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Positively Abusive

A friend alerted me today to a disturbing video on YouTube. It's been there for a while, though I was happily unaware of it until now. With one click, I stepped into a new definition of abuse: a well known "positive" trainer displaying her female dog's new trick - humping her leg on command.

Anyone can see abuse in an animal that is beaten, starved, mutilated, hung or killed. The Michael Vicks case still looms large as he tries to put his life back together post-prison. That kind of abuse is clear.

But what of the laughing demonstration of a trainer's skill in manipulating an animal into humping her leg on command? Whatever the species, engaging any other being's sexual behavior for your own purposes IS abuse. If this were a child or another human, charges would be filed. If this were a man teaching this to his female dog, there would be outright hysteria. If this were Cesar using humping behavior to prove that any behavior can be trained and put under control, there would probably be a march on National Geographic's headquarters.

This is not a beer drinking moron or senseless stoner armed with a video camera and hell bent on demonstrating their dog's willingness to hump a person. This is a prominent, highly regarded award winning trainer/author's video. When you view her proud presentation on how her dog humps her leg on command, YouTube offers up others similar in content, a motley collection of morons & stoners and humping dogs. The only difference is that the famous trainer has better stimulus control of the behavior than the morons do. Nice company for the trainer someone called, "the most rational voice in dog training today." (It's not attributed, but used to promote her latest DVDs. Perhaps the author of that bon mot has a different definition of "rational" than I do.)

The YouTube video is presented as a demonstration of "how ANY behavior can be captured, reinforced and cemented" -- an arrogant justification of a disrespectful, abusive interaction, though she hastens to assure the viewer "Nobody was hurt" and that she doesn't advocate anybody else doing it. She then adds, "if you don't think it's 'appropriate' then avert your eyes." On that basis, we can merely look away from all abuse in dog training and elsewhere. So simple... no need to protest or write letters or file charges - just look away if you're offended. But we're not quite done with the whole disgusting mess as she smugly adds, "You just had to watch, didn't you?"

For me, yes, I did have to watch. Because in order to criticize, I must actually read, see or hear what it is I am going to comment on. Because when the founder & Director of the San Fransisco SPCA's Academy for Dog Training is the one chuckling that she could get some great obedience out of her dog if she used the humping as a reward, yes, I do have to watch the whole damn thing. I watch in order to convince my disbelieving ears and eyes that the famous Jean Donaldson, award winning author and speaker at this year's conference for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) is the one I'm watching. (note: corrected 9/2/09 - Jean is no longer a member of APDT; is a speaker for this year's conference)

Jean notes early on in the video : "I have no shame." There's the truth spoken clear.

Jean offers an appalling display of abuse of and disrespect for another being. I find it immensely sad that this is promoted in any way as part of "positive dog training." She prides herself on not using aversion or choke collars. Pity she hasn't learned that respectful training needs to also include the other being's mind, emotions and dignity.

Donaldson is a teacher. And this is an instructional video. When we see how things ought not be, we do have the opportunity to strengthen our resolve about what should be. On that score, this disturbing video teaches all too well.

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"Positively Abusive" by Suzanne Clothier

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