Nostalgia can be a tricky thing. It’s in our nature as human beings to romanticize the “good old days”, fondly reminiscing about the way things were while somehow inexplicably glossing over the parts that were, for want of a better word, pretty crappy.
I have to chuckle at some of the conversations I’ve heard recently from people who seem to think smartphone technology is responsible for everything from ADD to global warming. Yes, smartphones can be a problem if you don’t look up from them once in awhile. But lest we forget, the smartphone has only been around since 1996 – and now, can we imagine our lives without it?
I grew up in Ohio, where the only thing colder than December was January. And all of February. And most of March. We drove through raging blizzards without weather apps, navigation, or cell phones, praying we would be lucky enough to avoid sliding into a ditch on the way to Grandma’s house and having to spend hours waiting for a kind passerby to happen along and pull us out. Being able to text for help in under 10 seconds would have seemed pretty darn appealing in that situation.
And then there’s the friend of mine who vividly remembers riding to the grocery store as a small child while standing up in the front seat of a VW Bug – with his mother’s arm extended the entire way to keep him from pitching head first onto the floor at every red traffic light.
Sometimes, the old ways of doing things weren’t necessarily the best ones. Yes, we survived. But now, we know better.
The Good Old Days – For Dogs
Have you ever wondered what the “good old days” might have looked like from a dog’s perspective?
A few weeks ago, my husband brought home an old book that he came across in an antique shop. Published in 1950, “A Dog Owner’s Guide” promised to “help you and your dog speak a common language.”
My husband thought it would be fun to see how much the world of dog ownership and training had changed in the last 65 years. Although I was intrigued, I knew before I even started reading that there were bound to be a few pieces of advice in that book that would, at the very least, be somewhat upsetting, and at the most, blow the top of my head off.
And I was right.
Below are a few excerpts (with direct quotes) from the “professional” dog training doctrine outlined in the book. Please note, these were published in 1950 – they are NOT recommended tips! Please do not try this at home!
Dog “Training”, Circa 1950
- Housebreaking: “The only time to use punishment as a means of teaching is when you catch your puppy in the act. A harsh word may suffice in some cases. However, if he persists, it may be necessary to rap him sharply with a rolled up newspaper. Always take him outdoors immediately to emphasize your disapproval.”
- Heeling: “To teach your puppy to walk at your side, start by snapping the leash to the freed end ring of a choke collar. If he scoots out ahead of you, jerk him back with the leash and the command ‘heel’! Should he lag behind you as you walk, coax him ahead by slapping your thigh or snapping your fingers. A sharp jerk on the leash will also help.”
- Jumping on furniture: “Sometimes Rover will develop the habit of sleeping on the sofa, leaving a telltale trail of fur. One way to break this habit fast is to set a few mouse traps on the sofa, covered with newspaper.”
- Barking: “If your dog develops this habit, keep a tightly rolled newspaper handy. The instant he barks without reason, smack your open hand smartly with the rolled newspaper, at the same time loudly giving the command ‘Quiet!’ He will learn very quickly, and soon your command ‘quiet’ will be all that is needed.”’
- Jumping up: “To break this habit, take his front paws in your hands when he jumps up on you and gently step on the toes of his rear paws with your shoe. Apply pressure carefully, so as not to injure him.”
- General intimidation: “A smart slap with a leash will dampen Rover’s enthusiasm.”
- Use of rewards in training: “The use of food as a reward in training may prove a distraction. There are two simple little rewards that most dogs will appreciate. One is to take his muzzle in your hand and give it a playful shake. He likes that.”
And my personal favorites:
- Running away: “Dogs are quick to form bad habits when the chance is there and the punishment is lacking. At most any time your dog may, out of pure deviltry, make a sudden bolt for liberty. If this occurs, act swiftly to teach him that such liberties are out of order. First, attach a strong cord, about 30 feet long, to the end of the leash. Give him a chance to bolt again. As the rope runs out, get ready to upset him. Yell ‘whoa’ at the top of your voice. At the same instant, jerk back on the cord with sufficient speed and strength to point his heels straight up. Upset him as completely as you can without injuring him. When the stars stop shooting and the birdies stop singing, he should be treated to the most sympathetic attention you can give. Tell him that you are heartbroken and that the guy who did that to him should be ashamed of himself. Coax him to you with the ‘come’ command (he should be cooled off by now), rub his sore spots and tell him what a good boy he is. This lesson is a bit severe, but it requires a severe lesson to curb a runaway.”
- Chasing Cars: “One of the most disagreeable and dangerous habits many dogs acquire is that of car chasing. Bring your long rope into play again. Deliberately tempt him to chase passing cars. The first time he lets go, upset him by using the ‘whoa’ technique. You may even have to be tougher with him if he has become a confirmed car chaser.”
Well, huh. Based on this, I’m guessing if you were a dog in 1950, your relationship with your human family would have been based on fear, pain avoidance, and an overall sense of confusion. Can you imagine being the dog trying to figure out exactly what’s expected of you in these situations? Definitely not a happy way to live.
Why The Future Looks Much Brighter
Thankfully, over the last 65 years we’ve discovered a great deal about our dogs and the ways they learn. Research studies have repeatedly shown that using pain, fear, and intimidation to train dogs not only doesn’t work, it can actually create behavioral problems and aggression.
Fortunately, we’ve seen great progress in the world of dog training and behavior, particularly within the last 10 years. Here are a few contributing factors to why the future is looking much brighter when it comes to how we communicate with our dogs:
- Movement away from aversive training techniques and tools like choke, prong, and shock collars. Once considered a training staple, choke collars are now recognized as having the potential to cause serious physical injuries to dogs, even when they’re used as recommended. Other aversive methods, such as forcing dogs onto their backs, staring them down, spraying them with a water pistol, speaking harshly, etc. are finally falling out of favor with mainstream dog trainers and dog owners as they realize there are much more humane training methods available.
- Movement towards positive, force-free training. With the growing evolution of positive reinforcement training championed by such notable trainers as Victoria Stilwell and animal behaviorists like Dr. Ian Dunbar, dogs are learning how to do what their guardians ask of them because they genuinely want to, not because they’re afraid of what will happen if they don’t.
Emphasis on dog bite prevention education, especially for children. Most dog bites occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs. Children are the most common victims of dog bites, because they often don’t recognize the warning signs and body language of a dog who is becoming stressed enough to bite. Dog bite prevention is now being taught in schools, workplaces, and at community education events to help teach people how to understand why dog bites happen and how they can be avoided.
- A better overall understanding of the human-dog relationship. In the past, dogs have been treated as livestock, accessories, babysitters, and security guards. Now dogs are finally being recognized as the intelligent, loving, sentient companions that they are, rather than subversive creatures who are constantly looking for the upper hand and need to be dominated in order to peacefully coexist with us.
The Good Old Days Are Now
It’s been said that the one thing we can always count on is change. Although sometimes it’s tempting to wax nostalgic and long for the way things used to be, in many cases change can be a very positive thing. When it comes to humans and our relationship with our dogs, we’re finally starting to understand that dogs are not robots, nor are they sneaky little rebels hellbent on world domination. Dogs are thinking, feeling, intuitive creatures who want to communicate with us as much as we want to communicate with them. It’s up to us to clearly show them how to do so through patience, consistency, kindness, and taking the time to understand them.
By the way, not all the advice in the book was horrible. Surprisingly, I came across this little nugget of wisdom: “Overfeeding a dog comes under the heading ‘cruelty to animals’. More dogs are harmed by overfeeding than underfeeding.” Years later, that’s still a solid piece of advice you can take to the bank!
What pieces of bad advice have you received about your dog over the years? Do you agree or disagree that dogs are better off today than they were in the past? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!