Reading between the lines

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I create and analyze text for a living. Meaning that language is my trade. I use it to shape the kind of world in which I want to live, I use my knowledge of it to be a critical consumer and producer of information, and I spend time teaching others to do the same.

The words we read, write and speak have power and consequences. It’s often the reason we do or don’t go to war, vote for one person versus another and transform injustices into social movements. It can also often be the reason we do or don’t get along with others, whether they be our friends, family, authority figures or folks we’ve never met. Language can mean the difference between getting arrested and going to prison or not, getting a job or not, getting into college or not, getting access to lifesaving health services or not, having your dog confiscated and euthanized or not. Language matters.

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When I use the word “text” above, I don’t mean it in the traditional sense that most people use it. (Of course “traditional sense” is up for debate as well now that “texting” is officially a verb–but no matter).

A text can be any kind of artifact that uses language, symbols or imagery to communicate a particular idea. In the traditional sense, a text might be a book or a magazine article. A text can also be an official document like the Declaration of Independence or a legal contract. It can be a religious text like the Quran or Bhagavad Gita. A text might use language in print, or it may not. A child’s drawing with misspelled yet purposefully used words is a text. The following are all examples of “texts” that can be “read” and analyzed:

  • an email
  • a map
  • a newspaper article
  • an informational poster
  • a course syllabus
  • a magazine ad
  • a tv commercial
  • an art installation
  • a recipe for dog treats
  • a transcript of a text message exchange
  • song lyrics
  • a radio interview
  • a political t-shirt or bumper sticker
  • a recording of a 9-1-1 call (let’s say, George Zimmerman’s for example)
  • IKEA assembly instructions (a text that often leaves us disliking the Swedes)
  • a tattoo or series of tattoos
  • a Twitter feed
  • a Facebook post

These are all “texts” that can be studied and evaluated for content, context, meaning and purpose.

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One of my favorite examples of learning to critically analyze texts is the Media Awareness lesson included as part of the Girls on the Run program curriculum. In this lesson, focused on helping girls in grades 3-5 become informed consumers of advertising, the girls are given a series of common magazine ads promoting different products ranging from food or drink choices to clothing and skin care products. And then they’re encouraged to ask the following types of questions:

  • Who created this ad and why?
  • What is the purpose of this particular ad?
  • What is it trying to get me to do?
  • Who is the target audience for this ad?
  • What is the main message being communicated in this ad?
  • What other messages are also being communicated by this ad?
  • What information is missing in this ad?
  • Are any sources cited to support this ad’s claims?
  • Does this ad ultimately contribute something positive in relation to my health and well-being?

Too much for a 3rd grader? Not even close. Today’s grade school students are often savvier readers and more nuanced thinkers than most of us were in high school, or are now for that matter.

Taken from Global perspectives on literature and literacy, http://sese-ecce-educ376.blogspot.com/

Taken from Global perspectives on literature and literacy, http://sese-ecce-educ376.blogspot.com/

Being a critical reader is important. And in a world increasingly driven by social media and the bite-sized yet power-packed texts it produces, stopping to think first and asking these kind of questions before reacting is key.

Critical Literacy for Pit Bull Advocates

Which brings me to a text that I stopped to think about and carefully evaluate when it first appeared, because it seemed so remarkably out of character for the group that produced it. The following is a blog post that appeared on BAD RAP’s Facebook page last week, and that has since morphed into something akin to a scene from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.

Here is the original post:

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If I approach this Facebook post as a text of its own, and ask myself some of the above questions in relation to meaning and purpose, here’s what I see as a critical reader:

Who wrote this post and why?

The first sentence of this post suggests that BAD RAP’s leadership was engaged in a frustrating and depressing interaction of some kind, and felt the need to take it into the public forum rather than keeping it private to the parties involved.

Simply put, like a lot of folks in animal welfare, they were having a particularly tough day and needed to vent to someone about it, with the hope that it would make them feel better. That is the only reason to ever craft a sentence starting with, “Yesterday was a tough day for us and, to be honest, we didn’t have the heart to put on a happy face . . .” This suggests a strong need for sympathy and support.

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What is the purpose of this particular post?

The purpose behind this post is a tough one, because what it says is not what it does. In the entire history of Facebook, I don’t think anyone has ever used the phrase, “we aren’t interested in nasty debate” unless they have consciously decided to write or share something that will cause just that.

And following that phrasing with “we’re just expressing sadness” is also purposeful language. It’s purpose: To paint the author in the role of sensitive victim (and “advocates for the underdog”) in that debate, while establishing the other folks in the debate as those who are doing things to make them sad.

As a critical reader, I see the purpose of this post as the following:

To take an incredibly nuanced, and complex subject like shelter euthanasia and boil it down to a simplified either/or discussion in which BAD RAP is the victim and everybody else who doesn’t agree 100% with everything they say are the perpetrators. In this case, the dog killers.

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What is this text trying to get me to do?

This text is trying to get me to pick “a side” where there really is no side to be had. But it’s also doing something more insidious than that. This post is trying to get me, as the reader, to engage in a particular dialogue that the authors are unwilling to do on their own. If they had been willing, they would have fully vetted this discussion via one of their blog posts or written an article for a local or major publication happy to share their story. But they went the Facebook route instead.

Here’s what was written:

We aren’t interested in nasty debate; we’re just expressing our sadness today (which will likely lead to debate, which we’ll likely have to moderate – dog help us).

And here’s what might as well have been written:

Creating this kind of false dichotomy between prongs and harnesses and engaging in this kind of oversimplified debate about a complex problem is technically above us, since, after all, we’re a professional non-profit organization who should be spending our time engaging in all the great work we normally do and setting a better example for others. So would you mind launching that nasty, ill-informed debate for us, so that we still look like the good guys?

One aspect of this post that left me most frustrated as a reader was its unapologetic lack of information about a particular situation that could not be properly evaluated by anyone without all of the facts.

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What information is missing in this post?

Basically, everything that matters. Professionals in animal welfare, BAD RAP included, know all too well that most shelters are frighteningly underresourced and are an easy target for the public and other welfare groups when it comes to euthanizing animals. And because of that, it’s typically considered poor form to air a shelter’s dirty laundry or share too many details about specific situations with a less informed public that doesn’t have all the facts.

But if you are going to make the incredibly dicey, controversy-fraught decision to share one of those stories and get on a public forum and say that a shelter is euthanizing a healthy, adoptable animal unnecessarily, you would think that it would be important to share all of the available information so that the public you’re sharing it with could assess the situation for themselves in an informed manner.

However no such details were offered here, except for one: The preferred tool of choice, “a front clip harness.” That’s the equivalent of showing up at a murder trial and pouring a bucket of the victim’s blood all over the defendant in front of the jury, and then claiming that the prosecution rests minus all the facts, details and evidence. Let’s just bait this hook and see what bites . . . knowing full well what will.

They did later try to offer some elaboration and additional details amidst the frenzy of comments that followed. But by that time the ship had sailed and details just didn’t matter any more. You can’t put toothpaste back in the tube.

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It also seems likely that we’re not being given the whole story because of their choice to say that the shelter “admitted that intense fear of public criticism for using a prong collar on even the best candidates for prongs has pushed them to choose euthanasia instead.”

Forgive me, but what else are you not telling us? Because the reality is that a Behavior department who lets fear of public criticism be the deciding factor in whether or not a dog dies is no behavior department at all. And therein lies the real issue: Most shelters in this country do not have the human or monetary resources needed to create and staff an actual department devoted to animal behavior, capable of making informed, thoughtful, expert decisions about behavior modification and euthanasia candidates. Now there’s a topic that’s worth digging into.

Because most folks well-versed in animal behavior and training know that prong collars do NOT save lives. Front-clip harnesses do NOT save lives. Clickers and treats do NOT save lives. . . . Professional knowledge of and ongoing education in animal behavior science and dog training, and the support and funding to implement it in the shelter environment, saves lives.

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Are there any sources cited to support this post’s claims?

To add some legitimacy to their post, they pulled a quote from an Australian based website called “Team Dog.” The quote itself is a very effective choice in supporting their argument.

But when you click on the link and visit the actual page (which most Facebook readers will not bother to do), you find yourself on an anonymous website with almost no substantive content of any kind, no original content to speak of (everything on it is generic and can be found in hundreds of other sources) and there is absolutely no information about WHO the person(s) is that authors the site. How can I possibly attribute any kind of credibility to a website that is not transparent about who is producing its content and where they got that content?

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Does this post ultimately contribute something positive to the conversation on “pit bull” rescue and welfare?

500+ vitriol-laced comments that have gotten us nowhere new and two or three subsequent related posts later (not to mention the countless hours that BAD RAP has obviously spent moderating this atomic bomb of a conversation), I would have to say no. This post resulted in a net negative for pit bull advocacy.

I follow and support BAD RAP as an organization and have done so for many years. And the two primary reasons that I have done so are 1) They focus on quality of life and care, not quantity of dogs rescued–which is why you see so many fabulous posts with happy, healthy dogs romping on their property and successfully progressing towards adoption, and 2) They focus on sharing positive, productive messages in the public forum (such as any one of their many wonderful outreach and community-focused posts) and do not bait the trolls at the extreme ends of the endless number of hotly charged topics in animal welfare.

At least, that’s what they used to do. They seem to be on a new course now: One that no longer champions the welfare of the pit bull, but rather that of the straw man.

 

For a follow-up to this post, please read: A hostile act

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About emily douglas

Emily Douglas authors The Unexamined Dog blog and writes regularly about "pit bull" advocacy, humane education and the parallels between the education field and the dog world. Emily and her dog, Peaches volunteer as a registered therapy dog team in the Southeast Michigan area, where their visits are affectionately known as Peach Therapy.
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32 Responses to Reading between the lines

  1. Amie says:

    Thank you. I felt the same about them, until this post. After a few days of this, I decided to “unlike” and stop following them. It’s a shame the people supporting pit bulls can’t just use facts and logic to prove their point. These straw man fallacies only hinder the cause, and our dogs deserve better.

  2. Caroline says:

    Thank you for such a thoughtful and educational post. And as always, your photos are wonderful!

  3. Mitzi Bolanos says:

    As someone outside of the animal behavior world, I had never seen this “aversives or death” argument before and it really struck me that an organization with such a great reputation (at least to my knowledge) would purposely incite this debate. It was so in your face the idea that “fear of public criticism for using a prong collar… pushed them to choose euthanasia.” That statement created a very clear victim and a very clear villain. Like you said, if that’s really what “pushed them” to choose euthanasia then we have a much bigger and deeper problem. Very interesting. Thank you for breaking this down the way you did.

  4. Rita Ippolito says:

    Thanks! Emily…I am very lucky to be a part of the behavior department at a local shelter ( I have a BS in Animal Behavior, Ecology and Conservation ) – I avoided the Bad-Rap post as it seemed to be some kind of trap. My work is hard enough without engaging biased debates especially when there is strong scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of certain b-mod applications and tools. Glad to have the whole thing teased out.

  5. calkinsbetsy says:

    Outstanding article, bravo. Thoughtful, not hysterical, and well written and edited. Thank you for being a bright spot in a sea of blatant misinformation.

  6. Going to have to disagree on this one no matter how much I love you. The distraction for sure was about the prong collars. We have all seen tools become the lighting rod for vitriolic discussion and this tool is especially good at doing just that. But the “meat” of the issue was not the training tool. It was the public outcry and bully tactics of some (albeit a few vocal ones) people who eschew any methods but “positive only” (as if that actually exists) and rail against those who are in to balanced methods. Sounds kind of like gangs :-).

    But we see it here also. We use whatever available tools there are to help a dog succeed. What that also means is that we’re going to catch some flack and lose some supporters. We work with our dogs based on Longmont Humane’s training philosophy. The same program that Aimee Sadler founded and has shown tremendous success is helping dogs at risk of being pts. So does BAD RAP.

    The shelter, who is very well funded, found itself in the same position many animal welfare advocates find themselves. Do we help this dog, get honest about our methods and risk losing funding? Do we turf it, act like it never happened and put the dog down? Do we pray a group like BAD RAP takes the dog so we can feel like we accomplished something? Or do we build a case about other non-issues the dog is having, and make them seem huge so we can feel better about euthanizing a dog who really had typical rude dog behavior?

    The driver of this conversation should be, “Can we help this dog and how do we accomplish that.” It’s the simple question we are failing to answer over and over.

    This wasn’t about BAD RAP, or just this dog. It was an honest look at the dogma that is driving animal welfare workers to make decisions based on staying viable verses saving a life.

    The dog in this story? He’s alive. The prayers must have worked because He ended up at BAD RAP. We could all feel good about that if we refuse to acknowledge that another dog in need most likely lost their life so room could be made for this big dork. All because of the fear of losing funding due to ideology.

    Our dogma is killing our dogs.

    • Love you too, Nancy. 🙂 And your comment is sort of my whole point. Look at how much detail you felt the need to go into in just this short comment you made in order to do at least some justice to the conversation at hand. And you clearly had some additional knowledge of this situation that most others did not.

      If Donna wanted to tackle this complex issue in the sincere and thoughtful manner that she’s done with other things in the past, she would have taken the time to craft one of her well-thought-out blog posts or even written a piece for a community news org, rather than tossing a few random morsels on the street for the Facebook trolls to fight over.

      • The detail in part is to try and avoid the certain attacks that are mounted every time this topic comes up. It does help to have the backstory for sure but I think it’s important to note that this topic was wrestled with, dissected and discussed repeatedly before there was ever a public post. The good news for me is that it brought out many groups who felt like they could finally come out of the closet and have an open discussion about what’s working and what our fears are. Also, as a scientist, I would love to dissect some of the current research on training methods. Yep! Just dropped that bomb. 🙂

      • I think your insider knowledge of this situation is only further proving my point. You have absolutely no perspective on what this post did or didn’t do because you actually had detailed knowledge with which to digest it. 99.9% of the rest of us did not.

        And while the point of this post was not about training methods, but rather about critical thinking and responsible advocacy on the part of groups who have established themselves as role models in the field, I think it would be nice if more groups, including BAD RAP invested some of their time and resources in engaging in professional education, training and development opportunities in the field of animal behavior science, rather than just piecing things together as they like in order to put on a good front.

        Per my post’s focus on dissecting text and how language works . . . “good news for me is that it brought out many groups who felt like they could finally come out of the closet and have an open discussion.” The extremists on BOTH sides of the discussion are to blame for one group or another ultimately feeling attacked for their methods. The ultra-positive camp and the more rational force-free camp get attacked every bit as much, and bullied endlessly by the folks on the other side. So let’s stop with this good guy, bad guy nonsense. It’s a supercharged topic that gets everyone riled up. And we’re all to blame. Trying to establish one side versus the other as oppressed is just silly.

    • Lynn Whinery says:

      I came here via a link on another FB list, so I don’t know what this original conversation was about. However, my antennae went up when I read “It was the public outcry and bully tactics of some (albeit a few vocal ones) people who eschew any methods but “positive only” (as if that actually exists) and rail against those who are in to balanced methods. Sounds kind of like gangs” . When people say ‘positive only’, they mean they don’t use punishment based training methods. It’s a simplified term geared toward the masses. As to the phrase ‘balanced’ methods, there’s ample scientific research showing that mixing positive reinforcement with traditional punishment slows the learning process. Please read Karen Pryor’s article here: http://www.clickertraining.com/node/164

  7. This was such a good read! As word nerd, I loved seeing something as simple as a FB post broken down and examined. Also, I agree with the points made.

  8. hmosbarger says:

    I “unliked” Bad Rap as well because when I offered some alternatives to prong and ecollars they thought they knew better. No mention is made here of a Halti head harness or Gentle Leaders or a harness that has a back AND front hook instead of only the front which does nothing to control the dog. As much good they may do, Bad Rap’s knowledge is lacking. If you have a dog that is exhibiting unwanted behavior that’s underlying cause is fear, anxiety, pain, trauma HOW in the world is inflicting more pain and fear going to turn that around? I DO NOT understand why some people don’t understand this very basic premise. I’m not surprised that Bad Rap’s weak points are now coming to light. They’re just not wise and mature enough to pull it off.

  9. Donna says:

    Hi Emily. I agree that the topic deserves a thought out blog post and am hoping to follow up with one, especially now that the dog is in our program. Facebook tends to be a more immediate “here’s what’s happening right now” medium and I decided to use it on this day to help me sort through the internal debates we were having about intervening in this dog’s impending death. It was as honest a facebook post as I’ve ever written. The risk wasn’t just raising the ire of the +R-only world – that was a given! – but of harming our relationship with the private shelter and all their academy-trained training staff. Amazingly, we did well with keeping communications open with the shelter and agreed to disagree. (They are fine with US using a prong on the dog if he needs one, but they won’t do it themselves.)

    I acknowledge that you will never be comfortable with prong collar use and it’s likely that nothing we publish about our use of them will ever be considered acceptable. That’s fine; we’re used to being criticized on that end. On a whole other note, I do think this hot and uncomfortable topic of training tools and methods for shelter dogs-at-risk will be coming up more often as (hang on now!) you and others in Best Friends ramp up your “Save Them All” messaging. How do we accomplish that and do it when grace when situations like Bing’s come up again? I welcome your feedback and the debates — They DO need to happen.

    • While I believe that any behavior can be addressed through force free methods, there should never be blame pointed at our fellow pit bull lovers when it comes to the loss of our shelter dogs. Us advocates should stick together, and innovate ways in which we can move towards a brighter future.

      Lets keep our eyes on changing the perspective of our law makers, as well as the media that creates the negative spin that works against us.

      Lets continue to work together, and keep our eyes on a shared goal.

    • Jeff says:

      Donna,
      May I ask a serious question in regards to “Save Them All”? Do you fully understand the meaning? From my interpretation of the top two well known “No Kill” players, it doesn’t mean to save every dog no matter how physically ill or “aggressive” a dog may be. Those are the ones that are to be humanely put to sleep if no other option or resource is available to get the dog “better.” I would also agree there are some improvements that can be made to the philosophy to include more outreach to under-served areas in the country that will prevent the dog from entering a shelter to begin with. That’s another topic for another day though. For an organization that openly admits (and actually seems to take pride in it) to not subscribing to “save them all”, when does a dog’s life matter? Why not let this dog be humanely euthanized if no one can control him? I mean, obviously, he won’t be the first or last dog killed in shelters today. Perhaps there is a lower energy dog that is on the brinks of being killed that could survive. Don’t take any of this as me advocating his death, because I lean more on the “save them all” mentality than I do those who don’t strive for a resolution that every life is important – human or animal.

      I also don’t care to discuss training techniques because it often opens up a huge debate (for lack of better, kinder words), but there is proof those “tools” are not necessary in modern day training and behavior modification. Plus, I am not certified in or have any animal science background at all, besides the interviews I performed with experts (that have a bunch of letters after their name). I will even state, I have room to grow too! We all do…once we feel like we know it all, we become dangerous to the very cause(s) we advocate for. My two cents.

      • Donna says:

        Hi Jeff – Best Friends has some work to do on their currently clumsy messaging, and we’ve poked them about that recently. Much of the public and a good number of rescuers have been interpreting “Save Them All” to mean we should literally save every last dog no matter what, and that’s already causing us (rescuers and animal welfare in general) some bigger headaches with clean up work — but we’ll save that topic for another day. Their true meaning, from what Francis Battista has relayed to me, is that we should all* do our very best to save the most treatable animals. We are 100% on board with that.

        Treatable is a flexible term though. In our experience, Badda-Bing is not only treatable, he’s one of the most adoptable dogs we’ve brought into our program in recent months. No lie.

        I hope to help people “meet” him in future postings so we can take this story to another level. Like I said to a rescue friend earlier, this debate signals to me that we’re in brand new territory with saving dogs … And it’s natural for every ‘new frontier’ to bring upset and debate. Thank DOG we aren’t debating whether blockheads can/should be saved anymore. Much better to debate how we go about doing it (sanctuaries? training approaches? handling styles? quality of life issues? etc etc).

      • Jeff says:

        Donna,
        Yeah, someone passed down to me the Rescue Jam blog post that poked at Best Friends messaging. I also see rescues misinterpreting the motto. Maybe “Save As Many As You Can Without Becoming A Hoarder” is a better and more appropriate title, but a tad longer so i don’t know if the message would be effective. But i’m sure there’s something else they can change that into to be a better representation of what their actual message is. I will say, I doubt the influence alone is cause for this fatigue the rescue community is feeling. I get bombarded with “Help me save my this dog” requests, and I’m not even a rescue or affiliated with one anymore. I can only imagine the barrage of pleas the rescues receive. But I don’t necessarily blame solely BF or any other “No Kill” minded movement. The inability to say no lies with the person responding. It’s extremely difficult to say no when you see the dog in need. But people in rescue need to understand their boundaries or limits. No one person or organization is going to solve this crisis alone. Everybody just has to do what they can – no more, and definitely no less. What that limit is varies between individual person.

        If I may ask another question, when is an “aversive” method necessary and what do they offer that force free doesn’t? Again, I’m no professional when it comes to dog training, and maybe I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to use nothing but a Freedom harness on my dogs – all who came to me at different times and circumstances. My dog do still need training, but training is on a continuum. That’s what reinforcement does. It tells the dog what to expect when they do things we want. Do you see a day where you won’t advocate for such devices?

        Last, I don’t know if I understand the last comment completely – was that a comment about whether or not a blockyheaded dog should be saved (like shelter policies), or was that because the threat of BSL is no longer an issue? If it was the former, I don’t have a comment. If it was for the latter, while I agree the threat has subsided considerably and more and more communities are getting it right (deep breath, exhale), I can (and in a way, do) still see a time when there is a resurgence of BSL and it makes a comeback. There has been recent BSL activity (southern Cal area with their mandatory S&N; a few cities here and there proposing new legislation; some talks in areas where BSL was repealed only to have incidents that occur and the discussion begins again – ie…southern Ohio), and that is not even counting the places where it has existed – namely Denver and Dade County on the larger scale. And it would be “our” fault if it did because of the inconsistencies and contradictions “we” offer the opposition to use. Not the threat is once was, but still a threat until the last one is gone.

    • Donna says:

      Jeff – The term ‘aversive’ can be as slippery, mis-used and debate-inducing as the term ‘treatable,’ so we’ll have to agree to save that discussion for another day when tempers are cooled. To your last question, we’re thrilled that shelter politics in most places are giving way to adoption opportunities for all dogs, regardless of breed type. In doing that, we need to build in some honest discussion and support for the Bings of the world who fall through the cracks of even the most well-resourced, well meaning shelters.

  10. Rescues need to take responsibility for a dog’s welfare AFTER placement, too, not just at the point of “whew, saved another one who cares about the long term consequences.” The idea that a reactive, aggressive, or sensitive dog “needs” a prong collar, or a shock collar for that matter, is ludicrous and not supported by current literature in terms of effects on aggression, which is the one thing that we all need to work to prevent. A dog that is “saved” but later, via trigger stacking perhaps, bites a dog with a level four bite is not a successful adoption!!! We need to do long term studies to find out how we’re doing with regard to dogs living happy, long lives in the placements we make. It’s not enough to simply get them out of the shelter if they pose a danger to humans or other dogs. There are dogs and kids in the Universe, and placing dogs in a “one dog only” or “no kids” home may not be doing the dog, the owner, or the breed any favors.
    We need longitudinal data! And If you look at pages such as Your Pit Bull and You, and The Pit Bull Guru (Drayton Michaels), Lousiana SPCA, and others, you will find that there are competent trainers who save dogs on a consistent basis using modern force free training, so we need to find out from them how they are doing it, and their long term success, too.

  11. fearfuldogs says:

    Part of the problem seems to be that because dog training is an unregulated industry with no standard operating procedures in place someone can label training practices based on good mechanics and an understanding of behavior analysis “dogma.”

  12. Eileen Fletcher says:

    Thanks for a very thoughtful article and pawsforpraise I couldn’t agree more. Team Dog came out with their article a week or so ago, stating they wanted a discussion but that didn’t turn out to be the case. before my comments were deleted (;-) ) it turned out it was written by someone with entry level qualifications (Australian) in the industry, who thought that prongs being used by volunteers to walk dogs in shelters would be a good idea. They also promoted the use of shock collars which are illegal in some states here. Any studies that were cited that did not support the use of punishment were dismissed as being funded or published by purely positive agenda driven extremists (yep the journal of applied animal science and journal of vet behaviour certainly fall under that umbrella). As someone who has set up and run a rescue, and a qualified dog trainer, I don’t want to read ill informed information promoting someone’s training philosophy hidden under the prong collar or death argument. Stick to what you’re good at and just get on with it.

  13. I used to be a supporter of BAD RAP but stopped a little over a year ago when I made a comment on one of their pictures about the prong collar being used and they were very dismissive. I had always believed BR had the animals’ best interest at heart, but I believe that prong collars only add to the negative stereotype of pit bulls.

    It is my strong belief that a responsible rescue and advocacy group needs to consider everything they do, every image they put out in the public realm, and every word they say when it comes to these amazing dogs. They need to do everything in their power to show the real beauty of pit bull type dogs, and not add to the negative messages people receive from the media and random fearmongers. This is especially true of a group with a following as large as BAD RAP’s. It is even more important when the group is considered by many to be the ultimate authority on all things pit bull.

    There are a host of reasons why I disagree with the use of a prong collar on ANY dog, but as a rescue and advocate for this breed in particular it is my responsibility to go above and beyond for these dogs. We need to help these dogs shed their scary stereotypes, and part of that is using tools that do not look scary or inhumane to the general public.

    • Mary says:

      Your second paragraph really hit home. I’ve been trying to express this philosophy to friends in rescue and haven’t quite managed to get my point across. Hope you don’t mind me referencing your words!

  14. Jenn says:

    As someone who runs a pit bull rescue and has for 8 years, I’ve never put a prong on a single one of our dogs. We also don’t put dogs down for not being perfect specimens like other groups *cough cough* tend to do. So we’ve had our share of behavior issues. What we do is work very closely with the trainers we are partnered with to address behavior issues and we use humane methods. Trainers well versed and credentialed in animal behavior. We’ve learned a lot along the way and are seen as experts to some degree but we still count on those who’ve actually made this their life’s work (behavior). We’ve had some unruly, beefy dogs come our way and a freedom harness in conjunction with a loose leash class and some b-mod have been all we’ve needed.

    So having said all that, the post itself was simply ridiculous to me. It was a very obvious ploy coming from a group that seems to have lost a little bit of their grip on staying above the fray, something in the past I’ve admired them for.

    We don’t use prongs simply because we don’t NEED to. And even though we ARE a force free organization, our stance is not because we are pure positive “Nazis”. This whole thing is just so ridiculous at this point and I wish they would just let it go instead of making continual posts about it. You use prongs and are proud of that, good, great, do you. You will be criticized for it. Accept it. As we are criticized for not doing it. We accept it. It doesn’t slow our roll. You know why? Because we know we are on the right side of science.

    This was a fantastic blog and you really hit it out of the park. No lie.

    • Debra Moody says:

      YOU hit it out of the park with, “Because we know we are on the right side of science.” ‘Nuff said.

    • Aditi says:

      Thank you, I couldn’t agree more. I also run a small Pit bull rescue in MN and we do not use chokes, prongs or e-collars on our dogs. We use Freedom No-pull harnesses, and head-collars for extremely unruly dogs. As a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, I strive to stay up-to-date on the most humane and effective training methods. I am a cross-over trainer, so at one time I did use prongs on dogs, but after learning more about animal behavior, learning theory, and understanding the risk of behavior fall-out, I choose not to use strong aversive methods anymore, there simply is no need! I find it disheartening that BAD RAP is so stubborn about their use of prongs. As an organization that prides themselves in educating the public about the breed, they can very close-minded themselves. I find it interesting that BR seems to find people with “letters behind their name” threatening, maybe because those of us with letters have scientific reasoning as to why to do the things we do. My wish is that more rescues would learn about behavior and humane training methods or at least seek out trainers who use such techniques to help them with their dogs. And that more pit bull rescues would not follow BR’s training program like it’s gospel. I applaud all rescue groups for helping dogs (within reason, I don’t agree in keeping very aggressive or medically unsound dogs alive) including BAD RAP, but many groups could do better.

  15. Sylvie says:

    Excellent post. No more to say.

  16. awesomedogs says:

    I have worked with rescues for over a decade – not once have I seen accusations that represented the full extend of any story.
    Some of the highest kill rates I know of are at facilities that will use all tools.
    I have worked with dog owners for a very long time. I’m the person who takes those calls, the ones that say, “We adopted this dog from such and such agency. It has now bit my child/hurt my other dog, killed the cat…..I have no interest in keeping it. I do not want to send it back to the place we got him from because they said the dog was rehabilitated and it obviously is not. They might adopt the dog out again and it might hurt someone else. Can you find me a home with no kids, cats, dogs, strangers so I don’t have to kill it?” Those dogs end up dead. It is not a save.
    I count a rescue/shelter’s success by the frequency of these types of calls involving dogs placed by an agency. Behind the scenes, there are trainers who are cleaning up the mess of the “successful public notch in the leash save.”
    It’s so easy to throw stones against agencies based on an emotional story. It appeals to the masses.
    It’s with a strong degree of irony that I’m reading posts on a balanced group where the prong/choke/shock users are saying, “No all dogs should be saved…..”
    Maybe that’s okay if it’s said in private … so long as people can throw stones at the positive reinforcement in public? Is that how it works?

  17. Blanche says:

    A nicely written article about the need to do analysis. To think critically. The Jaundiced eye is not always a bad thing…..On all things, but particularly the internet.

  18. EB Calkins says:

    There is another, more recent post on BadRap’s Facebook page that includes a link to the Longmont Society’s Training Tools and Methods. And in this handout, is a reference to the “fact” that harnesses teach dogs to pull. So—a harness lying on the floor next to a dog can teach the dog to pull? Nice trick! Now I’m not just pointing this out to be funny. If it is being said that a “tool”, by itself, teaches a dog to do something — this demonstrates a poor knowledge of the fundamentals of behavior change. It’s no different than those who say that a prong collar, lying on the floor, is inherently “evil”. What were the tools designed to do and how educated is the handler on the leash? Who decides the goals and timeframe on behalf of the dog? Can you choose a smarter less risky way to change a behavior?Those are the important questions and it all comes back to education and experience. I feel so sorry for the average dog owner who is just trying to help their dog without doing any harm.

  19. Pingback: A hostile act | The Unexamined Dog

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