cheese, the clicker, my keys, poo bags, etc. and get it done right. I think I need a fanny pack! Haha.


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