I was at the dog park the other day and observed another owner calling his dog. "Fred Come!" He called several times -- with the dog ignoring him until the 3rd or 4th recall when the dog decided he would respond and starting running to his owner.
I was apalled when, as the dog got about half-way there, the owner yelled in a very gruff, growling voice "Get over here!" And was even more upset when the dog finally arrived only to have his owner roughly grab him by the scruff, lean down, stare right into his eyes and start yelling at him again.
The dog trainer in me hurt for the dog. From the dog's point of view this is what happened. Fred decided to respond to the owner's cue, he got yelled at it as he was responding, and then when he finally arrived he got physically punished and yelled at some more. Not only is this really, really bad training (why would the dog want to come when called if this is the consequence?), but in my mind it's horribly abusive.
Quite frankly it ruined my visit to the dog park. I didn't feel that I could approach the owner about it -- my experience is that when you give unasked for advice it's generally met with anger and hostility. And so I abandoned the dog to his fate and left angry at the owner.
These past few days I've tried to think of it from the perspective of the owner. I can't believe that he doesn't love that dog. Really, would a person who didn't care about their dog bother to take him to a dog park and spend a part of their weekend day giving their dog an opportunity to run off leash? This is the act of someone who really does care.
Not to use this as an example of appropriate parenting, but if Fred were a child it would make more sense. A child is asked to come over to the parent, the child dawdles and has to be asked several times, and as the child finally heads towards the parent is chastised for not responding the first time. Children are capable of understanding that the yelling is for not responding the first time they are asked.
What pet owners need to understand is that our pets aren't capable of this type of understanding. The consequence they receive will apply to whatever they are doing at the exact moment it's delivered. So yelling at the dog as he is coming is punishing him for coming. The owner should have been heaping praise on his dog for coming when called, and then made a mental note to work more on recalls so that the dog would respond faster in the future.
But sometimes those of us who love animals are very judgemental about the way others treat their pets. And what we have to understand and continually remind ourselves is that not everyone has the same level of education when it comes to the care and treatment of animals.
My job as Humane Educator is to attempt to give people the tools they need to be better pet owners. Being an advocate for the pet means not only seeing it from the animal's point of view, but trying also to see it from the owner's point of view. Only through understanding how others see things will I be able to find a way to reach them and help change the way our pets are treated. Hopefully this is a lesson I'll remember.