Michael Lenehan’s “Four Ways to Walk a Dog” (April Atlantic) cited many important points about dogbehavior and human responsibility. However, I was puzzled by Lenehan’s choice of representative training methods and sorry to see so much attention devoted to William Koehler and his “the end justifies the means” approach. Moreover, Koehler’s human-learning analogy is poor–what competent adult would teach a child by deliberately sticking his finger in an electric socket?
Lenehan doesn’t mention Koehler’s most radical solutions for behavior problems, but they are in Koehler’s book. For example, if a dog continues to chew something he should not, Koehler recommends stuffing his mouth with the material, well back and crossways, and taping his mouth shut for an hour. If the dog is a hole digger, Koehler suggests filling the hole with water and holding the dog’s head in it until he thinks he is drowning. In both these instances, Koehler suggests repeating the procedure the next day for good measure, whether or not the dog repeats the forbidden act.
It is difficult to be impressed with Brown as a dog trainer and handler if he can demonstrate his proficiency only with “the right dog.” And Tortora’s use of the shock collar remains unnatural and abhorrent to many of us, no matter how much he tries to remove it from a punishment context. Also, the approach may bring with it physiological risks. Lenehan’s description of the more humane but specialized training of Seeing Eye dogs at least touches on the important issue of understanding the individual dog.
Your readers should be aware that for both regular pet training and high-level obedience work, successful approaches other than those cited are available. Outstanding among these is Winifred Gibson Strickland’s Expert Obedience Training. A highly respected handler and judge, Strickland studies the individual dog and modifies her teaching accordingly. She set the standards for dog-and-handler teamwork soon after she began competing, some thirty years ago, establishing numerous records for perfect scores and national obedience titles and earning many awards in this country and abroad. Strickland stresses that formal obedience work should have utilitarian value, with dogs playing a meaningful role in the lives of their owners. She has trained thousands of dogs in her obedience classes and working clinics, and many of them have won obedience titles.
Koehler and Strickland agree on one point–that dogs can reason–but there the resemblance ends. Strickland wants to make positive use of this ability and recommends conveying respect for the dogand appealing to his higher instincts to behave well. She trains, or educates, for the kind of problem-solving that dogs do because they enjoy it, not because they are trying to avoid punishment. Strickland develops communication through eye contact, words, and body language. The beauty of this communication and rapport, and the dog’s precision work that follows, are apparent to anyone who watches her, with either her own or someone else’s dogs.
JUDITH S. MEARIG
Potsdam, N. Y.
Thank you for Michael Lenehan’s excellent article on training mans best friend. I take exception, however, to his statement that “you [don’t] have cause to panic if you’ve recently come home with a hastily acquired cocker spaniel.” You do need to worry. In fact, the odds are overwhelmingly against your dog being okay.
“Dog people” broadly agree that American-bred AKC-registered German shepherds, Boston terriers, cocker spaniels, Dobermans, and even golden retrievers (to name but a few) are jokes. This is the American Kennel Club’s fault, because its system of conformation judging is politics at its worst. Dogs often win ribbons because of who showed them (people at ringside talk knowingly of “handler’s judges”) rather than what the dog is. The result: AKC-registered dogs produce alarmingly high numbers of hip-dysplastic German shepherds, hemophiliac Dobermans, and golden retrievers who turn on their handlers. In fact, most serious competitors that I know import their dogs, particularly the working breeds, from Germany or Canada. And it is not unusual these days to hear someone expounding on the merits of some rare breed, and saying with a grin, “It’s not recognized by the AKC,” the implication being that the AKC hasn’t had a chance to ruin the breed yet. In fact, the term AKC-registered (which many people mistakenly take to be the dog world’s Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval) means only that the AKC has records to show that two purebred cocker spaniels got together and made your cocker spaniel. It does not mean, as similar designations do in other countries (Germany being the best example I know), that a breed warden personally examined the sire and the dam, found them to be both solid in temperament and conformationally correct, and approved the breeding. The AKC just registers dogs, it doesn’t inspect them.
Rochester, N. Y.
Surely a miscalculation, your giving twenty-five pages to your over-amply illustrated “dog training” piece.
CARLTON E WELLS
Ann Arbor, Mich.
The April issue of The Atlantic must hold the American record for the longest and most boring article, the twenty-five-page piece on dogs. In fact, with the forty-page advertising insert added, the issue is kind of a rip-off.
JAMES R. ROACH
Michael Lenehan’s article on dog training is one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever read in any magazine.
JOHN S. WHITMAN
Peaks Island, Maine
Congratulations to Michael Lenehan and to all editors and fact-checkers and messengers and custodians and secretaries and designers and typesetters, and of course to George Booth for the wonderful drawings. I thought of 137 1/2 things Lenehan could have done to improve the article within sixty seconds of finishing it. So, no doubt, will everyone he talked with, quoted, failed to quote, and failed to talk with. So much the better, and evidence of an extraordinarily well researched, well thought out, and well written essay.
New Haven, Conn.
Mearig, Judith S.^Calamia, CarolAnn^Wells, Carlton F.^Roach, James R.^Whitman, John S.^Hearne, Vicki
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