How Not To Groom a Biting Dog

Every now and then a video crosses my desk from people either amazed, dismayed or generally seeking my opinion on something. Such was the case when I was shared this video, and I felt it was a great learning opportunity to highlight some of the misconceptions and ‘teaching moments’ of what should not be done when teaching a dog with a history of biting while being groomed.

Here are my thoughts, frame by frame:

  • 0:08 – Here the man should reward the dog for investigating the deshedding tool (why is he using that on a JRT?). The reward doesn’t have to be food – praise works well too. But a few seconds later…….
  • 0:10 – man punishes dog with a harsh correction for investigating the tool. What has he taught the dog? Do not investigate the tool! Tool = correction. Tool is bad!
  • 0:14 – the man says “licking is not love”. In this case and this particular time, he’s right! What he should go onto say though, which I don’t think he realizes, is the dog is licking because the dog is stressed.
  • 0:20 – the man says “I’m not going to hurt him….” Dogs are good at masking the pain they are feeling but I guarantee you that even though the dog is not showing it, he is supremely uncomfortable and the stress is building up in his body.
  • 0:37 – Somehow I don’t think the client really wants to ‘whip his ass.’ I think the client is uncomfortable but is trying to make light of the situation.
  • 0:41 – dog is trying to get away and trying to put distance between himself and the man. Tail is tucked, body is tense – dog is intimidated.
  • 0:52 – the man is correcting the dog while touching him with the tool. This is where positive training is completely different. We show the grooming tool and praise for a calm reaction. We set the tool out so the dog is free to investigate. We don’t pull the dog round by the neck or constantly correct. There is no force used whatsoever. We make this a pleasurable experience for the dog, not a traumatic one that is so obviously happening here.
  • 1:14 – the dog is now showing many appeasement signals. He tries to anchor himself towards the man – the man pulls him off – he lifts his paw, lowers his head and leans away from the man, who is completely oblivious to these signals.
  • 1:33 – the man says “you see how he looked away… that’s release.” Actually it’s not -it’s appeasement and the lip lick after the look away is a stress signal. The dog is not releasing at all – the dog is trying to appease the man and wants to get away from him.
  • 1:43 – the man says he wants to “desensitize” the dog to being groomed. This is not desensitization, this is intimidation.
  • 2:16 – the dog tries to move away while the man is speaking to the client. The dog is bowing his head, licking his lips and displaying a whole range of other stress signals.
  • 2:19 dog yawns – another stress signal
  • 2:43 – man says “he’s not too sure – but he’s not reacting…..” then immediately corrects the dog. Therefore he’s correcting the dog for not reacting.
  • 2:50 to 3:10 – man is telling owners to “breathe”. The man is trying to soothe himself, perhaps because he worries this isn’t going very well? The man now uses the tool on the dog’s ears, which are obviously very sensitive, but the man ignores this.
  • 3:25 – the man physically hits the dog for reacting. The dog is now in a state of extreme stress
  • 3:30 – ‘as a pack leader’…. outdated theory - based on flawed research.
  • 3:55 – man says “it’s going to take 2 to 3 corrections.” I haven’t counted all the corrections he’s given the dog since the video started but it’s way up in double figures and I guarantee he will use a lot more than 2 to 3 corrections before he’s done with this poor animal.
  • 4:16 – man says “see the foot up…” when the dog tries to climb on him. The man doesn’t realize this is an appeasement gesture.
  • 4:45 – “that’s the bad ear” the man says. Well if it is then why does he continue to make the dog uncomfortable by touching the tool to the dog’s bad ear?
  • 4:59 – no the dog is not doing it again because he’s so intimidated that he has shut down. Shut down is a survival technique. If an animal does nothing in the presence of an aggressor, maybe the aggressor will go away. The man is the aggressor and unfortunately continues the intimidation.
  • 6:02 – man says “you see, we can make this thing fun.” The man is now happy because the dog is not reacting, so now he truly believes that the dog is learning. Watch the dog though. This is not fun for the dog, this is not a success.
  • 6:10 – man holds the brush so the dog can investigate. In terms of modern, science-based training, this is the ONLY thing that the man has done right so far but it doesn’t last long as he continues with intimidation.
  • 7:07 - the dog is now stress panting while the man is talking to the clients. The dog has been closed mouthed until the point where the man has taken attention away from him and onto the clients. Dog now can open mouth and release tension. Note that the dog is also losing hair (as well as being groomed, dogs will lose more hair when they’re stressed).
  • 8:02 - man says he’s “been hired by so many groomers to help with their problem dogs.” Poor, poor dogs!
  • 8:10 – in my opinion, the man has shown that he has very little ability apart from being excellent at intimidation and causing the dog more stress and fear.
  • 8:27 – the man says “that’s not love” when the dog tries to appease him and climb onto him again.
  • 8:46 – dog is trying so desperately to get away. As he does so the dog pees. The man says “this is a typical sign of submission, not fear.” Then he contradicts himself by saying urination “can be fear.” Well dogs do pee submissively but they also pee when they are under stress and are fearful. In fact urination in stressful situations is a major fear signal – the ultimate fear signal – the dog is so stressed and scared that he pees himself.

This is why punitive training causes stress and anxiety that exacerbates aggressive behavior. These so called ‘trainers’ completely ignore dogs’ appeasement and stress signals and use intimidation to shut dogs down. This is not a success, even though it will surely be labeled so by this trainer and others like him. This man has suppressed the dog’s behavior through intimidation, exactly as a human bully suppresses another human with force and intimidation, but I think it's pretty clear that these punitive techniques have not changed the dog’s behavior in the video for the better. Suppressing behavior is a short term fix and I can almost guarantee you that the dog will react negatively to being groomed in the future and maybe even worse. In my professional opinion, the trauma that this trainer has put the dog through during this ‘training’ session will surely have long lasting repercussions on the dog’s well-being and emotional instability.

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Positively Expert: Victoria Stilwell

Victoria Stilwell is a world-renowned dog trainer best known as the star of the internationally acclaimed TV series, It’s Me or the Dog. A bestselling author, Stilwell frequently appears in the media as a pet expert and is widely recognized and respected as a leader in the field of animal behavior.


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