Right let’s get one thing clear, hitting your agility dog (or any dog for that matter) is not and never will be okay! Neither is yanking them by their lead or collar so much that they have to walk on two legs!!
I have just come back from an agility show where I witnessed at least four separate incidents of handlers purposefully hitting their dogs!
I am going to talk about two specific ones in this blog to hopefully enlighten the behaviour side of what these dogs were going through.
The first incident a handler was sat very close to a ring with their friends, all having a lovely time chatting away. This particular handler had 2 dogs with them, one had a yellow lead or bandana (so was obviously nervous or fearful – Check out the yellow dog scheme here for more information) I watched these dogs for about 30 minutes, maybe more as I was standing ringside waiting to walk a course. In the short time I was watching I noticed their dogs react to three black dogs that were approaching them, these were on separate occasions (so one dog was being walked past at a time, with some time elapsed in between). After the second reaction, I quickly picked up that it was black dogs that these two dogs weren’t keen on, as other dogs had walked past with no problem.
The handler had sat themselves really close to the queue for that ring, so every dog that was going to join the agility queue had to walk past them. These dogs were sat with the handler and the group of friends with nowhere to go, with approaching dogs walking straight towards them. On all occasions when the dogs reacted the dog walking past didn’t do anything obvious to upset them, there was no lunging or barking etc, the dog each time was just walking with their handler to join the queue.
On the first occasion the handler of the two dogs shouted at their dog when the dogs both started to react. On the second occasion they shouted even more, but this time also started to manhandle the dogs telling them to sit and proceeded to push their rear ends to the floor.
The third time, after the two dogs pulled the handler backwards, so they were lying looking to to the sky, the handler sat up, took off their cap, and really shouted at their dogs, hitting them repeatedly on the head with their cap, saying how they had had enough. Those poor dogs!!!
So what was going on?!
Obviously I only observed a few moments in time but…
These dogs had been sat ringside for a while, they were collies, so the chances of them spending that time eye stalking are pretty high. An agility show is full of adrenaline and high arousal, so already these dogs would have quite a full bucket (stress levels will be high)
They both reacted to black dogs only, this could be because….
Maybe they have had a bad experience with a black dog previously and this had been held in their memory, or it could be because black dogs are hard to read, their face doesn’t show the usual expressions, so this makes them really hard to read by other dogs. Also due to where the handler was sat, the other dogs were approaching them head on, this is actually really confrontational from a dogs’ perspective.
These two dogs were obviously fearful and stressed and how did the handler respond? By hitting them!! Handlers are meant to be a source of trust, care, love – hitting them isn’t this!!
So they were struggling and they get hit – nice one!!
The next instance I am going to mention is a young collie pup lunging and barking at the other dogs. To be fair to this handler, they were a good distance away from the rings, but not far enough away as the dog was still struggling. After about five minutes this handler had had enough, so the way they dealt with it was to yank and crank the lead, and smack the dog at the same time! A puppy!!!
THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE!!
Now I don’t know what made these two handlers act like this, I’m guessing frustration or stress, but why with all the talk of reward based training etc does this happen?! Like I mentioned earlier these weren’t isolated incidents either! All the handlers I witnessed doing this also had a toy or treats on them, and I bet if I was to ask them how they trained their dog, they would say with rewards!
I am not sure if it is a lack of education, the fact that people don’t question this behaviour, or what it is, but please don’t ever hit, yank or crank your dog! It will ruin the trust they have in you, and harm your relationship. Agility is a team sport, how can you be a team when you are physically or verbally abusive to your dog?!
You want your dog to be happy, confident and able to trust you when they are at a show (and when they are not).
If your dog is reacting they aren’t having a good time!! They are finding the situation difficult!
They are not giving you a hard time, they are having a hard time!!!!
The other thing I witnessed was lots of handlers who were running spaniels seemed to get frustrated with them when they went off sniffing and didn’t do the course. Some of these handlers chose to grab their dog by the collar so high that they were on two legs bouncing instead of walking back to where ever it was they got distracted.
Don’t do this!!
If your dog is sniffing try to work out why. If you know the reason, you can then put the training in place to help them. I have three spaniels, so I know about sniffing believe me! Two of them are grade seven dogs, and I too had to work through all of these issues.
I have lots of information on my free podcast that will help with all these things. Click here to listen to my agility podcast.
We were at the show as part of Quest’s training. It is really important we have lots of skills in place before we ask our dogs to run in a competition. It isn’t fair to put them in situations that they are not ready for and expect them to perform.
You are at the competition for YOU! You chose to enter! Your dog doesn’t even know ribbons and trophies exist! To get the results YOU want, you need to understand your dog completely. That includes their individual needs and emotions.
If you are interested in how I take a young dog to the ring to make sure ALL the pieces in the right place, you would be more than welcome to join us in my Quest For Success Academy. The first intake is launching soon and it will be packed full of information on how to put all the pieces in place for your success.
If you would like more information on my academy please click here.
Please don’t hit your dog EVER, it just isn’t ok.
Happy training only!